I survived: the blaring summer heat at Tokyo’s Summer Sonic 2016!

Posted on 15.09.2016

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We decided to do shit right this time around, since Radiohead and Underworld headlined this year’s Summer Sonic in Tokyo and Osaka.

We actually rushed and bought our tickets online while we were at the airport in January, waiting to board our flight to England. As soon as the tickets were available, we jumped on them, since you don’t really get to see amazing bands like this all the time in Tokyo, and at one event.

Previous lineups at Summer Sonic and Fuji Rock had been so-so, but this one we couldn’t pass up. So we made the decision to take a weekend off (GASP!!!) and do the whole damn thing.

This actually fit in to something I’d said a few years ago to my sister and a few friends, who I expected would be bridesmaids at my future wedding: back then, I said ‘I don’t want a normal bachelorette party: I want us to all go to a festival concert before I get married, with my husband and his friends. And camp. And do the whole thing’.

While we didn’t camp, and my friends and sisters weren’t there with me to celebrate, this actually all went down the weekend before Mark and I got officially married in Tokyo. So it was nice that something I said I wanted to do actually came true, even if it wasn’t exactly how I wanted it.

I’ll go with all of them to a festival concert later. We are going to do it one day!

Back to the festival at hand:

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Not a big crowd for Weezer, but who cares?

We really had no idea what to expect with the concert, since it’s a festival concert and we’re in Japan, where the whole stadium will do a synchronized routine at a baseball game and people are *generally* polite and non-confrontational.

Most of the gigs we’ve gone to in the past here have been for one band, at Studio Coast, generally late at night. So this was a first for us.

We got there just in time to catch Weezer performing in the middle of the damn day, in the hot, hot sun. We both made the comment at the same time that we didn’t realize we knew so many of their songs. I think they might just be one of those bands whose music permeated our younger lives. It was almost nostalgic to see them playing.

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dsc_4727 dsc_4735We had to make some tough decision on who to see where, because the event organizers seemed to have the idea that they should put all of the western bands on at the same time, on different stages. That kind of sucked, but I think we chose well in going to see Panic! At the Disco next. That was a good show, and again I was surprised at how many of their songs I actually knew. I kind of forgot about them?

dsc_4751After that we met up with our friend Mikako to eat some dinner (or lunch maybe? I don’t remember) and then headed back over to get ready for Underworld.

While all of this had happened, it managed to get dark outside. I completely lost track of the time, but was thankful at least to be in air-conditioning inside of the Messe hall after Panic! played. Because seriously, it was so hot outside. All weekend.

It turned out there was also a festival ground set up on the side of the main arena. We took a quick swing through there before heading in to try to get a good viewing sport for Underworld.

We’d learned earlier that an interesting (although weird) thing that the organizers do at these kinds of events is to kind of make a winding route that you have to walk through in order to get up towards the front, near the stage. If you can imagine cattle being herded through a series of avenues on the way to their pens (or perhaps the slaughterhouse), it felt a lot like that. I understand why they do it, because it forces us to move slowly and disperse in a more even fashion, but OMG it is SO frustrating when you have people who like to meander in front of you!

We have a feeling that not many people knew who Underworld were. Because that floor was not nearly as packed as it should have been.

dsc_4776That, of course, was a major benefit for us, since we were able to get in to a nice spot hear the center and front, and we  had the space necessary for seeing Underworld live, since you will surely be dancing your ass off.

Underworld absolutely did not disappoint, and played an amazing set. I might be so bold as to say it was better than the last time I saw them, and quite possibly the first time that I’ve felt really alive and a part of something bigger than myself, or ‘us’, in a long time.

And that was a great feeling.

dsc_4836Another great thing about going to an Underworld show: they always do something completely unexpected. I didn’t want to read reviews of recent shows, because I wanted to be surprised by whatever it would be this time around.

And this time it was huge, inflated balls they released on the crowd during Rez that were just white, blank, and they were being bounced around in the audience. There were so many of them. But then when Cowgirl music started, the balls changed colors and were kind of going along with the song, and it was SO. MUCH. FUN.

I took just enough photos and videos to be happy, and then put the camera down to try and just enjoy it and be present in that moment. Because it was such a beautiful moment.

dsc_4865After we finally made it out through the maze of barriers to get out of the stadium, we had some time to kill before ‘Midnight Sonic’ started. So we took the time to walk around the little carnival area they’d set up and get some more food.

There were WAY more vegetarian options available this year, thank goodness, and we ate more than just french fries all night. There were actually TOO MANY vegetarian choices and I didn’t get a chance to try all of them😦

Outside at the little carnival area, we got to see an awesome drag show, the world’s smallest carousel (at least I imagine it to be), and all of the other cool, little distractions that were set up all around the main event. It was nice to have the time to explore, even though we didn’t really have as much time as we’d hoped or wanted.

We were SO excited for the Midnight Sonic lineup: we had plans to see Deerhunter, John Grant and Animal Collective. I think we were most excited about Animal Collective, since we’d been playing their latest album non-stop.

dsc_4924It was actually John Grant who stole the show, for a few reasons:
1 – he rolled out onto the stage dressed like he just woke up or just got back from the gym. He did not give a fuck.
2- he brought on a famous Japanese violinist to play on stage with him for a few songs, which the crowd went mad for.
3 – when he played Blackbelt, he did the EXACT sashaying and finger-wagging that I imagined he would be doing, singing a song like that. It was PERFECT.

AND, we were right up front, so I got some awesome pictures.

dsc_4956After John Grant we hung out with our friends and took a rest before Animal Collective came on.

I am sad and sorry to say that the show was a huge disappointment. Mark had read a bit about what they’ve been doing on stage lately, and the reviews weren’t that great. We hoped maybe they wouldn’t do it in Tokyo, but they did.

I totally get the art of wanting to deconstruct the song to show the different parts, and then a slow build up until you finally get to the song. But I’m pretty sure for the whole hour-long set, they may have only played 5 songs, and not all the way through, and about a second too slow compared to the originals.

I am all for experimentation, but at 4 in the morning, I want to be kept awake.

It’s ok, though, because I got to see them live and hear half of the songs I liked, even if it took 20 minutes between songs to get to the next one.
dsc_4983All done for the evening, we walked out while the sun was rising and made our way back home to sleep a little, before we returned the next day to try to explore and get as close to the stage for Radiohead as possible.

I didn’t expect that I’d be able to sleep with the daylight, but I guess staying awake for over 24 hours will let you sleep just about anywhere.

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When we got to the venue on day 2, we had one thing in mind: secure a spot in the front for Radiohead.

I made sure to actually padsc_5000ck my zoom lens this time, and we went in as early as we could: 2 acts before. We used the toilet before, bought lots of water, and made the move.

But before we did that, we swung out to see the Ocean stage. There were a few bands playing here that we’d wanted to see, but we had to make some choices about that when we heard that if we even wanted a CHANCE of getting in close, we’d have to go in during the act before.

We stood on the beach, smelled the ocean, saw the guy doing the weird thing on a water hover board thing, and then went in.

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the crowd for the Yellow Monkey

the crowd for the Yellow Monkey

We went in during Yellow Monkey, and made our way down. All was going well and the crowd that was there was already big, but definitely seemed to be there for the Yellow Monkey. Our hopes were high. We slowly made our way though the gated area and into the front part of the stadium.

Oh, and in Japan they assign you ‘sides’. So the front area isn’t just one big space, the whole stadium is divided into ‘right’ and ‘left’, and you alternate on different days. Again, I think this is for crowd control purposes. It seemed to work out well enough.

So we were dsc_5010on the left side for day 2, and the right side for day 1.

We didn’t take any photos of Yellow Monkey, but we took a lot of SAKANACTION, who played just before Radiohead.

They put on a really fun show that was full of lights and smoke machines, and in the end they even brought out Taiko drums and Geisha.

It was a lot of fun, and now I want to buy all of their albums.

And then it was finally time. When the crowd for Yellow Monkey left, we were able to inch closer to the stage. But when the crowd for SAKANACTION rolled out, we got right up front. We were about 8 rows back. I would have preferred to be closer, but this was still quite an accomplishment, I think.

So of course Radiohead was awesome. They opened with the first 5 off a Moon-Shaped Pool and then proceeded to play whatever the fuck else they wanted, including , Lotus Flower, the National Anthem, Identikit, No Surprises, Airbag, The Gloaming, and some others.

dsc_5075I really wanted to hear 2+2=5, and they played it! Only one issue: the crowd went wild for it and a TON of pushing ensued when they hit the bridge. I was totally not expecting that and had already been having space issues beforehand. This felt like drowning, like suffocating, and I was actually afraid.

Afraid to suffocate. At a Radiohead concert. I never thought I would say something like that, or that it was even possible. I kind of expected the Radiohead crowd to be a bit more relaxed (and they were, the rest of the time, mostly) and easy to be a part of.

At this point in the story I need to apologise to my little sister, who I took to see Bush when she was maybe 12: something similar happened to her and she nearly got crushed in what I can only call a ‘sea of teenage girls trying to rush the stage’. I made fun of her for it when we were younger, because I guess I was outside of the spot where it happened. And now I understand what she meant, and what she was saying.

Things you never expect to happen, right? To get trampled at a Bush or Radiohead show.

So from now on I’m going to do my damnedest to get my arm over that barrier in the front. Because I think that might actually be the safest spot, aside from up, far away, in the seats.

dsc_5169And hey, look at how well that zoom lens performed! I have to say, I’m really happy with it. Especially since, from where I was standing, even though by the end we were only 5 rows back, I couldn’t see a damn thing because the people in front of me were still too tall.

So I took all of these by holding the camera above my head and angling the fold-out screen down so I could see what I was looking at.  Huzzah! Glad I got that zoom lens for my birthday last year😉

Oh and hey, guess what else? A rare unicorn was played:

 

dsc_5174After the show was over, we met back up with our friends, who were on the right side somewhere, and sat around for a bit talking before we started the trek back. We knew we would have to wait on the platform to catch a train, no matter what, and we weren’t really in a rush since everything was finished now. The stands were packing up, all of the water was sold out, and we just wanted to sit, after having stood up and not used the toilets for about 4 hours. Yeah, we did it, we survived, and now we got to go home.

It was a great time, and we got to hang out with our friends for the shows or between them. I hope the lineup is good enough to do again in the coming years.