With all eyes on LA after Frank Ocean's cancellation, the outsider-indie fest went mainstream.
All photos by Juliana Bernstein
FYF Fest entered its second decade of existence this weekend by further moving away from the DIY, punk-rock aesthetic that characterized its early years as an LA-underground thrash-happy club circuit event. After festival-game titans Goldenvoice (AKA the Coachella people) joined the fold a few years ago, the lineups on show have grown to include pop and dance music acts while maintaining a distinctly left-of-center booking policy that champions outsider sounds, from noise-rock to abstract techno, as it grows into a nationally recognized party.
A wave of last-minute controversy washed over the event as crowd-shy headliner Frank Ocean was pulled from the line-up and replaced with ubiquitous dark-pop iconoclast Kanye West. Not only five years ago, FYF was headlined by acts like spazz-rock duo Lightning Bolt and local post-punk heroes No Age, highlighting the fest's development into a slightly more indie Coachella-in-the-city as it strives to maintains an outsider aesthetic while incorporating new cultural elements.
The party began in earnest on Friday night as "pansexual party palace" A Club Called Rhonda took over the lushly adorned Belasco Theater downtown when Discos both Simian Mobile and Horse Meat took over three rooms and DJ Harvey surprise guested.
Keeping things super gay, the buffet of Horse Meat Disco continued into Saturday as the quartet took over the newly minted Woods stage for four hours straight. With plywood flooring and simple, glittery decorations, the marathon DJ set had the vibe of a rowdy daytime barbecue dance party, capped with a remix of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love."
Kaytranada set the energy levels high early in the day at the rave cave AKA The Arena. Once home to the Los Angeles Lakers and Wrestlemania VII, the vast, dark expanse of the Arena is by far the most unique experiential aspect of all of FYF Fest. Access to the floor was blocked for the entirety of Kaytranada's set due to capacity concerns, though, and the bleachers were full of ne'er-do-wells doing deeds in the dark recesses of the cave.
Shlohmo has added guitars and live percussion to his set, recontextualizing his mopey post-trap into something along the lines of post rock––loping, minor key crescendos washing over one another over subtly appointed samples like the choral line from The Pixies' "Where is My Mind." It was a feat from a DJ's perspective, sure, but Mogwai it certainly was not.
Jon Hopkins was highly anticipated after a standout set at Coachella. He opened his set with whirring, chugging, mechanical industrial sounds before settling into the cinematic dance aesthetic he's known for. At a certain point, his background imagery flickered to someone's macbook desktop and then out entirely. That total darkness in The Arena's cavernous expanse fit his vibes best and brought the crowd to life.
Although the Ocean/West switch-out dominated the pre-fest chatter, Ben UFO and Joy Orbison also dropped out of the line-up, replaced last minute by newfound Angeleno Bonobo and the SFV's finest son, Flying Lotus.
The latter charged through a typically galactic, hip-hop inspired collection of dance, only punctuated by another unfortunate airing of FlyLo's flow-prone alter-ego Captain Murphy. His turn towards rapping is an indulgence many Flying Lotus fans suffer out of respect for the game-changing producer, but it is not his strongest suit.
The entire festival migrated over to the main stage for the much-discussed Kanye West performance. He roved through his increasingly lengthy collection of dark, twisted anti-pop, and called upon Travis Scott and Rihanna in marking a notable moment as FYF further develops from a locally-wrought indie-punk festival to a center-left mega-fest.
That said, watching a crowd of mainly well-to-do Caucasians sing along to the lyrics of "New Slaves" is either a brilliant experiment in irony on West's part or a strange, strange byproduct of American culture. The repeated refrain of "I'd rather be a dick than a swallower" was a bizarre take on the festival-closer sing-a-long and watching the polite crowd self-censor lyrics including the word "nigga" while West angrily lamented the current state of race relations was a multi-layered sociological exercise i'm still unpacking.
After technical difficulties ruffled the feathers of usually-reserved German techno star Dixon on Sunday, he played for almost two hours in the Arena, veering away from the methodically laid melodic techno he's known for in favor of soulfully-drawn, deep and immersive house numbers.
Immediately afterwards, Nicolas Jaar was, by far, the best thing I saw all weekend. He opened by weaving a dystopian sound collage, replete with a mob chanting "The Whole World is Watching," samples of a spirited Lydia Lunch monologue, and a gospel choir amidst hard glitch sounds and cinematic sound effects. When Jaar finally dropped into his set, he repeatedly worked old soul and motown samples into pounding, minimal techno beats, all drawn together in a narrative patchwork that read more like a study of sound than a club set.
Jaar is always on some other tip and difficult to quantify, but somewhere between the aleatoric sound-collection of The Books, the melodic emotion of Bonobo, and Max Cooper's penchant for glitchy techno, Nicolas Jaar is forging a totally new way to experience dance music.
Another aggressively progressive artist, FKA Twigs, closed out the weekend at The Lawn stage. Her swirling, ethereal take on R&B was paired with intricate, melodramatic dance choreography and she captured the moment with a powerful performance, miles ahead of her Coachella appearance earlier in the year. In 2014, Grimes closed out The Lawn to a similar rapture. Perhaps the Sunday closing spot at FYF is developing a culture of forward-thinking female artists.
FYF has managed to retain its character as it moves towards the mainstream, but it ain't perfect by any means. The stage productions are bare bones, the changing bookings have left it with an indefinite cultural positioning, and the once soul-crushing logistical issues are still an occasional issue, but there's no fest in mind that so comfortable balances outside elements in both rock, dance, pop, and hip-hop. With Goldenvoice's backing, it will only continue to grow.