Formerly called Fuck Yeah Fest 7 years ago, when it was a haphazard, donations-only show in Echo Park run by an inexperienced 18-year-old, in 2010 this all-day, three stage event is too high profile and too all ages for the “Fuck” word. Now as redundantly named as an ATM Machine — complete with service charges in the form of $4 bottles of water despite LA’s scorching summer — FYF Fest is the biggest independent (no Ticketmaster!) music festival to take place in Los Angeles’s up-and-coming downtown.
Like its hometown, the 2010 FYF Fest was great in concept, but nearly ruined by incompetence and lack of organization. Quite simply, it was the most poorly run music festival I’ve attended. From food to staff to portapotties to the lost Lost and Found (no, really!), if it wasn’t the actual music, it was probably fucked. Yeah.
But if there’s anything Los Angelinos do well, it’s putting up with shitty infrastructure and lack of urban planning, as FYF Fest’s crowd so cheerfully demonstrated. If, like them, you’re able to put up with overflowing toilets and staff telling you to fuck yourself, then FYF Fest might actually be the most fun you’ll have at a music festival. The lineup was generous and well-curated, the bands nearly all put on great performances, and everyone in the audience was stoked to be there. Or maybe just to have gotten through the line.
FUCK YOU FOR GETTING THERE ON TIME
When K.E.T. and I showed up at the box office right when it was supposed to open, there was no line, just a big jumble of people standing in the heat. We got to know that random spot in the dirt very well, because we just stood there for the next two hours. That’s not because the line was long — we were actually the 6th and 7th people in the press line — but simply because FYF didn’t have their act together.
Two hours after FYF told everyone to show up, they were still setting up. They dragged metal barriers over the crowd’s head and plopped them down between people. They jackhammered fenceposts a few yards away. And a dude in funny shorts (flatteringly illustrated above) yelled at everyone to “stop crowding the box office,” then blamed the crowd, not the staff, for making everything late. When a guy standing next to Funny Shorts realized the irony of that statement and started laughing, Mr. Shorts yelled at him, “Just shut up and get the-fuck back!”
At least our fellow line-waiters were cool. A French girl reporting on the Fest for a European publication explained, using FYF Fest as an example, how America’s insistence on having too many rules decreases efficiency and productivity, which is, she said, why the French get more shit done than us even though they get drunk on wine during lunch break. In America’s defense, though: a tall gutterpunk vagrant from the US of A, who was wearing a mask he supposedly scored from a real-life ninja, was telling some pretty cool stories about fighting off gangs of bloodthirsty crackheads and outsmarting the cops. America. Fuck Yeah.
Finally, after and missing the first few sets (sorry Magic Kids, Let’s Wrestle, and The Goat!), the press passes arrived and we caught the last two songs of Lower Dens’ set. But before that, now’s a good time to mention:
Worse than LA traffic and even more ubiquitous, you can’t understand the FYF Fest experience without understanding the lines. It was like spending 12 hours in a DMV, but with really great muzak. To do anything, you had to wait in one. To get tickets, to enter once you had tickets, to buy food, to buy water, to get water from the single drinking fountain, to get into the beer garden, to buy a beer once you were inside the beer garden, to get into the VIP area that people paid twice the standard $30 ticket price to gain access to (not us TMT writers, though, cause we’re totally poorletariat). Even late into the afternoon, Twitter was abuzz about the nearly 2-hour wait to get in. But to see bands, you could pretty much just walk on up to the front row. Next year, I’m carboloading beforehand, sneaking in a Camelback through security, and clothespinning my dickhole shut.
FUCK YEAH LOWER DENS
I’ve been a fan of Jana Hunter ever since a friend passed me a CDR of pre-debut unmastered tracks that she scored from a jean-shorts-obsessed folk rocker. While her sound’s gotten bigger for her full-band project Lower Dens, her live act still felt more small basement venue than large outdoor festival. For the two songs we caught at the tail end of their set, there were no theatrics, banter, or even much movement. That’s not a criticism: the two songs we caught sounded so great that Lower Dens don’t need much more than Twin-Hand Movement to have presence.
FUCK YEAH THE BLOW
Where has Mikhaela Yvonne Maricich of The Blow been in the last few years? From her cut arms, I’d say doing pilates. But from her onstage banter, ghostwriting a never-to-be-released album for a well-known young actress who had a well-known lesbian relationship. Solo karaoke-ing to her own songs, The Blow didn’t sound amazing, but her shtick wasn’t canned even if the beats were. Her probably fake but nonetheless intriguing story about her working relationship with the unnamed (but obviously rhyming with Schmidnsay Schmohan) actress was punctuated with songs supposedly written for the actress’s cancelled pop album, and she even pulled out a pair of hideous heels she claimed Schmohan had given her, using them as an opportunity to make pretty intelligent commentary on gender roles. Insulting hideous, strappy heels in front of a crowd of fashionable Los Angelinos? It might have been the bravest act of the Fest.
FUCH YEAH THEE OH SEES
San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees are cooler than LA’s the OC. They’re loud, fast, and extremely competent, and I wouldn’t want to get into a bar fight with any of them. Watching them, though, did make me kind of want to smash a bottle on someone’s head. And I mean that in the best possible way.
FUCK YEAH VETIVER
Well-dressed, polite, and on their best game at every gig, Vetiver always seem like they’re on their way to an interview at a folk-music temp agency. I’d totally hire them, and I’m glad FYF Fest did, too. Vetiver’s consistency was a great balance to the Fest’s hype-heavy roster of relative newcomers, and their clean, acoustic sound a good counter to the Fest’s wealth of fuzzy, crunchy guitar and processed electronics.
FUCK MEH WAVVES
Wavves didn’t have a breakdown at FYF Fest, and hey, good for them! But without the assistance of studio effects, their slightly-sloppy “surf rock” didn’t make a big splash. I suggest calling it “boogie board rock,” which is being generous ‘cause I have a really hard time believing these guys even own a pair of trunks. To be fair, they did have some technical difficulties. And also, you could totally ride the fuck out of bassist Stephen Pope’s bodacious hair toss.
FUCK YOU FOR BEING HUNGRY
I would have gladly traded half a dozen acts for the same number of decent food trucks. The food at FYF Fest was disgusting, overpriced, and the lines took at least half an hour because there weren’t enough stands, and they had mostly run out of everything after a few hours anyway. Think school cafeteria, but without the option of bringing your own bagged lunch, thanks to FYF Fest’s policy of no outside food and no ins-and-outs.
FUCK YEAH FASHION FOX TAIL
We Los Angelinos are a stylish bunch.
FUCK YEAH SOME OF THE OTHER BANDS WE ONLY KIND OF SAW
Warpaint: I like LA group Warpaint’s debut EP Exquisite Corpse a lot, and we wanted to catch their show but the timing just didn’t work out. Either that, or I was really jonesing for an iced coffee. But we did catch a couple of their songs from far away, and even from that distance, they sounded great, like Gang of Four on whippets goofing around. And if I squinted, I could even see them dancing! I’m looking forward to their soon-to-be-released full-length.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: K.E.T. and I saw Ariel Pink play in LA just a few months ago, so we skipped him this time around. His band’s talented, but they end up sounding less freaky and more bar band live. Plus, he spends too much time playing with his hair. But we did sneak backstage, despite some fiercely passive security, where we snapped this picture of Mr. Pink talking about some serious shit and rocking the fuck out of some clogs while pacing around in circles.
Local Natives: We were resting on a hill during sunset when these Orange County Natives played their set. I asked K.E.T. to help me refresh my memory, and she said, “I couldn’t even tell you what they sounded like.” That’s pretty accurate.
Abe Vigoda: I’ve seen LAers Abe Vigoda play before so I only stuck around for one song, but just like last time, their sound was big and so was their energy. Plus, their lead singer sometimes wears muscle t-shirts that make him look like a slightly-smaller, flesh-colored version of the Incredible Hulk, which is always a plus.
FUCK YEAH DEAD MAN’S BONES
Ryan Gosling is the famous person I see the most in LA after Charlene Yi, so I feel like I really identify with him on a pretty important level. Ryan likes hanging out at the pastry shop in Griffith Park, I like hanging out at the pastry shop in Griffith Park. Ryan thinks Michelle Williams is a babe, I think Michelle Williams is a babe. And, after the show, Ryan was hanging out at the corner of 4th and Main St, and I was hanging out at the corner of 4th and Main St. We even used the same parking spot, in succession.
Ryan and I both know that we are awesome. But we are also both humble men, and know our limitations. That’s one of the strengths of Dead Man’s Bones’ shows: Gosling does everything he can to get the spotlight off himself and neither he nor his bandmate Zach Shields overextend themselves musically (a nice way of saying that they’re not virtuosos, but sound good anyway). Instead, they rely on time-trusted, crowd-pleasing methods of entertainment. A crafty dude with a mustache introduced the band by making a paper snowflake that said, “Dead Man’s Bones,” much to the crowd’s excitement, and then a local children’s choir wearing cute costumes took center stage. Magic tricks, cute kids, and spooky sing-a-long Americana? That’s what I would have done, too, Ryan!
FUCK NO, PANTS!
In Los Angeles, women and pants don’t mix. The ladies here are liberated enough to find all kinds of creative ways around society’s oppressively pro-pants stance: tights, oversized t-shirts, and shorts that are shorter than a dachshund puppy are all popular substitutes for standard pantalones largos. FYF Fest zeitgeisted the shit out of current anti-pants sentiment. One fashion-forward young lady took the trend one step further, showing the world that panties are yet another valid substitute for freedom-hating pants and becoming our hero in the process.
FUCK MEH WASHED OUT
Washed Out sounded pretty, but their projector didn’t work. One dude in front of a blue screen that says “No Signal” isn’t very exciting to look at, so after a few minutes, he invited some girls onstage to dance. They seemed kind of shy and just stayed in the corner giggling. But there was also a beach ball sitting there onstage, which was alright. Everybody likes beach balls.
FUCK YEAH MAN, MAN MAN
Man Man is a lot of man. And also a lot of instruments. So many that just seeing these guys do their sound check is more interesting than watching most bands’ sets. Melodica? Check! Sousaphone? Check! Yak bell? Check! If I had that many cool instruments, I might be as excited as Man Man were to be playing. Also, if I were wearing their matching white-jean-short cutoffs, I might be as excited as they were. The point is: they were excited to be there, and their set was one of the highlights of the night.
FUCK YAWN SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS
School of Seven Bells make decent enough pop, and we were excited for the change of pace. But live, they were a big disappointment. Their vocals were inaudible — probably a technical problem that wasn’t their fault — and, like hot Vulcans, they seemed both overly pleased with themselves and bored. We were too, and we left after a song and a half.
FUCK YEAH PORTAPOTTIES
!!! was a contender for best show of the night, but I really can’t be very objective about it. Firstly, because, when security told the press we had to leave the photo pit in front of the stage after the standard three songs, !!! told them, “Let them stay! We love them!” And secondly, I have a major weakness for performances that involve band members climbing up the stage scaffolding (which is weird, because I hate Cirque du Soleil), which !!! did perfectly, right before dancing their asses off way up on top of the stage’s massive stack of speakers.
FUCK YEAH BIG FREEDIA
If you’re going to have a token hip-hop group perform at your hipsterfest, Big Freedia is the way to go. The leading light of the microgenre Sissy Bounce — simply the ADD-addled New Orleans hip hop genre Bounce, but performed by gay MCs — Big Freedia turns otherwise cliché misogyny into something both empowered and really entertaining. Tracks like “Ass Everywhere” usurp machismo from the heteronormative realm, while also being really fucking literal: most asses in the crowd were, indeed, everywhere. Although, at this point, ours were so tired that they were planted firmly on the ground.
FUCK YEAH THE RAPTURE
The Rapture have perfected dancing while looking completely nonchalant at the same time, which I’d think is really hard to do while you’re playing the fuck out of a saxophone. Their set included hits from Pieces of People We Love, newly funkified favorites from Echoes, and new material. They were great, but the way the crowd lost their shit better describes how The Rapture was great than I ever could. After a couple of songs, nearly a dozen people rushed the stage and surrounded the band. The ensuing dance party drove security crazy, but The Rapture barely batted an eye as fans freaked the air just a few feet away.
After the rogue fans were driven offstage, a girl behind us in the photo pit with pupils as big as Frisbees decided that she wanted in on some of the action. We could see the idea take form in her mind so clearly, she might as well have had a thought balloon floating over her head, so we were prepared when she jumped between us towards the stage and hoisted herself up. Evidently, the security dude behind us was prepared too, because he grabbed her before she got up. Even though her idea was halfbaked and she had been bumping into us a lot, it was sad to see her pleading as she got dragged off by the Man.
But it took more than large, chubby men wearing black polo shirts to keep this crowd down. A few minutes later, out of fucking nowhere, a bald, athletic Asian fan/hero wearing nothing but his boxerbriefs appeared onstage like an explosion. He was dancing like nobody had ever danced before, beautifully, forcefully, and ridiculously, his schlong visibly flopping back and forth with his gyrations like a victory flag on a metronome. He moved from band member to band member, evading the poor security guy trying to catch him.
When more guards appeared, our hearts sank. But just as it seemed like he might get caught, he leapt through the air, over the ten feet of the photo pit, and into the crowd. For the five seconds he was hidden from sight in the crowd, the suspense was pretty unbearable. But he popped his head up like a whack-a-mole, and held his arms in the air triumphantly, out of reach of security. Honestly, it was a more emotional moment for me than being in Washington, DC on the 2008 election night.
After a day of being stepped on by FYF Fest’s people in charge, it felt like a symbolic victory for all of us. It wasn’t a “fuck you” to anyone; the dancing man’s triumph simply said, “I’m going to enjoy the fuck out of this show, and nothing you can do can stop me.”
During The Rapture’s final song, the guards, sensing that they got schooled, I guess, decided to make everyone in the photo pit leave. Some people did. But we just stepped back and said, “Nope” and enjoyed the last moments of the show, as did a lot of other like-minded fans. The guards realized there wasn’t much they could do and walked away.
PS: FUCK YEAH PANDA BEAR
FYF Fest put both their headliners at competing time slots, but for the price of 10 bucks, fans could buy tickets to see either band play the next day in a smaller, more intimate venue. K.E.T. and chose Panda Bear at the venerable Glass House in Pomona, CA, and it might have been the best decision we’ve made in a while. When we showed up, the box office gave us each five bucks back. Why? “You know, fan appreciation,” they said. And, watching Noah Lennox’s gorgeous set of material from his upcoming album, older Panda Bear releases, and completely restructured Animal Collective tracks, with barely a hundred people watching with us, we felt like FYF Fest really meant it.
[Illustrations/photo editing: K.E.T.; Photos: K.E.T. and Benjamin Pearson]