Fukuoka Now’s Jess McHugh attended the Saturday festivities of the three-day spectacular that was Sunset Live 2015. Here’s her report on the awesome sights and sounds of Kyushu’s hottest outdoor festival…
Getting out at the festival’s taxi drop off point, I followed the steady stream of swimwear-wearing, face paint/temporary tattoo-sporting festival-goers down to the beach. Aside from my partners-in-partying, the first clues I had that I was heading in the right direction were the paintings: a couple of huge boards had been erected within sight of the walk, painted with almost psychedelic images of people dancing and paddle-boarding. On the approach were umbrella-covered bar tables, where people stood chatting and drinking – there was a festival atmosphere without actually having entered Sunset Live’s bounds yet.
Once inside, everything was a riot of colour. Bright towels were being hawked (useful for those who chose to take a dip in the sea later), dragonflies and butterflies fluttered, and crowds of revellers were criss-crossing each other as they hurried off to the different stages. Almost everyone seemed to be extraordinarily fashionable, and a surprising number looked like they walked off the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue.
There were three big stages: the Forest Stage, the Beach Stage, and the Palm Stage. The Forest Stage was enclosed by trees and you entered through a corridor of tall, slim flags. At night it was beautifully lit by candles in glass drops hanging from the trees, and lights carefully placed in hollowed-out bamboo installations. This was the perfect setting for the more relaxed or indie bands, like Waxhead (who came all the way from Australia), or Rickie G, whose slow ballads made for a chilled end to Saturday for the Forest Stage.
The Beach stage was more for pop and club music; this stage area was nearest to the major food and drink stalls, and was the closest to a classic festival stage. DJ Tomoyuki Tanaka was perhaps the biggest show on this stage, causing a mass fit of jumping and hysterical yelling, especially once the most enthusiastic dancers in the front rows started being rewarded with shochu.
The final and biggest stage was the Palm Stage, where Th eROCKERS and Caramel each drew huge crowds of dancing fans, whilst bubble machines pumped out shining, wobbling orbs for kids and adults alike to chase after.
There were also two smaller stages. One sat directly opposite the festival entrance, and was where non-music performances took place; Comedy Fukuoka lent the festival some of its top performers for a short set, and Indian dance troop ODISSI performed perhaps the sultriest of its kind ever to be seen in Japan. The second, the Unagi Stage, was set part way up the hill in a forest clearing, and was the perfect place to lie or sit down whilst enjoying relaxed soloist performances.
As a self-professed food-a-holic, I was particularly keen to see the festival food selection; I was not disappointed. Manly Café were selling crocodile burgers (whilst in crazy costumes), and Canezees Doughnuts was selling a huge selection of doughnuts – I had two of the raspberry-flavoured doughnuts, and had to be physically restrained from buying a third.
Meinohama’s Pizzeria da Ciruzzo was selling gorgeous margherita pizzas, and their ice cream was the best I’ve had outside of Italy (I had to take some alone time to really enjoy my cone of hazelnut and milk ice creams). Several stalls were specialising in ramen, which went down a treat with the party-hard crowd who needed fuel up on carbs. There were also delicious tacos, plenty of fried chicken, and a selection of barbequed sausages on offer, and that’s just some of them.
If you got bored of overstuffing yourself with festival food or dancing away your food baby, then there was plenty else to do. Down on the beach many were swimming, SUPing, or paddling out on what looked to be a wicker boat.
For ¥100, you could have a go on the giant swing set (constructed of enormous bamboo poles), where helpers would push you as high as they could (which turns out to be quite high when you’re on a giant swing).
There was also a miniature set for the kids, as well as a kids’ disco and a kids’ trampoline area. For art-lovers, there was plenty of live-painting to watch. James Dover, of DOVER art school, was overseeing his students as they created a large wing-themed piece right next to the Palm Stage.
Sunset Live is heavily focused on being eco-friendly. Not only were there recycling tents everywhere (for you to dispose of your rubbish) and cleaners picking up after every concert, but a huge installation opposite the entrance focused on campaigning against beach litter. This tall tepee, constructed of and decorated with detritus which had washed up on Keya and other beaches, was designed to not only act as a great viewing platform, nor to simply put litter to good use, but to reinforce a message of Sunset Live, one which is printed on their brochures and merchandise: “Let’s save nature for the future now”. This is part of what is great about Sunset Live, they are not just satisfied with cleaning up after themselves (which is already better than many other festivals), but seek to actively promote environmental issues. Add to this their main slogan, “Love and Unity”, and you get a serious case of the warm fuzzies just from attending.
As night came on, so did the rain. With the preparedness that I associate with Japan, rainproof ponchos and umbrellas were pulled out, and any exposed stages were covered in waterproof marquees. I had come with no rain coat (instead sporting a hopefully adorable naivety) and was soaked to the point where I looked as if I had just stepped out the shower. Seeking refuge in the crowd, all the dancing and moshing soon had me warm, if not dry. Others, perhaps more sensibly, took refuge in the bar tents.
Yet most did not allow the rain dampen their party-tude, and continued to drink, laugh, dance and enjoy themselves. Those who had stayed were rewarded with a spectacular fireworks display, which closed the night with flurries of sparks (the rain had had the decency to stop just before this).
I’d laughed, I’d danced, and I’d utterly destroyed my shoes: it was time to head for home. Sunset Live had been fantastic fun, introducing me to new music, art and food. I now feel so much more aware of what Kyushu has to offer the cultural explorer. Bring on Sunset Live 2016!
To find out more about this year’s festivities, check out Sunset Live’s official website: http://www.sunsetlive-info.com/
The photos featured are from both the Friday (9/4) and the Saturday (9/5) of Sunset Live 2015.