Summer Sonic is Japan’s biggest festival. This year marked the event’s 10th summer of sunshine, sweat and rock’n’roll, prompting its organisers to add a third day to what is usually a two-day event and go for the biggest Western and Japanese acts it could muster.
Summer Sonic’s Chiba site (it also takes place in Osaka) is vast – three stages inside a cavernous convention centre and then, across a six-lane highway, a 30,000-capacity open-air stadium, a tented stage and a beach stage, plus numerous sideshows, stalls and a casino. Bands play from 10.30am till nearly 5am, which means sleep goes out the window.
The Big Pink played a lunchtime set on the Friday – though surely it’s never too early for 40 minutes of guitar-grating shoebaggy noisebeat. Well, maybe too early for most people, but the few hundred punters who turned out for them went nuts for ‘Velvet’.
Jenny Lewis was kitted out for seaside fun in dungaree shorts for her set on the Beach Stage, her dusty Americana and heart-bursting voice bigger than the bay beside us.
Japanese techno-rock outfit Boom Boom Satellites raped the Marine Stadium PA with their seat-rattling basslines. The band are far more suited to the dark, but that didn’t stop punters dancing madly to their afternoon set.
Nine Inch Nails came on stage with enough dry ice to frighten a fireman, cramming their 20-year career into a 70-minute final farewell before a bulging Trent Reznor retires from performing to sort out the music industry. As if on cue, the heavens opened within about 20 minutes, with jagged lightning, rolling thunder and pummelling rain upping the raw atmosphere.
We got up early on Saturday for a pop fix – first Japanese all-girl ska unit Oreskaband, whose high-energy show packed out the Beach Stage; and then Little Boots, who brought her Tenori-on back to its home country for her set on the Sonic Stage.
In ‘Primary Colours’, The Horrors have finally made a record that lives up to their hairstyles, and they unleashed dark washes of noise that exploded into bursts of crashing rhythm on the same stage. If anywhere understands goth, it’s Japan, and the boys were well received.
So too was Joan Jett, who dropped 30 years of hits all over the cavernous Mountain Stage. Jett may be 50, but her every move and facial expression spewed raw energy as she wiggled her leather-clad bottom at the audience. Jett loves rock’n’roll; it’s hard to doubt the feeling is mutual.
CSS are super-hot in Japan, where Brazilians make up the largest ex-pat community. But while the crowd lapped up earlier tracks such as ‘Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above’, the newer material didn’t quite do it.
Saturday’s special was, erm, The Specials, whose Mountain Stage set became one huge skankfest. Terry Hall, in a suit and tie despite the intense heat, led the band through upbeat ska, whimsical ska, mournful ska and political ska, while Neville Staple whipped off his short and danced around like Maxim Prodigy’s granddad.
Lady Gaga opened the Midnight Sonic Stage with her highly polished but bitterly hollow show, all slick choreography and ostentatious costume changes (we helped her wardrobe lady get the clothes rack onto the stage because it was too heavy for one person to push) but – and let’s not kid ourselves – no decent tunes.
The best band of the day by far was Midori. Hailing from Osaka and playing punishing, aggressive jazz-punk, the super-tight band are fronted by Mariko Goto, a girl whose tiny frame belies a predilection for punching her fans (or herself) in the face. Their 2.30am show was the most visceral, vicious thing all weekend.
Well, not as vicious as Sunday’s hangover, as we made our way out for a lunchtime set by Puffy AmiYumi.
The Japanese duo are a household name here, and have already made waves in the States; their disco-rock and punk-pop tunes sent the jam-packed Island Stage tent into a frenzy.
Somehow The Vaselines managed to pack out the huge Sonic Stage – and the band seemed more surprised about it than anyone. Meanwhile, world-conquering Japanese metal act Electric Eel Shock were greeted onto the outdoor Emeets sideshow stage by another rain storm, while the recently re-formed and hugely influential Japanese band Unicorn met the same fate in the Marine Stadium.
Back indoors, Sonic Youth played a set stacked mainly with songs from ‘The Eternal’, an album so effortless and so danceable that the band needed no gimmicks whatsoever. When Sonic Youth are bad they’re horrid, but when they’re good…
Beyonce, we’re sorry, but we went for The Flaming Lips’ set over your grand headline slot. While the band’s inflatable party shtick no longer comes as a surprise, it’s still far from flipping lame. As always, they relentlessly attacked the crowd’s senses and emotions; and as always, the crowd played with balloons and sang and cried and laughed and screamed and came all over the floor.
New songs such as ‘Silver Trembling Hands’ and ‘Convinced Of The Hex’ sounded amazing, but we’re more interested in cramming in a pun about Beyonce not being ready for ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’. Finish it off yourself though, will you? It’s sleeping time.