Craftrock 2016 @ Toyosu Pit & Magic Beach (May 28th, 2016)

Good bands and great beers, what could be better?
Live Report : “Good bands and great beers, what could be better?” Craftrock 2016 @ Toyosu Pit & Magic Beach 2016.05.28

Craftrock

Great live music and great beer together in one place is almost the perfect combo for many, this writer included. While most festivals concentrate on ensuring the quality of one or the other, it’s rare you find a festival that puts equal planning into both the beer and the music. Despite the immense popularity of both live music and craft beer worldwide, this combo festival isn’t necessarily a sure thing. The group that may enjoy a craft beer festival may not always enjoy a music festival and vice versa. Done right however, you can reach that magical equalibreum and please both the beer geek and music geek all at once. Having dabbled in both groups myself, I can tell you, this is a cross section of passionate but hard to please fans.

There’s only two festivals that I’ve found here in Japan that get this combination right. Both aim to create the perfect balance between craft beer and music. One of these festivals is Snow Monkey Beer live, a yearly 2-day festival held every March in the mountains of Shiga Kogen, Nagano. The other festival is this one, Craftrock. Now in its third year, Craftrock seems to be fine tuning its organisation every year, learning from past mistakes and expanding their festival each time.

Previously held in the Harumi Ship Terminal in southeast Tokyo, this year’s edition brings Craftrock to the relatively new venue of Toyosu Pit and the adjacent outdoor area, Magic Beach (although it’s not a beach). The price was a little steeper this year, 2000 yen more than the previous 2 years. Accordingly, on paper at least, things were improved on all fronts to justify the price increase. The venue, Toyosu Pit is a proper concert hall with a booming sound system that plays host to dozens of live concerts every month. This year’s musical lineup was more impressive as well. Continuing the tradition of hosting mainly Japanese indie rock bands, 2016 saw established bands like Eastern Youth, toe, G.Love, (non Japanese but fan favorite here) Clammbon and group_inou. The festival also collaorated with promotion company Smash this year which presumably helped in aquiring many of the artists.

Craft Rock Not to be outdone on the beer front, this year’s beer lineup and vendor list was bigger and better than ever as well. The list of vendors covered some of the best Japan has to offer and included Baird, Brewdog, Coedo, Kyoto Brewing, Left Hand, Sankt Gallen, Shiga Kogen and Ushitora Brewery. A few of the brewers even debuted special Craftrock beers specifically made for this fest. I definitly noticed a fair number of Tokyo beer festival regulars in the mix on top of the hoardes of indie rock fans that came out this year. Craftrock 2016 had all the ingrediants to be one of the best beer/rock festivals Japan had ever seen. Consequently this was the first year that tickets sold out in advance. So, did the all the right ingredients equal a successful festival? Well…yes and no. To explain I should break down the festival.

Since its inception in 2014, as with most festivals, there is always some tweaking needed to improve upon the previous year and grow the festival. The first main tweak started last year with moving the festival from the sweltering heat of mid-August to the more pleasent weather of late May. Craftrock 2016 brought the fest to a new venue but also included a 2000 yen price increase. At 6800 yen for the entrance fee Craftrock is not exactly cheap. What this does is weed out the casual music fans or the fans more interested in the craft beer portion of the festival.

That said, even though the price was over 20% higher than last year, this was the first year the festival sold out. There were no tickets available on the day of the fest. So if selling tickets was a goal, then this year was certainly a success. But let’s get a few things straight. Toyosu Pit as a concert venue is a proper concert hall and can compete with some of Tokyo’s best. Similarly, the lineup for Craftrock 2016 included a whole host of Japanese indie rock favourites such as Clammbon, toe, Eastern Youth, group_inou and more. I’ve seen some of these bands live previously like toe or group_inou sellout similar venues to Toyosu Pit on their own. When you put a lineup of all these bands together on one day, it comes as no surprise that the fest sold out in advance. The event probably would have sold out on its own as a music only concert in most venues across the city.

Craft Rock The layout of the festival created a feeling of divide between the two areas, the concert hall and the near-by Magic Beach outdoor area. While Pit played host to great music throughout the day, as a whole there was something missing in terms of a synergy or connection between the two areas and the event overall. It was a bit like two different events happening concurrently. When entering Toyosu Pit there was nothing overtly related to the other half of the festival. Of course, you could gain access to the concert hall with your wrist band and bring your craft brew you bought from the other side into the Pit, but all the rest seemed fairly business as usual in Toyosu Pit. There was no craft beer for sale anywhere in or around Toyosu Pit, only the usual big business Japanese macro lager. This seemed out of place considering the event is a craftbeer festival in name.

In this respect I think last year’s Craftrock, with its two outdoor stages, both within stones throw of all the craft beer vendors made more sense. One aspect that was a clear improvment this year was the beer, so why hinder one of the aims of the fest by creating a seperation? As the festival has the word craft in its name, that comes with the expection that craft beer will play a big part of the festival. This year’s craft beer selection didn’t disappoint. Many of the top craft brewers in Japan were here with a great cross section of their beers. They had something to appeal to both newcomers to the craft beer scene and hardcore craft brew aficionados alike. Some of the longest lines for beer could be found at Shigakogen and Baird beer (in my estimation Japan’s top 2 brewers at the moment). Both ran out of kegs long before the festival ended which probably worked well for some of the smaller brewers trying to compete. American craft brew importers AQ Bevolution have been with Craftrock festival since the beginning. They came strong agian this year supplying the masses with great American beer from Colorado based brewer, Left Hand brewing Company. In the 2014 and ’15 editions of Craftrock, Craft RockLeft Hand even had a stage named after them. As the festival grows it’s great to see AQ and Left Hand continue to support the festival as America has long been the mecca for craft beer.

Running a successful beer festival that doesn’t get out of hand requires attention to areas a music festival alone doesn’t neccasarily. Good food options and toilet availability are essentials. It’s in these two areas that I feel that Craftrock, despite good intentions, suffered. Let’s start with food. For a festival that lasted roughly 11 hours, from 11am to around 10pm, there just wasnt enough food available. Not only were there not enough options, but all the food was totally sold out by around 5:30 pm. The number of people may have been a bit too many to handle. Something I had high hopes for coming in was the restaurant area. This area, off to the side of the the Magic Beach area, offered a spot to relax and grab a bite. There was a kids area, a nursing room and a full sit-down open air restaurant with an ample supply of tables. The restaurant served a full range of food from bread, to pasta, to meat, it all looked great. To add to the craft vibe, each dish could be paired with a sampling of a craft beer that accented the meal. The restaurant area was a great spot to unwind and was a highlight of the festival. Except, I missed the chance to try the actual food when things sold out around 5pm. This was the first of multiple dissapointments when searching for dinner options. The restaurant being out of food led me to my only other option for food next to the beer vendors.

Craft Rock There were four food stands operating alongside the beer vendors. However of the four, one vendor was a coffee roaster and another was a vegetable farm selling cups of veggies. This quickly eliminated two of my dinner options. The third stall was an Italian eatery which didn’t seem ready for the demand and had sold out by mid afternoon. The only vendor that appeared ready for the thousands of festival goers was a west-Tokyo burger spot. They were the only vendor still servering food late in the day, unfortunatly they too had just run out of burgers by the time I got to the front of their 45 minute line. A plate of onion rings weren’t the consolation prize I needed to keep my stamina stong for the rest of the day. So while the beers this year were better and more plentiful than ever, the food is something that really needs to be addressed for next year. If the festival is going to run for a duration of 11 hours, taking place over lunch and dinner, all the while punters are drinking strong craft beers, it’s just asking for trouble not being able to keep people fed.

The toilet situation, which I always keep an eye on during any music or beer festival was decent. It was better than last year, which only had one bathroom and average lines of around 30 minutes. This year there were a few options for toilets including inside the concert hall. I estimated a peak wait time of around 20 minutes which isn’t too bad for a festival promoting drinking all day.

Eastern Youth While I was zipping around the festival all day trying to get the overall sense of this year’s edition of Craftrock, it was obvious the music was definitely the main draw for most. As I stated before, the festival’s music was split up between two stages. There was the outdoor stage amongst all the action of the beer fest, then there was the concert hall Toyosu Pit, across the street. The music kicked off at the Pit with veteran Japanese rockers, Eastern Youth. They opened the fest with a swift but hard rockin’ 40 minute set that nearly packed the Pit full despite starting at 12:30 pm. Self proclaimed beer lovers, (they sell a T-shirt that says as much) Eastern Youth no doubt wanted to finish business early, then enjoy the rest of the day drinking great beer and taking in great music like the rest of us.

Throughout the day acts alternated between the 2 stages. While it wasn’t always the case, it seemed like the more established bands played in the Pit, while acoustic or more stripped down acts played outside. I much preferred the open air of the festival setting and spent most of my time at Magic Beach but made sure to go back and check on the acts in the Pit. The final 3 acts playing the Pit have some serious fan bases and by the time Hanaregumi made their way on stage until the end of the festival, the venue was rammed from front to back. Over on the Magic Beach side of things one band that really took me by surprise was Johnsons Motorcar. They shook the crowd with their brand of Celtic punk/hardcore folk. The band is made up of 3 ex-pats and a Japanese female drummer. They’re led by frontman Martin Johnson rocking a violin and belting out his share of whisky infused sing a long tunes. They kicked the crowd up to a peak of dancing, moshing and revelry that wasn’t topped all day. The fest could have used a few more lively bands like Johnsons Motorcar to keep the pace up. The Magic Beach did get treated to a lower key but still very enjoyable set from Tavito Nanao, a bluesy stomper from G. Love, a great acoustic guitar jam session from Gontiti and a more lively jazzy/techno close-out set from DJ Yogurt. All the while. the serious indie fans were all crowded into Toyosu Pit. Craft Rock Takashi Nagazumi (Hanaregumi) delivered a slow, lyrical, emotional set to the packed venue. Nagazumi has been making music for some 20 years and certainly had no problem delghting fans in the Pit amidst a festival setting.

The extremely talented and rhythmical post rockers toe took their place next holding down the main stage. Their fans were there in numbers and eager to get lost in the swirling vortex; the ebbs and flows that the toe live experience delivers. Slower and deliberate bands like Hanaregumi, toe and Clammbon don’t immediately come to mind as bands to rock a rowdy beer festival crowd, however all three are more than qualified. It was a good way to keep people from getting out of hand with all that beer in them. In that sense, booking three more chilled out, melodic bands as headliners was probably a good idea to keep the party in check. Clammbon closed out the main stage in the Pit with a subdued but emotional 1 hour set. Although I’m not a huge fan myself, I can certainly see the appeal of their sound, alternating hard and soft, guitar and piano, male and female vocals. It’s a sound that’s gained them fans across the country over the past 20 years and will continue to do so.

Trying to sum up this year’s edition of craftrock is a bit tricky. I think it succeeded in many ways but needs to be tweaked further still to fulfill its potential. For starters, although Toyosu Pit is a good live music venue, I don’t think it’s necessary for Craftrock. It’s better to keep everything in the same area. If you are going to do an open air festival go for it and embrace it. The lack of food options was a big issue for myself and others I talked to. Similarly, if you are organizing an 11 hour festival, you can’t run out of food, especially when people are drinking all day. And while the music was good, toe, G. Love, Johnsons Motorcar and others certainly impressed, I would have liked a bit more variety. I think Craftrock is suited to more energetic bands, maybe some uptempo funk or jazz to keep people moving. That said, this year’s edition of Craftrock was far from a failure. The restaurant area was a great addition, there were loads of great Japanese and American craft beers to try and quality music rocking all day long. I’m sure the organisers will learn from this year as they seem to do every year and make Craftrock 2017 the best yet.

–>Eastern Youth Photo Report

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Photos:
Keiko Hirakawa
keco@smashingmag.net
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Text:
James Mallion
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