Fuji Rock Festival is much more than just a gathering of bands and fans in a field. Eschewing elitism and never pandering to pop, the festival on the slopes of Mount Naeba hosts three days of diverse and engaging music that not only showcases Japan’s finest musicians but also draws the biggest names from the world over. This year—its 20th—the event’s organizers offer up perhaps the most dynamic and thoughtful lineup to date. Here’s our pick of five of the best artists from each day, and the songs we really, really hope they play…
FRIDAY 22 JULY
The finest of Icelandic exports, Sigur Rós creates music that is by turns achingly melancholic and truly soaring. Having understandably won a devoted fan base around the world, the band’s headline slot on Friday night will be one of the truly essential must-sees of the festival. With this gorgeous track taken from their 2002 album ‘( )’—yes, that’s actually its name—they will be breaking hearts and lifting spirits at the same time.
The Boredoms—‘Acid Police’
One of the most thrilling, unique and impossible-to-categorize bands to come out of Japan (or any country, really). Anyone missing The Boredoms’ set at Fuji Rock will be missing one of the high points of the weekend. Having dropped their first EP thirty years ago and subsequently followed it up with about a million other releases, they have somehow managed to never repeat themselves. The tribalistic thunder and berserk call-and-response refrain of this nugget of crazy is as good as it gets.
Biffy Clyro—‘Buddy Holly’
Having started out as a decidedly esoteric and quirky band, Scotland’s Biffy Clyro’s sound has morphed into an epic, anthemic beast that has catapulted the band into arena-headliner status and sent its albums and singles racing up the charts. This cover of Weezer’s Buddy Holly is frankly bonkers, but gloriously bonkers: the band puts its own spin on it, and in doing so makes everyone’s brains whirl in their skulls. In a nice way, of course.
Yūki Chiba has been making hip-hop and trap music under the name of Kohh since he was eighteen years old, and is one of the most riveting performers in his scene. Having penned lyrics in both his native Japanese and English, his power and ability to twist and wrap syllables around a thumping beat is formidable indeed. This track throws in an eerie chiming that is electrifying.
Courtney Barnett—‘Pedestrian At Best’
Ms Barnett has cornered the market when it comes to writing miserable-but-upbeat stoner-grunge-folk about her own emotional problems, and when catching her live it’s almost impossible to not smile yourself stupid. This track is a perfect example of just how good she is, welding an infectious bounce to a messy stream-of-consciousness diatribe, all delivered with a lovely Australian accent.
SATURDAY 23 JULY
It’s crazy to think that the stoner kid that dropped the classic ‘Loser’ way back in the day turns 46 this year, but heading into middle age has not dimmed his creative fire and he continues to churn out essential listening. With Saturday night’s headline slot, those in attendance can expect plenty of shuffling hip-hop beats, off-kilter rhymes, folky frolics, and wonderfully scrappy songs. After a few beers, many in the crowd will be hoping he drops in this adorably sloppy anti-anthem.
Pop-punk may well have been birthed on the sunny shores of California, but just about every country has a scene at this point and Wanima is one of the best Japan offerings. Churning out songs that are ruthlessly catchy, bouncy and rammed with so much energy you’ll be frequently amazed that they don’t burst at the seams, they will be whipping up plenty of smiles when they take the stage, and it doesn’t get more exuberant than this lively anthem.
The Album Leaf—‘Window’
A music maker since 1998, Jimmy LaValle—aka The Album Leaf—has a lightness of touch that is sublime. Taking a minimalistic approach, the ambient sounds he excels at stops you in your tracks and warmly strokes something deep inside you (no, not your intestines; deeper). If he plays this perfect glacial lullaby during his slot, chances are you’ll find yourself in the middle of a crowd with nobody moving a muscle.
Japan has churned out a plethora of stunning post-rock bands, and Rovo is among the most ambitious and absorbing the scene has birthed. Weaving elements of psychedelia and progressive rock into their instrumental wares, the sextet is utterly hypnotizing when they’re in the zone. With ‘D.D.E’ they are at their best, and there are few tracks that feature a more exhilarating performance on the electric violin, in any genre.
Kill the Noise—‘Black Magic’
When it comes to dirty dubstep, few bring it harder than New York’s Jake Stanczak, aka Kill The Noise. Laying on the ugly bass as if he’s trying to choke you with it, unleashing beats to die for and throwing layer-upon-layer of mutated synth and samples at you, this track is a perfect example of his power. But the same could be said for pretty much his entire catalogue.
SUNDAY 24 JULY
Red Hot Chili Peppers—‘Soul To Squeeze’
Do Red Hot Chili Peppers really need an introduction? Having been churning out their unique blend of funkified rock for about seven thousand years, there is probably not a music fan on the planet unfamiliar with their name—and they rightfully claim Sunday night’s headline slot. With this track they are in real classic rock territory: the warmth at its sleepy heart makes for perfect listening as everyone in attendance edges closer to deliriously happy exhaustion.
Ken Yokoyama—‘I Won’t Turn Off My Radio’
Best known as the face and voice of Crazy Ken Band, Ken Yokoyama is something of a Japanese institution. His music is equal parts jangly, Beatles-y melodies and thrilling, high-octane incredibly catchy punk rock. This track is a perfect example of the man at his very best, and should ensure manic pogoing ensues en masse!
Explosions in the Sky—‘First Breath After Coma’
Possibly the finest post-rock band in the world, Texas natives Explosions In The Sky seem to be incapable of putting a foot wrong, and every release dropped over the last sixteen years is stunning in its own right. Only a truly hardened heart could fail to be moved by this track: 10 minutes of the most brittle, poignant and achingly emotional music ever recorded.
Babymetal is a true global phenomenon, and it’s not hard to see why. With a thumping metallic sound built on massive riffs and driving rhythms, the three teenage vocalists—Su-Metal, Yuimetal, and Moametal— sing their hearts out while whirling across the stage, getting everyone excitedly singing along. ‘Megitsune’ is as infectious an anthem as you’re likely to hear over the three-day festival.
The clue to 2Cellos’ sound is in the name— yep, it’s two guys playing cellos. However, when these fine Croatian gentlemen take the stage they are not about to bore you with an hour of Beethoven and Brahms, rather you can expect to be bombarded with their unique covers of pop and rock songs. Their almost ridiculously exciting take on this AC/DC classic is frankly unlike anything you’ll ever hear.