Feeling like a scaled down, chilled out and grown-up cousin of Fuji Rock, Asagiri Jam has been going strong since 2001. This perennially sold out, 10,000-person strong yet intimate party gives you plenty of time to sit back, relax, and really enjoy some music and some nature. And this year was no exception, with legends like Yo La Tengo, Clammbon and Boredoms shoulder to shoulder with artists like Gogo Penguin, Snail Mail and John Butler Trio. All this in an idyllic setting with an iconic view of Mt Fuji. What more could you ask for?
One thing that Asagiri Jam does incredibly well is to make you feel relaxed and never very rushed, with basically two comparatively understated stages just a stone’s throw from each other, as opposed to Fuji Rock’s multitude of stages and quite a bit of walking distance in between. The party winds down early on Saturday night as well, with music ending at 10:00 to give everyone plenty of chance to get some sleep and try to wake up for the sunrise. The performers channel this aesthetic well, with a lot more laid back vibes and fewer mosh pits than one might expect from a rock festival. Just a lot of good, clean fun.
Things on Saturday started off nicely quirky. TV’s Musico Piccolino warmed up the Rainbow Stage with their particular brand of educational eclecticism, feeling like a group of musical pirates pillaging every genre possible. Japan’s Mouse on the Keys kept things interesting shortly afterwards on the Moonlight Stage, with their inspired experimental jazz reminding viewers that we aren’t in any rush here, just sit back, relax and enjoy the vibes.
The biggest (uninvited) guest on Saturday was the rain, and while it was wasn’t unexpected, it did do a good job of dampening spirits. Rain was a central feature on the first day of the festival, kicking off just as things were starting to warm up, and kept up the downpour until the last performer of the night was just wrapping up.
This didn’t slow down the momentum of some of the day’s strongest acts though, notably early afternoon act and rising star CHAI. This 4 piece from Nagoya has had a big, big year. They were the top pick of last year’s Fuji Rock Rookie a Go-Go, and this year their step up to that festival’s Red Marquee stage with a packed crowd proved that they are just as comfortable on a large stage as they are on a small one. Their relatively intimate Moonlight Stage set brought the festival’s first real kinetic energy with their unique blend of funky neo-kawaii pop.
The next big group that managed to overpower the weather was Japanese legends Boredoms, with their avant-garde, spaced out and trance-inducing noise. Recently they have been seen playing sets with ridiculous amounts of drummers or percussionists, but their Asagiri set was a return to simplicity (which for the Boredoms still involves two drummers). Classic songs like “Vision Creation Newsun” were performed in all their droning glory, with band leader Yamantaka Eye pacing, absolutely commanding the stage. Not only did he show off his charisma, but also his strength as a band leader and avant-garde conductor of sorts. Their hour-plus set managed to go by in what seemed like a flash.
While CHAI and Boredoms were able to rise above the drizzle, Manchester’s Gogo Penguin had a bit more trouble captivating the increasingly soaked crowd. Their truly unique sound, which feels like a jazz reconstruction of a trip-hop song, would have made for wonderful mid-evening chill-out vibes, and the popularity of their sound has been truly evidenced by their recent sold-out shows around Japan. Unfortunately, it was harder to settle into their set with the weather refusing to cooperate. That being said, they were a welcome addition to the night’s sound and they brought as much as they could, weather notwithstanding.
The night’s last big performer has been working hard for thirty-plus years, and they aren’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. Yo La Tengo proved their right to alt-rock godfather status with a set that showcased not only the band’s well known songs from years ago, but also their newer, more relaxed and mature tunes. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t still time for some solid guitar feedback from one of the masters of the art, Ira Kaplan. Not many performers know how to tease the perfect amount of noise from the instrument. Members of the Hoboken three-piece shifted fluidly from instrument to instrument, with each person getting a chance to take the reins on the vocals. Closing with a beautiful a capella rendition of “You Can Have It All” managed to calm the storm, and shortly after their set the rain began to subside and the festival-goers returned to their campsites to dry off and prepare for the day ahead.
Writer: Jonathan Cooper