What started out as a sluggish, hazy morning in Los Angeles slowly gave way to a day crowded by compelling performances from big and small performers alike at the 2016 edition of FYF Fest. Everyone from Jagwar Ma to Kendrick Lamar captivated the crowds with their theatrical presence and their even more impressive musical abilities.
The day began with the Philadelphia-based band Hop Along at the Lawn stage. At the beginning, it seemed the set was going to be slow and boring, but once the entire band played together, the tone of their performance completely transformed. Lead singer Frances Quinlan stirred many of the listeners from their bovine state to arousal, giving an electrifying performance with vocals reminiscent of Tom Waits. The band’s song “Painted Shut” received the most applause, even though the lyrics “fuck California” were craftily inserted into the song.
The Swedish indie pop band Peter Bjorn and John played a few of their newest songs from their most recent release Breakin’ Point. They began their set by casually walking out onto the stage wearing matching sport coats with simple patches and navy blue trousers. One of their first songs, “A Long Goodbye,” introduced the crowd to their unmistakable pop sound drenched in noise. They continued with “Do-Si-Do” just before the crowd turned into a frenzy for “It Don’t Move Me” where Peter crowd surfed and hurled his body around the stage.
The greatest set of the day was that of Jagwar Ma. The Australian psych/dance band played to an emphatic crowd that swayed and jumped along with the drumbeats and synthesizers. Their song “Come Save Me” mixed the manipulated sounds of house music with tribal sounding beats and psychedelic guitar riffs. Between the pulsing of the music and the strangely mellow vocals, listeners slowly descended into a trance. It became hard to differentiate one song from the next, but it was a hypnosis that was welcome, inciting a desire that it should never end.
Departing from dance music was the band Head Wound City. If there were one word to describe this supergroup, it would be “loud.” The band consisted of Nick Zinner from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jordan Billie and Cody Votolato from The Blood Brothers, and Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian from The Locust and Holy Molar. The lyrics were indecipherable, as they were screamed instead of sung, occasionally reaching deafening heights. During a brief moment of silence while the band was rearranging instruments, someone in the crowd said, “These motherfuckers are completely fucking insane.” Insane is an understatement. Their performance could not be described any other way besides insanely loud and entertaining.
At the Trees stage, the band Shellac took the stage and proceeded to perform to a crowd that appeared to be both terrified and mesmerized. Steve Albini’s voice, a cross between Ozzy Osbourne and Brian Johnson, is solid enough to engage any crowd. However, when he began talking during “Wingwalker” and said things like “synthesized moment of clarity” while discussing planes and his missed opportunities, the crowd was at a loss. Only when he began to play the guitar with his teeth did the sea of people re-engage and realize that what they perhaps just witnessed was a moment of terrifying musical genius.
When Grimes began her set at the Main stage, it looked as though nobody was really paying attention to her performance. People were more involved with their phone screens and casual conversations than the music. Before the song “Oblivion,” however, she shouted to someone offstage that she did not have a pedal for the song but that everything “should probably be okay.” Luckily for her, her unpreparedness paid off, and “Oblivion” and “David” went smoother than expected.
Oneohtrix Point Never at the Club stage was a performance of house music that would never be seen at a normal club. The intricacy and uneasiness of the music made it difficult to listen to. Kelela and Hot Chip both gave charismatic performances. Their energies on stage flowed out over the audience, who clung to them until they finished. Kelela professed that, after living in L.A. for six years, she was moving to New York and that her final performance at FYF served as a beautiful send off.
Kendrick Lamar closed out the night for one of the biggest crowds on the Main stage. It was a politically charged performance where images of the Reagans and Monica Lewinksy flashed on the screen behind him. The night ended strong with Explosions in the Sky. The band’s set began with slower, more sedate songs that steadily grew to a satisfying crescendo. Their melodic music lulled the crowd to a state of tranquility before gently sending them home for the night.
File photo by Sharon Alagna