Full disclosure here, one of these lads bought me a pint recently… We were cooling down in Shibuya after the band had warmed up Ebisu’s Liquid Rooms for the Go! Team a few hours earlier; and he had forgiven me for what may on another night have been a misjudged jibe towards the purse string holding associate who became our key to unlocking the bar. In fact perhaps it was this fitting in with the boys’ friendly, self-deprecating humour, and their tight relationship off stage, that allowed the banter to flow as easily as the beer, and as amiably as the conversation.
I was talking to ‘one of Japan’s famous bassists’ – this the only hint of self awareness I saw in our conversations – an enthusiastic introduction of modest Masamichi Hamada. I saw a passionate musician, a cool kid looking forward to his next gig as much as the last, a man with as clear a social presence as on stage persona, but mainly just an unassuming guy in a cool shirt.
With the guys drifting through conversations hardly wanting to mention Riddim Saunter, (the name, I shall return to…) it is Fuji Rock festival which gets their talk-up-the-band hats on; a passion for playing live is obvious, and this is a mecca for the guys.
The five piece’s website talks of ‘frantic live shows’ which gained them credibility on the Tokyo scene – on a journey from ska-core to DIY indie – and it was in fact the The Go! Team taking note and inviting them to support the first Japan tour back in 2008 which helped cement their reputation with a wider audience. As the catalyst to securing the first Fuji Rock appearance in the same year clearly this was an important moment.
As Hama-san (we’re becoming more familiar now…) says, “From the eve of the festival, to the very end, these four days are the most exciting of the year” Mind you, at this stage of the night, most of what was so good on the beautiful Naeba mountainside seemed the latter of these three: “catching other bands, meeting people, and drinking beers!” Oh, and as guitarist Hiroshi Sato interjects with a poker face as sudden as it was piercing, “OF COURSE, camping.”
The guys wouldn’t have it any other way, and as most people would tell you this can come with ‘complications’.
“We set up camp with a big group of mates every year, and we usually can’t wait to go out into the festival and see some live bands – but one time we got back to find the wind and rain had turned our tent into some kind of sink; the bags were sodden, pretty depressing… SO tired, and in the worst mood, we couldn’t do anything but start a party out front and keep drinking the beer!”
I had asked the boys to explain their experiences at the festival, and the spirit in which this one ended reminded me of their energetic charm on stage.
“We just left the tent how it was, we just forgot about the marsh and mud, and were drinking and partying right there in front of it until the morning – that actually became one of my best memories of the festival!”
It was on the White Stage last year that Hamada’s most powerful image comes – in the seemingly rare, but always welcome breaks from that rain, a pair of sunglasses and a sunhat would top the must-take list for most punters.
“The view is so beautiful, and it was actually really emotional walking on to the stage – I actually wish I’d been wearing shades … to hide the tears I let out!”
The band’s history seems to comprise so many different influences and musical tastes, – indeed the name itself comes from the time around their formation when vocalist ‘KC’ (Keishi Tanaka) was just obsessed with reggae, constantly listening, and picking up the tongue of his favourite musicians,
“‘Riddim’ seemed to be a word he could use to describe just about anything,” Hama-san tells me. “Fitting, and sounding perfect with that, was ‘Saunter’ – a rhythm, ‘sauntering along’, wandering around, if you like…”
Perhaps you could say that the bands tastes are on one of these wanders too – the eclecticism shows in Hama-san’s ones-not-to-miss this year,
“Actually, I’d like to catch a bit of everything, all the noises between the stages too, but particularly I’ll definitely be watching Manu Chao, La Ventura and James Holden.”
The band are no strangers to anything from trumpet to turntable, even a flute or two into the mix, and the back catalogue is building into something of a library already. Three studio albums, a remix album featuring international artists such as Matias Tellex (Norway), SoftLightes (USA) and 33HZ (USA) to go with an acoustic album showcase the skills they are itching to bring to Fuji Rock once more.
Headlining Unit Daikanyama’s ‘7th anniversary live special’ on the 4th of July was a great warm up to the band, but independence from the confines of a club stage will come a few short weeks later.
This year will see the band’s other moniker on the bill for the first time; ‘Hideki Kaji and Riddim Saunter’ have been knocking around Tokyo’s live houses for some time -note transformation into 6 piece with the addition of Kaji – and I’ll expect some impromptu jams on the camp site to go with the main event…
Kaji Hideki and Riddim Saunter play the solar powered Gypsy Avalon Stage at 1.45 on Saturday, July 30 at Fuji Rock Festival (29th – 31st July 2011)
Weekend ticket: ¥ 39,800 (tax included) ⇒ (pre-sale price – ¥ 39,000 (tax included)
Day ticket: ¥ 16,800 (limited to 10,000 for each day)
For more information and details on how to buy tickets, please visit the official Fuji Rock Festival website
Words: Matthew Holmes
Translation: Iona Nagata