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REVIEWS // Lively Up Yourself (2006)

Sometimes you come across something that you just can’t resist. So it was when I learned about the inaugural Reggae Snow Splash event in one of Japan’s premier ski areas. I knew the organisers through other ventures and decided that it was an event that I couldn’t miss – an unusual combination (reggae and winter sports) but an irresistible one all the same. Pulling together a small crew of likely sorts, we set off by bus from the the heart of the city bound for the Japan Alps.

The event itself was undoubtedly the party of the year. Through all the fun and games, I managed to write up a review of the event and throw in a little ‘gonzo‘ background to the trip too.

The resulting review got published on a Canadian website named The Foreigner – Japan that I got a couple of other pieces published at too. It can be found here. Having sent the review around a couple of other options too, I also ended up getting commissioned by Outdoor Japan to write the cover story for their Summer Music Festivals issue, posted elsewhere in this blog.

I wasn’t able to attend the second Reggae Snow Splash, in 2007, but I know that the organisers expanded the programme for it. I wish them the very best with it in the future and hope to see this fantastic event becoming a permanent fixture on the Japanese event calendar.

Event photos by Racer; Alpine scenery by Dom Pates.

Lively Up Yourself

Chalk and cheese. Salt and cornflakes. Some things are just not meant to go together and can make for an awful mess. However, some opposites can compliment each other. I once tried chocolate chilli at a Mexican restaurant, with great trepidation. It was delicious. British entrants are rarely expected to qualify for the Winter Olympics, yet the UK even came back from Turin with a medal this time around.

Reggae. Snow. Perhaps the last place you’d expect a reggae festival would be at a ski resort. Jamaica might be known for its Blue Mountains but certainly not any white ones. These days, such a sun-kissed sound is no longer confined to the Caribbean, but heard the world over. And Reggae Snow Splash (RSS), in the heart of the Japan Alps, made perfect sense.

The first event of its kind, it provided skiing and snowboarding by day, and live reggae and DJs by night – all at the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. A bus was laid on to take merry revellers up to Nagano from Tokyo, and the event was put together guaranteeing a stress-free weekend away from the city. Faces from the Japanese reggae scene would be providing the entertainment and for partygoers not wishing to hit the slopes in the daytime, there was even a guided snowshoe hike through a beautiful mountainous setting, with winter forests and spiced wine to top it off.

My gang and I joined the Ski Babylon bus leaving on the Friday night. Once on the road, the passengers were all welcomed with a jerk chicken bento and a cup of ‘jungle juice’ to get us all in the mood – a fine attention to detail that showed the organisation that had gone into this event. Sat at the back and joined by one of the bands playing, we got into the swing pretty quickly.

The bus rolled into Hakuba and we joined the party at Tracks bar that had already kicked off. We partied until 3AM and then bowed out, for the slopes were drawing us later on.

On the main day itself, one and all were not quite up to tackling snowboarding straight away. After surfacing, we borrowed some bicycles from the lodge we were staying at and headed off for a ride through country with breathtaking alpine backdrops – a fine way to clear the foggy head. We stopped in Hakuba town at a restaurant called Uncle Stevens, and were served huge portions of delicious Mexican food at reasonable prices. On the way back, a visit to a nearby onsen was paid – a perfect way to relax and rejuvenate in preparation for the evening.

Back at Tracks, the main event was warmed up by local DJs and Caribbean Dandy, a unit from Tokyo on the leading edge of the reggae DJ scene in Japan. The first band on was Tex & the Sun Flower Seed, who describe their sound as ‘J-Po-ggae’ – a mix of reggae, ska, rocksteady and J-Pop. With eight people on stage and a tight yet loose sound, they made a commanding start to the live music. After a long day out on the slopes, the audience was a little slow to move at first, but Tex’s lively and inclusive set warmed them up quickly. Anchored in bass, horn laden and with a very lively frontman, the band’s sunny grooves won the audience over and had the whole room dancing away the remaining winter chills.

Cool Wise Men were the main act. Active messengers of the Jamaican roots music scene in Japan since forming in 1993, they were to bring the day to a climax and did so with great style. Some hot horn action was provided at the front by sax, trumpet and trombone, with rhythm, guitar and keys holding down the back. Soon enough, the place was jumping and grooving to the Wise Men’s traditional and rootsy sound. Sometimes, a well-known reggae refrain was thrown in. A good energy and solid stamina from them kept the crowd going throughout the night. Most of the material lacked vocals, but they weren’t missed. Cool Wise Men can be seen playing with Jamaican trombone legend Rico Rodriguez in Tokyo in May – a sure-fire hit show to be.

After their set, Caribbean Dandy played out the rest of the party and spun many fine, classic tunes, helping the happy Snow Splashers to keep on grooving till the small hours.

Up and about early the next day, we were on the slopes by mid-morning. As a former Winter Olympics site, Hakuba is well developed for a whole range of winter sports. There are many shops offering gear and wear rental, plus opportunities for beginners to learn from experienced instructors. Plenty of bars and restaurants provide much of the off-slope entertainment and the array of ubiquitous hot springs give the chance to rest those weary bones after all the excitement of plunging downhill fast. Other outdoor activities can also be enjoyed, such as trekking, hiking, and kayaking or rafting along the Himekawa River that flows through the resort. Many of the mountains in the range reach 3,000 metres high and it can be tough to beat the spectacular wintry alpine views from some of the peaks.

Mid afternoon, and all the partygoers gathered together for a final time to say goodbyes to new friends before the bus took everyone back to Tokyo. In terms of organisation, concept, attention to detail and vibe, I’d have to say that it was the best party I’ve been to in a long time. The tour guide on the bus even took the trouble to sing us a number with the on-board karaoke system as we rolled out of Hakuba!

On the return home, hanami season appeared to have kicked off in Kichijoji’s Inokashira Park, with many people partying under the blossoming cherry trees and welcoming in a new season.

So from Winter, must come Spring…


Reggae Snow Splash
Outdoor Japan
Hakuba Alps Backpackers Lodge

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Filed under 2006, Reviews

REVIEWS // Playing It Cool (1997)

I’ve contributed sporadically to magazines over the years. It seems to come in fits and starts.

Having served as Music Editor at a sixth form college magazine in the early 90’s, I moved on to making music, films and painting for a few years instead. By the late 90’s, I came back again to writing a little when asked by a friend who worked for a University publication (even though I was no longer at Uni).

During the period as Music Editor, I found my way into plenty of gigs by artists I liked when they came to town. Sometimes, I actually wrote up the interviews that I conducted too. I managed to revive this technique for a Super Furry Animals show in Brighton in 1997 and hooked up an interview with the band. Turned up at the venue, asked who I thought would be the right person to let the band know I was there, waited for ages and no-one came. As I’d been really hoping to meet the band, I was rather disappointed that nothing came of my manoeuvres.

Still, I thought that I might as well use the opportunity to write a review of the show anyway. The review that appears below was originally in the now-defunct University Of Brighton publication Babble. I have seen Super Furry Animals countless times since this one and they remain one of my favourite live bands – often quite a spectacle to witness and usually very memorable. Check them out if you get the chance.

Playing It Cool

Super Furry Animals, Brighton Centre East Wing

Growing up in South Wales in the late 80’s and early 90’s could be quite a dull place to be if one was, to any extent, a fan of contemporary cutting edge music. It remained as one of the last outposts of spandex-trousered, poodlehaired, old style heavy metal, even after Kurt Cobain slayed the beast. House, techno and later on jungle had a very long journey there. The only hints of it were so underground that you couldn’t reach them because all the mines had been closed anyway. The Manics’ mascared manifestos of situationist gobshite caring had barely made it to ‘A’ Level. Singing in Welsh could only either get you a laugh or a play on John Peel (when nobody else at the station listened to him).

Now, after the Manics killed a legacy that limply contained Tom, Shirley, Shaky and The Alarm, and finally put Wales on the musical map, the door was at last kicked open. This means that wonders such as Super Furry Animals have been let through and allowed to flourish in all their psychedelic/punk/bubblegum/techno/folk splendour.

It’s a shame that they were playing in such a shit venue as the Brighton Centre East Wing. This carpeted conference room could only have been designed with suits around tables in mind and the band looked rather uncomfortable when first taking to the stage. It took four songs before they decided to break the ice and speak to the audience. Brighton crowds can also be notoriously ‘here we are now, entertain us’. The high teen turnout ensured that the crowd didn’t have to wait long before being surfed upon. And, unimaginable five years ago down here, people brought out the Welsh flag, wrapping themselves in it and waving it at the band.

Once things were underway, the Super Furries both thrilled and plucked at heartstrings too. The amphetamine fuzz funk of ‘Play It Cool’, the acid punk of ‘Something For The Weekend’, the poignancies of ‘Gathering Moss’ and ‘If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You’ (you can almost see it ‘when the insects fly all around you’). They’ve taken psychedelia mixed with punk but keeping the essential bubblegum elements of both, whilst driving their techno-blaring purple tank straight into Brian Wilson’s cupboard and nicking all the best harmonies.

Who knows where they’re going? They have an oddball feel to them that makes them nicheless. Their influences point them in so many different directions that they could just fall apart through a lack of seams. Then again, if you’re looking back on the late 90’s, you don’t need to look much further for a finer set of pop songs (with Gallagher having wrestled the song from the clutches of the beat) than their first two albums ‘Fuzzy Logic’ and ‘Radiator’. Gruff, the singer, left the stage while the rest of the band stayed on playing a furious trance and thrashing the two huge kettle drums that had lain obtrusive and untouched, centrestage, throughout the gig. Then Gruff returned for the encores, with the Furries bowing out on the hypnotic thrash loops of ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ ringing in the ears.

Next time Super Furry Animals play Brighton is when they support Blur at the larger Brighton Centre. May they stamp all over the place and let us all give a fuck about these furry magicians.

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Filed under 1997, Reviews