Adult Swim as an entity is easy to write off as some sort of oddity. Just a bunch of nerdy goofballs doing whatever pops into their ADHD-addled minds. Yet despite their strange presentation and shockingly oddball programming, they’ve become one of the most important cultural drivers of the past few years. Out of the box thinking has led to the network pushing their Adult Swim singles program, putting artists like HEALTH in the spotlight, while their partnership with Brainfeeder has exposed countless people to music that would otherwise go unnoticed in pop culture. Now with their own music festival in Downtown Los Angeles, they’re looking to bring a live representation of their brand to a feverish audience.
One of the stranger moments of the day was when Wavves took the stage. Now Wavves isn’t a particularly strange band by any account, though perhaps their lyrics about alien abductions make them befitting of their place on this festival. In any case, the strangeness came not from the band itself but rather their slot in the lineup. Wavves is easily more popular than many of the comedians and bands that would follow them today. While their earlier slot did have an impact on crowd size, it inversely ensured that every attendee would be present for their set, which was as solid as ever. Consisting mostly of hits like “Flamzesz” and “Heavy Metal Detox” the set ensured a fun and exciting time on a day that, for many in Southern California, was in need of some levity.
One of the most consistently disappointing moments of festivals is when a primarily live lineup gives way to a DJ act, inevitably resulting in rehashed sets and already popular songs being pumped through a loudspeaker with little more than a slight tweak to the mixing. Clams Casino was anything but that, adding his signature weirdness, the very same weirdness that propelled both him and Lil B to the forefront of cloud rap, he delivered an excellent assemblage of his own work and remixes of popular tracks like “Norf Norf” to turn the crowd into a mosh pit.
Speaking of mosh pits, as Clams Casino was delivering his ethereal hip-hop set, High on Fire took over at the Tabby stage to switch things up with some much-needed stoner metal. They quickly took to playing their newer material, tracks like “Electric Messiah” and “Spewn From The Earth” blasted the eclectic crowd out of their comfort zones with huge amplifier roars and harsh growls. While many members of the crowd were clearly metalheads as exhibited by the rash of black t-shirt and grungy black locks, High on Fire was approached as a curiosity by many of the attendees, who were clearly more accepting of the genre when delivered to them comically, a la Metalocalypse, rather than seriously, which led to an unfortunately small crowd for a band that has done, and continues to do, so much for their corner of the metal scene.
Up next was Dorian Concept, who as an act was admittedly perplexingly late in the lineup. Though this was presumably a move intended to avoid interfering with Trippie Redd’s much larger set at the same time. Musically the set was rather interesting, combining an 8-bit Atari sound with elements of piano and glitchy onstage visuals. Despite it not being a super high profile performer the stage was relatively well attended, though this may have been to the aversion many people have to the style of rap Trippie Redd trades in. Regardless of their reason for being there, audience members quickly found themselves jamming out and dancing along to Dorian Concept’s effortless grooviness as the sun began to set.
Meanwhile, as the night grew colder Trippie Redd’s stage stayed warm. Smash hits like “Dark Knight Dummo” and “Taking a Walk” kept the energy of the crowd positively explosive, and when he stepped down off the stage to join the crowd for “Wish,” they completely lost it. Regardless of how big Trippie Redd is right now, given the crowd reaction to his music he seems destined to join rappers like Lil Uzi Vert at the very top of the charts, he’s clearly already there as far as this crowd was concerned.
After a brief period in which Hannibal Buress performed an excellent comedy set that took aim at auto-tune and 2chainz among other things, Zola Jesus took over the Calico stage. From the get-go, it was apparent that this would be one of the more interesting sets of the night. As the humming bass and violin of her song “Veka” cut through the unprepared crowd, she took the stage draped in a red outfit that covered her face in a flowing blood covered veil. After the initial shock of “Veka” passed through the crowd, those who bravely stayed behind were treated to an excellent rendition of “Soak,” one of her most powerful songs from last year’s incredible Okovi. Adult Swim and its organizers were making their preference known with this set, the simple act of placing Zola Jesus later than an artist like Trippie Redd showed great confidence in their brand and an impeccable understanding of their audience. She did take a brief moment to take aim at the swearing-in of Brett Kavanaugh, stating that “justice did not prevail.” Though that would hardly be the only bold statement of the night as the festival continued to push onward with more and more out of the box acts, exhibiting their willingness to push the boundaries, a quality that will doubtlessly continue to draw both fans and artists to the festival so long as it continues to exist.
Even as Zola Jesus continued her incredible set, audience members quickly began to flee for Thundercat while she wrapped up with “Remains.” At the Tabby stage, which had, at this point, turned into the Brainfeeder stage, the rising star Thundercat was hard at work wowing the audience with his funk intensive bass playing. He felt no need to rely on wild onscreen visuals as Zola Jesus did and Fly Lo and Com Truise inevitably would. Instead, he chose to let the music speak for itself, and by god, it spoke loud. With the assistance of his incredibly talented band, they laid down a set chock full of frenetic hits from last year’s Drunk and a few cuts from previous records. Overall, the set had a meticulous, almost impossible level of technicality to it. The jazzy elements were so fast that most audience members were only capable of standing slack-jawed in awe of the incredible display. Though the majority of the crowd would end up sticking around, at least all the way up until “Them Changes” was played, which led to the first crowd reaction that consisted of more than a bewildered drooling at the ridiculous display of skill.
Com Truise, over at the Calico stage was focused on a different kind of technicality. That same skill at generating stellar, otherworldly atmospheres that long ago landed him a gig opening up for the legendary Clark had now netted him a late evening set at the inaugural Adult Swim festival. Luckily for Truise, he was more than capable of making the most of it despite being pitted against Flying Lotus, who was perhaps the biggest draw of the night and second only behind Run the Jewels in terms of acclaim for the festival overall. In any case he proved himself as more than worthy competition as his pulsating visuals and throwback ‘80s synth work grabbed the attention of wanderers, and his incredible atmosphere work with tracks like “Memory” and “Cyanide Sisters” showed that he was more than a one trick pony. While the end of his set did eventually lose some numbers to Flying Lotus at the Tabby stage, he held onto an admirable amount of viewers and no doubt made an impression on a huge group of soon to be fans.
Flying Lotus, on the other hand, was reveling in his star status at the Tabby stage. By capitalizing on his rabid fan base gained through years of hard work supplying Adult Swim with countless songs and getting his own radio station on the worldwide phenomenon Grand Theft Auto V, he drew countless fans to his stage as the lesser known Com Truise played at the other side of the venue. Given that this was his 3D experience many of the audience members could be seen rocking 3D glasses that were handed out beforehand. Visually the show was, as promised, completely stunning. Flying Lotus had done something rather similar at the Hollywood Bowl recently but with this crowd, the result felt far more realized than at the much more reserved audiences that tend to inhabit the Hollywood Bowl. Despite not needing to play hits, he still played some favorites like “Never Catch Me” and “Coronus the Terminator” but felt comfortable dipping back into records like Cosmogramma and Los Angeles to grab some old hits like “Zodiac Shit” which helped him show love to the die-hards that had held him down for so long.
While Mastodon may well be the largest band of the night in terms of both fan base and longevity it felt like an unexpectedly safe choice after a night of outright wild performances. Yet even in the face of that, they put on a tight performance. It didn’t end up being as meticulously perfect as it was earlier this year at The Greek when they opened for Primus, but they definitely had an uptick in energy due to the standing layout of the venue. They stuck to a safer set of hits like “Blood and Thunder” and “Oblivion” though breakout hit (courtesy of Rockband) “Colony of Birchmen” was suspiciously absent from the setlist. Sadly they would end up playing to a much-diminished crowd as a number of people left once Flying Lotus finished up his final song. Though Mastodon’s set may never have reached the heights that Flying Lotus did, the titans of metal still delivered a solid close to a rousingly successful first ever day of the Adult Swim festival,
While the festival itself may be small, this year’s iteration of the Adult Swim festival is showing a lot of heart. That may sound somewhat insulting, in this case, it is most assuredly not, in an age where most festivals are quickly snatching up today’s biggest acts in an attempt to broaden their appeal to almost anyone, festivals like Adult Swim are curating their lineup to appeal to their market. A move that seems destined to pay off as their incredibly dedicated fans continue to buy merch, watch shows and perhaps most importantly, support a network that bribes them with music and media that they love.
Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna