Does it feel like FYF Fest has been in business for 12 years? Yup. It’s true. The little fest that could is now a giant, encompassing the majority of the grounds at Los Angeles’ Exposition Park (except the massive coliseum itself). Thanks to a bizarre and relatively unexplained drop-out from announced headliner Frank Ocean, Kanye West was added mere days before the fest began. No offense to Frank Ocean, but Kanye’s addition is a trade-up in star power for sure. Alone worth at least a few more thousand tickets sold at the last minute. The grounds were vast in scope, and the distance between stages could be as much as a 15-minute walk if traversing between the two biggest outdoor stages. True to form, the fest was a stellar collection of exciting and fun alternative and dance music. Though, it did lack some of the harder, deeply counter-culture edge that previous bookings such as Refused, Quicksand, Turbonegro and American Nightmare brought to the fold.
All photos by Raymond Flotat
Starting right at the top of the card was Kanye West’s performance. This was easily the largest crowd this festival had ever seen, encompassing the entirety of the lengthy football-sized field that made up the main stage area. Until the last 20 minutes when people started to file out, there was scarcely an inch of room anywhere in sight of the stage. Now, many times seeing West live proves one unavoidable fact: you never really know what formulation of the rapper/producer you’re going to get. Like Prince, he can make for a shocking highlight-reel show, or he can make for an indulgent mess. Regrettably, this was of the latter variety. Yes, as many that disapprove of West’s antics will tell you, his ego seems to have swallowed him whole ages ago. His talent, hits and confidence are beyond question. But unchecked, they trip up what could have been a fantastic performance.
Early on his set showed promise alternating between recent tracks such as Graduation’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and Yeezus’ “Black Skinhead.” Fans were thrilled to sing along with, “Nah / nah / nah / Wait ‘til I get my money right” and the Throne megahit “N***as in Paris” (naturally sans Jay-Z), but the deeper cuts “All Day,” “Cold” and “Mercy” shifted things towards the darker, less jubilant side of his catalog. Worse yet—and somehow ever more dreary—were the short rendition of his Big Sean’s “Blessings” and expanded take on the “Blood on the Leaves,” making liberal use of a sample of Nina Simone covering Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Impossibly, things delved towards even deeper club bangers opting for a whopping 10-minute appearance from Travis Scott and a performance of his song “Antidote.” Things appeared to be returning steady with the inclusion of West’s kiss-off anthem “Runaway,” but unsurprisingly, he meandered several minutes off into a nonsensical rant on the finale, realizing too late his set had a meager 10 minutes left. So, he decided to sandwich in nine of his best songs into the last 10 minutes. That’s right, maybe one verse and one chorus from each. “FourFiveSeconds” (with a brief cameo from Rihanna), “Jesus Walks,” “All Falls Down,” “Gold Digger,” “Touch The Sky,” “All of the Lights, “Good Life” and “Only One.” Even if just the nine songs that preceded the final 10 minutes had been replaced with these nine songs in their entirety, this might have been a stellar set. As is, just a sad waste of what could have been a killer spectacle.
Earlier in the day, last year’s champion hip-hop duo Run the Jewels did the usual we might expect from them. Which is to say they utterly decimated the competition. It’s an unlikely success story in a time when most rising hip-hop stars appear to be trying to out-gangsta one another. El-P and Killer Mike somehow effortlessly channel the confidence and braggadocio nearly all modern rappers can’t seem to exist without, but never successfully exhibit. Like their Coachella and SXSW sets, they entered triumphantly to a snippet of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” before Killer Mike sincerely exclaims, “We’re going to burn this city to the ground.” Also like their Coachella set, the group brought a slew of their recent collaborators: Zack de la Rocha for “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck),” Travis Barker for “All Due Respect” and Gangsta Boo for “Love Again.” Other great cuts performed included “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and “Early.” We’ve said it before and we will say it again: this is what hip-hop in 2015 should be modeled after.
Equally impressive were London’s four-piece Savages at the oddly named “The Trees” stage. One of the few times a group’s meteoric rise from obscurity into being largely hyped is well deserved, Savages play furiously charging post-punk in the style of Lesley Rankine’s ’90s band Silverfish. The four girls of the band channel Patti Smith-level charisma and fury without pandering to sexualized presentation. Lead singer Jehnny Beth and bassist Ayse Hassan particularly provide hyper-powered energy for each song, and to spare, setting the backdrop for Johnny Marr-level swirling noise from guitarist Gemma Thompson. The band played “Sad Person” and “Something New” and the crowd ate it up like it was candy.
!!! (or if you need to pronounce their name Chk Chk Chk) have been favorites of ours going all the way back to their barnstorming set at Coachella 2004. The band wowed us again at the break-out installment of FYF Fest, 2010. No surprise here that the band rocked their early evening set doing drawn-out renditions of “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass” and new single “Freedom ’15.”
Bloc Party, though years from an album on par with their now-decade old firestarter Silent Alarm, did a solid job entertaining the crowd. Their set ended strong with fan-favorites “Helicopter” and “This Modern Love.”
Earlier on in the afternoon Melody’s Echo Chamber performed the most auspicious set from a newcomer for day 1. Combining the best parts of dream pop with occasional blasts of psych rock, this was artful without being overly indulgent. Lead singer and namesake of the group Melody Prochet cooed with charming simplicity weaving a tapestry of lush atmospherics.
Metz did what they do, which is to play full-throttle post hardcore rock with reckless abandon. Sonically similar to the junk punk approach of FIDLAR, but without the drug-laden subject matter, Metz is high-octane and surely polarizing depending on if you’re a fan of unbridled aggression.
Tennis played a strong early set at “The Lawn” stage, charming the crowd with a breezy, soothing indie style.
All photos by Raymond Flotat