American DJ Steve Aoki summed up the weird and wild vibe of the Supersonic Festival during his Sunday night headlining performance.
âIt’s the most energetic, quietest show I’ve ever played,â Aoki said with a chuckle late in his set. “Very interesting.” He then reminded the thousands of participants inside the Zozo marine stadium in Chiba not to scream, before deploying a drop of puffed bass that had their hands in the air (and their mouths closed).
Supersonic, which was held on September 18 and 19, aimed to host a music festival in the midst of a pandemic. Creativeman organizers envisioned the event – initially heralded in 2020 as the Olympic year replacement for its annual blockbuster Summer Sonic, but postponed – as a chance to revive life on the music scene after a disastrous 18 months due of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company knew that holding a music festival in 2021 would be drastically different from previous iterations.
This became clear immediately after disembarking at Kaihinmakuhari station at 10 a.m. (just one Sunday, the day before, a typhoon swept through the country). The generally large waves of fans traveling from station to station were reduced to a trickle due to Supersonic’s limited capacity. A handful of people tasted beers outside a Ministop convenience store, putting themselves in a party mood before entering a place where no alcohol would be sold. The only sign around the station that Supersonic was performing was the staff directing punters to the stadium.
Almost every music festival attempt this year was met with the belief that a super broadcast event would follow. After a relatively uneventful Summer Olympics, the masked masses turned to concerts in pandemic panic. A scaled-down Fuji Rock festival in Niigata Prefecture last month drew disapproving coverage from the media who would normally ignore it. However, there were no major epidemics linked to the event.
Then came Namimonogatari2021. Videos of maskless revelers drinking alcohol in the open and loudly cheering – all actions going against anti-virus measures – quickly spread online and the media response was swift and justified. . Supersonic was next on the calendar and he was struck by the double whammy of his Saturday headliner, Kygo, canceling, and his Sunday headliner, Zedd, showing impressive quarantine digs at a time when many people cannot return to see family, meet work commitments, or attend school. Lined up like vultures outside Supersonic’s front doors, TV cameras and reporters scouted for any signs of wrongdoing.
However, the situation did not get out of hand. Creativeman has gone to great lengths to create a hostile environment for COVID. Entering required a 10-step registration process and the presence of three apps downloaded to a smartphone, including the government’s COVID-19 tracking app. Each participant received a Supersonic face mask upon entry and was encouraged to remain seated between acts. The action took place in an outdoor baseball stadium, with some chairs taped up to ensure social distancing. During this time, staff vigilantly applied anti-virus measures. Whenever someone let out a cry that was a little too loud, the black-clad staff would rush to silence them. Anyone removing their mask also won a conversation, and I saw a staff member chase a participant whose mask was not covering their nose.
In addition to these safety measures, some workers spent the entire event spraying and wiping empty seats, railings and grandstands in the halls. While the thorough wiping was somewhat performative since COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through the air, this display of cleanliness helps during a pandemic time where people cling to any transgression and turn it into a task at hand. If a few more people wiping the benches avoid further controversy, clean them up.
The overall result was a fun, albeit odd, two-day festival that aired simultaneously online (that’s how I took day one).
To be fair, Supersonic marked the first live event I attended since February 2020, so I was particularly receptive to any kind of live music. Actions that would have been annoying in pre-pandemic times – overly lengthy artist talks between songs, instructions for waving side-to-side, Aoki non-ironically urging the stadium to wave the lights of his smartphone in the air along the “Yellow” from Coldplay – were welcome. after a year and a half stuck indoors watching shows on Zoom. Just being around other people just as excited to see live music was enough.
Supersonic offered a glimpse of what live music could look like in the near future. Sky-Hi and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu came on as veterans of J-pop on Saturday and Sunday, the latter bypassing the cheering ban with songs built around the applause to engage the excited crowd.
Younger bands like nine-member NiziU were able to swell the crowd at 11:45 am with a short set – four songs in total, including last year’s pandemic fun âMake You Happyâ. Fans showed their appreciation by waving cardboard cutouts of their favorite member’s face. And male pop outfit Be: First drew a similar excitement, despite the additional wrinkle of occurring during a downpour associated with a typhoon.
Most of the fans in attendance, however, were there for some punchy dance music, with the buzzsaw sound of 2010s EDM dominating the lineup. Musically, this has been one of the strangest summer music events of recent times – rock, usually the backbone of these types of gatherings in Japan, only existed as an outfit for DJs performing. , whether it’s the German Digitalism act looping the opening guitar riff of Blur’s “Song 2” during her set or Aoki recognizing the stadium setting with Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and “Seven Nation Army” by White Stripes.
This is probably due to practical reasons – a single DJ and his team equals fewer people than a team of rock roadies – but the audience, many sports facilities at the EDM Ultra Japan festival, loved it, even with rules of thumb. strongly enforced security. Saturday saw enraged crowds leaping and waving their hands in the air for the pop-accented anthems of Alan Walker and headliner Zedd. (Turns out the crowd weren’t shot by angry tweets.) Zedd in particular has woven an EDM mini-story through his set, with a rendition of the theme “The Legend Of Zelda” .
The crowd responded with equal enthusiasm to Aoki, a showman capable of roaring tearing, serious passages and irony (delivered through Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, with footage of “Titanic” playing behind him, but with Aoki’s face swapped for Jack and Rose).
âWhat a strange time we are living in,â he said, before turning to take a selfie with the audience.
By the time Sunday reached its final hour – a back-to-back special set of Walker, Zedd and Aoki to replace Kygo’s absence – fans were elated, to the point that the staff had to step up their polite callbacks to remove him. a notch. Anyone who can organize a full-fledged EDM festival in the unrestricted future is likely to be a huge success.
While Supersonic cannot be categorized as strictly speaking success for two weeks to account for the possibility of new COVID-19 cases related to it, Creativeman has done everything in his power to organize a safe event. If Summer Sonic 2022 takes place under similar circumstances, I’ll probably be disappointed (maybe more for society as a whole), but for now I’m grateful for this musical reprieve from pandemic life. Hoping we can cheer up soon.
In accordance with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, concert halls and other public spaces.
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