By Cathy Rose A. Garcia, Associate Editor
Summer isn’t the best time to go to Japan — it’s hot, humid, and did I mention, scorching hot?
But when it was announced that Radiohead would be the headliner for the Summer Sonic music festival this year, I didn’t think twice about booking a plane ticket for the middle of August because, well, when will I ever have the chance to watch my favorite British rockers if not now?
Summer Sonic is an annual two-day music festival held simultaneously in Tokyo and Osaka, usually in mid-August when temperatures usually soar. This year, the event was held on Aug. 20 and 21.
Buying tickets, which was my main worry, proved to be a breeze since organizers made them available for foreigners on the Rakuten Web site (think Japan’s Amazon). A one-day Osaka pass cost ¥15,400 (around P7,000), while a two-day pass costs ¥28,050 (around P12,700).
While the passes themselves are reasonable compared to some concert tickets in Manila, when you add the cost of the airfare, hotel, food and incidentals, the whole enterprise was not cheap. But then, consider some of the foreign acts performing at the festival: Radiohead, Weezer, Underworld, Fergie, Pentatonix, Flo Rida, Mark Ronson, The Offspring, Panic! At The Disco, Charlie Puth, The 1975, Suede, James Bay, The Chainsmokers, Hailee Steinfeld, Two Door Cinema Club, and The Jacksons (yes, Michael Jackson’s siblings). That’s not even including Japanese acts like Babymetal, Metafive, Misia, Acid Black Cherry, Yellow Monkey and flumpool.
LONG LINES EVERYWHERE
My brother and I decided to go to Summer Sonic Osaka where the festival is held at Maishima, a man-made island in Osaka Bay. To get there, we got off at Cosmo Square Station to take the paid shuttle bus (¥1,000 for a round-trip ticket).
We wanted to get there early, but we didn’t realize there were long lines for the shuttle bus. With thousands of concert-goers, it was amazing how orderly the queues were. It took us about 30 minutes just to get on a bus, and we didn’t see anyone cutting lines, shoving or even making loud complaints.
Once at the venue, we exchanged our ticket reservations for wristbands — color-coded to show if you have a one-day or two-day pass.
Next we lined up again to buy concert merchandise — Summer Sonic T-shirts cost ¥3,000 (around P1,400), while band T-shirts cost up to ¥4,500 (around P2,000). Towels (¥1,500 to ¥2,000) seemed like an odd thing to sell at a music festival, but later on in the day, while sweating buckets, I kept wishing I got one.
Various food stalls, offering rice bowls, takoyaki, burgers, pizza and shaved ice, likewise attracted crowds.
GOOD MUSIC UNDER THE SUN
Summer Sonic Osaka had four stages — Sonic Stage, an indoor stadium; Mountain Stage, a baseball stadium; Forest Stage, located in the middle of the forest; and Ocean Stage, an open-air venue beside the sea.
Planning is definitely required to maximize the one-day pass, but I didn’t anticipate the fact that going from the Sonic Stage to the Ocean Stage was a good 20-minute walk. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but try doing that in almost 40°C heat.
While walking to Ocean Stage, we could hear pop singer-actress Hailee Steinfeld belting her hits from the Forest Stage. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the path, so we couldn’t go inside the venue.
At the Ocean Stage, Two Door Cinema Club immediately got people on their feet despite the sun beating down hard. The Irish indie rock band started with “Cigarettes in the Theatre” and “Undercover Martyn” from their 2010 debut album Tourist History, followed by “Changing of the Seasons.”
Two Door Cinema Club played new songs from their upcoming album — “Bad Decisions” and “Are We Ready? (Wreck),” and closed the set with fan favorite “What You Know.”
Meanwhile at the Sonic Stage, British singer James Bay impressed the crowd with his skillful guitar-playing and strong vocals. He sent women swooning as he sang “Craving,” “If You Ever Want to Be in Love,” “Let It Go,” and his breakout hit, “Hold Back the River.”
While we initially wanted to catch as many acts as possible, shuffling between venues proved to be a bad idea because they were simply too far apart. We did catch bits of performances from other acts, but ultimately decided to just head straight to Ocean Stage for the day’s headliner — Radiohead.
As we waited for Radiohead, we slumped to the ground as weariness set in and gray clouds threatened to bring rain. Thankfully, only a few drops fell and once Radiohead appeared, we forgot all about our aching feet and muscles, as cliched as that might sound.
Radiohead opened with “Burn the Witch” and four other tracks from their latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool. The band then shifted gears, performing songs from their vast discography — “2+2=5” from Hail to the Thief, “Airbag” from OK Computer, “Reckoner” and “Weird Fishes” from In Rainbows, and “Bloom” from The King of Limbs.
Thom Yorke endeared himself to the local crowd by sprinkling Japanese phrases here and there. With a two-hour set, Radiohead did not disappoint, even performing five songs during the encore, including their hit “Karma Police.” However, I (and I’m sure a lot of other fans) felt disappointed after finding out Radiohead performed “Creep” at Summer Sonic Tokyo the next evening.
Another British rock band, The 1975, headlined the Sonic Stage, dishing out songs from their sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, and their eponymous debut album.
Lead singer Matty Healy bounced around the stage, keeping the audience dancing as they performed “Love Me,” “Ugh,” “Chocolate,” and “Sex.” He even cutely counted in Japanese, as he urged the crowd to jump up and down during their last song — “The Sound.”
While I opted not to go for the second day, my brother decided to make the most of the Summer Sonic experience. But having learned his lesson from the first day, he stayed put at the Sonic Stage on Sunday. Sure, he missed bands like Weezer and The Offspring, which have yet to perform in the Philippines, but lounging around a fully air-conditioned area while bobbing his head to the fist-pumping music of Aussie rockers Tonight Alive, synth-punk baddie Andy Black, and Canada’s Billy Talent proved to be a too tempting alternative to the scorching heat outside.
He also managed to catch Acid Black Cherry, a Japanese pop rock band; American rockers At the Drive-In; and Bullet for My Valentine, a Welsh metal band.
The one-two punch of At the Drive-In and Bullet for My Valentine was enough to satisfy the cravings of those who prefer a more physical catharsis as opposed to the emotional purge an act like Radiohead can inspire.
But the night at the Sonic Stage was far from over. Cue the knockout blow in the form of BabyMetal, a Japanese idol group fronted by three young girls who go by the names Su-Metal, Moametal, and Yuimetal.
The band, which has caught the fancy of local and foreign fans alike for their unique blend of sugary, upbeat lyrics about chocolate and bubblegum and heavy metal shreds and drum packed beats provided by virtuoso musicians with ghastly face paint, managed to fill the 7,000-capacity stadium well before their set even began.
Dressed in goth-inspired schoolgirl outfits, the teenage trio opened with “BABYMETAL DEATH,” an anthemic track from their self-titled debut album that bewitched the crowd.
The trio have been vocal about their “mission” in this world: to unite music fans with their brand of kawaii (cute) metal, heeding the call of the mysterious Fox God, a divine entity that created the band, as their mythos goes.
Needless to say, my brother enjoyed his brief foray into the Japanese music scene. It certainly had a different vibe in comparison with a Filipino crowd, whose main charm is less the fist-pumping crowd interactions and more on the singing-along side of the spectrum.
All in all, the Summer Sonic experience was very enjoyable. Even though my brother and I were dead tired by the end of the night, the buzz from seeing Radiohead (me) and BabyMetal (him) was enough to keep us smiling all the way from the bus to the subway and back to our hotel.