This annual gathering in the Japanese countryside is a haven for children, dogs and ravers alike.
On the day of the earthquake, Masahiro Tsuchiya watched the disaster unfold on TV. "Everything looked so unreal," he said. "Then, it all stopped. A few days later, the venue staff told me the situation at the harbour was awful. As soon as I saw the damage, I immediately understood there was no chance of holding the festival." One year later, a typhoon hit Tokyo the day before Rainbow Disco Club. The rain didn't let up for days, and the festival was cancelled for the second year running.
On a warm, late-spring afternoon at Rainbow Disco Club's 2018 edition, talk of earthquakes and typhoons felt a world away. The festival's home is now in Izu, a peninsula known for its seafood and onsen hot springs, two hours from Tokyo. On the train ride here, Mount Fuji had briefly flickered into view on the right, while the sparkling Pacific Ocean emerged to the left. Standing backstage, Tsuchiya told me that, though the two cancellations nearly ended the festival, he was determined for Rainbow Disco Club to survive.
"After 2012 was cancelled, I put on my suit," he said, making the action of fastening his tie, "and I went to the bank to get a loan."
Tsuchiya is one of Rainbow Disco Club's three founders, along with Carlos Gibbs and Laurent Novatin. At this year's festival he was often visible through a crowd of people, wearing a baggy shirt, carrying a backpack and clutching a can of beer. From a distance, with his diminutive frame and permanent grin, he looked like a teenager. When he thought back to the two cancelled festivals, Tsuchiya struck a more sombre tone, noting the generosity of the Tokyo club scene. After the 2012 typhoon, he said promoters across the city "stood up to help" by arranging last-minute venues and holding club nights at short notice. "It was almost as if they saved my own life," he said.
Rainbow Disco Club didn't just survive: it blossomed into one of the most idyllic music festivals you'll find anywhere.
Rainbow Disco Club's three founders now live in three different cities. While Tsuchiya remains in Tokyo, Carlos Gibbs, Rainbow Disco Club's creative director, has moved to Shanghai, while Laurent Novatin, who is no longer involved with the festival, now lives in Bali. Gibbs's move to China has been used as an opportunity to expand Rainbow Disco Club's horizons, with one-off events taking place at the Elevator club in Shanghai since 2017, mostly on the weekends before and after the main festival in Izu.
I spoke to Gibbs at this year's festival, and again via email, about how the festival has evolved. "Masa had the idea years ago for making Rainbow Disco Club more family-oriented, and a festival for the music heads in Japan, and that's what it has become," he said. Reflecting on this year's edition, he said: "There is no place in the world like Japan, the outdoor party scene is amazing. Look at the unique events that happen each year: Labyrinth, Rural... Nothing touches these. Rocking to amazing soundsystems in the outdoors."
Beyond Tsuchiya, Gibbs and the rest of the team, Rainbow Disco Club has two resident DJs, Sisi and Kikiorix. (Kikiorix also does graphic design for the festival.) Sisi opened the first day of this year's event, as is tradition, providing a serene backdrop as people arrived. Towards the end of his set he was embraced by San Proper, a Rainbow Disco Club regular whose love of the festival is fully reciprocated by event staff. San began his set with a Tatsuro Yamashita tune, holding his copy of the record aloft before hugging the monitors and generally playing to the crowd during a set of feel-good tunes, his records messily sprawled out on the table behind him.
That afternoon, Four Tet and Floating Points played dub, Brazilian, soul and disco records. I saw one man leap out of his low-lying deck chair as the first Latin groove rolled in, before the set climaxed with some of the duo's own tracks. Tsuchiya watched on proudly from backstage. "I've been trying to book Four Tet for six years," he told me. Later that night, the party continued with an indoor night-time programme a short walk from the main stage. The highlight was a live show by Sauce81, Soichi Terada and Kuniyuki, who performed tunes like "Natural Thing" and Terada and Nami Shimada's "Sunshower." Everything about this after-dark side of the festival—the beer-slicked floor, the hot air, the packed dance floor—felt like a necessarily mucky counterpoint to the daytime serenity.
On day two, I swung in a hammock and listened to Yoshinori Hayashi play jazz and deep house records in the early-afternoon sunshine. He was followed by a batch of international acts—Octo Octa, JD Twitch and Josey Rebelle. The festival's chilled crowd and dreamy location is enough to convince some touring DJs to stay for the whole weekend, instead of jetting off to their next gig. On the morning after his set, I saw a shirtless San Proper drinking coffee and reading a Murakami novel, before spending the rest of the day attentively checking out each act on the main stage.
That night saw one of the weekend's most anticipated sets, a back-to-back from DJ Nobu and Joey Anderson. Though they made for an at times odd pairing—Anderson mellow and spacey, Nobu twitchy and hyperactive—they pulled it off. "This guy is crazy," Anderson said after Nobu expertly mixed a techno stomper into Linda Clifford's "Runaway Love."
On the final day, some light cloud cover came over the festival site—the first moment without blazing sunshine in three days. Unused hammocks flapped in the wind like parachutes. "Everyone works so hard for two days, day three is a gift," Tsuchiya told me as we watched the festival slowly come back to life. "I want to try new things on the first two days, but the final day is about family. Everyone is a bit tired, but by the end their faces are so happy. After we spent three days together, sharing the sense of oneness, then we all go towards the finale. Everything looks beautiful."
Soon it was time for another festival tradition: the Rush Hour takeover. As Antal and Hunee played back-to-back, Antal's two daughters (and a friend they'd made along the way) eventually plucked up the courage to join their dad on stage. They beamed smiles out to the crowd and those smiles were beamed right back. They got a huge cheer when they left the stage, and they returned soon after with fresh dance moves.
Towards the end of the day, the crowd started appreciatively chanting "RDC." "I felt so proud, I've never experienced a moment like that before," Tsuchiya later told me. "The music was supposed to stop at 7 PM sharp, but we just couldn't do it."