August 10, 2006

Killing Joke - Dark and deadly serious...


When Youth, bassist from Killing Joke, dj'ed at the All Night Fuji Rave at the festival last year, I wrote about how his band had stood me up one New Year's Eve 26-odd years ago. I never did get another chance to see them. So, understandably, Killing Joke instantly became my most-wanna-see band this year. And, true to form, they kept us waiting in the Red Marquee on Sunday night for a good 15 minutes after the official start time. But, hey, what's a few minutes compared to a quarter century?

The crowd was just as tantalized as I was while waiting. They frequently broke out into a chant. And every time a roadie walked on stage they went ape, thinking it was the band. I couldn't help but smile.

Suddenly eerie sirens began wailing over the house speakers. And a dark, throbbing bass line hammered out a menacing rhythm. Finally, the moment arrived. On they walked - all dressed in black and singer Jaz Coleman in white face paint, like a demented Marcel Marceaux. Seduced by the moment, I couldn't help but laugh when Coleman walked to front-of-stage and blew the audience a kiss.

But Coleman instantly pronounced, "This is no joke." And, with that, the drummer hit the high hat and band launched into their set. Dark, lyrical, haunting. They played extensively off their new album, "Hosannas from the Basements of Hell." But they also gave us a good sampling of some of their early classics, like "Wardance" - their first single and a personal favorite.

Coleman prefaced every song with a litany of political commentary. Urging us not to forget Hiroshima and listing America's most recent transgressions. But I don't think anyone - except the odd foreigner, like myself - really understood his Yukio Mishima references. And when Lucifire and her partner joined the band on stage - each juggling a candelabra of fire - the spectacle was breathtaking and the audience ecstatic. They called for two encores. And got them.

August 9, 2006

Kyoto Jazz Massive - DJ Shuya Okino

Shuya Okino stole the show during the early part of Friday night in the Crystal Palace tent. The kid from Kyoto has come a long way since trekking up to Tokyo more than a decade ago. He and some friends set up shop in Shibuya in a pocket-sized club, which they simply - and aptly - named the Room.

It's a long time since I've heard him spin and, all I can say is, he hasn't been wasting his time. He delivered a superb set of funky house and electro breaks and he kept it deep and dirty but warm. On top of the beat he mixed samples of everything from 70s/ 80s rock to ... was that Sunny Rollins?

The last mix was a tripped-out Afro-Cuban tune best described as dub jazz or rhythm 'n' bass. Everyone was dancing - including Gaz, who usually prefers his music un-cut and straight up ; no chaser. But Okino drew everyone in. It was wicked...

Baby Soul - Women rule, okay?

I made a mad dash over from Avalon to Palace of Wonder in an attempt to catch Baby Soul 's set at the Crystal Palace on Saturday night. Even so, I only caught the last couple of songs. Baby Soul (aka Elinor) is a Swedish DJ and artist/ illustrator from Stockholm who has been living in London for almost a decade. She is also the yin to Gaz `Mayall's yang.

Her specialty is 50s and 60s r'n'b, soul, New Orleans funk, blues and good ol' rock 'n' roll. That being said, she was playing some funky old swing style blues number when I hit the tent. And I was sorely disappointed when she only managed another song before Noboru Yamana took to the decks - not that I was entirely disappointed by this turn of events. Yamana played some rock 'n' reggae classics - like Desmond Decker's "Israelites." Love that tune!

And then, after Barrence Whitfield's awesome live set, DJ Tommy hit the decks. Tommy owns one of THE record stores in Japan - Drum 'n' Bass Records in Osaka. But don't be mislead by the name. He delivered a sublime set of obscure 50s Jamaican r'n'b and early 60s ska. This guy's catalogue is so deep it's impossible to name the tunes, but I one track was obviously called "Mother Goose" and featured a kick-ass female vocal.

After Rude Pressures finished their live set, Gaz came on stage and announced that they were going to have a competition, with Baby Soul, Tommy and himself taking turns on the decks and competing for audience appreciation. It was mad. Around and round they went trying to out-obscure each other. But the reaction from the audience was pretty much even, that is, until Baby Soul flipped Nancy Sinatra's "Boots" on the decks. The crowd went wild - me included. And so did the other DJs. Everyone from the backstage area was suddenly up on the stage dancing. Baby Soul and Nancy got my vote. Women rule...

August 7, 2006

Likkle Mai


Likkle Mai garnered a lot of attention for her wispy ethereal singing on several tracks by the Japanese dub/reggae band Dry & Heavy, an outfit heavily influenced by the Jaimaican Dub sound of the 1970's. This is her solo debut tour, promoting her album Roots Candy. She continues to play a similar brand of Dub and Reggae with her new band.

Before I saw her live, I read that her voice was 'wispy' and 'ethereal'. I found this to be somewhat true, although ultimately it came off as more nasal than anything, but with a name like hers I was probably expecting Stina Nordenstam or something, so my bad. (She did attempt at least to go for ethereal with the introduction "greetings earthlings" at the start of the show.) At any rate, it certainly seems to be a voice that many love. She has a tight band that knows their reggae chops, and if reggae en Nihongo is something you need in your life, then Likkle Mai is a great place to get it.

-joe kern

Jason Mraz


The entire time I was watching Jason Mraz, this was my thought: "does he really think he is as cool as the 'I-know-I-am-cool' pose and facial expression he strikes between every note, or is it something at more of a meta-level in which he is striking an 'I-know-I-am-cool' pose and facial expression because he knows that is what he is supposed to do in his situation, so he is doing it ironically, but then if he is that smart then that makes him cool and therefore the pose is no longer ironic and he is no longer cool." In truth, the thought hurt my head a little, being so philosophically complex and all, so instead of thinking it I spent as much of the show as I could talking to the girls next to me about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

Let me try to describe the pose that Jason Mraz strikes so that perhaps you can understand why it is so cloying. He sings out the side of his mouth like Groucho Marx delivering a one-liner. He points his head forward but has his eyes looking skyward much of the time, as though slightly bored with the attention he is getting. He gives huge winking smiles while delivering impossibly happy ‘make the cute girl with sweet smile down front believe that she can soar on the wings of eagles if she just will believe in herself' lyrics. He scrawls “I you” on his forearm. He throws the phone hand-sign to his ear when he sings about answering the phone. In short, he delivers his entire hour-long set as though it were a surprise for his college girlfriend's 19th birthday party, and there she is sitting down front with a melty heart and all her girlfriends are there with her telling her how lucky she is in between their own screams and trips to the bar for more shots of Jag.

I wish I did not have to say these things. I appreciate that his style of music, the new Midwest college funk/pop/rock/folk/hippie drum circle jam (anyone seen my djembe?) in the vein of Maroon 5, Jack Johnson, and Martin Sexton, like Midwestern stalwarts REO Speedwagon before them, does not get a lot of critical respect. But when any of these bands hit on a good song, a good hook (and this most certainly includes REO), I can dig it better than anything anyone in New York ever did, so I'm not criticizing his music. It's just that, music aside, the dominant feeling I got from watching Jason Mraz was profound discomfort. Think of watching two adolescents nibble on each others' faces while whispering baby-talk back and forth. For an hour.

Which brings me to a good point: much like adolescent intimacies, I don't think I was actually supposed to watch Jason Mraz perform. I don't think it was meant for me at all. And, to be fair, if it were not for the three jumbotron screens at the Green stage, I would not have seen Jason Mraz perform, only those who chose to stand close to the stage would have. Tom Jones used to have a policy for his shows: only women, no men, were allowed in the first ten rows or so. Mr. Jones, apparently, did not want to look down and see a man's face while he was singing about Sex Bombs and 'his infrared semen running through' people, which I think is a perfectly reasonable policy and one that I think I too would enforce had I his sexual prowess. But new technology presents new ethical dilemmas, and like time travel and genetic engineering before it, the advent of the giant concert TV screen instantly broadcasting DVD quality video to people half a mile away demands that drastic measures be taken to preserve the intimacy proper to a particular show. To be blunt: If Jason Mraz wishes to continue performing in his current manner, he must ban all straight men from his shows. I know it sounds harsh, and I'm sure it will cut into his gross, but really it is the only right thing to do for a man who sings lyrics like "so that I can nibble on your ear" and so clearly expects everyone listening to want him to do it.

Aside from that, though, you know, the band was good, the songs were catchy. Lots of hit potential here.

-joe kern

August 6, 2006

Christmas in July

shawnsnow.jpgOne of the craziest sites I came across at Fuji Rock this year was located on the street leading up to the Prince Hotel.

Walking back to our rooms around 2 am on Sunday morning to drop off some of our gear before checking out POW one last time, Dom, Jeff, and myself were all shocked to come across a snowman. I know we are at Naeba Ski Resort, but it was almost August and the temperature was like 35 degrees Celsius. Frosty had no reason to be there what so ever. However, there he was standing all by his lonesome quietly waiting to greet all who passed by. Guess he got sick of just being around in the winter and missing all of the FRF fun in the summer.

Best Party Place at FRF ...


How could you possibly walk by something so cool and not even be tempted to stop in?

Watching hordes of people leave each night from the fest it pained me to see a lot of them pass right by the Palace Of Wonder without batting an eye, let alone strolling in. Decorated with elaborate sculptures, the awesome Crystal Palace tent, and entrance gates that spit out fire, this obviously isn't an easy thing to do. All I can say is that all those people missed one hell of a party each night.

With a continuous flow of young, exciting bands striving to be the "next big thing" on the Rookie-a-Go-Go stage, a wealth of insanely hip DJs and more experienced acts in the Crystal Palace tent, and a whole lot of flames erupting from the fire-based performances in the Arena area there was no shortage of things to see. Add in all the interesting people floating around (including performers such as Madness, String Cheese Incident, Super Furry Animals, and many others), a casino, a darts room, and plenty of spaces to drink and dance and you've got a party-loving individual's version of Disney Land just waiting to be explored and enjoyed.

My favourite night at the Palace was easily on Sunday night. With FRF '06 winding down everyone was a little tired, but still doing their best to have a good time. The conversations were lively, the drinks cold and delicious, and the music excellent. The Grand Fire Finale at 2:30 am helped get all the exhausted souls "fired" up again so that they could finish the night strong. Eddie Egals opened up his Fire Shower just after 4 am for everyone to try. A lot of the performers from the Palace Arena stripped down and gave it a go and a few brave Japanese spectators mustered the courage to join them as well.

As the sun rose above the mountains and the music quietly faded out the small crowd of remaining Fuji Rock fans huddled in the middle of the Arena area enjoying some free beverages that one of the bars had graciously offered. All were quietly counting down the days till they could visit this Palace that truly is filled with Wonder again.

Collect 'em all!

things1.JPGAs I wandered around the festival throughout the weekend, I often found myself at different places down by the river. I would dip my hands into the clean, clear and cold mountain water. Splash a little on my face. Think about fishing. What's it like up here when the festival isn't?

During these small welcome meditations, I would turn to find silent company.

"Oh. You again."

I would just nod respectfully, same as I did the last time, and wonder how they always found me.





August 5, 2006

Joe Strummer, RIP

The Joe Strummer Memorial beside the Crystal Palace.
There are stories about this, but you have to go there to hear them.


Eddie Egals Fire Shower

Late--way late--at the Palace of Wonder on the closing night.
He wore leather.
He had a lovely assistant.
He climbed into a cage with a large shower.
She torched him.


The festival was winding down?


He started to strip.

She turned up the barbeque.

Why do I have the theme from "Flashdance" running through my head?


Support your local Fuji Riders

fujiriders.jpgI think he was a little worried. I had spent a good fifteen minutes casing the bikes parked near the entrance gates. When I saw him he had a large clipboard that he was handing to riders, and a small digital camera. Each rider took the board and wrote a message on it--their name and a greeting—then held it up as they sat atop their bike and had their picture taken. The young man would check their name off a list, and head back to the one of the tents set up near the bikes. I thought he was going to come back out with a crowbar. He didn’t. This isn't the Hell's Angels at Altamont. He just politely asked what I was looking at.
Meet Yuki Shirai: steel horse wrangler.

Set up across from the Palace of Wonder, near the entrance gates, is the Streer Bikers’ Support Booth. Street Bikers is a magazine published in Tokyo for motorcycle nuts. They sponsor the booth that's staffed by a group of volunteers who love two things—bikes and music. As a junior part of the crew (like a 'prospect', he seemed to do all the regular joe jobs), Yuki-san was genuinely happy to be watching over all of the bikes stationed there and see that all the riders headed off safely. He was also more than happy to talk bikes.
They get about 500-plus riders here each year. They come in all shapes and sizes: Harley Davidson Soft Tails and Sportsters, cowled Ducati Monsters, vintage Triumphs, retro Yamahas, naked Hondas, and zippy Kawasakis. There are large and small scooters, side cars, and trailers. They ride solo, two-up, in groups, or individually.
People start to roll in Thursday evening, and the Street Bikers are ready for them. They will be stationed there until Monday night, after the last rider rolls out.


If you feel the lure of the open road, and love Fuji Rock Fest, you need to meet these guys. The Fuji Rock Street Bikers don't just cordon off an area specifically for bikes and watch over them. They also set up a "Bikers Only" Lounge tent complete with comfy couches to rest your weary back after the ride. You can also doff your leathers, buy some available refreshments, then mingle and swap stories and information with other riders. To top it off, they also have a tent that functions as a small garage with a licensed mechanic on duty (that would be Yuki's boss). Chain need tightening? Got a block in the fuel line? Need a new oil filter? Rest assured, help is at hand.

The cost for all this-- the parking, the lounge, the minders? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

If that's not reason enough to hit the road, the twisties on the way up to Naeba ought to be. It's a gorgeous ride. Out on the open road a la Easy Rider (umm...'cept without that ending...), engine purring underneath you, heading to the greatest music festival in the world. It's what dreams are made of.

As I say thank you to Yuki for putting up with me, I inquire about which bike is his
"Oh me? I have a Yamaha SR 400," he says, still clutching the big clipboard in his right hand.
"Can I get a picture of you with it?"
"'s not here..."
It's then that he shows me what his clipboard has been hiding: an arm wrapped in plaster from the elbow down, the tip of a long, flat metal support rod sticking out at his palm. He's been working all weekend with a busted forearm he got in a crash a few weeks ago. He came up on the back of his boss's 400cc scooter.


Yuki (second from left, hiding his arm): this blog's for you. See you next year.


Digitalism mix, concluding Fuji Rock on the dance floor.

Chunky beat

Part of France’s label Kitsuné, Digitalism are Jens Moelle and Ismail Tuefekci, two cool guys from Hamburg, Germany. Following killer mixes of hipster bands such as The Presets and The Futurheads last year, we also eared their work on some compilations of Kitsuné, Ministry of Sound and Soulwax. With chunky beats build into sturdy synthesizers and funky acid riffs, the turbo-charged DJs took the Red Marquee for a last frenzy bash to close these 3 days of festival.

Usually much more minimalist with loads of repetitive beats and samples, the set performed was a nice blend of electro-rock and deep house. However, the two tall German stay true to their philosophy and delivered some of the best digital music we eared at Fuji Rock this year. With high profile DJs such as Tiga and 2Many DJs it wasn’t a simple accomplishment. Rocking their laptop with kick drum backed up by layers of sweeping, synth-based effects and added keyboards with catchy vocals over-layed, they grabed the last standing people that didn’t left the site or head to the crazy Palace of Wonder yet and dragged them into the dance floor.

Gossip: a Fujirocker missing in action

Kurara ChibanaMiss Kurara Chibana is conquering the world

The Fujirocker team was short of one of his prettiest member this year while Miss Kurara Chibana was busy doing nothing less than more glamorous Miss Universe contest this summer. Formerly part of our reporters crew, the Okinawa born Fujirocker, won the prestigious title of Miss Japan last April. Frustrating the 4,000+ other entries of this year national pageant title, she got her ticket to Los Angeles and showed-up aside the most beautiful women on Earth to get the ultimate title of Miss Universe. Winning the award for the best national costume wearing a futuro-sympatic samurai outfit, our diva lost the galactic beauties contest only to Miss Puerto Rico, Zuleyka Rivera. Nevertheless being the first runner-up of such an event is huge and all the 2006 Fujirockers want to salute this most stylish accomplishment and hope Kurara's going be back on our reporter team next year!

If you want to follow the new career of the sexiest rocker to intend the 2005 Fuji Rock Festival, I suggest you visit her fans club web-site, or see her profile on the official Miss Universe pages at

Kisses Kurara, a` l'anne´e prochaine!

Chilling With The Gypsies

20060730-ball_001.jpgAh... another year, another favourite place.

Last year I wrote that my favourite place at FRF was Field of Heaven at night. Heading up there to check out Rovo I quickly became enamoured with all of the elaborate candle displays, mirror balls, and giant glowing sculptures that were hidden in the trees.

This time around, my heart was captured by a neighbouring region − Gypsy Avalon. Located mere minutes from Heaven and the White Stage, Avalon is the perfect place to chill out and catch some unique, relaxed tunes. It's not as crowded as most other spots at the fest, has a food court beside it, and provides some of the best opportunities to catch an intimate performance - something that's not always easy to do at something as massive as FRF.

The stage itself is pretty small. Behind the performers is a large peace symbol and the area in front of the stage is covered with dozens of potted sunflowers. Avalon is surrounded by large trees and sits at the bottom of a small sloping hill. The hill is covered with grass and people usually sit or lie down on it during performances. It's not uncommon for someone to be blowing some bubbles. The small soapy spheres floating lazily down the hill fit in perfectly with the laidback vibe.

In 2005, Avalon only seemed to be partially full whenever I visited or passed it. This year it seemed to be packed almost every time. Definitely one of the cooler places to be, I'm thankful that I got to witness performances by Trashcan Sinatras, Kazumi Nikaido, and The Suzuki and discover the beauty and charm of the area.

August 4, 2006

Nightmares On Wax Sound System: The sound of now

Nightmares On Wax Sound System seemed to be a rallying point for people headed long into the evening on the final night of Fuji Rock. I headed down to the Red Marquee with fellow FujiRockers Dom and Shawn, where I was also going to meet some friends from Tokyo. Once there, as the sound system got cranked up, I bumped into another friend of mine that I had been trying to hook up with since Friday (to no avail), and then yet another couple of friends from work who were there prior to heading off to the Palace of Wonder.

And why not? Having been a fan since the Nightmares on Wax album Carboot Soul, I was looking forward to something a little more chilled out in the Red shed. It was going to be good not to hear a whole lotta doof! doof! Reverberating off the corrugated metal construction at this time of night. Something just a little more chilled out. Something to get your head and sink your teeth into. We got just that.

The Apple logo shone brightly from the laptop amid the decks and mixers, the glow from the screen shining on the man behind NOW, George Evelyn (aka DJ EASE). Flanked on either side of the turntables by "The Sisters" (or is that, "tha sistas") who belted out soulful lyrics and worked the crowd, DJ EASE and crew laid down the grooves that people had come to hear. Almost all of the tracks and tunes came from his just released Nightmares On Wax album In A Space Outta Sound. Bouncy and flava'ful, those that weren't sleeping danced and hopped around, at one point helping out The Sisters with a chant of, "Who gives a damn...who gives..? Who gives a damn...who gives..?"

Obviously, not those off to never-never land. It was easy to see that the end of the festival was starting to take its toll on some. All around its edges, the Red Marquee was dotted with people sitting with their heads between their knees, asleep on the floor, or leaning against the barricades, oops I mean gates, dead asleep. How, with all that concentrated noise and enthusiasm, they managed to kip, I don't know. They must have needed it. The rest of the crowd, though, danced to some energetic hip-hop influenced, Philly-soul drenched, rhyme-bustin' beats.

EASE kept the beats going with a little help from friend Ricky Rankin. They had an MC with them who also helped to get the crowd going, and did all the usual *How you all doing out there/Let's make some noise" stuff. Unfortunately, I never got his name because as is usual with a sound system, the echo and reverb effects were ramped up, so all I heard was a mish mash of names running into each other as he said them. And I have to say, the treble on the vocals was ear piercing.

That was my only complaint. And even that probably wouldn't have bothered me so much, if the MC could have kept from repeating: "How we doing? Fuji Mountainnnnnnnnnnssssssssss..."

Jeez, George. Don't you have Google Earth on that Mac?


August 3, 2006

Finally some hot food.

taco.jpgAlthough there is a ton of great food to be had at FRF each year, it's often difficult to find something that's hot. Long line-ups and working out of a small stall often result in food that's prepped beforehand and is kept warm for the starving masses.

That wasn't the case at the Crazy Taco booth. Located beside the Oasis entrance to Red Marquee, their tacos were so hot that I burned my mouth as I took my first giant bite. After ordering there 500 yen chicken taco I was given a soft taco shell overflowing with loads of chicken, cheese, cabbage, taco sauce, and some kind of white dressing. The chicken was a tad dry (maybe more dressing would have helped), but it was fantastic to have a hot meal.

The stand also sold beef tacos and taco rice. From the looks of things, though, there top seller seemed to be there 500 yen bottles of Corona.

Next year hopefully they add some burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas and I'll have found a new favourite place to eat every day!

Okay, okay, it's over. Happy?

boots.JPGI guess this is a sign that the show's over: dozens of rain boots left in the parking lot, still standing next to where their owner has parked his/her car. At first we thought it was a fluke − in a rush to beat traffic back to the city, they forgot them. But keep walking and they were everywhere.

August 2, 2006

It Ain't Over!!

TuskandCyka.JPGWell actually, FujiRock IS over, but when this photo was taken (6 am monday morn) we were still in denial. Here's Tusk of the Firetusk Pain Proof Circus yukking it up with buddy Cyka.

Onstage, Tusk, with his tattoos, loincloth, bed of nails and permanent drool, is more than a little intimidating. But after the show he was chatting us all up and keeping everyone laughing with anecdotes of his and Lucifire's misadventures. Not bad for a man who had darts thrown into his back a few hours earlier.

And Cyka was fascinating. A Russian native, when she's not touring with these nutters she lives in Nairobi working with Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement . She even has an office in Osaka for the cause. The stories she told were fascinating - I'll relay some here if I remember them (this was the woozy hours of dawn, remember) or can scrounge my notes for a clue.

As the sun rose on the Palace of Wonder, Tusk lifts the BIG bottle of Jack Daniels (the one with the handle) and plunks it down on a hunk of wood. "Glad I ran into you guys," he says, "Otherwise I'd have to finish this myself." I'll never know what happened to that bottle − I wandered off before the end of it − but I do know that those last hours in the Palace were some of the most fun I had all weekend.

I think. That's the way I remember it, anyway...

August 1, 2006

Chiling-out on Sunday night


Umphrey's McGee heal your ears

Like the name imply, Fuji Rock Festival provide a great dose of rock to the attendance. However, when you reach the 3rd and final day of the wild celebration, it's understandable that you find yourself looking for something more serene to spend the last few hours in the mountains of Naeba. Anyway, that is exactly what happen to me on Sunday night when I decided to leave the stimulating performance of The Strokes and head to the Field of Heaven where Umphrey's McGee where peacefully presenting their art rock compositions.

Umphrey's McGeeThe band from Chicago performed in front of a captive audience slowly waving at the rhythm of the acoustic guitars. Formed in 1997 from the merge of two bands, some of the initial members include Joel Cummins on keyboards and vocals, Brendan Bayliss on guitar and vocal and Ryan Stasik on bass. With nice sense of humor, they entitled their first album "Greatest Hits Vol.3", title that can reveal itself a bit confusing for someone unfamiliar with the band. With influences like the Beatles, Genesis, Yes and Miles Davis, the Umphrey's McGee are experienced instrumentalist and their appealing funk/progressive rock was the perfect way to end this exhausting fiesta.

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