No Nukes 2012
Headliners: Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra
Some say he’s naïve, others that he’s spot on. Either way, the timing of pop icon Ryuichi Sakamoto’s No Nukes concert—with Japan revving up its dormant reactors—is especially poignant. “If operations at the Oi plant are resumed, I am concerned that a sense of despair will spread among people who will give up hope of ever having their opinions heard,” he recently told The Asahi Shimbun. “Such feelings led me to organize a musical event to be held in early July titled No Nukes 2012.”
Sakamoto attended each of Kraftwerk’s eight concerts at MoMA in New York and invited the German electronic music giants to join him in an anti-nuclear concert in Japan. YMO and Kraftwerk, famous for their song “Radioactivity,” will be together on one stage in an elepop dream bill. All proceeds benefit the 10 Million People’s Petition to say Goodbye to Nuclear Power Plants. Also on the lineup are other outspoken antinuclear artists including Kazuyoshi Saito, who got himself in trouble with last year’s scathing post-Fukushima song “It Was Always a Lie.”
Makuhari Messe, Jul 7-8. ¥13,000 (two-day pass) ¥6,800 (one-day pass). nonukes2012.jp
Tokyo Festival of Intangible Culture
Headliners: Carnival Music from Haiti, Sanam Marvi, Hayashi Ensembles
With the end of the Tokyo Summer Festival in 2010, last year’s festival scene was looking distinctly less flavorsome. No fear. Here comes a new extravaganza to deliver a buffet of ethnic music delights to the city’s palette. The three-week event unfolds at several concert halls with highlights including soaring, mystical Pakistani singer Sanam Marvi, who will be accompanied by some of the country’s top classical musicians. Other concerts range from the carnival music of Haiti to the traditional melodies of death and celebration in South Korea, along with a strong component of engendered Japanese folk music forms.
Kioi Hall, Sogetsu Hall and other venues, Jul 7-27. Ticket prices vary. mukeibunka.com
Headliners: Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Fountains of Wayne, Suede
Ajikan, as fans call Asian Kung-Fu Generation, are already on the ninth edition of their very own rock festival created in their hometown of Yokohama. Not bad for a melocore band who broke over a decade ago. Maybe, like Ozzy Osbourne’s Ozzfest, singer Masafumi Goto and his bandmates are on to something. The lineup at Nano-Mugen (roughly “from nano to the infinite”) is looking rather solid. Britpoppers Suede have just been added to a bill that already includes alt-rockers Fountains of Wayne and Feeder among numerous domestic and international acts. Japan also gets a rare peek at US indie-pop husband-and-wife duo Mates of State, but will be more familiar with English electro clown Space Cowboy.
Yokohama Arena, Jul 15-16, ¥9,800 (one-day pass). nano-mugenfes.com
Fuji Rock Festival
Headliners: The Stone Roses, Noel Gallagher, Radiohead
After 15 years what more is there to say? If you’ve been you’ll know what we’re talking about. If not—go. More than a rock festival, Fuji is a lifestyle choice around which rock fans’ annual calendars are structured. Launched by promoter Smash’s Masa Hidaka as Japan’s answer to Glastonbury, it’s as consistently reliable as the rains that pummel its Naeba mountain location.
This year’s 16th festival matches the London Olympics with an all-Brit cast of headliners that has been in the works for years. “It’s always a challenge to catch the right lineup,” says Smash’s international pointman Johnnie Fingers. “It takes a lot of advance planning to get it right and yet anything can happen in the meantime. Bands split up or some member has a baby or decides to get married and we go searching again.”
After Noel and Liam Gallagher barely looked at each other when Oasis headlined in 2009 shortly before they broke up, the brothers are back, each playing separate nights with their own band. Are relations beyond mending, or could a brief reunion be in the works? Liam warms up for his hero, Stone Roses singer Ian Brown Friday night, while Noel’s High Flying Birds get the prime slot on Saturday.
The Stone Roses reunion and first Japan tour since 1995 looks to be one for the record books. “Smash has a long history with The Stone Roses,” Fingers explains. “After their sellout Japan tour in ‘95 the band split up, but we continued to promote Ian Brown and John Squire’s solo projects. Their agent two years ago asked if we’d be interested if there were a possibility of a reunion. We immediately sent our offer. This resulted in Fuji Rock becoming the first announcement of their live return. Japanese rock fans have always had a special love for the Roses. They are one of those bands fans were waiting and hoping for.”
But is the tour in danger? After drummer Reni walked out of a June gig the rumors have been flying. Nonetheless, the band has confirmed the tour will go ahead.
Radiohead also makes history in the form of its first appearance at Fuji. Radiohead has until now been the property of crosstown rival Creativeman’s Summer Sonic, but it seems that any “exclusive” deal has run out, leaving Thom Yorke and co. free to close Fuji Rock out on Sunday night.
Other marquee names like Jack White, Justice and Elvis Costello are on the bill, but Fuji’s most memorable experiences often take place away from the main Green and White stages. Innumerable smaller venues with whimsical names like the Palace of Wonder provide the setting for gigs that often feature bands that, were it not for Fuji, would never get invited to Japan.
Incomparable roots reggae act Toots and the Maytals, for example, and Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy will be at the Orange Court alongside the likes of Japan’s indescribable jazz-noise collective the Shibusashirazu Orchestra, a perennial fixture of the festival.
Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata Prefecture, Jul 27-29, ¥42,800 (three-day pass) ¥17,800 (one-day pass). fujirockfestival.com
Rock In Japan Fes.
Headliners: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Yuki, Perfume, 9mm Parabellum Bullet, Akihiro Namba
RIJ is the product of Rockin’On magazine, Japan’s defanged equivalent to Rolling Stone or NME. As such one gets what one pays for: a virtual Who’s Who of Japanese music industry leaders in a clean (aside from a splash of cesium), safe seaside space in Ibaraki. If uncontroversial, the bill is actually pretty diverse. Producer Yasutaka Nakata will be omnipresent both with his own unit Capsule and via the songs he pens for idols Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Perfume. Arty songstress Yuki of Judy and Mary fame and rap-rockers Dragon Ash will be on hand to reprise the ’00s, while alt-rockers 9mm Parabellum, Bullet, Capsule and The Hiatus will offer a sense of Japanese rock artists of the current decade’s musical visions.
National Hitachi Kaigan Park, Ibaraki Prefecture, Aug 3-5, ¥11,500 (one day), ¥22,000 (two days), ¥30,000 (three days). rijfes.jp
Rising Sun Rock Festival
Headliners: Brahman, Perfume, Superfly
Some rate the Rising Sun Rock Festival top in Japan for its scenic Hokkaido location, at a cheerful seaside pasture roughly an hour from central Sapporo. Offering stages like the Crystal Palace and a bill featuring some of the more creative J-rock outfits, the event applies the freeform approach of Fuji Rock to the domestic music scene.
Headliners on this year’s bill include, well, many of the same names at Japan’s other rock festivals. Veteran alt-rock acts Brahman and Asian Kung-Fu Generation along with idoru group Perfume and retro-rockette outfit Superfly are among those in the lineup. Singer-songwriter Kazuyoshi Saito will again be on hand along with more leftfield acts N’Shukugawa Boys, Rovo and Tha Blue Herb.
Tarukawa Wharf, Ishikari Bay New Port, Otaru, Hokkaido, Aug 10-11, ¥18,000 (two days). rsr.wess.co.jp
World Happiness Festival
Headliners: Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kreva, Kaela Kimura
With No Nukes behind them, YMO look to their own festival. World Happiness has enlivened Tokyo bay’s “Dream Island” park with a bill that has dug into the artier end of J-pop since 2009. It’s the brainchild of bassist Haruomi “Harry” Hosono, one of three YMO founders along with keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto and drummer Yukihiro Takahashi. The 2012 edition features dancehall rapper Kreva, pop rock siren Kaela Kimura along with current J-electro icon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and art-pop warhorse Ego-Wrappin’.
Yumenoshima Koen Rikujokyogijo, Aug 12, ¥8,500. world-happiness.com
Headliners: Kodo, Hiromitsu Agatsuma
When the supremely disciplined Kodo drummers aren’t touring the world, they’re at their commune on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan preparing for their annual Earth Celebration. EC is a weeklong island idyll that culminates in three days of concerts at a serene hilltop park perched above the quiet port town of Ogi.
Unlike Fuji, with Earth Celebration half the fun is getting there. A shinkansen journey across Honshu gives way to a placid ferry ride—with passengers sometimes regaled by a local drum troupe aboard for the journey.
On arrival, the quaint Japanese fishing village transforms briefly into a kind of hippy mecca as thousands descend upon it for the celebration. One can participate in workshops ranging from Sado’s native “demon drumming” to traditional Japanese dance and folk song.
EC’s main events are three concerts at Shiroyama Park, in which the Kodo drummers are joined by a special guest. This year’s invitee is shamisen virtuoso Hiromitsu Agatsuma.
Ogi Town, Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, August 17-19. Prices vary for individual events. kodo.or.jp/ec/en
Headliners: Green Day, Rihanna
While Fuji has gone English, urban rival Summer Sonic has moved Stateside. With all-American headliners Green Day and Rihanna, the push is a result of a deal promoter Creativeman sealed with North American concert giant Live Nation, creating Live Nation Japan.
The first result of the partnership was the May Lady Gaga tour, but the impact on Summer Sonic’s bill is in the form of R&B artists like Ke$ha, Nelly Furtado and Pitbull, and less overtly “Live Nation” type acts including Jamiroquai, Gotye and Garbage.
The latter alt-rockers have their first album out in over a decade, the highly rated return-to-form Not Your Kind of People. Also just out with a fresh album is Iceland’s Sigur Ros, the introverted Valtari.
Younger-wing pop is represented among others by indie darling St. Vincent and London grime/dubstep producer SBTRKT, who put on one of the finer sets at FRF ’11.
Older fans are thrown a few bones with UK band Tears For Fears and Swedish pop darlings The Cardigans. J-pop aficionados also get a few scraps like virtuoso rock band The Hiatus and the seemingly unavoidable Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Creativeman is stressing its Asian Calling stage, which this year features a gaggle from China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. Korea’s The Knux and Taiwan’s Mayday will add to the Asian flavor on the larger Mountain stage.
When you get tired of tramping the endless concrete expanses of Makuhari Messe and being herded into the QVC Marine stadium, head out to the Beach stage for fun in the sun with bands like SoCal punkers Pennywise whipping up a froth.
Like last year, Summer Sonic is preceded by a Sonicmania electronic all-nighter. House and techno acts Basement Jaxx, Soulwax and 2manydjs are joined by rapper Pitbull and Asian-American hip-hop dance unit Far East Movement.
Chiba Marine Stadium and Makuhari Messe, Aug 18-19, ¥15,000 (one day), ¥27,000 (both days). summersonic.com
Headliners: Ornette Coleman, Burt Bacharach, Ben E. King
Public broadcaster NHK’s Tokyo Jazz has long been a staid affair, with polite audiences enjoying jazz standards in the comfort of the scintillating Tokyo International Forum.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, and one must give props to Japan for doing its part to keep the historic American jazz tradition alive. This year’s bill looks pretty enticing to fans of mainstream and free jazz, vocal standards and R&B.
Saturday sees the event get into full swing with “The Songs,” a daytime program featuring venerable crooner institutions 73-year-old Ben E. King, the composer of “Stand By Me,” and 84-year-old Burt Bacharach, the songwriter behind hits like “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.”
Things heat up in the evening with “Jazz Roots,” a three-part concert that launches with pianist Makoto Ozone leading a superb group of American young guns followed by funky keyboardist Joe Sample and his Creole Joe Band. The night culminates with an appearance by seminal free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman.
Sunday opens with a “Groove” session featuring oh-so-tight Oakland horn collective Tower of Power along with the Balkan Beat Box and Japan’s addled but enjoyable Soil and “Pimp” Sessions.
The festival winds up Sunday night with “Put Our Hearts Together,” a freeform program that will be made special by an appearance of svelte young bass and vocal virtuoso Esperanza Spalding.
This year Tokyo Jazz bursts its concert hall confines to include outdoor sets by Norway’s excellent electric jazz group Jagga Jazzist among others, as well as a series of gigs by Aussie, French and Israeli jazzers at the nearby Cotton Club.
Tokyo International Forum, Sep 7-9. ¥6,500-¥9,500 (individual concerts) ¥18,000 (one-day pass). tokyo-jazz.com
…and the rest
Techno imp Takkyu Ishino’s Wire is back at Yokohama Arena on Aug 25 with Detroit lords Derrick May and Robert Hood as well as Berliners Frank Muller and Butch…
J-pop juggernaut Avex unfurls its annual A-Nation Stadium Fes. featuring Ayumi Hamasaki et al at Ajinomoto Stadium on Aug 25-26…
Latin music aficionados put on their dancing shoes for Fukuoka’s Isla De Salsa festival in Fukuoka…
Minimal house fanatics get their fix at Labyrinth at Naeba…
Japanese punk bands bring the love to disaster-hit Tohoku in Air Jam, all on the weekend of Sep 15-17…
Looking to fall, Smash’s camp fest Asagiri Jam is a compact version of Fuji Rock on the second weekend of October…
Loud Park caters to the metal faithful at an in-town arena usually one week later…
Hostess Weekender is slated for another weekend of in-town indie rock fun also in October.