Fuji Rock Fest Celebrates 21st Edition With Gorillaz, Aphex Twin, Bjork...and Rain

Gorillaz perform their new album "Humanz" live on March 24, 2017 in London.
Joseph Okpako/WireImage

Gorillaz perform their new album "Humanz" live on March 24, 2017 in London.

GorillazAphex Twin and Bjork led the lineup for the 21st incarnation of Japan’s best-known music fest, Fuji Rock Festival, held July 28-30 at the Naeba Ski area in Niigata prefecture.  

After a number of dry and sunny editions this version experienced heavy rain for most of the first two days. But its headliners and mix of international stars, which included Queens of the Stone AgeLordeThe XX, Rag ‘n' Bone Man and Maggie Rogers, ensured this year equaled the attendance of 2016 (125,000 guests), making the last two outings the most successful since 2012.

Though the weather didn’t cooperate, the roster (around 200 bands in all) was one of the strongest in recent memory. British newcomer Rag ‘n Bone Man caught a break in the rain on the 28th and mesmerized the crowd at the Green (main) stage with his bluesy voice and striking presence. He performed his hits “Human” and “Skin.”

A pair of electronic-based Japanese acts shone as unheralded jewels of the fest, both on Friday on the Red Marquee stage. De De Mouse got the crowd shaking and twisting with his upbeat brand of jazzy electro-pop. Though his act is computer and synth-based, the creator used a guitarist and bassist on stage for more energy. In addition to playing the keyboard lines and delivering staccato, chopped up, vocals, De De Mouse pounded some drum pads to emphasize the backbeat on certain tracks. The crowd bopped as one. In the evening, electro outfit yahyel laid down their throbbing beats with dense and dark melodies. They set the stage for the visual-based sets to come. Performing mostly in silhouette, the group displayed a backdrop of light patterns, collages and abstract images. Lead singer Shun Ikegai used a vocoder to fold his voice into the electro layers of sound, creating a spacey, deep, and sometimes menacing atmosphere.

The main headliner on Saturday night was a bold but not outrageous choice considering Japan’s love of electronic music. Aphex Twin (aka Richard D. James), who performed at the inaugural Fuji Rock in 1997, powered out a set of industrial breakbeats, crunchy textures and grinding rhythms that devolved into a wall of sound, keeping the crowd jumping in the pouring rain.

However, it was the visuals that seemed particularly tailored for Japan. Mixing faces of people in with the crowd with preset images he took audience participation to a new level. Using face-switching and distorting technology he then proceeded to drop twisted looks onto the likes of Justin Bieber, a Bjork image, Gorillaz animation and many Japanese icons. These included Tamori (the biggest local TV star for decades), Ichiro, and the infamous ‘crying politician’ meme of a few years ago, and emperors and samurai for ukiyo-e paintings.

Into its third decade Fuji Rock has never been an event to rest on its laurels. In addition to the strong lineup, this year the boardwalk route through the forest was more decorated than ever and the fest has started a collaboration with YouTube, a leap forward for TV-driven Japan.

Billboard estimates that ticket sales returned approximately ¥2.1 billion ($19 million) in revenue.