Back as a two-day event after last year’s three-day experiment, the festival attracted 59,000 people in Osaka and 99,000 in Tokyo, according to organizers Creativeman Productions.
Various Japanese media reported that advance tickets for the festival, as well as for summer rock festivals in general, were much slower than in past years, though Creativeman said that all two-day passes for the Tokyo leg sold out before the festival.
Eve and Deadmau5 canceled their appearances at the last minute. Deadmau5 was replaced by Atari Teenage Riot, which was already slated to appear in Tokyo during the after-hours Midnight Sonic show.
The headliners were Jay-Z and Stevie Wonder, highlighting a decidedly urban-flavored roster, including K’naan, A Tribe Called Quest, Jason Derulo, Keri Hilson, Nas and new South African hip-hop sensation Die Antwoord.
Hard rock acts, including Smashing Pumpkins, Dream Theater, Slash, Hole and Michael Monroe, were relegated to the indoor Mountain Stage. Across the Makuhari Messe Convention Center, the Sonic Stage hosted a slew of indie buzz bands that proved to be some of the biggest draws of the weekend, including Two Door Cinema Club, The Drums, Surfer Blood, Passion Pit and Band of Horses.
The Pixies headlined that stage Sunday night, but were up against Stevie Wonder in the Marine Stadium, which was literally stuffed to the rafters, with exits blocked and aisles occupied.
Wonder came on 20 minutes late, making the set that much shorter.
Because Jay-Z was playing the same night in Osaka, the two headliners couldn’t repeat their joint effort at Bonnaroo.
Several acts were added late to the lineup supposedly to boost sales, including the grand old man of Japanese rock, Eikichi Yazawa, who did seem to attract his sizable and loyal fan base but only performed for 25 minutes. However, Korean boy band BigBang was definitely one of the high points of the festival.
Taylor Swift was the first-ever bona fide country artist to appear at Summer Sonic (or at any Japanese rock festival, for that matter), though her sudden appeal in Japan has more to do with her youth than musical style.
Interestingly, punk, usually SS’s default genre, was relatively underrepresented this year, so it was all the more significant that Sum 41 played despite Deryck Whibley’s injury from a bar fight.