On March 29th, 2019, as The Cure stood on the red carpet before their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, their lead singer – the eternally-lipsticked Robert Smith – was accosted by a brash reporter who, in classic American fashion, belted, “Are you as EXCITED as I am?!?!”. Equally true to form, and visibly wincing from her sensory assault, Mr.Smith quietly replied,”…apparently not”.
Despite their relatively upbeat post-punk debut in 1979, The Cure quickly ascended to the ranks of royalty as “kings of gloom”; people who made it not only acceptable to openly live through one’s depressive states; in the right circles, they even made it look “cool”.
As recent studies reveal that depression is on the rise worldwide, The Cure’s receipt of Rock’s highest honour not only seems fittingly timely; it also validates those who were bullied for being their fans in decades past. And, as Robert Smith and Co. prepare thirtieth anniversary concerts of their album Disintegration (arguably their darkest record) we can almost hear their throngs of fans silently chime, “We told you so”.
Even further cementing their importance, beyond becoming an incidental champion for those who struggle with mental health issues, from The Cure’s earliest performances, Robert Smith also pioneered another modern topic; gender and sexuality. Openly displaying more femininity than the average man since The Cure’s first shows, by 1982 Mr. Smith donned lipstick for all concerts and photo shoots. Even throngs of loyal fans assumed he was bisexual. However, ever-defiant of preconceptions, and consistently breaking new ground by default, Robert Smith would clearly state in interviews that he was monogamously married to a woman he loved; his high school sweetheart, Mary Poole. Once again, decades ahead of popular discourse, he indirectly gave millions permission to be themselves in both gender and sex.
As the band prepares to release a brand new album this autumn – reportedly steeped in “doom and gloom” – to celebrate its fortieth anniversary, its performance at Fuji Rock flows into a twenty-three date marathon of concerts, consisting mostly of appearances at legendary festivals like Glastonbury and Austin City Limits. Some may question the relevance of these ageing pioneers, in a country where visual kei and makeup on men is already seen as passé. However, for a land still struggling with gender equality, LGBTQ rights and epidemic depression, The Cure is a prescription we all need.
- July 4, 2019 ● Bands
A festival is supposed to feel grand, it is supposed to be all spectacle and grandeur. It should come across the way a circus coming to town must have felt in bygone eras- a separate time and ethereal place that only comes around about once a year. No act at this year’s Fuji Rock scratches that itch quite the way Tokyo’s Charan Po Rantan does.
Legend has it that as Death Cab for Cutie sat on a porch with their indie label rep circa 1998 – trying to decide how big a run of their first album they should press – they thought perhaps 500 copies might be enough. Their label then convinced them that they could sell 1000. Eight albums and a few member changes later, the band that grew around vocalist Ben Gibbard’s solo project is still evolving. From arguably depressing, navel-gazing ambient indie rock hymns drenched in reverb that perhaps only critics, hipsters and this writer could love, they completely changed their tune(s) by their fourth album; 2003’s Transatlanticism. Despite the darkly ironic nature of some its lyrics, the music for the single “The Sound of Settling” rang out with summery jubilance meant for stadiums. Atlantic Records were quick to snap them up, with the band striking a deal to their liking; on the strength of their last indie album selling 500,000 copies; the benchmark certified as “gold” in America. The following ten years saw their ambitions rewarded, with four albums multiplying into eight Grammy nominations. Their melding with the mainstream then reached its completion with a commission to write a song for the soundtrack of The Twilight Saga; “Meet Me on the Equinox”.
2018 saw the band born anew once again and reaching for new sounds, as it released its ninth studio album, Thank You for Today. Being DCFC’s first recording without their producer/guitarist Chris Walla, it also marked their debut as a five piece; with the addition of Dave Deeper and Zac Rae, both on guitars, vox and keyboards. Keys play a heavier role here than perhaps on any previous work, which is apropos, given the heavy nod to the eighties on a lot of songs; even borrowing the lead guitar sound of fellow Fuji Rockers The Cure, on the album’s opening track; “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”. By song three, a casual listener could be forgiven for believing that “Gold Rush” was a new Pet Shop Boys single; as lead singer Ben Gibbard’s always whimsical voice leans even more towards the gentle nasal tones of PSB’s leader Neil Tennant, and the drums resemble a modern-day version of the raucous dance beats the Brits employed to chart success in the nineties. One might question how this will all translate to the stage at Fuji Rock, but given the success of 80’s flirtations for artist such as Taylor Swift and Katie Perry, and the general desire to party of the average festival attendee, Death Cab for Cutie will probably reign supreme this summer at Japan’s largest festival, with one more arrow to add to their quiver.
- May 22, 2019 ● Bands
Fujirock has always welcomed more than just your standard American, British and Australian acts from overseas. However, especially in recent years we have noticed a steady increase in performers from neighboring Asian countries. Its not news to anyone that the largest non-Japanese attendants to Naeba are from Taiwan, reflected in the recent appearance of artists from there to draw in even more fans from that corner of the world.
This year once again brings a handful of acts from Asian countries outside Japan, but what we are noticing particularly this outing is a stronger showing by artists from another country; Korea.
“Despite” is a fitting adjective with which to start a sentence about many artists performing at Fuji Rock 2019. Many musicians on this year’s roster have so surely secured their place in the hearts of the masses, that they’ve graduated from the Hero’s Journey and onto a special place akin to artistic immortality. Death Cab for Cutie have secured a slot at this year’s festival despite having parted ways with their signature producer and lead guitarist Chris Walla, and Ging Nang Boyz accomplished the same feat despite only retaining the lead singer of their original lineup.
The Waterboys appeared at Fuji Rock in 2014 for the first time, and will be returning to Naeba this year. The UK band was formed in 1983, centered on Mike Scott. Mike has been known as one of the UK’s greatest songwriters for over 40 years, with many other artists covering his songs; for example “The Whole Of The Moon” covered by Prince. We got an opportunity to interview Mike during his recent stay in Japan. He talks about his previous appearance at Fuji Rock and looks ahead to this year’s festival appearance.
Having been both a music journalist and a musician myself since my high school days in the 90’s, my journey through this industry has been epic and winding. My first festival, as a musician, was the Boom ’n’ Blast in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. A now-defunct teen band competition in my hometown’s central park, with a stage and a sound system worthy of household names, it made me feel like I had already reached the big leagues. However, they were still decades away. My first international festivals included Zandari Festa in Seoul, which I attended as an artist, and Music Matters in Singapore which I covered as a music journalist; the former operating on a mission statement similar to that of the original SXSW festivals (with an eye on showcasing the best in independent talent) and the latter hosting headliners like Pentatonix; the hot topics of the moment.
The first line-up announcement for Fuji Rock 2019 is out and brings with it a little something for everyone this year.
Last seen in Naeba back in 2011, The Chemical Brothers make their return to the headline slot, promoting their April release No Geography, No Geography.
Celebrating 40 years of music since thier first album Three Imaginary Boys, The Cure will also be making a return. Whether or not they will repeat thier epic 3-hour, 36-song performance from 2013 remains to be seen.
Enigmatic popstar SIA completes the first of the major headliners. Reaching wider international acclaim with her 2014 album 1000 Forms of Fear, SIA has most recently work a part of LSD, a supergroup with Diplo and Labrinth. The Australian singer-songwriter makes her Fuji Rock debut (along with dancer Maddie) this year.
Other notable additions to the large line-up include Janelle Monae and Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Singer, songwriter and actress Janelle Monae released her Dirty Computer album in 2018, with single “Make Me Feel” most clearly nodding to the influence of Prince working on the album with her before his death. Meanwhile, Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes promises stunning visuals alongside glitchy and atmospheric music from this 2014 release (and perhaps a few more recent additions?).
Here’s the full first line-up.
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, THE CURE, SIA
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, JAMES BLAKE, JASON MRAZ, MARTIN GARRIX
JANELLE MONAE ALVVAYS, AMERICAN FOOTBALL, ANNE-MARIE, BANDA BASSOTTI, CAKE, CALPURNIA, CHON, DANIEL CAESAR, GARY CLARK JR., GEORGE PORTER JR & FRIENDS, INTERACTIVO, , KAYTRANADA, KHRUANGBIN, KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD, THE LUMINEERS, MATADOR! SOUL SOUNDS, MITSKI, NICOLA CRUZ, RED HOT CHILLI PIPERS, SHAME, STELLA DONNELLY, TORO Y MOI, UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA, THE WATERBOYS, YAEJI
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Photo: Julen Esteban-Pretel