Red Bull Music Festival—A Love Letter to Tokyo


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It starts like an outtake from the 2017 film Ghost in the Shell. But Red Bull’s new “Love Letter to Shibuya” short film soon begins to pulse with an identity of its own. While many know the brand as a patron of extreme sports and death-defying stunts in outer space, Red Bull has long been a content marketing ninja and patron of musicians, so its latest project touches on both—while being local in scope and global in ambition.

Zeebra, Chanmina, Leader and AISHA may not be household names in the west but they are with music fans in Japan. All three of the musicians are featured in the two-minute short film about the neon-lit high-rise Tokyo ward many envision when they think about the never-sleeping beating heart of modern urban Japan.

“Love Letter to Shibuya” features voice-overs by the musicians as they contemplate the meaning of the city district, known for its fashion, nightlife and shopping, with a cameo from Red Bull beverages of course. The video is also a way to promote the 2017 Red Bull Music Festival in Tokyo, which is running through Nov. 17.

Red Bull Music Festival 2017

Red Bull’s “Love Letter to Shibuya” is director by Jeremy Rubier. By enlisting Rubier, Red Bull also says something about itself. The director calls himself a “3rd culture kid”—a child born in Paris, raised in Montreal and coming of age in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo. In fact, Rubier highlights the phenom in his recent documentary, Third Culture Kids.

Red Bull’s borderless, international brand character matches well with a director who says he’s “not from anywhere” and transcends nationalist identity by having a global outlook. “Have Millennial lifestyle, will travel” is what a Red Bull branded lifestyle is all about.

It’s odd to think about Red Bull as the elder statesman of an industry but at 30, as a best-selling energy drink, Red Bull is a heritage brand. And the impetus for the “Love Letter to Shibuya” project, the Red Bull Music Academy month-long music festival, is itself turning 10.

The Red Bull Music Academy is a global music institution committed to fostering creativity in music. We celebrate music, its culture, and the transformative minds behind it. Begun in 1998, the Academy has taken the core principles that underlie its annual workshop for selected participants and applied this curatorial approach to events, lectures, and city-wide festivals throughout the year.

But it’s never been more challenging or rewarding to be Red Bull. The energy drink brand has seen global revenue grow from $5 billion in 2011 to $7 billion last year. At the same time, the energy drink market is being flooded with competition. For example, Pepsi is again attempting to crack the India energy drink market with its Sting beverage, and Red Bull is well-established there.

Newcomers are coming for a piece of Red Bull too. In the U.S., a former Navy Seal has been making waves with his startup energy drink Strike Force. Meanwhile, Red Bull competitor Monster is cranking up music promotions of its own in an attempt to match Red Bull’s success at creating a branded lifestyle with the recent Monster Energy Rock Alliance music festival.

All about speed, Red Bull is finding new ways to keep itself relevant. Case in point: drone racing, with its first DR.ONE competition taking place in Austria last month. It’s also been augmenting its usual cast of skateboarders and skydivers with social entrepreneurship, with its Amaphiko Academy in existence since 2014. The name is Zulu for “wings,” a reference to its iconic “Red Bull gives you wings” tagline.

In another example of its creativity and impagination, on October 15th the Red Bull Music Academy and Ryoji Ikeda presented the world’s largest synth orchestra. The project brought together 100 car owners from the Los Angeles area, who performed the piece by playing their car soundsystems via a sine wave synthesizer that Ikeda developed in collaboration with RBMA’s Tatsuya Takahashi and Berlin-based firm E-RM Erfindungsbüro.