Fuji Rock Fest Turns 23 With Dream Pop, Punk Rock, Hip-Hop and The Cure

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The Cure performs on the main stage during the 44th edition of the Paleo Festival in Nyon, Switzerland on July 25, 2019. ​

TOKYO — The 23rd edition of Japan's Fuji Rock Festival, considered the leading international festival in Asia (though not even the biggest fest in Japan), was held Friday to Sunday at the Naeba Ski area in Niigata prefecture. The fete saw a spike in attendance despite a typhoon which pounded the second day, making it one of the wettest FRFs in recent memory.

The Cure, Thom Yorke, The Chemical Brothers and Sia headlined along with noteworthy performances by Vince Staples, The Lumineers, Jason Mraz, Martin Garrix, Death Cab for Cutie, James Blake and Janelle Monae. In addition, original Sex Pistol Glen Matlock played a couple of surreptitious sets with David Bowie go-to guitarist Earl Slick. In all, there were over 200 performances.

Ticket sales were buoyed by the announcement of the booking of legendary Japanese group Ellegarden. The band had been on hiatus, only performing three shows in the last 10 years, all in 2018. The day the news broke 10,000 tickets for Fuji Rock were reportedly sold. Attendance for the three days was 130,000, a jump from the previous six years.

Headlining the main Green Stage on Sunday, The Cure performed without regular bassist Simon Gallop due to a "serious personal situation," according to a tweet released by the band. Filling in admirably for him was his son Eden. The group's set list included many classics like "Pictures of You," "Lovesong," "In Between Days," "Lullaby," "Friday I'm in Love" and "Boys Don't Cry." Their set was far more upbeat than the first time they performed at Fuji Rock in 2013. 

In contrast to The Cure's dark grooves, dream pop pervaded the fest this year. Bands such as Alvvays, American Football and singer-songwriter Mitski gave the proceedings a wistful and lighter feel. American Football charmed its audience on the second, White, stage on Saturday, despite playing in a significant downpour.

Vince Staples' creative hip-hop set on the same stage the next day used a background of TVs with clips from old sitcoms mixed with his superb flow. He stood on stage alone but his beats entranced the audience, making for a highlight of the fest.

In two sets on more hidden stages (holding around 50 and 200 respectively), original Sex Pistol Matlock pounded out some rock, blues and punk rock with the help of legendary guitarist Slick and drummer Chris Musto. Those in the know gathered for the rare treat and howled with delight at "God Save the Queen," a track Matlock co-wrote though he was not in the band when it became a sensation. Matlock told Billboard, "It's fun. There are a lot of bands in England who are a bit po-faced and miserable, [moaning] 'Please like us.' We're just having a laugh! Playing good songs." He added, "Last night it was piddling down with rain and we'd gone over a little bit but as soon as you start playing 'Pretty Vacant' no one's gonna stop you, it's a kick for the kids."


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