(Photo courtesy of Rich Fury for FYF Fest)
By Irene Hsu and Madeleine Han
FYF Fest held its 11th annual music festival this past weekend at Los Angeles Sports Arena and Exposition Park. From its rock headliners, Phoenix and the Strokes, who paid tribute to the festival’s punk rock origins; to electronica sets by Les Sins and Four Tet, a nod to the recent EDM surge, the festival proved to hold its own against older siblings such as Coachella and Outside Lands. Maddie and I ended Sunday, arms sore from fist pumping and arches aching from shuttling between stages. Here’s our compiled Top 10 from this weekend’s musical buffet. (IH)
1. BEST ABSENTEE TREND: Headdresses, Flower Crowns and Festival Paraphernalia
Every year, festivals like Coachella prompt a flurry of articles about the cultural-aesthetic controversies of festival fashion. Is it offensive to wear a Native American headdress for aesthetics’ sake? (Probably.) Are flower crowns still a thing? (No, unless you’re Lana Del Rey circa 2011.)
The folks at FYF turned the tables on festival style, for there was hardly a feathered headdress or a peony crown to be seen. Instead, festival-goers opted for sneakers over heels, sunglasses over headdresses, caps over crowns. While FYF 2014 probably won’t be making any best-dressed lists anytime soon, the thought of having to navigate swarming crowds in 90-degree heat would make any seasoned festival-goer reach for her Birkens. (MH)
2. BEST OPENER: Earl Sweatshirt
Earl opened with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” If you think it’s a joke, you think correctly.
After indie rock band Built To Spill, hundreds of people are waiting for Earl when he bounds onto stage, shouting, “What the f— is good, FYF?” and proceeds to blast the standard. The crowd feels baited. But a few people haltingly begin to sing. Soon, everyone finally joins in — then Earl, that tease, cuts the song — “Alright, let’s get the f— into this real West Coast gangsta sh–,” and plunges into an explosive performance of “Blade.”
The set as a whole was anticlimactic at best, whether because of bad transitioning or perhaps from fatigue (he had cancelled shows in his tour due to exhaustion). Even so, his individual performances from “Doris” were passionate, and he played an unreleased song produced by fellow Odd Future member, Left Brain. If his rapping didn’t win you over, it helped that he was irresistibly chummy — teasing, if not charming. (IH)
3. BEST LAST ACT: Phoenix
We were accompanied to the last show of Phoenix’s tour by one of our friends, a die-hard Phoenix fan who had already seen them twice live. Not being devoted fans of the band ourselves, we inquired as to what she saw in them. Her gushing reply: “Dude, I don’t even know why I love them so much. I just do.”
Then, the lights dimmed and the crowd grew quiet as four darkened silhouettes strutted on stage. After a moment of silence, the cry of an electric guitar pierced the air, underscored by a drumbeat-synth-heavy melody as the band launched into the ever catchy “Entertainment.” There was no denying that the band’s happy alt-pop vibes were infectious. Lead singer Thomas Mars’ endearing drawl carried the audience through classics (“Lisztomania,” “1901”) and lesser-known songs (“Funky Squaredance,” “S.O.S. in Bel Air”) alike — and the audience, in turn, carried Mars when he threw himself into the ebullient crowd halfway through the set.
As the last chords of Phoenix’s set rang through the arena, I looked over to see tears welling up in her eyes. Just an hour ago, we would have made fun of her; now, we felt ourselves doing the same. Maybe it was Mars’ unrestrained performance, or the fact that Day One was ending, or the totality with which the rest of the band threw themselves into their set, but the converted Phoenix fan in us would be unable to get the final show out of our heads for days to come. It’s clear that the band has that je ne sais quoi. We don’t even know why we love them. We just do. (MH)
4. BEST STAGE: The Arena
For a festival like FYF, a venue like Los Angeles Sports Arena and Exposition Park started out as a historic mess. But the redeeming quality took the form of the giant stadium called the Arena. Aside from Saturday’s riot during Chet Faker’s set, the Arena was a dependable source of usually electronic music. While the rest of Los Angeles was baked into a sunburnt toast, darkness canvassed the Arena. Colored light from the stage and the cluster of disco balls overhead sliced into the pulsing crowd, dancing to the thumping beat of performers like Todd Terje, Four Tet and Darkside. The Arena? More like Underground: Electronica. (IH)
5. BEST UP-AND-COMING: Kelela
Kelela was haunting as soon as she stepped onto stage, shrouded by a veil of white lights. Her voice was synesthetically translucent, as though descending from an ethereal world and coiling its way around the Arena. Whether it was this shimmering voice, or the atmosphere of the Arena, or dissonance of her music, Kelela’s set was eerie and soulful. Her live persona was enchanting, as she winded cross the stage, throwing her body and soul into the show.
Kelela also tugged at the heartstrings of fans and newcomers alike, pausing periodically during her set to thank the audience for helping her transition from her nine-to-five job at her local call center to a full-time musician. “I never get tired of playing my shit,” she said, looking to the future. And it doesn’t look like we’ll get tired of hearing it, either. (IH and MH)
6. BEST DOUBLE DUTY: Daniel Snaith/Caribou/Daphni
It was no secret that FYF did some double-duty-booking this weekend — most people know the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond, Jr. played on Saturday and Sunday respectively, leading up to the finale of the festival.
But a lesser-known double duty was Daniel Snaith, electronica and minimal techno musician. On Saturday, he played as Caribou; on Sunday he played as Daphni, his dance music alias. In reality, both aliases performed to a fluid crowd in the Arena on both days, bringing to life Snaith’s self-described “liquid dance music” from his2010 Pitchfork interview. Highlights from Caribou included the juxtaposition of crisp and reverberative from his “Swim” album hits; as Daphni, Snaith layered on pulse after pulse, toying with a crowd that pounded for the beat to drop.
One would’ve had to miss Julian + The Voidz for Caribou and Mac DeMarco for Daphni. But when Snaith hits the rhythmic jackpot not once, but twice, what else is there to do but dance away? (IH)
7. BEST SECURITY: Front-Row Guard at the Arena
Saturday was a bad day for security. A lack of planning on the part of FYF’s organizers created long entry lines, forced disgruntled restroom-searchers to walk in circles around the venues and prevented concertgoers from occupying otherwise unoccupied seating areas during shows.
From the Arena, cue: the front-row Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC) security officer (whose name we regrettably did not obtain), the man who would change our minds about security from here on out. As soon as he spotted our group trying to find a spot near the stage, not only did he clear for us a path through the crowd, but he secured us a place in the FRONT ROW. Daphni. Daniel Avery. Electronica. Experienced from the front row. Who was this silent, six-foot one, bald-and-polo-clad lion-hearted mystery dude?! Challenge: Find him in the photo. (Hint: He’s the guy in yellow.)
During the show, we gazed at him in awe as he offered audience members earplugs when the bass grew too saturated, stopped an intoxicated fan from trying to leap onto the stage from the third row and tracked down shoulder-riders who remained oblivious to the plight of short concert-goers everywhere. To the kick-ass CSC officer: keep doing your thing. (MH)
8. BEST NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE: Moshing to the Strokes
Be careful what you wish for … like when you wish to be front-and-center for the Strokes.
Prior to the Strokes, HAIM rocked out on Main Stage to an already packed crowd, among which Maddie and I were front-and-left. But when it was time for the headliner to take the stage, the crowd began to violently rock back and forth, and we inexplicably found ourselves crammed into a pretty sweet (and sweaty) view of stage … if only everyone in front of us weren’t so tall. It didn’t help that the Strokes were 15 minutes late (as usual). Once Julian took the mic, the crowd went wild, and once the band hit the first beats of “Barely Legal,” humanity as we know it degenerated into a barbaric mass. Sweat was indistinguishable from tears, and unfortunately, screams were indistinguishable from the Strokes. During “Welcome to Japan,” “Machu Picchu” and “Reptilia,” we went from standing to being suspended above ground between sweaty bodies; as we got elbowed in the guts and punched in the face; as the buttocks from crowdsurfing enthusiasts landed on our heads.
Sometime during this fiasco, I remember Julian muttered into the mic, “Chill out, guys.” No one listened — because if we had died, at least we would have died rocking out to the Strokes. (IH)
9. BEST PROTIP: Ask and You Shall Receive
As we trudged the long walk from Main Stage to the exit, flanked by fatigued crowds, we began to experience the stomach-rumbling, throat-tickling, post-festival discomfort of having danced for nearly 12 hours straight in Los Angeles heat. Though most of the food vendors were still open, most people seemed too tired to stop and grab a bite before heading home. As the walk dragged on, we asked an abandoned smoothie vendor if we could take some of the leftover fruit on the counter in an act of desperation — only to be invited to help ourselves. We tried the same technique on other vendors. By the time we reached the entrance, we had amassed six bananas, one orange and a large water bottle (pictured here post-Strokes mosh) without forking over a single cent. Thanks, mom, for teaching us our P’s and Q’s. (MH)
10. BEST TEAR-JERKER: “I’ll Try Anything Once” by Julian Casablancas + The Voidz
We’ll let this one speak for itself. (MH)