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Extra Hot Summer Sonic

02:01 PM Thursday 8/18/11 | |

Summer Sonic accompanied a blazing heat wave that covered all of Japan and caused countless cases of heatstroke, including a few that lead to death.

Nothing quite that dramatic developed at the festival, much of which is held indoors, in Osaka and the Tokyo suburb of Chiba.

In Tokyo, four of the seven stages are located in the Makuhari Messe Convention Center. Despite ongoing power-shortage issues caused by the shutdown of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11 and the government’s call to conserve energy, the air conditioning was kept on.

Officially, the Tokyo end of the festival was sold out, with 60,000 paid attendance for both Aug. 13 and Aug. 14.

The Osaka end sold out on Saturday (45,000 paid), when the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined, and sold 40,000 tickets on Sunday when The Strokes topped the bill.

The headliners were reversed for Tokyo. In addition, 25,000 people attended Sonicmania, an all-night concert featuring Primal Scream and Underworld at the convention center on the eve of the festival. Admission was separate.

The only last-minute cancellation was Simple Plan, whose lead vocalist Pierre Bouvier experienced throat pains during the group’s appearance in South Korea the week before and was on doctors orders not to sing for two weeks.

This left Summer Sonic without a nominal Western punk act, perhaps for the first time in its history.

When the festival started in 1999, many considered it a showcase for Western punk groups, which have always been popular in Japan.

However, in the past few years, because of scheduling conflicts with other big rock festivals in Europe and the U.S. and a demographic change that has seen younger music fans much more interested in Japanese artists than foreign ones, Summer Sonic has become more ecumenical, some might even say experimental.

In the past, any doctrinnaire J-pop artist who appeared at the festival was mostly seen as an ironic exception. One of the biggest acts in Tokyo this year was Perfume, which also appeared at the festival two years ago.

Perfume is three women who trade in an electro-dance style of sticky sweet J-pop that their handlers think they can sell overseas. They performed on the second-largest venue, the Mountain Stage, to a completely packed hall.

The only other act that came close to attracting this kind of crowd at the same stage was Avril Lavigne, whose popularity in Japan is unassailable.

K-pop was also represented, with a choreographed 30-minute performance by Girls’ Generation to close out the festival Sunday night.

In contrast, festival organizer Creativeman Productions reserved the Island Stage, which usually features Japanese indie bands, for indie groups from Taiwan, China and Korea. There were 16 in all.

A Creativeman representative told the Japan Times that they hoped to gain a surer footing in Asia as a tradeoff, and several of the groups set to perform told the same newspaper that they thought playing at Summer Sonic would afford them tremendous exposure.

However, the article also hinted that by putting all these groups on one stage rather than distributing them throughout the festival on other stages, the organizers effectively set up a “ghetto” for Asian rock.

And depending on the time of day, there was usually no more than a few dozen people in the venue, which was located in a corner of one of the food courts in the convention center.

Among the other top acts that appeared were Public Image Ltd., X Japan, Suede, Village People (twice), Korn, House of Pain, Odd Future, Beady Eye, The Mars Volta and Bootsy Collins.