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8 Reasons Why Japanese Music Festivals are Unlike Anywhere Else on Earth

 

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Thinking of hitting up one of the Japanese summer mega-festivals this year? Here are a few things you might want to know before springing for a ticket.

 The world’s biggest music festivals are massive, global events. If it’s a killer international line-up and an audience the size of a small city that transforms a music festival into a place of pilgrimage, Japan’s gargantuan summer festivals should surely share the mythic status of say, Coachella, Glastonbury or Primavera. Yet non-Japanese travellers who make the trek to Fuji Rock or Summer Sonic won’t find too many fellow foreigners in the mosh pit. Why is it that these two unequivocally enormous events aren’t on every festival fan’s radar? Should they be? What is it that makes a Japanese music festival so unlike any other in the world?

 

  1. Everyone is shockingly well behaved

We all know the Japanese are ridiculously polite. You would think though, that the celebratory, free-spirited nature of a music festival would encourage the locals to let their hair down a little. And they do, sort of. There’s fist-pumping and adoring applause aplenty, and when it’s time to dance, there’s dancing. But if you spot anyone running around acting like a shirtless madman, chances are, it’s a foreigner. Miraculously, people refrain from pushing in and barging their way through the crowd, and there’s a genuine respect for personal space. Audience members are even reluctant to leave halfway through a band’s set if they’re not feeling the vibe, because seemingly, that would be impolite.

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  1. You can actually hear the music

Firstly, the sound quality at Summer Sonic kicks serious ass and from all reports Fuji Rock boasts a similar high calibre, despite being largely outdoors. The tickets for these fests are definitely on the pricey side, but at least a good chunk of your hard earned cash goes towards some pretty phenomenal sound gear and stage setups.

Secondly, another plus for super-polite Japanese audiences – they aren’t disposed to having full conversations at the top of their lungs and drunken shouting matches in the middle of the crowd, right when the band is playing your favourite song.

 

  1. The line-ups are eclectic, to say the least

The ginormous Summer Sonic festival held in Tokyo and Osaka is by far the largest international music festival in Asia. It offers the best chance for Japanese music fans of all ages and aesthetic persuasions to see a huge number of global acts in one place. So, as distasteful as it might sound to some people, Summer Sonic is a non-discriminatory celebration of music of every kind. There are no limits on genre or perceived coolness, and plenty of room on the phenomenally enormous line-up for local Japanese acts, teenybopper pop stars, aging rockers and the latest indie darlings alike. Avril Lavigne, Megadeth, the Pixies, Azealia Banks, Robert Glasper, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and a Chinese punk band all on the one line-up? Yes, this has actually happened. No one is going to start a petition to boot Kanye West off next year’s Summer Sonic line-up, guaranteed.

 

  1. The food selection is crazy, and awesome

It’s Japan. There’s amazing food everywhere, and festivals are no exception. Unlike the slim pickings at the majority of Australian festivals, in Japan, a vast portion of the festival venue is given over to the food vendors. It’s almost like an entire gourmet market in the middle of a music festival, and the choices are endless. Hot steaming bowls of ramen, curry on rice, fresh grilled yakitori, okonomiyaki and sushi bento boxes? At a festival? You betcha.

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  1. The toilets are clean

Every festival-goer knows that the sensory assault of the portable pee pods is the biggest buzzkill ever. Not so at a Japanese festival. There are actually staff, as in proper, paid cleaning staff, ensuring the toilets remain spotless around the clock. And, having high regard for cleanliness and hygiene instilled in them, people are just less likely to wee all over the floor in Japan.

 

  1. Pachinko is everywhere in Japan, even at music festivals

Pachinko, the Japanese version of a slot machine, is so pervasive in Japan that even music festivals can’t escape them. Having rows of gambling machines that turn you into an anti-social zombie, fixated for hours on tiny silver balls while rapidly losing all your money seems counter-intuitive at a music festival, but something’s gotta help pay for the planeloads of bands, amazing stage setups and slick facilities that make these festivals such high quality events.

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  1. Drugs. Nobody is on them.

Whatever your stance on illicit party enhancements, you can’t deny they add an entertaining (and occasionally alarming) element to the atmosphere of a music festival. Blissed out trippers and hyper, bug-eyed raver kids do make for amusing people watching. But in Japan, where even among most young people drugs are deeply taboo, you’re not likely to be greeted by the familiar smell of maryjane wafting through the air, or become the sweat soaked meat in a pill-induced cuddle sandwich. The scarcity of drugs certainly adds to relatively subdued atmosphere of a Japanese festival. If you need to pump yourself full of chemicals to have fun at a festival, the Japanese variety is not for you. Booze however, is very available, and pretty cheap too. Just remember, the sheer scale of a Japanese festival can make it super-exhausting, so observe the relative moderation of most of the locals. If you’re stumbling drunk by midday, you might not make it to the finish line.

Or, you could just find a spare spot somewhere and take a bit of a nanna nap, like these pooped-out punters. Yes, this is normal, and apparently, safe.

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  1. They’re very, very Japanese

The big Japanese festivals may be global events, and they are attracting more and more overseas revellers every year, but in certain ways they do lack the worldwide attraction of the better known festivals in Europe and the US.

If your primary goal is to see to an incredible variety of bands with pristine sound and minimal hassle from drunken bros and  inconsiderate dickheads, Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic might be right up your alley. But if you crave the barely controlled chaos that characterises the music festival as we know it, the Japanese ones might be a little tame for your tastes.

While you’ll undoubtedly see a few unhinged antics going on (more often than not from the bands than the audience), the crowds do seem a little held back by their cultural deference to politeness, as well as an assortment of security directives and loudspeaker PSAs about orderly behaviour that basically make you feel like you’re under surveillance by the Japanese Fun Police. Either way, a Japanese festival is a culturally unique experience, a treat for genuine music lovers, and certainly worth any globe-trotting festival connoisseur’s time to check out.

 

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Eight Great Food Experiences in India

Butter chicken from Moti Mahal, Delhi

The revered Moti Mahal in the Old Delhi neighbourhood of Daryaganj is legendary as the birthplace of India’s most famous export, butter chicken. In fact, the dish was first invented in Moti Mahal’s original location in Peshawar in the Punjab region of modern day Pakistan. After the partition of British India, Moti Mahal’s owner shifted digs to Delhi, where his Punjabi style chicken dish took off. Moti Mahal’s butter chicken is a tantalisingly rich affair, with a rib-sticking cream, butter and tomato gravy. What makes it a truly great dish is the Punjabi technique of roasting the marinated chicken in the tandoor prior to adding it to the curry. At Moti Mahal, you order by the half or whole chicken, and it’s served on the bone – succulent, smoky and overwhelmingly good.

Kati roll, Kolkata

Ordering this iconic Kolkatan street food involves some particularly difficult decision making. Will it be a “single chicken, single egg”, a “double chicken, no egg” or the truly heart-stopping “double mutton, double egg”? The kati roll consists of marinated meat, cooked on iron skewers over hot coals, then wrapped in flaky, fried paratha flatbread with onions, egg and fresh herbs. The kati roll is now popular all over India, but it’s only in Kolkata that you’ll find a dedicated “roll shop” on almost every street corner.

Dosa, South India

South Indian food bears little resemblance to the thick, heavy curries of the north but the dosa is proof that it’s just as good. This spectacular culinary creation consists of a rolled up, papery thin lentil crepe, crisp and wafer-like and filled with a spicy mixture of vegetables, eggs, cheese or meat. It’s served with a variety of chutneys, is very popular for breakfast and is one of the most astoundingly cheap and tasty meals you’re likely to have anywhere in India.

Dosa with chutneys

Parsi food from Britannia & Co, Mumbai

Parsis are members of the Zoroastrian religion, originally migrants from 16th century Iran. Their cuisine is a mixture of north Indian vegetarian fare and meatier Persian recipes. In the well-touristed Colaba district of Mumbai, Britannia & Co café’s menu includes saffron rice pilaf with chicken, cashews and tangy dried barberries, and steamed fish from the Arabian Sea cooked with coconut chutney and banana leaf. Worldwide, the Zoroastrian religion is rapidly dying out, but the enormous popularity of Parsi restaurants like Britannia suggests that the cuisine may outlive the community itself.

High tea, Darjeeling

Sitting amid the clouds at 2,100m altitude, the British discovered Darjeeling possessed the perfect climate for growing tea, and quickly set about covering its hilly slopes with vast and verdant tea plantations. Today you can still get a taste of the privileged life of the colonialists, at gracious old hotels with names like The Windamere and The Elgin. Cosy up in front of a roaring fire, nibble on cakes, cucumber sandwiches and scones and sip on some of the finest teas the world has to offer. Simply mah’vellous, old chap.

Windamere High Tea

Scones with jam and cream at the Windamere Hotel

Goan food, Goa

Goa’s a popular state for travellers to wind down in before the long trip home, and it’s not just because of the beaches. For deprived carnivores who’ve had a tough time tracking down meaty meals elsewhere in India, Goa is paradise. Its large population of Catholics are super keen on beef and pork, and its coastal location means there’s seafood galore. There’s a strong Portuguese influence in the spicy chouriço sausages, fiery, vinegar-tinged vindaloo curry, and bebinca (caramel layer cake).

Vindaloo and assorted Goan goodies

Thali, everywhere

If you want to truly immerse yourself in Indian food culture, you must learn to eat thali with your hands. Thali restaurants are, generally speaking, rock-bottom roadside joints where you get unlimited helpings of rice, pappadums, chutney and an assortment of curries, all designed to be swirled around the plate and mashed together with your fingers before popping the mushy mess into your mouth. If it looks like you’re running low on anything, a waiter will swiftly plop some more on your plate, whether you have any intention of eating it or not. This is the quickest way in India to make yourself full to bursting point for almost no money.

An unusually classy looking banana leaf thali

 

Makhani lassi, Jodhpur

Lassi, a yoghurt-based drink with stomach-strengthening properties (drinking at least one a day is said to help fend off Delhi belly) is sold by street vendors all over India,  but the Rajasthani city of Jodhpur is home to the king of lassis, makhani. This ultra-thick and luxurious lassi is exotically flavoured with rose, cardamom, dried fruits and nuts and the secret ingredient – a generous sprinkling of the world’s most expensive spice, saffron.

5 Great Music Documentaries worth Discovering

I recently saw The Punk Singer about Bikini Kill/Le Tigre/Riot Grrl founder and feminist icon Kathleen Hannah.
I got thinking about some of my favourite rockumentaries – films that not only serve as fitting tributes to the artists they celebrate, but that are original, well-crafted works of art in their own right. Here are some of my absolute favourites – a couple of classics and a few less-known gems.

Straight No Chaser (1988)

Famously produced by Clint Eastwood, this seminal documentary portrays bebop heavyweight Theolonius Monk as a brilliant, enigmatic and frequently perplexing persona, equally blessed and cursed by his genius. While unflinchingly honest interviews with friends, family and fellow musicians paint a comprehensive portrait of the jazz pianist and composer’s life, the most thrilling aspect of Straight No Chaser is the extraordinary wealth of video footage featuring Monk in the 60s and 70s. Not only are there exquisitely filmed, searingly intense sequences of his mesmerising live performances, but remarkable snippets of Monk in the studio, and going about his daily life under the gaze of the public eye, interacting with amusing stand-offishness with fans, the press and numerous hangers-on. In an era before cameras and video phones followed the every move of stars, Straight No Chaser’s treasure trove of fly-on-the-wall material is rare and fascinating indeed.

The Fearless Freaks (2005)

The Flaming Lips are larger-than-life on stage, but this poignant documentary, directed by friend and confidant Bradley Beesley, presents us with a deeply intimate portrayal of the bunch of young, ragtag suburban upstarts and outcasts who united against working class suburban drudgery to celebrate their weirdness through music. Their evolution from chaos-worshipping punk rockers to intrepid experimental aural magicians is insightfully explained from both a social and artistic perspective. Drummer/multi-instrumentalist Steven Drodz was deep in heroin addiction when filming began, and the doco doesn’t shy away from confronting an issue which was threatening to tear the band apart.

Autoluminescent (2011)

Autoluminescent casts a light on the life and legacy of Australian songwriter Rowland S Howard. Best known for his role in The Birthday Party, his strange, savage discordant guitar work was as essential to the band’s sound as Nick Cave’s guttural vocals. Although his pioneering post-punk days left a profound mark on a diverse array of well-known artists, and he continued to write and record for decades after The Birthday Party’s demise, Howard was to remain a relatively obscure underground cult figure. For many viewers, Autoluminescent succeeded in the difficult challenge of creating a compelling introduction to the man and his music, while for fans, the depth of the film’s admiration for Howard, flaws, failures and all, is powerfully apparent and immensely touching. The film’s shadowy aesthetic and gothic imagery, intermingled with excerpts from Howard’s unpublished novel, subtly overshadow the entire film, making his creative spirit and enigmatic, introspective persona a pervasive presence in the film. The interviews with Howard himself make Autoluminscent a rare depository of oral history chronicling a brief, exciting time in the underground music world onf the early 1980s, and an ever rarer insight into his personal trials and triumphs after those heady, chaotic days. Howard appears frequently in the film, clearly ill, gaunt and ghostlike but in good spirits. He died of liver cancer in 2009, while the film was still in production.

X: The Unheard Music (1986)

What makes this documentary so incredibly cool is how vividly it reflects the time period in which it was made. Interspersed with footage of the band are snippets from outrageously tacky yet disturbingly earnest TV commercials, and satirical cartoons that place X firmly in the cynical times of Reagan’s America, a time where both ‘corporate greed’ and ‘corporate rock’ had become part of the cultural lexicon.
The members of X pay homage to their humble beginnings and underground roots, with a film that is also a tribute to some of the lost venues that were integral to the 80s punk scene in LA. Members of the band traipse through abandoned warehouse venues and recall their memories of legendary clubs like The Masque and the Whisky A Go-Go. A playful dynamic between the band members as they goof off during interviews, rehearse and relax is a delight to watch, and there’s undoubtedly a focus on the half-told tales and cryptic musings of Exene Cervenka, one of punk’s most fascinating and influential frontwomen and songwriters.
A movie with a fittingly homemade feel and a message of DYI and defiance that doesn’t ever take itself too seriously, The Unheard Music is one of the punkest punk rock documentaries ever.

Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements (2011)

The other movies I’ve mentioned are noteworthy in that you don’t have to be overly familiar with the subject to have an enjoyable and fulfilling viewing experience. Color Me Obsessed might be the exception.
I was emotionally overwhelmed by this sincere and deeply affectionate tribute to The Replacements through the eyes of their fans. My boyfriend, who finds The Mats mildly likeable at best, fell asleep a quarter of the way through. Still, any way you look at it, this is an utterly unique take on the rockumentary format, not in the least because it doesn’t feature a single appearance from any member of the band, or even a fleeting excerpt of any of their music. Instead, the film relies wholly on the experiences, anecdotes and reflections of fans.
There’s a refreshingly effortless, unforced manner in which the progression of interviews lays bare the most profound, telling and intimate ways people relate to the music they find meaning in. It’s a brave concept that manages not to become mired in gushing sentimentalism.
It all works surprisingly well – if you’re a fan. The ordinary people in this film spoke to straight to my heart, but if you’re not already on the same page, you’ll probably find Color Me Obsessed’s efforts admirable but ultimately tedious.