In Pictures & Thoughts: Even A Typhoon Couldn’t Stop Festival Goers From Enjoying Fuji Rock Festival 2018

The “rock” is as misleading as the “Fuji” in Fuji Rock Festival

For the past few years, I’ve been attending almost every single music festival here in Singapore. Laeway, ZoukOut, Ultra Singapore, Neon Lights… I’ve even been on It’s The Ship as a solo raver but the festival scene here was becoming a little stale. This time I took things and decided to yolo solo a trip to Japan’s biggest summer music festival – Fuji Rock Festival.

The annual music festival takes place in a ski resort that is about an hour’s ride away from Tokyo (it’s nowhere near Fuji despite the name), and sees about 100,000 and 150,000 people attending every year. With a lineup that was very hip hop and J-pop focused, the festival was celebrating its 20th year anniversary this year and is much more wholesome than just music acts. Besides a solid lineup, the festival also boasts an entire recycling ecosystem, where you’ll find that your toilet paper was made from paper cups thrown away last year.

Those feeling eyes of Gon-Chan

DAY 1

As I stepped out of the train station with at least a hundred other people with duffel bags and sunhats, I started feeling the excitement in the air. I was finally at Fuji Rock! Well, nearly. I still had to travel up to the mountain before I was even within breathing distance of the festival.

It was only when I was at the Green Stage did I truly understand what I had just got myself into. Fuji Rock Festival was bigger than anything I ever went to in Singapore, and it was scary. My first culture-shock came right there, as the person next to me pulls out an entire wine bottle from his bag and starts pouring himself a cup. As I stared wide-eyed taking everything in, I realised that everyone was doing pretty much the same as they sat back in their camping chairs and chilling out to the music, with only the hardcore ravers in the front. Even though there was at least a good 10,000 people there, it didn’t even feel cramped at all. It even felt more spacious because of the vast mountainous landscapes.

Johnny Marr at the humongous Green Stage

One of the best things of attending festivals alone is that you could choose to see whoever you wanted, and know that you would be surrounded by other people who were into the same music as you were. Previously with friends, sometimes we couldn’t agree who to watch, or I would be able to tell that they weren’t as into the music as I was. Everyone should at least try attending a music festival alone – it’s not as lonely as it sounds. In fact, I sometimes have more fun when I’m alone because of all the interesting people I meet.

A complete tribute to Avicii before someone stole the hat

Most of the headliners at this year’s Fuji Rock Festival weren’t really rock, but I wasn’t complaining. There was a pleasant mix of different genres, and it was nice to listen to other artists, some of who I became fans of after watching them live. I managed to catch all four acts I really wanted to see on the first day, and it felt like the festival was off to a great start. The skies were clear, the weather pleasantly cool, and the sunsets gorgeous. Who knew the clouds could be that pink?

 

On to the music, which I made the trip for. Odesza was amazing, and I already had high expectations from friends who have been to their concerts before. Not only did they put up an epic-sounding set, they even brought their drum crew, the Odesza Drumline, all the way to Japan. That wasn’t even all, as the duo pulled up Sean Kusanagi as a special guest. Because hip hop is dominating all the charts now, most of the headliners were hip hop artists and rappers. N.E.R.D. closed the main stage with some old school hip-hop and funky dance moves. It was only the first day, and everyone was bursting with energy.

Old school hip hop with N.E.R.D.

Post Malone has been called white trash by i-D, but I couldn’t deny that he was a damn good singer and songwriter and decided to go for his set to see the hype about him. “Just be true to yourself, and who cares what everyone else thinks”  Posty shouts as he downs a red plastic cup probably filled with alcohol. This old lady who managed to fight her way to the first row throws up her hands and screams in excitement with the rest of the crowd. Drunk as he may be, Post Malone puts up a show worthy of the front page by lighting a cigarette on stage in the middle of a song, smashing his guitar after a few stripped down songs (woo!) and drinking out of his shoe. What a day, I say.

Post Malone at Fuji Rock Festival 2018

Those rumours of the Japanese being responsible people even after drinking and having fun? So true. As I followed the last stragglers out of the festival grounds, I was marvelling at how clean the grounds were. Sure there was the stray cigarette bud or water bottle here and there, but it wasn’t littered with trash everywhere. I could see everyone toting their trash out and cleaning up after themselves, and it definitely made the end of the festival feel a little bit more enjoyable.

DAY 2

After a good first day, I woke up with high expectations for the second day. This was probably the biggest day, with Kendrick Lamar, Skrillex and MGMT scheduled to play. But the ominous feelings started creeping up on me as I realised that everyone was decked out in ponchos and windbreakers. The weather forecast was not looking good.

I thanked my mother for making me bring along her windbreaker because it certainly saved me from the unpredictable weather when the temperature dropped to 15 degrees (the weather forecast said it would remains in the 20s when I was packing for my trip). I should have expected it though, as I was on a mountain.

Even though I had an earlier start today and went into the festival at 1pm, there were already tons of people inside, chilling on their mats and chairs. Another thing I noticed was that Fuji Rock wasn’t just for music lovers. Entire families with kids were hanging out. This was like an annual pilgrimage for some people – kind of like a holiday within the country. I spotted more than one person who had a collection of Fuji Rock wristbands hanging from their bags, and various shirts that dated all the way to the early 2000s.

 

One of the things I learned was that there was just some things that you had to let go – it was NOT possible to catch every single act you wanted to. In exchange (because the universe works in the funniest ways possible), you stumble upon other acts who you would have never have given the time of day.  Whilst I was trudging through the woods to get to the other stage, I came across this small little Wooden Pavilion stage with an acoustic guitarist. He was so into his music that he forgot to plug in his guitar during one of his loops, inciting a loud ‘WOOHOO’ from the dudes next to me when he finally realised and plugged it in.

Kenji Jammer at the 木道亭 stage (which literally translates to Wooden Pavilion) 

I soon learned not to care about how I was dressed. Because no matter how hard I tried to look cool, there would be another 10 festival goers who looked 100 times cooler than I did. Also, there’s no point dressing up when you’re going to end up wearing a poncho anyway. From green body suits to people in ponchos, it seemed like everyone just wore what they felt like.

Initially a bit wary of attending Fuji Rock alone, I learnt that I was not the only one. There were plenty of other solo attendees, all enjoying themselves without a care in the world. It was fun to make friends with people, some of whom had travelled all the way from halfway around the world just for this festival. I didn’t bump into familiar faces at all, something that would have happened every 500 metres at a music festival in Singapore.

As a music fan, the performances were what truly blew me away. And from unexpected artists and bands. It’s been a while since Skrillex played a festival set, and he gave it his all at Fuji Rock. As he dropped high energy tracks like Crowd Control (#blessed at finally being able to witness this) and even old school tunes like Chop Suey, Skrillex managed to get the crowd jumping despite the pouring rains. You can also be reassured that you’ll be seeing more new stuff from Skrillex as he said he’ll be dropping new music soon!

In an ironic twist of fate, Skrillex ended his set with a guest appearance from X-Japan’s Yoshiki who flew in all the way from Los Angeles, where they played a rendition of Endless Rains as the skies poured. Just in case you don’t know who Yoshiki is, he’s the drummer and guitarist from one of Japan’s biggest visual kei bands, and EVERYONE went crazy.

Probably the best stage at Fuji Rock Festival 2018 – Yoshiki from X Japan joins Skrillex on stage for a live performance of Endless Rain

After making a poor decision to go for MGMT’s set which started immediately after Skrillex’s and getting stuck in a half an hour human jam, I ended up next to two English dudes who kept reminding me each other that I they needed to leave soon in order to make it for Kendrick Lamar. Not very nice when I wanted to enjoy MGMT. Luckily, Kendrick’s set started late because of the rain, and I managed to catch every single beat.

Deciding to make the trek to another stage to catch Brahman, a band as old as I am (23 years if you were wondering), that turned out to be one of the better decisions I made during the festival. It was hilarious watching one of the security guards literally throw himself across lead singer Toshi-Low in an attempt to stop him from crowd-surfing and failing miserably. The torrential rains barely made a dent in the excitement in the air as everyone danced along to the beat. Fuji Rock Festival 1; typhoon Jongdari 0.

 

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フジロック2日目、土砂降りの雨が止みグリーンステージに登場したケンドリック・ラマー。映像と生バンドで構成された90分に及ぶ超圧倒的なライブ!彼の聡明さを感じさせるミニマルかつ骨太な演出で、スタッフ号泣。現在の世界的な音楽シーンの一歩先を行く、神聖ともいえるようなパフォーマンス。アンコールはAll the starsで、雨の中優しく幕を閉じました。最高のパフォーマンスをありがとう! #kendricklamar #damn #fujirock #fujirock2018 #フジロック #ケンドリックラマー @kendricklamar @fujirock_jp @universal_international

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Completing my entire festival experience and ending a day of whirlwind emotions was me nearly getting blown away by the strong winds and torrential rains on the way back to my hotel. The only response I got from that from my boyfriend who texted that I should put on more weight so I don’t get blown away by anything except him.

DAY 3

Woke up to news that Typhoon Jongdari was visiting Japan too, hence the crazy downpour last night. Survived unpredictable weather? Check. 

As I walked past my daily route past the campsite to get to the festival grounds, I was thinking how glad that I decided to stay in a hotel instead of roughing it in the tent, especially in last night’s downpour. As much as camping was part of the whole authentic camp experience, it was too much for me. A lot of the festival goers looked a little worse for wear as well as we all trudged up the hill to the entrance. Even the staff working the entrance couldn’t be bothered to check our bags and just waved us through.

The crowd today was much smaller today, as the biggest headliners were on Saturday and everyone was sleeping off the tiredness from the past three days (the pre-parties start on Thursday night – just in case you are planning to go and don’t want to miss anything). A good time to check out Avalon Village, where there were all sorts of seemingly random activities like tarot card readings and didgeridoo workshops.

Avalon Village 

There was no shortage of alcohol despite the festival being held on a mountain. After ganbei-ing with random white guys who tried to make conversation to me in Japanese, I trudged through the mud all the way to the end of the resort to the far end of the festival. There was slack-lining and more carnival games, plus a few kids who were excitedly jumping around in the mud in their wellies whilst all the adults avoided the mud as much as possible.

The mud ain’t gonna stop anyone from dressing up though

Cloudy skies at UNFAIRGROUND

While you might not feel the need to explore the other stages, it’s nice to at least walk around the other stages and check out what the rest of the festival has to offer. The smaller stages might not see very famous artists performing, but they are worth checking out. One of my favourite stages was this trippy, disco-inspired tent called Cafe De Paris tucked into the furthest corner of the festival that played funky jazz. Plus points: they were the only place in the entire festival selling mojitos.

Trippy trippy Cafe De Paris

It was either craft beer or Heineken

By now, I had come to the conclusion that these people could sleep through even the biggest storm. I stopped for Bob Dylan behind a sleeping dude in a camping chair. While Bob Dylan was impressive (Smash gave him the equivalent of a royal welcome by making sure that there were no clashing sets during his one), I was more impressed by the dude’s ability to sleep through the loud cheers and me accidentally hitting him in the head at least 3 times whilst bopping to the music. I remember being amazed at how people could sleep anywhere – on the grass, in their chairs, even on the rock grounds.

People sleeping everywhere. EVERYWHERE. 

When Chvrches stepped on stage, there were screams of “KAWAIII” all around. Everyone at the front of the stage were singing along to every word, and a fan even brought out a Scottish flag to pay homage to Chvrches home country. It was a nice way to end the night, to the energetic synths of Lauren’s vocals.

Lauren Mayberry from Chvrches at Fuji Rock Festival 2018

All the main headliners were done for the festival, but the night was far from over. Some stages had acts until 5am. Not so willing to let my night end because it would mean that my first ever Fuji Rock Festival would be over, I headed to the World’s Smallest Nightclub, the Miniscule Of Sound. Laughing at their clever pun on one of London’s most popular nightclubs, I joined two Japanese guys waving cardboard signs outside the club. The bouncers were blowing whistles, and while we couldn’t understand each other, we just laughed and continued dancing. The club was so small, it could only fit 8 people standing way too close to each other (but expected, since it was a club). After trying to vibrate next to an overenthusiastic Japanese girl for a minute, I decided that maybe I was ready to say goodbye to Fuji Rock after all.

Legit-ly the world’s smallest niteclub – the Miniscule Of Sound

While I’m not exactly about to make Fuji Rock an annual pilgramage, it was certainly on a whole other level. The festival was nothing like I ever experienced before – kind of like Laneway, Neon Lights, iLight, and Zoukout all mashed into one. And that doesn’t even describe half of everything that was going on. With aching legs and and muddy boots, it was finally time to battle the crowds to go home.