Explaining Summer Sonic

A week before Japan’s big urban rock festival, Summer Sonic, was to take place simultaneously in Tokyo and Osaka, the CEO of festival organizer Creativeman Productions, Naoki Shimizu, gave an exclusive interview to the Japan Times explaining his strategy for the event.

Photo: summersonic.com
during Zedd's set

In recent years, Creativeman has staged an all-night, pre-festival concert on the Friday night before the SS weekend called Sonicmania, which is mainly aimed at dance fans. Shimizu wanted this year’s to be special and envisioned a rave with headliners Skrillex for “young fans” and New Order for “seasoned punters,” but in the end he couldn’t book them due to scheduling. “I tried to think of other artists, but I didn’t think we could get the perfect booking,” he told the paper.

He therefore decided to cancel Sonicmania for this year. The plan characterizes his ambition, which is evident in a slew of new projects both inside and outside Japan. Recently, Creativeman has begun putting on concerts with Japanese acts in Europe and North America and spreading the Summer Sonic brand throughout Asia. He has already tried to do this in South Korea and Shanghai but it didn’t work out as well as he expected.

He is also teaming up with Singapore electronic festival ZoukOut to bring it to Japan. Creativeman also recently opened a restaurant in Tokyo, a branch of New York’s Cafe Habana, and in the basement set up a new club called Sankeys TYO, which already has bookings for mid-level international acts through the fall. Shimizu says he doesn’t care for the way most EDM-focused clubs in Tokyo are managed.

“They’re more about the VIP system and the champagne,” he said. He wants Sankeys to be “more like a traditional club.”

As for Summer Sonic, he admitted that it is always ripe for improvement, and this year has split the weekend into two themes: dance acts on one day with headliners Fergie and Underworld, and rock-oriented acts on the other day with headliners Radiohead and Japanese band Sakanaction.

Shimizu stressed that in the past he never cared for Japanese rock bands, but in recent years has found many he appreciates. Boosting Sakanaction, he said, could help solve a problem that both Summer Sonic and the other big Japanese international summer festival, Fuji Rock, have been facing in recent years.

“Look at Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers [Fuji’s headliner this year]. These rock artists have been headlining festivals for 15 or 20 years. We don’t have new acts who can headline a festival.”

Moreover, many acts that headline overseas aren’t popular enough in Japan to do the same in Tokyo and Osaka. He also laid to rest a belief that SS and Fuji are “always fighting,” pointing out that the concepts of the two festivals are completely different.

“We make sure to have a good relationship with Fuji Rock, and so keep this market healthy.”