When Britpop was Beautiful

Summer is the festival season in Japan, and the music festivals come with it. My partner and I went to Summersonic this year, primarily to see Suede, and because the line up was a little boring, we went later than usual, arriving at about 4pm and missing some of the minor bands. Nonetheless, we had a good afternoon and evening. Of course the Japanese do music festivals the way they do everything – quietly, politely, and with a hefty dose of civilization. No watered-down beer and long queues for food here, because there were about 15 bars and about 50 food shops, as well as 5 or 6 stages, so that people were spread well throughout the place. The stage times were staggered so that there was no simultaneous throng of people leaving stages all at the same time, and there was a wide range of chill-out places. Unlike my disastrous experience with Snap, C&C Music Factory and “the KLF Experience” in Sydney many years ago, there was a huge amount of seating, so people were in good humour, well-fed and relaxed, with lots to do while they waited for their favourite band. This was despite the intense summer heat – it was 33C and intensely humid yesterday, and all the bands were sweating buckets, but everyone was chilled and there was no sign of violence or trouble. Ah, Japan… So here’s an overview of what we saw.

Upcoming Chinese Music at the Island Stage

The Island Stage was one of the smaller stages, and not many people were watching at any time, but it was particularly interesting because it had been set aside for a range of new bands from Asia – mainly Chinese, I think – and they were really interesting. First we saw Muma and Third Party, who I only saw one song by before they finished, but they seemed very promising. Next we saw Queen Sea Big Shark, who were like a slightly more New Romantic version of La Roux, slightly poppier and less electronic but very good and energetic. We then stuck around for the highlight, Rebuilding the Rights of Statues, who were a kind of Editors-meets-Bauhaus, frantic guitar rock goth crossover with a lot of energy and passion. Their first song, Bela Lugosi is Back, was a great reinterpretation of the classic original, a bit more speedy and with some frantic guitar loaded on. We liked these bands so much that we bought their CDs, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Chinese acts in Tokyo – the impression I got from this stage was of a lot of gothic/electronic crossover work going on in this particular music scene. Very interesting!

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Shit, stayed around for two songs. If you’re going to be a pretentious music-type wanking your guitar on stage, you have to be good.

Public Image Limited

I have my issues with Johnny Rotten, and I have my issues with bands steaming on past their old-age use by date (I saw Motorhead at another Summersonic, and they were good, but they just seemed like a bunch of old men going through the motions, and there’s something about rock that is young and stupid and at some point people need to give it up), and I quite frankly couldn’t care less if the Sex Pistols had never climbed out of their own vomit long enough to divert punk into its inevitable musical cul-de-sac (though without them we wouldn’t have the excellent Megadeth cover of Anarchy). But despite this, and a slightly doddery and past-it Johnny Rotten looking just a bit out of place in a rock gig rather than an old people’s home, PiL were good. He really can do that vibrato intense voice live, despite his age and the heat, and the guitar work was really really cool. I only stuck around for half of PiL (sorry Johnny, but I was more interested in Rebuilding the Rights of Statues and Suede) but what I saw was very nice, and I’m encouraged to listen to a little more – I didn’t realize PiL was so swirly and intense, having only heard a couple of their songs. So that was nice. But we had to flee before the end to get to the main act…


Now, I’m not so into bands reforming and doing money-making reunion tours, at least, not as a concept, but I can’t really criticize Suede for doing this. I’ve seen Brett Anderson live by himself and also in the Tears, and I know he can continue to produce quite beautiful and intense music – his creativity isn’t trapped in his youth. I also know he can produce passionate work (his solo rendition of Asphalt World at the Mermaid was amazing), and I’m pretty sure he has reinvigorated Suede for the simple reason that a whole bunch of his fans didn’t get to enjoy him live back in the day, and Suede always had a feeling of having ended before its time. So he’s not making anything new with them, just giving people what they didn’t get enough of back then. And I can’t fault it, because what he gives us is such vintage Suede, and so full of the original passion and grand intensity of the band, that one can only be carried along. Brett Anderson is intense, energetic, still astoundingly sexy (and beautiful) and if anything he’s better than he was back in the day. I’ve seen him in different guises four or five times now and every time he does this thing where, about half way through the performance, he really starts to get into it – gets transported to a different place, and really takes the crowd with him. And the crowd really were obssesively good, singing along to all the words and bouncing and screaming (and nearly crushing me when he came to touch the front rows). You can tell Brett Anderson really loves performing, and you can tell that his fans really love the attention he gives them. This was a vintage live performance, full of the classic songs delivered with the original passion, and if you get a chance to see the reformed Suede, I strongly recommend it.

So, overall, Summersonic was a blast even though I only really went to see one band. I got to find out about a few new bands, enjoyed some really solid performances, and had a good (but exhausting) day out. Next year I probably won’t be going – the line up has been declining in interest every year, from the high point (2006?) when I saw Metallica perform the 20th anniversary rendition of the album Master of Puppets, and also The Editors and Tears. But it’s worth it if one of your favourite bands is there, because you’re bound to stumble on something else you like. Give it a try if you can!

Four Wishes at Dusk

On the weekend just been, regular commenter and past player of mine, Paul, and his wife The Indomitable G came to my sleepy resort town at the tale end of a two week tour of Japan. We had heard tell of a minor festival of bamboo lanterns in distant Hita Town, so decided to visit. We rented a car and headed to Hita Town via the excellent Ebisu Hot Spring, where we stopped for an hour long soak and a lunch of delicious noodles and fried chicken. We arrived at Hita itself at about 3pm, to find the town overrun by police, who were directing traffic very officiously. Ominously, when we stopped to ask a uniformed chap the way to the nearest car park, he told us he didn’t know because he was from out of town.

Out of town police? What could possibly be going on? Upon inquiring at a convenience store we discovered that Crown Prince Naruhito would be passing through Hita Town on his way to an international wheelchair marathon in a nearby town[1]. By the time we found this out, groups of Japanese spectators with Rising Sun flags were gathering at suitably spaced cordons, guarded by police (including some – universally very handsome and quite macho – wearing caps emblazoned with a riot police logo). These police were giving instructions in an extremely polite tone to the gathered crowds, such as “please do not press beyond this rope barrier, as cars are coming through here – thank you very much for your cooperation” and “papa! Papa! Please step down from that wall!” (to the giggles of everyone in the crowd). So we decided to join the crowds and wait for the Crown Prince to pass.

After 10 minutes or so our responsible cop told us that two cars would pass us by, one with a “3” written on the side and one with a “1” on it. These would indicate that the Crown Prince was 3 and then 1 minute away from us, so we could prepare our waves. One policeman had his batch of crowd practice their waves, but we weren’t so lucky as to receive drill training. In fact, I think the two cars were not two minutes apart as promised, and then were followed by a big black saloon car which didn’t, in fact, contain the crown prince – it contained two of his household staff, who were grinning inside the car and madly pointing to the car behind them. Everyone had been waving at this saloon car, but when they saw the pointing staffers they immediately turned to the following car and there inside was the Crown Prince himself, waving happily to the crowd. He was gone in a moment, and followed by two buses full of police.

Satisfied with our glimpse of royalty, we traipsed off with everyone else towards the suburb called “Beanfield Town” (Mameda Town) where the lantern festival was being held. On the way a group of 3 schoolgirls walking behind us interrupted our conversation with gentle hellos, and there proceeded a hilarious conversation in which they tried to practice their English, and misdirected us towards the “big river” where we could see the lanterns. In fact, they later found us at the big river, and declared in unison “Big River!!!” with great satisfaction. A very cute moment of international exchange indeed…

The Moon Princess wishes for a day job

First though we found Beanfield Town, a section of old buildings in the Edo style, full of cute shops (all selling the same stuff) and some quaint little streams, winding between rice paddies and walled compounds, and lined with bamboo or paper lanterns hanging from poles. These being not yet lit, we wandered the town a little in search of the aforementioned “Big River,” which we finally found. This river was lined with serried ranks of white paper lanterns, such as the one shown here, all decorated with the wishes of the people who placed them. The pictured lantern is by a schoolchild, who wishes to become a nurse. Other wishes included “I want to be a medal-winning olympic volleyballer,” “I want to read 10 books,” and “I want to be proficient with my abacus.” As the sun set these lanterns were lit, and the river was lined with patterns formed from lines and clusters of candles. Even the stepping stones across the river were graced with clusters of bamboo lamps, and furthermore every shop and shrine in town had placed their own small collection of lanterns by the street, sometimes in elaborate displays (one small temple had a buddha amongst the candles). There were also some stages for musical performances set about the town, lined and surmounted with bamboo lanterns in intricate patterns, and the grounds of the main shrine in the town were full of intricate patterns and tall multi-candle bamboo poles, carved with bats and cat footprints that the candles shone through.

As full night overcame the town we had to return to our car park, but on the way we passed back through the main town, where the musicians were warming up and the local school was selling burgers made of noodles (?). Many residents were carrying pretty red lanterns on poles, and wandering about looking in the shop windows. There is a legend in Japan concerning a princess from the moon who lives in a bamboo stalk, and was found there by an old man. Both Paul and I looked in many bamboo lanterns, but we found no moon princess. Despite this, the day was very successful and the evening festival enchanting. Next year I hope to come back to this town and stay the night, so that I can enjoy the festival until late in the evening, and I recommend it to anyone travelling Kyushu in mid-November.



fn1: which explains the wheelchair-bound athletes I saw gathering for dinner in Oita on Wednesday night