A couple of days before the increasingly big-deal FYF Fest in Los Angeles, LA Weekly published an op-ed from Art Tavana bemoaning the changing face of FYF and the ways it has not improved. It was an odd critique. It basically boils down to FYF no longer being a local punk haven and, also, lacking in gender diversity, as if eliminating all pop/R&B/dance/indie would somehow make the makeup of the lineup more diverse. At least one of the true blue rock bands on the bill thought the critique was weak, and now that the weekend is in the books, it feels even weaker.
I get it; FYF is different. This is my 5th consecutive festival and even comparing it to 2011 it has become a wildly different festival. Part of that is the growth of the festival industry. A rising tide has raised all ships, and what was once a small punk celebration has developed into a major 2nd tier festival. The world has changed around you.
But the LA Weekly makes the mistake of thinking of change as being inherently bad. I’ve written before about what makes FYF special — it retains a little bit of that small festival charm, particular with some swerve ball bookings. So yes, this is a festival that has booked Kanye West. But it’s still the festival that reunited the Blood Brothers, My Bloody Valentine, Quicksand, Refused, American Nightmare, the Presidents of the United States and some variation of Black Flag. Those are all weird and unique moves. While there are now global superstars on the bill, think of those as tentpoles. This year, FYF could give the Jesus & Mary Chain a huge audience and a nice pay day _because_ they’re booking guys like Kanye West.
When I look back at FYF Fest this past weekend, I think about a hectic Saturday, dashing from stage to stage and a more relaxed Sunday, when I got to breathe a little more between must-see bands. They’ve definitely gotten the hang of their new digs at Exposition Park. Nothing will beat the simplicity of a big, open field like the Los Angeles State Historic Park, with its view of the downtown skyline, but they’ve made this work. It’s awkward and asymmetrical, but it’s now not a pain to go from end to end and they’ve reduced the bottleneck. Plus, the arena is great — its capacity for fog and light makes for great shows from the likes of DJ Dodger Stadium, Kaytranada, Simian Mobile Disco and more.
[Kanye’s] commitment to leaving it all on the stage every night only heightens his myth.
Saturday standouts include Alvvays and Joyce Manor putting fun sets for fans of guitar music. Molly Rankin wore an A’s jersey without realizing it was a rival sports team. Tennis is perfect for a big crowd in bright California sunshine — that’s pretty much what I picture when I listen to their music and it was genuinely wonderful to experience. Run The Jewels was grenade after grenade, including appearances by Zach de la Rocha and Travis Barker. “We’re just a couple underground rappers,” said a grateful Killer Mike, but that’s getting less and less true with every exciting performance. Goldroom was a nice taste of dreamy electronic pop and the band seemed thrilled to be there. Chet Faker was way more soulful and interesting than I thought he would be. The Jesus & Mary Chain played the entirety of Psychocandy and were tailor made for the midnight, post-Kanye spot.
As for Kanye himself? Kanye West at a festival isn’t much of a rarity. It would’ve been more “valuable” to have Frank Ocean, but there’s no denying the thrilling adrenaline Kanye brings to every performance. So maybe it’s easier to see Kanye, but that doesn’t diminish the actual quality of his shows. No other star in today’s pop music comes close to his pedigree of explosive hits, and his commitment to leaving it all on the stage every night only heightens his myth.
I have to admit that I missed a lot of Sunday. Having spent so much time dashing between sets on Day 1, I committed to drinks on Day 2. Maybe over-committed. The result was that I saw a great Hop Along set where Frances Quinlan reminded me of Janis Joplin. Then things got fuzzy until I saw Belle & Sebastian from a mile away, Death Grips tear up their crowd and FKA Twigs bring the thunder down on everyone’s souls.
FKA Twigs is a spectacular, theatrical performer backed up by mysterious contortionists and plenty of light and fog. She sings in a tight, high-pitched falsetto and is underscored almost exclusively by world-rattling bass. The wide gap between the two is the secret to her unique sound. It’s like listening to two extremes and the interplay they have along the sound spectrum.
Don’t let anyone tell you it was a bummer. I mean, maybe it was — maybe you still don’t like the awkward festival grounds, maybe you wanted a more cathartic mosh pit experience. Perhaps those are things you value most. But if your values are in a complete festival experience that isn’t gargantuan and unwieldy, a true celebration of music culture, I don’t know how you leave that park bummed.