The Top 10 Music Acts to Watch this Festival Season

Events Music - June 10th, 2016
Deadmau5

We know you still have to get through the rainy season, but all the more reason to give you something to look forward to.

Here, we round up the top music acts playing this season’s festival circuit, throwing in a few quick interviews with some of the local musicians. Besides recommending big names like Beck, Radiohead, and Deadmau5, we asked Johnnie “Fingers” of the Fuji Rock team (and Boomtown Rats fame) to suggest upcoming acts to watch at Fuji’s 20th anniversary, and he noted: “Mura Masa, Oliver Heldens, The Internet, Leon Bridge, and Jack Garratt” (read our full interview with him here).


Compiled by Annemarie Luck, Alec Jordan, and Laurier Tiernan


 

Beck

Beck at Fuji Rock

One of the headliners at Fuji Rock this year is the LA-raised, hipster-before-hipsters-were-cool troubadour, Beck. With a style that runs from folk and hip hop to R&B and psychedelia, he’s been catching the ears of music fans and critics since 1993, when his first big single – “Loser” – hit the airwaves. Here’s a handful of things you might not know about the musical maverick.

A shady apartment owner may have set him on the road to fame

In 1989, Beck was in New York City, where he was playing the city’s bohemian districts. After more than a year without a steady address, he was on the verge of getting his own place in 1990. The “owner” of the place persuaded him pay up front, with the key to follow in a couple of days. He never saw the woman – or his money – again, and rather than face another vagabond stretch in the Big Apple, he headed home…

Don’t call him a “Loser”

…and eventually recorded a blockbuster. Dubbed a “slacker anthem” and a musical follow up to Radiohead’s “Creep,” “Loser” turned the Angeleno into the object of a record label bidding war after its release. He has mixed feelings about the song that put him on the map, though: he thought it was something he’d tossed off but didn’t want to be associated with. As he said in an interview with the music site Pitchfork, “It’s like if a friend took a stupid picture of you at a party on their phone, and the next thing you knew, it was on every billboard.”

He can make robots dance

For his video “Hell Yes,” Beck was granted access to four prototypes of Sony’s QRIO robot, who do their animatronic shimmy to the singer’s surrealistic flow. Beck and video director Garth Jennings set up the choreography for the troupe, and programmers spent three weeks to get the moves coded into the ‘bots. Not bad for a guy who says he didn’t swap over from a typewriter to a computer until 2002.

He’s written an “album” of sheet music

Titled “Song Reader,” the project features 20 different tunes and 100 pages of photographs. Originally published in book form, it has taken on new life in social media.

He’s been anointed by the Great Purple One himself

Kanye West did threaten to take the stage, but that didn’t stop Beck from receiving his 2015 Grammy for Best Album from none other than Prince.

Fuji Rock 
July 22-24 at Naeba Ski Resort, Yuzawa-cho, Niigata
More information here.

Radiohead

Image: Steve Keros

Radiohead at Summer Sonic

If you’ve Googled Radiohead lately, you would have come across two interesting phenomena. First, the phrase “digital crumbs”, which is being used to describe the kind of clever marketing campaigns employed by artists looking for groundbreaking ways to release their music to the online world – in Radiohead’s case, they deleted their social media presence, amongst other things, causing massive hype before releasing their ninth album, “A Moon Shaped Pool.”

Second, the fact that Thom Yorke is being compared to Beyoncé. The link? The aforementioned digital crumbs. (In case you hadn’t heard, Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” caused just as much hype as that little animated tweeting bird Radiohead gave us in May.) Fortunately, unlike The Radiohead Concert That Never Happened (Shibuya, 2011), these crumbs are actually leading us somewhere…

Summer Sonic
August 20-21 at Makuhari Messe,
2-1 Nakase, Mihama-ku, Chiba
More information here.

babymetal

Babymetal at Rock in Japan

This teen trio needs no introduction; they’re probably the most talked-about band to come out of Japan in recent years. In April, their album “Metal Resistance” cracked the Billboard 200’s Top 40, debuting at number 39. They’ve been named the highest-charting Japanese band to be listed on the UK’s Official Albums Chart, where they landed at number 15. They also kicked off their 2016 world tour in April with a show at the UK’s Wembley Arena, making history as the first Japanese band to headline the prestigious venue.

Still can’t quite believe how these “kawaii metal” pop stars have managed to make it so big? Now’s your chance to see them for yourself…

Rock in Japan
August 6, 7, 13, 14 at Hitachi Seaside Park, 605-4 Mawatari, Hitachinaka, Ibaraki
More information here.

Ykiki Beat   

Ykiki Beat at World Happiness

Chances are you’ve heard their catchy 2015-released song “Forever” on local radio stations. Chances are also you presumed you were listening to a British band. But all five members of this indie act are Japanese; it’s just their inspirations that have molded their sound. We asked lead vocalist Nobuki Akiyama a few questions ahead of the band’s appearance at World Happiness festival.

What can your fans look forward to?
I guess we’ll be able to do some new songs, so we hope everyone will enjoy our new thoughts. It’s not common for us to play at a huge festival like this one. We’re so stoked to play it.

How does performing in America compare to playing in Japan?
Even in America there’s a huge difference between each city so it’s not easy to define, but playing in America is really cool for us. There’s an amazingly creative atmosphere. We feel people are really enjoying indie music over there. In Japan people are more focused on listening to the music itself, instead of shouting and dancing. It’s more calm maybe? I love the American way of enjoying music, but sometimes they don’t care about the music so much, so I also understand why many foreign bands love a Japanese audience.

Who are you excited about playing with at this festival?
If we can play with Happy End or Miyuki Nakajima that would be great!

World Happiness
August 28 at 3-2 Yumenoshima, Koto-ku, Tokyo
More information here.

Culture Club

Culture Club at Zepp Tokyo

Having sold more than 10 million albums worldwide, Culture Club remain one of the most well-loved hit makers of the 80s, but internal tensions, and the success of Boy George’s DJ career, kept its members going their separate ways for decades after their heyday. Despite ongoing struggles to complete their first album since 1999, last year Culture Club launched its first all-member tour in 13 years. This highly anticipated return to form hits Zepp Tokyo for two nights only. Especially considering the rate at which legends are passing away this year, this show is a must-see.

Culture Club
June 21-22 at Zepp Tokyo, 1-3-11 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo
More information here.

 

Minmi

Minmi at Freedom Aozora

In these troublesome times of teen-pop-ensemble-group overload, Minmi stands out for a number of reasons. She started her career in 1996, performing hip-hop and reggae at clubs in Osaka. She is considered to be the first soca musician to come out of Japan. She not only sings, but also writes and arranges songs, and produces for other bands, including her husband Wakadanna’s reggae outfit Shonan no Kaze.

If this unique performer alone is not enough motivation to trek all the way to Hyogo Prefecture for Freedom Aozora, the chance to explore Awaji Island should change your mind. It’s blessed with abundant nature, fine beaches, and some interesting sightseeing.

Freedom Aozora
July 30 at Awajishi Yumebutai, 8-10 Yumebutai, Hyogo (two more festival dates are scheduled at different locations in Japan in August and September)
More information here.

Narimichi Kawabata

Narimichi Kawabata at Yokohama Otomatsuri

Held over 67 days, the triennial Yokohama Otomatsuri runs the gamut of musical styles and tastes, with a total of 300 different performances in classical, jazz, pop, and traditional Japanese music all on the program for the event. Last time around, in 2013, the event drew close to four million attendees, and this year promises to keep Kanto’s music festival atmosphere going well into fall.

One of the more unique musical offerings at the festival will be a concert by Narimichi Kawabata. Left severely visually impaired by a childhood accident, Kawabata is not just a musician by trade: “What I do goes beyond that,” he tells Weekender. “For a very long time, there hasn’t been a day when I didn’t play the violin, and now it’s like the instrument [a Guadagnini that was made the same year that Beethoven was born] has become a part of my body.”

His performance at the Otomatsuri will be remarkable for a particular reason: the concert will take place in darkness, a first even for Narimichi – who is known for his skill in creating engaging programs. “I’ve never tried anything like this before. There are a lot of things we hope the audience will be able to experience by listening to music in this kind of a situation.”

Yokohama Otomatsuri 
September 22-November 27 at various venues in Yokohama (Narimichi will be playing at Philia Hall, Aoba Kumin Bunka Center)
More information here.

Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen at Rockcorps Japan 2016

With most music festivals, getting your hands on a ticket is a matter of staying up until midnight and then rapidly refreshing a browser, or if you’re old school, waiting in a very long queue to buy your ticket. That’s not the way it works with a RockCorps show. To get your hands on a ticket, you have to put those hands to work for four hours, taking part in one of dozens of volunteer activities that the organization sets up.

Started in the US 11 years ago, the movement has spread to 10 countries, and is celebrating its third anniversary in Japan. Headlining this year’s show in Fukushima is Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen, who RockCorps founder and CEO Stephen Greene describes as a performer who is “born for the stage; when you see her live it’s clear that she’s having the time of her life, and she was meant to do this.”

Former AKB48 member Minami Takahashi will also take the stage, along with rockers Asian Kung-Fu Generation, and more acts will be announced in the months to come. However, Greene makes it clear that each artist who takes the stage shares the feeling that “the stars that night are the audience of volunteers, not them.”

RockCorp Japan 2016
September 3 at Azuma Gymnastics Center, Sabara Kamikotoba 1, Fukushima City, Fukushima (free buses and discounted rental cars available)
More information here.

Kodo

Kodo at Earth Celebration

In Japanese, the word “Kodo” conveys two meanings: “heartbeat” or “children of the drum”. The renowned taiko drumming troupe Kodo takes its name from both – because the taiko drum is said to be reminiscent of a mother’s heartbeat as experienced in the womb, and because the group members seek to play their instruments “with the simple heart of a child.” Clearly their approach is working – they’ve been going strong since debuting in the 80s, performing more than 5,000 concerts in 47 countries so far. Arguably the most respected taiko group in the world, Kodo’s incredible stage presence is made all the more fascinating by their traditional “fundoshi” (loincloth) attire. But perhaps the best thing about watching them at the annual Earth Celebration is that you get to see them on their home turf, the beautiful Sado Island.

Earth Celebration
August 26-28 at Kodo Village, 148-1 Ogi Kanetashinden, Sado Island, Niigata
More information here.

 

Deadmau5

Deadmau5 at Ultra Japan

Pretty much anything you want to know about Deadmau5 (real name Joel Zimmerman) can be found out just by scrolling through his Twitter feed (@deadmau5). In May alone, we learnt, through his tweets, about his Soundcloud account getting hacked; his online criticism of Skrillex working with Justin Bieber (to which Skrillex hit back via “Rolling Stone”: “I like working with Justin Bieber”); and his plans to revive his iconic cube stage – after which he plans to “tour like a madman.” Whether the stage is ready or not, the next few months see the progressive house producer touring like a madman anyway, from America to Spain, to Korea, and to Japan, amongst other countries.

Ultra Japan
September 17-19 at Tokyo Odaiba Ultra Park
More information here.


This feature appears in the June 2016 issue of Tokyo Weekender magazine.