An intro by Vaughan Allison, a music promoter and cafe denizen who moved from Melbourne to Tokyo over 10 years ago.
The sun was shining bright when I was back in Australia earlier this year touring the country with a Kyoto trio. A message came through from Adam Hallilwell, who I’d booked shows for in Japan a few years back.
He said Sunnyside had a tour on the cards for the Japanese summer, and that Fuji Rock Festival was pretty much a done deal providing a national tour could also take place.
I popped along to witness the band do their thing in Melbourne (wow!), caught up with their manager Todd for coffee, and it was then full steam ahead.
Fast forward to July – three sold-out gigs in Tokyo took place, as well as shows in Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya, before heading to Fuji Rock!
I’ll pass over to Todd to paint the picture of Sunnyside at Fuji Rock. But before I do, I’ll just share a little policy I have. All I ever ask of bands coming to Japan are two things: 1. That everyone arrives on time and 2. That each gig that they play is the best gig of their lives.
After the first couple of gigs, I realised they didn’t really need reminding of this. And now post-tour, all I know as we head towards winter over here is that Japan really longs for another dose of Sunnyside.
So you want to play Fuji Rock Festival?
by Todd O’Brien, Sunnyside’s manager
How the opportunity to play Fuji Rock came to be
In late 2018 Sunnyside were invited to play at Mullumbimby Music Festival in Queensland, Australia and ended up in a hotel with Japanese funk extraordinaires Osaka Monaurail. After a weekend of what by all accounts sounds like a bit of a wild time, the two bands had bonded pretty tightly, and Osaka Monaurail left back to Japan.
Fast forward a year and Dan, lead guitarist of Osaka Monaurail and total legend, passed on some music to Fuji Rock which resulted in an email to the band requesting a booking for two sets.
The band members didn’t pick their jaws up off the ground for about a week.
Trepidations about heading to Fuji Rock
Initially, as the manager, I was definitely playing devil’s advocate for the opportunity. A lot of people probably don’t understand the amount of money it costs to actually put a tour like this together.
But the band spent a lot of time getting in my ear and eventually convinced me that it was something worthwhile, and they were definitely right. A big thanks has to go to Creative Victoria for making the opportunity viable through their Music Works funding program.
The most exciting aspect of the Fuji Rock opportunity was exposing the band to a whole new audience. Japanese music fans are the best in the world, so respectful and interested in an artist and so supportive of international artists as well.
It was the band’s first international tour, and we were so kindly received by a whole plethora of individuals throughout the country. We were all pretty keen to check out a lot of the other bands too. Hometown heroes King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, Vaudou Game, Khruangbin and of course the absolutely psychotic Chemical Brothers live show.
The coming together of managers: Todd and Vaughan
When Fuji Rock initially contacted us, we knew that we needed to secure a few other shows for the tour to make the trip worthwhile. We had no idea how the landscape functioned in Japan.
Vaughan was recommended by a mutual friend who he had helped organise some shows in Japan, and when we made contact he was in Australia, so we caught up for a coffee.
From that point onwards it was full steam ahead, we probably wanted to throttle each other at a few points, but it became the start of a very beautiful partnership, that’s for sure.
How two managers (Japan and Australia) manage a tour
Basically we were split between ‘good cop, bad’ cop the whole time. Vaughan handled the brunt of the tasks actually getting around the country and liaising with venues etc. while I made sure the band was doing everything they needed to be doing financially and on the business side of things.
It was seriously a breeze working with Vaughan and his extended team once we hit Japanese shores.
How the logistics of playing Fuji Rock work, who did what
The band were pretty small fish in a very large pond, and as such we were pretty self-sufficient. Once the contract was locked down, we organised pretty much everything ourselves, and the festival helped us out with transfers to and from the event each morning and between stages and some backline.
How the experience compares to festivals back home
Fuji Rock is a very wild beast, to be honest, it scared the shit out of me. The level of organisation and attention to detail at the event (and across literally every aspect of the whole country) was pretty mind blowing.
Alongside that the sheer scale of the event is just insane. I remember it taking us nearly an hour to walk from one side to the other at one point.
I think I spent more time taking photos and notes of all of the ‘boring’ operational elements of the festival than I did actually watching music to try and improve my events back on home soil.
The backstage vibe at Fuji Rock
The band certainly got their fix of hanging with some celebrities. I think within maybe five minutes of us receiving our accreditation some of the members of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers had been handed Sunnyside merch, the boys from Victoria were definitely making the most of the experience.
The band was very lucky to be playing after one of their favourite acts Khruangbin, and we ended up in the same dressing room before the set, which was nice. Those guys are legends.
The stages Sunnyside played, and the crowds that came to watch
Sunnyside played two sets on the Saturday of the festival, the first at 2pm in the Cafe De Paris tent, the second just before midnight in the Crystal Palace.
Cafe De Paris was a huge marquee decked out beautifully with Parisian decor, burlesque dancers and a giant disco ball setting the scene perfectly for the mad men from Melbourne to get down to a solid crew of over 1000 people.
The second set in Crystal Palace was something completely different. In the morning the weather had held up, and Cafe De Paris was pretty sunny but by the time the second set rolled around Typhoon-esque rain had well and truly set in and every square inch of the beautiful Crystal Palace spiegeltent was rammed with people trying to escape the rain with a bit of Sunnyside sunshine.
The stage manager actually mentioned that in all his years of running the stage he had never seen it so busy. The boys played a really high energy set, and I think we all went to bed that night afterward pinching ourselves as to whether it had really played out as well as it did.
We’ve got no idea how many people were in the tent but let’s just say it was much, much bigger than the first set and much bigger than any crowd the band had ever played before.
The hardest part of playing the festival
Travelling up and down the mountain with all of our gear was a bit of a nightmare. For those that don’t know Fuji is about a half an hour drive up into the snowy mountains from the nearest main town where we were staying.
Each morning thousands of people line up to get the bus up to the festival. Luckily, the event sorted us out with priority bus passes.
The reasoning behind combining the visit with an ambitious national tour
Fuji Rock was incredible, but for me, the tour shows were the highlight. The band ended up doing three shows in Tokyo then a show each in Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya and each venue was incredible in its own little way.
The tour really came about by Vaughan’s action, he really hustled for the shows for us and it showed, we also had a great PR team on the ground which made it very worthwhile.
Our show at Nui in particular with Osaka Monaurail was the highlight, we ended up with around half an hour of time spare at the end of the night that turned into a 20 minute jam session between the two bands with some of the most insane musicianship I have ever witnessed.
I’ve got a 15 minute video on my phone to video to prove it too. I think the extra shows, aside from just getting the band’s name out and some more value from the tour, was a really important way for the band to connect on a more personal level.
Advice for people wanting to try and tour Japan
Get onto Vaughan! Having a team on the ground is very, very important.
There’s a good chance that there are 10-20 things that happen in the Japanese industry that you don’t know about or don’t understand and having someone on the ground that can help you decipher it all is key.
Secondly, don’t expect to make money on your first tour and therefore make sure you milk every last opportunity you can grab out of the tour from start to finish to make any money you are losing worthwhile.
Vaughan is currently touring Melbourne singer songwriter Grand Salvo around through Tokyo and Kyoto. For more information on his other projects, visit www.vaughan.tokyo
Grand Salvo Tour Dates
Tues Oct 8
Kinse Ryokan, Kyoto. With special guests YeYe and Tayutau
Fri Oct 11
Guggenheim House, Kobe With special guests sumahama?, modae, rakkasei.
Sun Oct 13
Lete, Tokyo. – SOLD OUT
Mon Oct 14
Nanahari, Tokyo with special guests Muffin and TBA