A decade ago, L.A.’s FYF was the model of the guerrilla operation. Held for the first time in 2004 at the diminutive Echo club in Echo Park, ringing the ears of around 1000 people, and inciting unsolicited but no doubt friendly visits from the Los Angeles Fire Department, it was the glamorously unglamorous seed for what became its more refined 10-year-old self. Now transplanted to the less claustrophobic setting of L.A. State Historic Park, where it hosted nearly 20,000 wanderers and eternal children in the upper crook of Chinatown, it’s beginning to find itself toted as the underdog rival to Coachella, offering an expanding gamut of bands and performers from almost every slice of the musical food pyramid, and all in a uniquely photogenic location.
This easy comparison to its Californian neighbor might suggest that the FYF Fest is little more than a hipster version of other, larger occasions, but with its schismatic mixture of both serene and more acerbic sounds, as well as scenery that was simultaneously green and metropolitan (witness the trains that shuttled by in both directions every 10 minutes or so), its ambiance carries an individuality all of its own. As a result it wasn’t hard to understand why so many fans — mostly of college-age and slightly beyond — made the pilgrimage to watch people vibrate the air over three stages and one tent (all named after the four principal Sex and The City characters, for some inscrutably profound reason).
Inaugurating a Festival is a Double-Edged Sword
Eleanor Friedberger (Photo: Tod Seelie)
Buffalo’s Lemuria held a captive audience at 2:30 p.m. music-wise, but that audience was a little uncertain of itself, a little undersized, and a little too sober, meaning that despite the band’s enthusiastic charge through their tricksy strain of indie punk, their burgeoning crowd could only muster a round of nodding. But even without the commotion and hysteria that was to follow later in the day, their set merged disarmingly with the piercing sunshine and lithe shrubbery dotting the smaller Miranda Stage, and as it finished on older track “Mechanical,” I walked over to Samantha’s Tent hungry for the rest of the day.
It was at Samantha’s that the less rock-oriented acts generally worked their charms, and this included the block of comedians who footed both of her tent’s schedules. I tramped in just as the final act — Brett Gelman — was beginning to spew his exaggeratedly misanthropic, un-PC screeds to a divided audience. Starting with a pre-recorded message in which he indelicately refused to play FYF on account of the overprivileged ‘white boys’ who pack its crowds and the traffic he’d have to fight through to reach its venue, he then moved on to an expletive-ridden haranguing of the general notion that comedy should be about fun and entertainment, before finishing with an unimpeachable rap about sexual violence, all to the delight of one half of the crowd and the bemusement of the other.
One person who didn’t seem to appreciate Gelman’s blunt humor was Eleanor Friedberger, who on broaching the stage immediately after him inverted one of his lines and said to the audience, “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, Love You,” replacing the original four-letter word with the more philanthropic substitute. The tone purified, she bounced into “I Don’t Want to Bother You,” and by dint of her poised energy the revelers loosened up. Her commitment to her new (and old) material was palpable in her constant, sashaying movement and her centered stare, and this unshowy engagement was translated into the wide grins of the people around me, as well as the ceaselessly rotating head of the older gent at the very front of the crowd, who judging by his inability to stop himself, seemed to love every second of what he was hearing. Her supporting band were similarly enthused and beguiling, and as the set finished on “My Mistakes,” they were given the opportunity to extend and heighten its coda, producing what was one of the most blissfully unspoiled moments of the day.
Vitamin D, Serotonin, Ethanol, Tetrahydrocannabinol
Emerging from Ms Friedberger’s 35 minutes, I toed over to Mikal Cronin, the first act on FYF’s main stage (the ‘Carrie’ stage, unsurprisingly enough, although she was never the best one). His scorched take on pop-infused garage punk was made for sweltering festivals like FYF, and his set multiplied the emerging dynamism of the still-arriving faithful, with the occasional moshpit opening up, and the band themselves jittering around the stage as guitar solos sped out from the meaty PA system. However, not being a particular Cronin devotee myself, I broke from the mass in the middle of “See It My Way” and made the cross-venue trek back to the ‘Miranda’ stage, past the water stands, the smoothie stands, the merchandise stand, the food trucks, the little craft village, and also Metz rounding up their FYF involvement on the Charlotte stage with a fulminating version of “Wet Blanket.”
Finally I found the Underachievers in the middle of the noirish, squalor rap of “Herb Shuttles,” and what was merely a whiff during the earlier Eleanor Friedberger stint became an obvious, wafting deluge, one that permeated most of the weekend. The crowd congregated around the stage had grown in size since Lemuria, and they lapped up the quicksilver verses delivered by Issa Dash and AK, most of these taken from the Indigoism mixtape. A highlight that didn’t come from this debut was “Proclamation,” which AK introduced as his, “Favorite song ever — because it’s an actual song,” and which samples the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to maximum effect. However, interest in the band was quickly dispelled for some when they reeled out “Herb Shuttles” for the second time, and so without too much hesitation I moved in early for a spot ahead of Ty Segall.
Segall and his band perched intimately on a row of stools, from which they recreated the acoustic neo-psychedelia of new album Sleeper almost in its entirety, save for a couple of omissions. At one point a subsection of the crowd, most likely charmed by the placidity of the interplay and the coruscating bursts of Segall’s slide guitar, decided to engage in what looked more like barn dancing than any of the faux aggression you’d usually observe at a rock gig, their arms occasionally interlinking as they rotated playfully and gleefully around each other. And for good measure Segall closed up with “Caesar,” the fuzz rebounding through the bodies of the front rows.
Bandanas and Toupees
Just as Ty Segall was wrapping up, Horse Meat Disco were kicking off in Samantha’s tent, playing a range of their own glitzy, Italo numbers interspersed with remixes of dance staples veering from Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” to Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown.” The tent was growing in mobile residents, most of them evidently excited by the change in pace, but rather than stick around I transferred myself back to Charlotte’s stage, where Toro Y Moi were in the middle of “Rose Quartz.” In the past I’d generally found Chaz Bundick’s soulful chillwave a little diffuse and intangible, but with the heft of the faultless speaker system behind him, his music was invested with an entrancing intensity that arguably made it one of the highlights of the day. As they played out their set with single “Say That” the sky became ochre with the drowning sun, and even though Bundick wasn’t especially prone to vocables in between songs, the teeming audience basked happily in the tranquil vibe he and his band radiated.
After they disappeared backstage to all but unanimous applause I made the tactical decision to stay exactly where I was and wait for Devendra Banhart to emerge, since even though I was extremely tempted to position myself for The Locust’s set, I instead opted to see Deerhunter, who were posted to begin on the Carrie stage 10 minutes after the San Diego band started on Miranda’s at 7.45. That meant I enjoyed the first third of Banhart’s FYF tenure, which was characterized by some of the most rapturous approval of the entire weekend, with every song being welcomed noisily by hardcore throngs of the singer’s admirers. Most of these pieces were lifted from the Mala LP, the broody melancholia of tracks like “Daniel” and “Never Seen Such Good Things” being a perfect complement to the bruised dusk that had enveloped L.A. State Historic Park by that time.
Eager for a prime spot near the front of Carrie’s, I cut short my sampling of Banhart’s understated showmanship and dutifully waited for Deerhunter to introduce themselves. Opening with a beautifully lush “Cover Me/Agoraphobia,” the band quickly moved on to a rippling “Neon Junkyard” while Cox — dressed in his zebra-striped cloak and with his face veiled by long locks of black hair — was treated to a distant cry of, “You’re sooo skinny,” from someone next to me. Predictably the focus was on Monomania, but even though that album could be said to be a slight disappointment, the brunt and rawness the band have nurtured through it also imbued their older output with a greater weight and urgency, with the now signature 10-minute version of “Nothing Ever Happened” being an almost masterful tour de force. Cox was in fine form as well, exchanging tokens of sociability with the crowd between songs, and even playing the guitar behind his neck during closer “Monomania.” And it was during this song that his elusive facade was dropped when, during a crescendo of vitriolic guitar noise, he reached for his jet black coif, pulled at it and revealed — at least to those of us who don’t keep up to date with changes to his appearance — that it was a wig. Suddenly he looked remarkably frail and human, and the band’s set gained an extra resonance, not that it needed it.
Porta Potties and The Ignorance of Modesty
TV On the Radio (Photo: Tod Seelie)
I marched from Deerhunter to Dan Deacon, who was just setting up shop. If there was any doubt the sound at FYF was some of the best on the festival circuit, Deacon finally exploded it when he installed himself with a blistering run through “Guilford Avenue Bridge,” which sounded crushingly dense and multidimensional even from 100 yards away. And if the impeccable sound wasn’t enough, Deacon also won the award for most talkative and gregarious performer of the day, at one point dividing his audience into two so that they could have a dance-off between each other as he blasted out “Konono Ripoff No. 1.” Unfortunately, it was at this point that certain of my biological functions began clamoring for attention, so as Deacon initiated his third and final song (the marathon “Wham City”), I joined the large queue for the gents, not yet knowing that my V.I.P. wristband granted me entry into a less oversubscribed area.
I don’t know if it was a function of the then-large gulf between the stage and I, but TV On The Radio’s “Young Liars” initially sounded far too riven by higher frequencies, almost painful in its pitched squall. Whatever the cause of this momentary lapse, I trooped in closer and witnessed the remainder of their 10 songs from a more involved vantage point and the problem subsided. Like Deacon, the band were overjoyed to be a part of FYF, ripping through a greatest-hits selection of their work, and also whipping out two new songs for those crowing for something a little extra: the melodic, climaxing “Million Miles,” and also new single “Mercy.” Tunde Adebimpe joked with the crowd, asking them — in reference to the festival’s name — to bellow ‘Yeah’ after every impishly shouted ‘Fuck,’ and the band finished with a bristling version of “Staring at the Sun” to much fanfare.
Not that I’m especially interested in bands that effectively form tribute bands to themselves, I migrated over to watch the second half of FLAG’s incitement of Greg Ginn’s wrath. From a purely technical perspective their reminiscence of Black Flag songs was faultless, with Damaged cuts like “Rise Above,” “Six Pack,” and “No More” executed with all the crooked finesse of their original recordings. However, even though the moshing elements of the crowd were obviously thrilled to see them, I’m not big on nostalgia, so I watched from afar, propped against a tree while a young male neighbor excitably swung his arms around and played air guitar to every memory.
As I waited for what was my headline act (sorry Yeah Yeah Yeahs), there was talk of whether Death Grips would actually make an appearance. The notoriety of their no-show at Chicago — and the cancelled dates that followed — now hung over their name like a vague fog, and understandably there were reservations in the audience that further patience might be rewarded with yet another piece of conceptual art. The protracted length of their soundcheck didn’t help either, with one of the teenagers speculating that maybe the soundcheck was the show, a suggestion which mortified his two friends.
It was to our nearly uncontainable excitement that all these misgivings were unfounded, since despite the minor delay all three members of Death Grips materialized from the shadows. They played their full set, and it was utter bedlam. Beginning with phasing surges of white noise and Hill’s frenzied, freeform pummeling, they segued into “Lost Boys,” which sparked a sudden rush toward the front of the stage. To speak frankly, everyone lost their shit. I almost lost my shoe. As has now become de rigueur for them, they performed without breaks and without pleasantries, one song flowing into another, punctuated only by the braying of the crowd, which for the upper half at least was one restless, heaving pit.
Their setlist was spread more or less equally between The Money Store and No Love Deep Webb, although they threw in “Guillotine” and “Takyon (Death Yon)” for a little balance. Particularly big responses were extracted by “Hacker” and “Come Up and Get Me,” though my favorite was “No Love,” since I always take an inordinate satisfaction from screaming the ‘Too many hoes’ verse (which, somewhat ironically, I’m pretty sure is about music critics). The only possible downside to their 50 minutes was that there was no new material, though I heard no complaints from the hordes of people colliding into me every five seconds, all of them goaded on by Burnett’s swaggering gesticulations. The band finished on “Lock Your Doors,” and after it was all over I trudged back to Union Station, encrusted in sweat amid thousands of beaming FYF patrons. Then I collapsed onto my bed, where I probably dreamt of the next day.