After last year’s somewhat disappointing lineup, the Fuji Rock team have upped their game for 2016, which also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the Naeba music festival. As we gear up for the event next month, we had a quick chat with Johnnie “Fingers” – the former Boomtown Rats pianist who’s been part of the Fuji Rock team since the start.
How did you get involved in the festival in the first place?
My good friend Masahiro Hidaka, the president of the Smash Corporation, had been going to Glastonbury festival for many years and had been planning on doing a festival in Japan. When he told me about it, he asked if I’d like to be involved.
How has it changed over the years?
The spirit is still the same: a camping outdoor weekend festival with the best music around. But naturally it has changed considerably – at first it was just two days and two stages. Now, 20 years down the line, it is three days with an extra day to set up camp, multiple stages, and different events that take place over Fuji Rock weekend. Even the location has changed.
You usually ask for feedback after the festival. What do people seem to like most about it? What kind of complaints have you had?
The food stall variety always seems to be high on the list of things that the audience most enjoy. Food is important for happy campers. Complaints? Sore feet or the choice of trying to decide which band to go and see.
You once said that Rage Against the Machine was the most memorable performance you have seen there. Do you still stick by that?
I always dislike this question; it’s like asking what’s your favorite song. Rage Against the Machine was a moment, when they were at their prime, and the audience was young and excited. I think Bjork in heavy rain was oddly special. I think The Chemical Brothers gave their finest show a few years back. The XX was another band that just captured the audience. I suppose in an hour’s time I will think I should have said so and so…
Any bands we should look out for this year?
Mura Masa, Oliver Heldens, The Internet, Leon Bridges, and Jack Garratt are definitely worth catching. Then some returnees: Disclosure and James Blake. Sigur Ros is a first time to play Fuji, and Chili Peppers will be great…
How would you respond to those critics who say the lineups have got weaker over the past few years?
You cannot please all the people all the time, but this year is special. Happy 20th Fuji Rock!
July 22-24 at Naeba Ski Resort, Yuzawa-cho, Niigata
Read our full summer music festival report here.