Sonic Mania and Summer Sonic Festival 2013: Part Two
QVC Marine Field and Makuhari Messe International Exhibition Centre, Chiba, Japan
August 10th ~ 11th 2013
A Japanese summer is hot, humid and long & this summer is particularly bad as we are having a heat wave, one which officially passed 40°C / 104°F on both the Saturday and Sunday of Summer Sonic. So just the right time to for a festival then! Luckily a portion of the delights Summer Sonic provides are held in the cavernous Makhari Messe International Exhibition Centre which, while it may not give cold comfort, certainly allows an escape from being directly cooked by the sun. Several times during the day I hear people say “Osusume arimasuka inai soto” (‘What do you recommend? That’s not outside!’)
Day One Risking early sunstroke I head to the Marine Stage, a cavernous baseball stadium which due to it’s size, only has shade way way way up in the bleachers. Standing on the plastic floor that’s throwing back up every molecule of heat a sizable crowd is enjoying ONE OK ROCK, a four piece polished and professional Japanese rock group. Singer Taka is engaging, his voice resounds throughout the stadium with a melancholy lightness that, along with the bands usually strong, clear and simple rock, feels a little lost in the excesses of space. I’m loathed to leave so soon into their set but make a mad dash across to Makuhari Messe for Alt-J on the Mountain Stage. There was a unexpectedly large crowd there who, from the start of ‘Intro’ onwards swayed and sang which happily meant these were not just sun dodgers but were people who were tuning in and as band promenaded through their set there was a steady progression of enthusiastic dancing from everyone, reaching a pinnacle when they played ‘Breezeblocks’.
There is little change to the people around me as Jake Bugg comes on stage. It is my second time seeing him in as many months and again it is in an enormous environment, although this time it is inside and dark. Again the unconventional voice is excellent as is his slightly derivative but nevertheless exceptional material & I find myself drifting off, noticing how long I’ve been standing up & how much I want a drink, rather than enjoying the music. This is a tragic state of affairs when someone so good is on stage. It’s definitely not the lack of dynamism that’s to blame but rather the environment, making me feel very detached from the performance on stage.
It’s a process of stops and starts making my way to the Beach Stage for Jagwar Ma (see pic above) who are already on stage when I get there and it’s great to join in a free for all dance on the sand. The seas just a few meters away sending us salty breezes & the band are rhythmic, hypnotic and warm which is certainly down to some sweet basslines and the ultra-smooth metrical mix of funky and mellow vibes. This has been the days highlight so far so I’m loathe to drag myself away from the beach so I stay, finding shade under a bamboo canopy with several hundred people also bestowing praise on the Australian band. We cool down wonderfully and deliciously with rainbow kakigōri (bowls of shaved ice topped with a mix of flavored syrups).
Literally hot footing it back across to catch Cheap Trick – a band who are enormously popular in Japan meaning tha the Crystal Mountain Stage hall is packed to capacity – I am lucky to just manage to slide in. These are no youngsters on stage and while the show is a little stiff there is musicianship aplenty. Vocalist Robin Zander is your classic rock singer and tonight, dressed head to toe in what I assume to be white leather, he’s not only consistently strong but the range and the energy in his voice is definitely noteworthy. The 14 track set list was hit heavy and very popular with the crowd, ‘I Want You to Want Me’ gaining the most enthusiastic response, although the three covers performed; The Move’s ‘California Man’, Fat’s Domino’s ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ and Big Star’s ‘That 70’s Song In the Street’ certainly came close to beating it.
Back over to the Marine Stage for Metallica (see above) and it is safe to say that this is where a huge percentage of the Summer Sonic’ers have ended up. The stadium floor and all the bleachers are packed solid and it’s pure luck I get a seat on a bleacher about mid-level with a decent view of the stage – the band look like ants but at least it’s ants I can see. The screens allow people not so lucky a front row view and boy is everyone having a good time! I’ve walked in as a song I don’t know finishes and one I do, I Disappear, starts. James Hetfield seems to be killing every word he bellows but there is harmony and melody to the songs – it is not just a wall of noise – and Rob Trujillo is truly hypnotic to watch. The bass work as well is of the highest quality. I take the chance as the calm One comes to an end to make my exit. Metallica do what they do exceptionally well and they certainly seemed to be putting on one hell of a show and while I have albums of theirs that I play and do enjoy, passively sitting in a stadium filled with that volume of people is not for me.
I pop my head in on NAS and Stereophonics as I head back to the Sonic Stage for Steve Aoki (see pic above), in neither case staying for any significant amount of time. It is a bit of a passion of mine once in a while to get my groove on for a few EDM artists / acts – it has several times been described, erroneously, as a guilty secret but it isn’t; music, like so many things, is a subjective matter and one that also has context. I don’t go out and buy very much EDM but in this environment with a few thousand other people letting their freaky dancing loose I am happily right in there bouncing like Zebedee and feeling 17 again. Steve Aoki does not hold back – showmanship perfected he uses almost every inch of the giant stage, his sound desk is as much stood on as stood behind and when the inflatables came out and the ubiquitous cake is thrown he could not have got a bigger reaction if it had been million pounds flying into the audience’s faces. A surprise for us all was promised and Steve Aoki, not one to hold out for long, introduced Linkin Park‘s Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington for a performance of a new song ‘A Light That Never Comes’. Steve Aoki’s set is a mash of things you just seem to know among the 80 minute set, a remix of Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’, Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Bulls on Parade’ , ‘I’m in the House’ and ‘Avalon: The Lion King Remix’.
Finally I head to hall three, home of, among other things, a casino and Sonic Art (one of several spaces where live art is created throughout the day). It is also home to Summer Sonic Cinema and tonight the first of two movies is Shane Meadows’ exquisitely beautiful and emotional The Stone Roses: Made of Stone. The film has not had a release as of yet in Japan and this is the first opportunity for people here to come & do just that: it would seem a hopeful sign that the film having now been translated will get a run in Japanese cinema’s soon.
It is well into the small hours of the morning and the heat has hardly abated: I head for the exit zigzagging around people sleeping, sitting, eating, drinking , wandering or dashing about to see bands at Midnight Sonic ~ for me however day one is complete.
Day Two It feels hotter, and is soon confirmed to be officially so. Starting the day at the Sonic Stage just in time to catch most of The 1975’s (see pic above) set they play and sing with confidence. Their live sound feels social, fresh and bombastic. Matthew Healy provides plenty of upfront youthful vitality, the band are harmonious & vigourous and today’s crowd, which has packed out the Sonic Stage, seem well acquainted with the songs. Not unexpectedly ‘Chocolate’, ‘You’ and ‘Sex’ garner the biggest response. Continuing the strong British theme of the day Peace (see pic below) take to the stage. They are an actively impressive live act with an incredibly sexy sense of naughtiness (this is putting aside the white dungarees Harry Koisser’s wearing today). The funk tinged rhythm that the drummer and bassist are knocking out is beautifully balanced & Harry’s dirtily scorching vocals and the nine song set list plays great. Tracks like ‘Bloodshake’ and ‘Wraith’ have the audience vocally participating as much as dancing.
Deciding to forgo The Smashing Pumpkins for the Palma Violets and their infectious, dirty, guitar riddled psychedelic tinged pop which gives everyone the opportunity to fearlessly cut loose. I can’t conceive of a time when ‘Best of Friends’ will ever not sound devilishly cool and will not demand to be sung along to with all ones might – and seems everyone at Summer Sonic feels much the same. The Sonic Stage is frenziedly animated for the whole set, stepping up a notch for ‘Step up for the Cool Cats’ and ‘Last of Summer Wine’. The relationship between the boys in the band comes across as instinctive and if that does not seduce you then the devil may care frenetic, adventurously unafraid nature of Chilli Jesson’s (looking so different wearing a suit today) interaction with the crowd would be the tipping point. Sam Fryer brings things to a close with an almost bitter sweet version of ‘Brand New Song’.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion make videos I can’t watch but live their filthy punk raw blues rock is definitely a more positive visual experience. The crowd is eager for the noise as well as the onstage empathy shared between Jon Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins: a band that don’t do breaks, they keep it going, songs come relentlessly, one pounded out after another, the audiences genuine, high octane appreciation of newer tracks like ‘Black Mold’ and ‘Get Your Pants Off’ does slide during back catalogue tracks like ‘Chicken Dog’ and I wonder if this is an audience only recently acquainted with JSBX. Spencer is every inch the rock star and the audience happily laps it up, by the end of the set the air is filled with palpable exhaustion on all sides. The heat, the excitement, the running around, the late nights and long days have taken the strength from my legs and I sit towards the back of the hall, with many others, for Johnny Marr (see pic right). I might only barely be able to see him, however we can all hear him just fine and he sounds pretty good. He plays songs from his recent album ‘The Messenger’; ‘Sun and Moon’ and ‘Generate! Generate!’ , all of which are well written and executed however they lack some punch, some emotion, a certain something. I also can’t help feeling a little uncomfortable when he covers four Smiths songs as they’ve so long for me been associated with one voice. However it’s not a lingering awkwardness and is soon forgotten. A set heavy with covers is a nice re-introduction to Marr’s sound, live he has a deeper, more innovative vocal than expected. The show is comfortably timed, the highlight being an exceptional version of ‘Getting Away With It’, a cracking tune with a sweetly enjoyable chorus.
And as I drag myself off to the train for the journey home to the other side of the city the fireworks fill the sky above the town with neon rainbows and sonic explosions marking the close of the festival. It has been enlightening, absorbing, invigorating, educational, inspirational and emotional, however. while there will be many memories the first will always be”
‘Summer Sonic 2013, oh boy that was a hot one!’
Full details of Summer Sonic 2013 including the timetable, photo gallery of the acts, audiences and attractions can be found on the Summer Sonic website. Louder Than War would like to extend our appreciation to Creativeman for all their help and assistance. All photos copyright and courtesy of Creativeman.