Although there remains just over two months before the 2017 edition of Fuji Rock kicks off, the poster for this year’s gathering has come together quite nicely. A few stories become clear within its somewhat trippy illustrations — Shibuya-kei cornerstones Cornelius and Kenji Ozawa appear on the same day; a healthy amount of groups have reunited and are making triumphant returns to Naeba (LCD Soundsystem, The Avalanches); electronic acts lean towards the darker side.
One of the most intriguing developments, though, comes from the domestic rock scene. Fuji Rock Festival 2017 features sets from young Japanese bands who have been gaining attention over the last couple of years, going from small Tokyo-area live venues to national attention thanks to guitar-centric, sun-dappled numbers. The big three — Yogee New Waves, Never Young Beach and DYGL — are all set to be at Naeba this July, making this year’s fest a punctuation mark of sorts for this movement.
Pinpointing the exact moment these bands moved from indie darlings to on-the-cusp mainstream acts is tough, but their generally laid-back sound fits in well with a budding interest in more optimistic rock music by younger Japanese listeners. The biggest act to capitalize on this shift played at Fuji Rock last year — Suchmos, whose acid-jazz-twinged numbers drip city-life cool. Yogee New Waves resemble them the most, as that outfit draws from jazz, ’80s city pop and more to construct breezy cuts apt for staring at the Yokohama skyline at night.
Never Young Beach makes music at a faster tempo, and their swift numbers feel more appropriate for the shore than downtown (the name might help shape this opinion). But the vibe — sunny, upbeat, ultimately romantic — remains similar, with numbers such as “Akarui Mirai” (literally, “Bright Future”) just bouncing ahead on sun beams and good vibrations. Listen to that one below.
DYGL similarly fall into this zone — members of this rock outfit also used to be in an even more tropical-leaning outfit called Ykiki Beat — yet of the big three playing Fuji Rock this year, they add a more visible tension to their music that makes the chill-out-bro feeling vanish at times. Plenty of songs appearing on this year’s Say Goodbye To Memory Den debut full-length embrace a warm and fuzzy feeling, such as “Let It Out” (below). Yet harder-edged songs such as “Waste Of Time” tease political awareness. It’s vague punches directed at “war” or “broken dreams,” but injects some awareness of trouble alongside escapism.
There’s a lot to take in at Fuji Rock this year, but these three groups getting prominent space at the festival stands out as one of the more intriguing stories for this July’s, event. Anyone trying to get a sense of how Japanese rock is doing in 2017 should seek out these outfits, whose take on rock is apt for a sunny afternoon and a gathering that doubles as a bit of real-world escapism for many punters.