FYF Fest 2014 “Exactly how would it feel to be cooked alive in a rotisserie oven?”

Getting older is a bitch. The growing expectations and subsequent guilt and shame that goes along without meeting them; the aches, the pains, the pressures of that still-looming shadow of the fading veneer we call the “American dream”; that emptiness buried into the cockles of our hearts at too young an age to keep it out that can only be filled by becoming bigger, better, bolder versions of ourselves with each passing year, shedding the past like snake skin. Good and bad is left in the dust behind with reckless abandon as we trudge forward to a brighter future with nary a thought given to the shadowy abyss awaiting us all.

BUT WAIT, you say: I just clicked here to see what was up with that thing they used to call Fuck Yeah Fest! And to that FYF says, “Watch your language young (wo)man. We’re a responsible, reputable festival now and we dropped that f-bomb when we turned 8 and Papasong (Goldenvoice) got us out of a jam1. We now have a Sports Arena as a secondary stage, three outdoor stages as pimped-out and sonically sound as our main stage, with the goddamn Memorial Coliseum as a backdrop, and the 10,000 fans at last year’s festival can now all simultaneously relieve themselves in their own stall (some even with modern plumbing!) while the additional 20,000 enjoy our spanky new digs watching better music on bigger stages in a bold new setting. It’ll all be AMAZING!”

Oh FYF, your naivety is almost charming, but if that disaster in 2009 taught you enough lessons to make the next four years smoother than silk, let’s hope the lessons of this year render the next four just that much better (though that is nearly an impossibility for reason to be discussed later). First off, the lines. Oh my god, the lines. I mean, I managed to flash my VIP badge to a confused security guard who, like just about everyone else that Saturday afternoon, had not a clue of what the fuck was going on. He kindly let me through an unauthorized entrance2 so I could run into the Arena in time to see Angel Olsen finish her final song, leisurely scooting up-front and mentally preparing myself for Slint. Shout out to that man, wherever he is, for saving my skin while others waited in a line that, at its longest, reach a MILE long.

Now, once you made it into the fest, you may have thought you were golden, but lines outside of the Sports Arena were so clogged, people either gave up and turned around or just sat and waited as every last minute of that set they’ve been dying to see for months oh, so brutally ticked away. Luck, as it were, was on my side here, as the problems did not start until after the first set I saw there (Slint) and were mostly resolved by the second/last set (Darkside), so again, I merely observed my fellow festgoers’ suffering from afar, which only makes it slightly less real. But the walking; now that’s where all FYF vets were in the same boat. Bigger digs meant you couldn’t leisurely walk across the fest grounds in seven to eight minutes, but more like 20-25 minutes with that crowd. It may not seem like much, but when you’re dealing mostly with 40- to 50-minute sets, those 12 to 13 minutes are precious.

And this is where we reach the crux of the problem with FYF 2011. The Fuck Yeah Fest that used to be the FUCK YOU to Coachella has gone from being a thorn in that behemoth’s side to a smaller mirror image of it. But before I get into that, let’s discuss the reason this whole thing (supposedly) exists: the music.

Future Islands: 3 FYF Sets As Microcosm of the Festival

When I first saw Future Islands, it was 2011 and In Evening Air had made waves and won me over with its doomed romanticism cut with new-wave grooves. There was a stage at FYF called “The Tent” which, until the following year, was entirely enclosed in approximately 3 sq. feet of ventilation, answering the question to all who entered: Exactly how would it feel to be cooked alive in a rotisserie oven? It was sweaty, hot, and packed to the max, but the 200 or so people in that tent really wanted to see Future Islands perform, had committed every line of that new album to heart and were ready to make the sacrifice of nearly boiling alive for the pleasure of seeing Sam Herring lose his shit on stage. By 2012, On the Water was out and the cat was out of the bag. Future Islands had moved to one of the outdoor stages, but Herring had the crowd eating out of his hands. At this year’s main stage, Herring admirably gave it his all, but the endless distance from the stage to back rows of the crowd was too great a gulf to bridge.

Of course, that’s simply the nature of a band’s rise to prominence — more hits, more records sold, more fans, bigger stages. I don’t bring this up to fault Future Islands at all, nor FYF for putting the band on a stage more indicative of the demand they draw, but for its symbolic resonance of the direction the festival is heading. FYF is losing intimacy in favor of bigger draws4, and uniqueness and a sense of community for cleanliness and supposed order5. It is not the fact that I didn’t get the same intense, beautiful, transcendent experience I did a few years ago that pisses me off, but that that type of experience is being phased out of the realm of possibility. Bigger? Yes. Better? Hell no. And for this segment, I leave with you video evidence of my point that would stand up in any fictitious music court I can muster in my mind:

A Bright Spot: FYF Electronic Acts

Crystin Wiegers for FYF Fest

The electronic acts are the one area wherein the festival did improve in terms of quality control. Grimes, Darkside, and Flying Lotus all were great lands6 and all delivered in spades. Grimes was as adorable, quirky, and energetic as you’d imagine, proving worthy of the hype. Darkside, a group that produced my favorite album of last year before recently announcing an “indefinite hiatus,” were especially bittersweet, and though I was stuck in the rafters of the Sports Arena, just basking in the sweet presence of Psychic’s tunes was more than enough. Flying Lotus played a number of tracks from his upcoming LP, which were jazzier and more fully realized than the still-great Until the Quiet Comes, but also a healthy dose of Cosmogramma, to the great pleasure of at least my friend and I. Aside from those three, strong sets also were supposedly put down by Todd Terje, John Talabot, Thundercat, and Joyce Manor, so even if the festival is moving toward the demands of a bigger, mainstream crowd, they at least are, for now, creating an eclectic, exciting electronic lineup.

Saved By the 90s: The Past Protects The Future

Kelsey J Heng for FYF Fest

I’ve done a lot of bitching about this year’s fest — perhaps an unfair amount considering my overall enjoyment of most of the acts I saw. Slowdive and Slint alone were enough for me to happily7 wade through a crowd of 100,000 instead of 30,000, and both bands absolutely destroyed. Slint were in top form, capturing every track of Spiderland with the precision and acuity that makes it a classic, and Slowdive played nearly half of Souvlaki and a nice spread of covers (Eno’s “Deep Blue Day” and Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair”) and tracks from their first and third LPs. I would’ve preferred a bit more from the underrated Just For A Day, but if they played anything, I’m glad it was “Catch the Breeze.”

There also was Built to Spill who, of course, always bring it hard, getting the crowd pumped with a great rendition of “Goin’ Against Your Mind” and bringing noise by finishing with “Carry the Zero” before using their leftover three minutes to launch into “Car” before being yanked off-stage in Academy Award-level awkwardness. And in between, they killed with “You Were Right” as well, despite my experience of it being nearly ruined by the mouth-breathers behind me.

Going into the Fest, I was nearly certain the three bands mentioned above wouldn’t disappoint me, and they didn’t, but I had no idea what to expect from The Presidents Of The United States Of America. Like every 90s kid, I remember every note and lyric to “Lump” and “Peaches,” but they’re in their 40s now; who knew what kind of energy the band would now bring? Well, it was wacky, hilarious, purely joyous energy that quickly led to phones being pocketed, followed by pogo dancing, absurd call-and-responses and a flat-out rocking 40-minute set. It was easily the biggest surprise of the festival and oddly enough, the one set that left me thinking FYF Fest still has a chance for a bright future.

It is ironic a festival whose sites have so quickly been reset by the capitalist model (and it’s always just a matter of time once corporations become inexorably entangled) toward growth, streamlining, commodification, and presentation, was redeemed by bands that are unmarketable in comparison to the headlining power of The Strokes or Phoenix. Of course, this is all in the eye of the beholder, and where I see this year’s festival taking a dangerous turn that risks losing much of what made it such a distinctive and uniquely entertaining event in the first place and towards becoming another bland, overhyped, overpopulated fest, others may see the positives in a bigger, cleaner, potentially more smoothly run Fest. But alas, to return to my opening, where many see a brighter future, I sometimes can’t help but focus on that damned shadowy abyss.

1. Not of much interest to non-Angelinos, but the fest’s first year at the L.A. Historic State Park (and out of the small and relatively limiting Echo/Echoplex indoor venues, thus allowing for exponential expansion that would turn out to be out to leave more than enough wiggle room for the Fest’s metaphorical foot to not only break a few metaphorical toes, but to break a few toes on the way) in 2009 was, for most, a catastrophe far greater than any CA earthquake in recent memory. Stuck in a downtown L.A. park on a hot, sunny summer day, the fest did what could now be considered a prescient, if perhaps cruel, warning of things to come in our fine state; they ran out of fucking WATER. And not at like 11 p.m., but while the still-beating sun was punishing festivalgoers who were already struggling not to choke in the dust storms that inevitably arise in a state park whose grounds consist of twice as much dirt as grass. And yet now, as you’ll soon see, I miss that damn place and am amused how irony and nostalgia can be so intertwined.

2. And if I’m to believe the dude in front of me at the Kogi truck (best Korean burritos you’ll find in this fine city, so do track it down, dear tourists, if you have time, gas, and propensity for creating parties in your mouth for a mere $8… Twelve dollars at the fest but I owe them more than $4 for the pleasure of having eaten the 3-salsa, 3-meat quesadillas known as the Pacman), I’m not the only VIPer3 who saw the GA line, looked at his watch and thought, “Fuck this, let’s get creative.”

3. Please don’t take this as a sign of arrogance. The VIP pass was more of a joke this year than ever, offering nothing more than a (barely) quicker entrance to the Fest and a special little fenced-in area to the far right of the main stage with a slightly less-crowded yet more mediocre sight line to the stage. Or rather, for those of us looking to flush $100 down the toilet, an opportunity to do something different with our hard-earned cash.

4. Even though I skipped headliners Phoenix and The Strokes’ sets in favor of Grimes and FlyLo’s and would wager the typical FYF old-timers did as well, the sheer number of Strokes tees took me aback — I mean, I love Is This It as much as any red-blooded American rock & roll fan, but what have they done for us in the past decade? —, but that too is representative of the fest’s shift away from the anti-establishment, ‘Fuck Coachella’ attitude it once embraced to the kind of clean, corporatized Fest whose draw is more the scene, i.e., a backdrop for Facebook profile pics rather than a place for music fans to see bands they love. Or rather, Coachella Jr.

5. Again, back to the lines. Saturday proved that order is only so possible in a fest of this size, though Sunday they provided significantly quicker pat-downs (switching from cup-your-balls, TSA-style sexual harassment to the reasonable quick pat of all the visible pockets that it should have been come game time the day before) and free water till 6 p.m. The further irony of the latter is that the Fest already provides free water stations and allows you to bring in empty plastic bottles, as it has done for years, but OK, symbolic gestures are better than none, but still rarely amount to much.

6. Although all three, even FlyLo considering he’s an L.A. native, could’ve been convinced to come to the old-style festival, but I get it, the horse is dead already, so I’ll put the billy club down.

7. More likely begrudgingly. Fair enough.

8. Ok, I’m not a musician. I’m not even a music critic (I write mostly for the film side of TMT), but when I hear a guy loudly proclaiming Built to Spill had four guitarists and no bassist despite all visual and aural evidence pointing to the contrary (the distinct head & neck of the bass, or, if you’ve never been to a live show before, that lower sound pulsating through every track, might be hints), I have to at least roll my eyes. But when his girlfriend starts complaining about (“This music’s too sad. I want something fun!”) then mocking (“He looks so happy. He’s having sooo much fun!”) the band whose set they chose to see, I’m well within my rights as a festgoer to throw a blind elbow that may have caught one of them on the chin, right? Obviously, I didn’t, but instead relegated my rage to an endnote on the internet. It’s 2014 after all.

Most Read