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…

Suede

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!

The Royal Wedding has led to a new round of debate about Republicanism in Australia, particularly since the Queen somehow managed to ban a particular comedy group from providing satirical coverage of the wedding on the state broadcaster[1]. The debate was reflected last week in a panel presentation on the state broadcaster’s current affairs TV show, Q and A, and this can be viewed on the internet.

I thought I’d provide a link to this debate here for my non-Australian readers, because it’s a good example of the quality and style of political debate in Australia: robust but polite, with good use of the English language and, in general, direct and clear statements of opinion. There’s not a great deal of waffle, there’s good humour all round, and a lot of “piss-taking.” American readers may be interested in the Australian view of American republicanism (a “tragedy” according to one panel member) and British readers may be interested in the nuanced view of the monarchy held by the panelists. The strength of debate within the political class is also on display here : two panelists, Nick Minchin and Amanda Vanstone, are from the same political party (the conservative party, aptly called the “Liberals” in Australia), but they disagree vehemently over the issue of whether Australia should become a republic. Bob Carr, the representative of the “left” party, the Australian Labour Party, is actually an expert in American history (I think he has a PhD though I could be wrong), and although republicanism in Australia is often associated with the left of politics, he is decidedly equivocal about the whole thing. The strongest advocate of a republic is Craig Reucassel, who is from the comedy team who were banned by the Queen. There’s also an example of their work in the show, which American viewers might be interested in – would this sort of thing be played on your public broadcaster? And rest assured, this is mild compared to some of the other stuff this team were going to do (and have done in the past). Even Marcia Langton, an Aboriginal activist, is equivocal about the future of republicanism, and respectful of the Queen, though this doesn’t stop her appearing on a panel show with a comedian who wanted to present a skit about the consummation of the wedding vows…

The other noticeable trend in this debate is the importance of “modern” Australian issues. Bob Carr is “more passionate about saving red gums” than the republic; questions from the audience target the role of migrants in shaping republican debate (our current PM is a migrant, as is the leader of the opposition). Reconciliation and the attitude of Aborigines towards the crown is also reflected, with the presenter asking Marcia Langton the thorny question, “how do you think Aborigines should view the Queen, given she is the leader of the nation that invaded your country?” (Well answered, too). Modern Australia has certainly changed a lot since the constitutional crises of 1975…

It’s a long show, but if you’re interested in seeing how Australians approach each other and their leaders, I recommend viewing the whole thing.

fn1: she did it through application of contract law, not the repressive apparatus of the British state, but still this isn’t a good message to send to one’s loyal subjects…