In his book The Practice of Everyday Life, French cultural theorist Michel de Certeau explores how stories can transform a place into a space, and vice versa. A place is created by intentionally arranging elements, while space takes into account the movement and activity therein. Rural, an electronic open-air music festival in the deep forests of Niigata, transforms de Certeau’s space-making theories into reality.
The sleepy streets of Niigata’s ski resort town Yuzawa belie the area’s strong cultural roots. Home to Naeba Ski Resort — a venue many music lovers consider synonymous with Fuji Rock Festival — and Naeba Green Land, which housed Mindgames: The Labyrinth until 2019, it has surprising musical pedigree. Joining these illustrious ranks in mid-July, Naeba Green Land hosted Rural 2023, a party that returned to its outdoor origins for the first time in four years. Listed in Resident Advisor’s top 10 festivals in July 2023this year’s event was highly anticipated.
Initially defined as a deep techno experience, Rural soon evolved its musical curation to introduce underground artists with styles ranging from new wave to ambient. With 35 performing artists, Rural caters to a wide range of musical tastes. A compelling lineup represented by both international and domestic artists was split into two stages this year, Penta and Hexa. Penta showcased numerous domestic ambient, slo-mo house and techno artists making their Rural debut. Meanwhile, Hexa boasted deep techno sounds by the likes of the producer Wata Igarashi and Berlin-based artist FM gear. Compared to previous events, the lineup showcased a refreshing increase of emerging and women artists which apparently accounted for the strong presence of a younger crowd.
Surviving the Heat
The event takes place over the same three-day weekend every year, coinciding with the national holiday Marine Day. While there are hotel and hostel accommodations nearby, attendees can also opt to camp onsite. Although camping out in the mid-summer heat may seem like a challenging endeavor, the nearby Asagai River prevents attendees from overheating and provides relief from the high temperatures that can exceed 35 degrees Celsius.
Artists play a crucial role in shaping the space through installations, including talents like Loyalty Flowers and Mitsurin Tokyowhose beautiful floral arrangements were scattered throughout this year’s venue. Mirrorbowler, an installation art group consisting of graphic designers, photographers, lighting engineers, blacksmiths and plant artists, created an installation featuring multiple disco balls reflecting light across their surroundings. The installation was a stunning sight during the day and transformed the ground into a magical space at night.
The Ceremony of Gathering
Attendees come with friends and families, gathering around barbecues and enjoying outdoor activities while periodically visiting the stages to catch glimpses of the ongoing performances. The atmosphere is welcoming, as campers share and borrow items, helping each other with any tools forgotten needed to set up their campsites. A communal rock used as a makeshift hammer made the rounds this year, creating an easy opener for a genuine interaction between campers.
Mud, Music and Memories
Rural transforms into a unique space, shaped by the narratives of both artists and campers. For those who live in the city, it serves as an excuse to venture outside and break from their daily plugged-in routine. Others eagerly anticipate a chance to see and interact with their favorite artists. Some attend out of habit, reuniting with festival friends they only connect with during the circuit season. This dynamic is not melancholic but rather a reflection of life itself. Each person’s social battery varies, and for some, three full days of immersing in the festival atmosphere is enough before seeking solace in the routines of everyday life, away from overstimulating social spaces.
Naeba Green Land and the surrounding facilities take on new significance as attendees settle into their temporary homes over the long weekend. Notoriously muddy, one can never completely wash out the Naeba mud, leaving a visible trace of the magical experience.