Summer Sonic Festival, August 9th - 10th 2008, Tokyo Japan.
Can’t escape my head, the first breath of Sonic air a frozen image. With the annual festival only hours young, picture patrons strewn across Astroturf, peacefully napping on said surface shading solid concrete beneath. Puzzling, to behold music lovers asleep at the helm of a storm, a quake already shaking the bed they lie in.
Attempting to stretch out and harbor space from the enormity that is Tokyo, the Summer Sonic Festival earths half (other being in Osaka simultaneously) its music bliss in Chiba, a greater Tokyo residential area. Despite the distanced JR railway excursion, said location still lays tucked in the midst of skyscrapers, raised walkways and surprisingly, palm trees.
Upon admission of the front gate, was flattened to uncover the bulk of this daunting music festival is housed indoors. Resembling an airport hangar, the majority grounds are separated into grand rooms, each coldly accompanied by darkness and concrete. Their contents entail: three stages, an elephant accommodating sized food court, and extracurricular amenities, all linked together by a massive back corridor.
However, this is not the only canvas, rather the allotted space tumbles out from the covers and spills onto the neighboring floor.
Unfortunately, that footing requires binoculars to view, as the Marine Stage (outdoor stadium hosting the headliners) is at such a length that shuttle buses are provided to abridge the distance. Those wishing to forgo a bus line or not willing to make the 30 minute trek by foot (including a highway overpass) can watch a feed from a screen in the main grounds. With still more paint in the can, opposite the stadium reaches a long winding walkway to the sand and the sea. Somehow, this is connected and host to another stage, in a completely different stratosphere.
Seemingly, it feels the festival has conflicting interests with no sticking personality. To the point, Coachella has the desert, Glastonbury the oft muddy farm, while Summer Sonic has an airport hangar, a beach and a baseball park! Grasp for too much and you’ve got no distinction. Although one can seemingly adjust, due to the festivals nature, all weekend I nostalgically pined for grass, sun, mud, tents, any or all of it. Burying the prejudice, one fixture SSF sustains is roping in a mammoth crowd and a vast array of acts, to the tune of over 100,000 and 115 respectively.
In this realm, the weekend belonged to energetic performances by Crystal Castles, Hot Chip and Friendly Fires. Worth noting, the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft wielded an air of God as he calmly orchestrated his band through epic symphonic pop to the charming pleasure of a massive stadium gathering. Contrarily, to the displeasure of the dedicated and undermining the ‘silent disco’ (via headphones) muting the noise curfew, all music was astonishingly packed in by 10PM. With insufficient on-site hospitality, patrons were caught in a heavy current for the subway back to Tokyo, only to reverse the tide in the morning. As a result, I regrettably missed the ‘Ting Tings’ performance at 11:30AM, their time slot chronicling the lineup as profound.
In years past, one could jammer on highlighting the countless and vast cultural differences from Summer Sonic and festivals on the Western front. However, the angle is quickly disappearing as the blue and green circle heats up. By way of the worlds ‘smaller’ phenomenon has emerged increasing commonality in interests and ideas, most heavily evident at an international music festival. From art exhibits, hipster style and obligatory ‘guitar hero’ stations, to food adaptation, the beloved music itself and the environmental consciousness ignited via strict recycling.
Yet, in the midst of all this, remains a struggle to release characteristics deemed unique. An obvious distinction that evaded detection until ample exposure, thereafter leaking copious absurdity was the conservative crowd. The Japanese brought their general nature to the forefront showcasing anti-festival antics. The polite applause (and only applause) quickly silenced between song, the absence of jubilate shouts for encores after headlining sets, no crowd chants, outrageous outfits and odd behavior nearly non-existent, a lack of roughhousing, and neither the sight of flags or signs in plain view. Although all could be attributed to the oddity of spotting a patron with beer in hand, such was the cultural disparity from previous festival experience that when a local accidentally bumped me (inevitable with the population) he bowed, a first, anywhere.
Mingling with an air of conventionalism, the structured layout proved too much for a music festival. With select stair cases only permitting one direction, the food grouped altogether in one location, select smoking spots and absolutely no trash to kick about, it felt less laid back and more a challenge to get comfortable.
Breaking out of the shell, the extra-curricula’s were quite diverse with a stage amended for karaoke and air guitar competitions, others being invaded by a casino, a hair salon, yoga classes, fish bowl massages and a bag check stretching pupils to their limits. Detracted from discovering new bands, patrons pass the lull between favored acts pissing off into another field of entertainment. It seems lost on misguided eagerness that they’re creating direct competition with themselves.
Without question Summer Sonic looms large in no whisper of falling flat on the cement it abuses, but to ponder is whether it will continue to grow away from the music and more towards taking a longer walk in the park, stadium or nearest airport.
The bill included: the verve, the prodigy, panic at the disco, the subways, joe lean and the jing jang jong, los campesinos, coldplay, alicia keys, radwimps, the kooks, 311, hoosiers, vampire weekend, the wombats, sex pistols, lost prophets, fatboy slim, justice, devo, beat union, the ting tings, the metros, kids in glass houses, trivium, late of the pier, polysics, junkie xl, biffy clyro, mutemath, boom boom satellites, paul weller, the fratellis, death cab for cutie, cajun dance party, the kills, band of horses, blood red shoes, these new puritans, jesus and mary chain, super furry animals, against me!, mgmt, silversun pickups, hot chip, friendly fires, south central, we smoke fags, santogold, perfume, pendulum, yelle, new young pony club, the teenagers, the shoes, meg, wagdug futuristic unity, hadouken!, does it offend you, yeah?, crystal castles, xavier rudd, bedouin soundclash, tokyo police club, the troubadours, cut off your hands.