PunkSpring09 was the music festival in Tokyo that was the centerpiece of my trip to Japan. Were not The Hives playing the festival, my friend Stephen would not have heard about it. Had he not heard about it, he wouldn’t have convinced my wife it would have been a good idea for me to go.
There were three stages for music, in the large hall the two main stages were set up side by side. This enabled bands to play one right after the other – while a band was playing on one stage the other was a flurry of activity tearing down the previous act and setting up for the next one.
In the smaller hall the third stage was set up for smaller acts, though that might be a bit of a mislabeling as each of the bands that I saw there seemed to have quite a following.
Arriving at the Makuhari Messe (which apparently holds host to the Tokyo Game Show among other things) we were greeted by crowds of many young Japanese music fans. There were a few older people, some with their small children, but this was an event that held great appeal to the younger crowd. May of these young punk rock music fans were dressed up for the part, some straight out of the 1977 handbook, others seemed to be mixing and matching various eras of punk rock fashion at their whim, creating a completely new look.
Everybody filed in to the hall in a very orderly manner. Inside there was the bar, which wasn’t cordoned off from the rest of the population – yes, you could drink at this show, and if you really wanted to, you could get your underage friends drunk. This being Japan, it didn’t happen, at least so that anybody could notice. Despite the free flowing alcohol and lack of age separation, there was not one incident the whole day.
The first band we saw was Oreskaband, which is now my new favorite band. Previously my “new favorite band” was The Red Elvises, then The Hives. Now Oreskaband, an all-girl ska band from Japan. They put on a show delivering a set that was the highest energy of any band that I saw throughout the day.
Part of what made their set so enjoyable was the crowd – which was made up of the traditional crowd of highly appreciative ska fans (you can spot them a mile away at any music festival) but the way these Japanese kids rocked out was something I had not experienced. I have been participating in concerts for well over 20 years, and many of those were deep within the crowd. Here there was a respect for each other that simply is missing from many of the crowds in the United States. While most of the fans in any show are respectful of everybody, there are always a few who seem to be in the crowd simply to want to cause trouble or just don’t know the etiquette of a concert crowd and don’t care to learn. Here, everybody either knew the etiquette or were polite enough to get out of the way.
After the first song of Oreskaband, I knew I needed to get up front. The band’s energy was high, the music rockin’, and the audience was very much into what was going on. I made my way past the safety barrier, and dropped myself into the middle of the mix. I have participated in many circle pits in my life, but this was by far the most fun, respectful and safe that I had ever been in. during certain times the crowd within the pit would act as one and simply travel together in a circle, and the high-fives from those on the periphery of the circle were frequent.
This was a crowd that knew how to not only get down, but do it safely. Sadly, this wasn’t to be necessarily true for what was to come later, but what happened was really more my own fault, but that’s for the next blog entry.