Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on April 2010

Courtesy of Popgroup

The world is by now familiar with major Japanese extravaganzas like Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic, but less known are the growing number of domestic-oriented festivals. Among them, Kaikoo—which morphed from a hip-hop documentary DVD into an all-night party—is now making its debut as a proper outdoor festival at a ferry terminal park on the Tokyo bayside.

“Japan has large events like [Rockin’ On magazine’s] Rock In Japan, but that’s not all there is to Japanese pop,” explains Kaikoo promoter Popgroup’s Hiroki Sakaida, who along with partner DJ Baku is ensconced in a hole-in-the-wall office in Shibuya’s Sakuragaoka district. “In fact there is a lot of fantastic music out of the mainstream, but Japanese people might not get it. I don’t think this is a healthy state. The whole scene needs to be represented so people can learn about it.”

Ironically, Sakaida himself had to go abroad to discover Japanese music. “Before I worked in the UK for Cisco Records, I thought Japanese music was awful. But my opinion changed,” he says. “I began to recognize a lot of great and original Japanese artists like DJ Krush, who are doing their own thing.”

Returning to Japan, Sakaida hooked up with Baku and had the idea to release a compilation album of some of the country’s notable leftfield hip-hop and electronica artists. The project ultimately became the documentary DVD Kaikoo, which roughly means “serendipitous meeting.”

“It ended up selling quite well and entering the Oricon charts,” Sakaida recalls, pulling the DVD from a cabinet. “That’s how we started Popgroup—the whole thing began with this.”

The festival boasts plenty of hip-hop and electronica, in the form of DJ Baku’s Hybrid Dharma Band, Tha Blue Herb and techno stars Takkyu Ishino and Ken Ishii. But there’s also everything from the free jazz/performance art ensemble Shibusashirazu Orchestra to instrumental rock colossus Mono to “tribal-roots-punk-rock orchestra” Turtle Island (pictured).

“I think there’s a good balance between dance music and live music,” says Baku, noting that recently he’s left the specifics of Kaikoo to Sakaida. “It doesn’t lean only to rap, or to bands, and there are groups that mix both rock and rap, and music for culture sophisticates as well. I’m from hip-hop, but rather than appealing to a specific fan, we’re trying to reach a wide range of listeners.”

“While we might eventually add overseas artists, the motivation for Kaikoo is to increase the numbers of fans of alternative Japanese music,” Sakaida explains. “If underground musicians don’t have a platform for their art, they won’t be able to continue. Kaikoo exists between the underground and mainstream as a platform to bring lesser-known artists to people’s attention.”

With four stages, the event will take over a little-used bayside park, one of the many publicly funded venues for which Tokyo is now trying to find a purpose. “Another theme is to bring music closer to Japanese people’s lives, so rather than doing it in the mountains, we’re doing it in the city,” he says. “Fuji Rock is great, but you have to take time off work and spend ¥100,000, so a lot of people can’t go. Kaikoo offers an alternative.”

Popgroup’s aim is nothing less than to make the event the kickoff party for the annual summer festival season.

“People say that you can’t sell CDs anymore, but I think there are a lot of music fans who will support musicians by coming to events,” Sakaida says. “There are a lot of cool alternative festivals in the West like Sonar and All Tomorrow’s Parties—we want to create something like that in Japan.”

Kaikoo Popwave Festival ‘10
Local acts Shibusashirazu Orchestra, Soul Flower Union, Yolz in the Sky and many others. Apr 10-11, 11am, ¥5,000 (one day)/¥9,000 (two days). Tokyo Cruise Terminal, Aomi. meturl.com/kaikoo

Best of the Rest

A shortlist of alternative Japanese music festivals

  • Nagisa Music Festival Bayside dance knees-up has come to feature numerous alternative Japanese bands and DJs in recent years.
    Apr 11. Odaiba Open Court, Tokyo Teleport. www.nagisamusicfestival.jp
  • Greenroom Festival Yokohama surf culture celebration has an appropriately freewheeling atmosphere.
    May 22-23. Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. www.greenroom.jp
  • Natural High A bohemian-flavored festival in a pristine mountain valley timed to coincide with Earth Day.
    May 22-23. Doshi no Camp, Yamanashi Prefecture. www.naturalhigh.jp
  • Sense of Wonder Arty Japanese bands (Boredoms et al.) and art installations at a scenic wooded location.
    May 29. Kasama Park, Geijutsunomori Koen, Ibaraki Prefecture. www.s-o-w.jp
  • Rocks Tokyo New all-domestic outdoor rock fest by Tokyo Bay promoted by Creativeman, the folks behind Summer Sonic.
    May 29-30. Shin-Kiba Wakasu Park. www.rockstokyo.jp
  • Taico Club All-nighter with heavy hitters from the electronic and experimental music scenes.
    June 5. Kodama no Mori, Nagano Prefecture. www.taicoclub.com
  • Guru Guru Mawaru Indie rock and art at a soccer stadium? Go figure.
    June 26. Saitama Stadium 2002. www.gurugurumawaru.net
  • Tenohira Matsuri Aging Japanese hippies looking for a place to bring their kids created this ultra mellow be-in featuring a solar-powered stage.
    Date TBA (usually in June). Nagatoro Camp Mura, Saitama Prefecture. http://tenohirafes.web.fc2.com
  • Rising Sun Rock Festival An all-domestic Fuji Rock-style camp fest that gets high marks from repeaters for its laidback atmosphere at a breezy location in Hokkaido.
    Aug 13-14. Tarukawa Wharf, Ishikari Bay New Port, Otaru. http://rsr.wess.co.jp