x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Green-rockin' beats: The Fuji Rock Festival

Welcome to Fuji Rock, the most environmentally-conscious music festival in Japan, now in its 13th year.

The environment has been the focus of the Fuji Rock Festival since its inception 13 years ago, when a typhoon swept through the valley and cancelled the event.
The environment has been the focus of the Fuji Rock Festival since its inception 13 years ago, when a typhoon swept through the valley and cancelled the event.

Welcome to Fuji Rock, the most environmentally conscious music festival of the world. Junya Sakamoto is patiently ­standing in a queue behind a space fairy with a pink wig and in front of a man with Bob Marley dreads. It is the fourth time today that­ Sakamoto has joined the neat line meandering by the mountain ­valley where thousands are watching a performance by the band Jet. And at the front of the queue? Not a row of portaloos or a refreshment tent - but a volunteer service for festival revellers to divide up recycling rubbish in between partying. Welcome to the world's cleanest, greenest music event: Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. A highlight of the global music ­calendar, the festival, which finished yesterday, has rewritten the rules of rock ­revellery. It is an ­exercise in Japanese ­refinement, complete with clean facilities, a sophisticated ­recycling system, endless supplies of toilet roll and patiently queuing attendees. This weekend, more than 120,000 festival-goers have attended the annual three-day event, drawn by headline performances ranging from Lily Allen and Oasis to Paul Weller and Franz Ferdinand. Competing for attention with the music is the flawless green backdrop of misty mountain peaks, dense forests and sparkling streams in a remote winter ski resort in the central Niigata prefecture. But green is not a hue confined to the setting: since launching 13 years ago, the festival has carved out a reputation for being the most ­environmentally aware music event in the industry. Accessorising its top headline musical acts this year were a raft of innovative eco-initiatives - including a zero-rubbish tolerance policy, carbon-neutral stages powered by biodiesel fuel, a no-smoking-and-walking rule and staff uniform fashioned from ­recycled plastic bottles. Sakamoto was one of close to 1,000 people who had ­patiently queued during the first 24 hours of the festival in order to don a pair of gloves and separate rubbish into recycling categories. "I've popped in about six times in total since yesterday between seeing different performances to help sort out recycled rubbish," said Sakamoto, a fashionable music-loving 36-year-old travel agent from Tokyo. "I'm really happy to do ­something like this when I'm at a festival. It makes me feel good to help on this level. We're all adults and should take responsibility for the ­consequences of having a good time here." The environment has played a key role in the festival since its ­inception - albeit in the form of an unexpected interruption in the first festival near Mount Fuji, when a typhoon swept through the 30,000-strong crowd and resulted in its cancellation. Laden with bags as she made an annual pilgrimage from the ­capital to the mountains last weekend, the festival regular Masami ­Shimonura, 33, who works for an independent music label, said of the first year: "I don't think I'll ever forget it. Everyone was completely unprepared for a typhoon. We were wearing shorts and T-shirts and it was freezing. The whole event was totally disorganised. But now it's a different story." Today, the festival's eco-credentials are operated with a microscopic level of efficiency. This was apparent to visitors from the moment they were herded through the mushroom-shaped ­entrance by armies of staff with pink glowsticks and loudspeakers. Its zero-rubbish policy - dubbed Gomi Zero Navigation - was ­instantly clear as staff thrust plastic bin bags in their hands to make sure they collected their own litter. Rubbish is taken very seriously throughout the festival. Peppered among the hillsides, forest walkways and valleys lined with food stalls were rows of ­recycling bins. Staff wearing jackets created in collaboration with North Face and made from recycled rubbish from last year's festival separated litter into seven different categories. Yuko Handa, a PR officer for Smash ­Corporation, the music label which organises the event, said: "Our main objective with these initiatives is to leave the landscape ­exactly as we find it. We don't want to take anything from it and so dealing properly with rubbish and recycling it effectively is very ­important." Despite this careful attention to litter, festival party spirit prevailed throughout. This is little surprise considering the world-class musical acts that appeared on seven stages scattered throughout the mountains: The central focus was the Green Stage, where 40,000 revellers ­listen to headline acts such as Patti Smith and Seun Kuti on vast green slopes against a backdrop of layered ­mountain peaks in silhouette. Other spaces included the White Stage, set in a forest clearing and surrounded by tall green trees, and the jazz and world music haven the Orange Court. Dance DJs played until sunrise in the edgier indoor Red Marquee while Day Dreaming & Silent Breeze is a serene space for Japanese crooners perched a cable car ride further up the mountains. Meanwhile, Gypsy Avalon, a pretty hillside stage with alternative acts and a border of sunflowers, was one of a string of carbon-neutral venues powered by biodiesel fuel. Speaking from beneath a wide-brimmed hat next to a singing ­bicycle powered by the same fuel, Megumi Minami, a 36-year-old translator from Kanagawa who volunteers with the festival's environmental organisation New Power Gear, said: "The festival has been trying to use renewable energy and raise ecological issues among ­visitors for some years. "The local people in the area were quite resistant to the idea of a festival here at first. There is of course the rock' n' roll and freedom-loving side of the festival which is as it should be. "But we are also trying to raise awareness of issues and minimise damage to the environment during the festival." By the Green Stage, Yoko Kawahito, a 29-year-old hair stylist from Tokyo, said: "All things green have become really fashionable now. People do seem to be worried about green issues now even when they're partying." Picturesque walkways link venues and trawl endlessly through the forests decorated with rainbow-hued bunting, sparkling disco balls and glow-in-the-dark stars. Fields of food tents offered a microcosm of fine cuisine, from Japanese food such as seaweed-wrapped nigiri rice balls and cabbage ononomiyaki pancakes to furnace-oven-cooked pizzas. Even torrential downpours on the opening day of the event on Friday failed to dampen the spirit of festival attendees, including 15,000 camped on a slippery hillside. As sunshine crept out from behind the clouds on Saturday, the springs and streams that cover the festival area were filled with people paddling who seek relief from the humidity. The presence of numerous natural hot spring "onsen" in bathhouses in the area surrounding the festival grounds provided the perfect means of relaxation between partying, and "no-smoking-and-walking" signs were scattered throughout the venue, with smokers encouraged to purchase small portable ashtrays to prevent litter. It was little surprise that a sense of cleanliness and order prevailed. Summing up the charms of Fuji Rock, Rob Schwartz, the Tokyo bureau chief for Billboard Magazine, who has attended the event every year: "When Fuji Rock started, it was the first rock festival of its kind in Japan since the 1970s. Today it's a lot more organised than the first event." Looking at the surrounding mountains, he added: "It's an amazing ­experience to be here. It's incredibly beautiful, it's incredibly clean and it's incredibly peaceful." And it's not only organised, beautiful and green; it's safe, too. Among the visitors last weekend was a group of women who had travelled to the festival alone and met each other via a Facebook Fuji Rock page. Lesli Ravick, a government worker from the United States, 31, said: "I'm visiting Japan on holiday for a few weeks and this is my first Fuji Rock. I've been travelling alone so it's great to meet up with the ­other girls." Lee Ashby-Parkin, 31, a teacher from England who is based in Tokyo, said: "We're having a great time. It is so much cleaner and more organised than other festivals I've been to in England. And it also feels so safe. It's the kind if place a woman can come to on her own and you know your belongings will be safe too." As the sun disappeared behind the mountains on Saturday night and artists ranging from Dinosaur ­Jrr to Public Enemy prepared to perform, it marked the start of ­another long night of rock 'n' roll revellery. "Fuji Rock is a festival that aims to be environmentally conscious and well organised," said Handa. "But most important of all? It's about putting a smile on people's faces. That's what means most at the end of the day." And judging by the smiles of Sakamoto and his fellow volunteers as they queued to sort out the ­rubbish, mission accomplished.