By Frank Wells.
In over two hours of drive time from Narita Airport to our initial destination, the bus never seemingly left city environs. The names of suburbs changed as we progressed, and the cityscape cycled between a variety of urban visages, but the greater Tokyo area stretched on. Where rural landscape appeared on the train ride return to the airport, it looked similar to the landscape of my native Tennessee, though the greenery covering rolling hills featured unfamiliar crops, an unfamiliar combination of tree types and towering stands of bamboo (Tennessee does share an abundance of kudzu vines in places, imported as erosion-controlling ground cover, though foolishly so as the kudzu is difficult to tame and can swallow whole trees).
The three major urban areas visited in and around Tokyo were very quiet during this trip. Car horns never sounded, and it was four days into a seven-day trip before I heard an emergency vehicle siren. The streets are neat and orderly, cars and busses are all exceedingly clean (where we had drivers, they were crisply uniformed and wearing white gloves), clusters of uniformed school children scurry about at appropriate times of day, and everyone is polite and well mannered.
Those good manners and a benevolent nature carried over into the SummerSonic music festival, a two-day event with multiple stages in two cities, Osaka and Tokyo. Pro Sound News will have full coverage of the technical and production aspects of SummerSonic in next month’s issue, aided by the staff of the production company Creativeman and event co-sponsor, Audio-Technica. For now, I’m still focused on the cultural aspects of the trip and how they translated to the concert experience.
The differences one finds in the concert environment between Western Europe and the U.S. are far less obvious and pronounced than with similar events in the Far East, in my relative experience. The crowds at SummerSonic were ever orderly and civil. They tend to maintain space better than their Western counterparts. To be sure, the fans packed together near the fronts of the stages, but further back one could easily weave through an organically maintained spacing. Security personnel were polite and consistently smiling and pleasant. The fans responded well to prompts for participation from the bands, waving hands, clapping and swaying, though there was far less singing along than in the U.S. (which in itself is far less than in Europe).
One side stage near the food court featured comedy acts. I didn’t understand hardly a word spoken, leaving me to observe the rhythm of the acts and the crowd response. Even when large numbers packed in to see an obviously popular cluster of acts (coinciding with lunch time, which may have helped the crowds), the audience was subdued, rarely overtly laughing as a group, though obviously paying attention. The performances were heavily short-skit based, featuring a good number of performers in costume or simply their underwear, with verbal and physical rhythms that to my un-attuned eye seemed a combination of Benny Hill and Sesame Street.
The food court itself was something to behold—a familiar booth arrangement with some familiar foodstuffs and some decidedly unfamiliar offerings. Kebabs (what in the U.S. are called gyros), naan baked on the spot with other Indian offerings, lots of versions of rice and noodle bowls filled with various combinations of vegetables and meats (sometimes with a little kimchi for spice and often with a raw egg cracked atop) and a wide variety of seafood, both cooked and not. Familiar beverages were offered aside iced coffees, juices and flavored/enhanced waters unusual to the Western eye and palate. My fellow travelers and I enjoyed a wide variety of outstanding meals, most including something unfamiliar and often extending to the, uh, “exotic.”
On stage, the bands included local acts, though North American- and European-based performers dominated the fare. In monitor world and at FOH, the environments were quite familiar, including faces and names that frequent the pages of PSN. Interpreters were on hand to interface with the local crews, and the operation of the festival was uniformly praised for its efficiencies. But that’s the story that we’ll tell next month and online.