One of the best compliments you can pay a relatively new festival is that it has an identity. A number of festivals these days feel like they aren’t for anyone because they’re for everyone. Now there is a wave of genre festivals cropping up all over and pushing the big boys around with a niche lineup that encourages attendance from a specific subset of people. Adult Swim has known their audience since they first started the festival last year, and this year they truly came into their own with an inspired lineup and an improved location, pushing their festival to the next level in every regard.
What we were able to catch of Inter Arma was an unrelenting assault on the senses, they completely dominated the space. The early evening crowd was small but the new smaller venue worked in everyone’s favor, add to it that this location was significantly nicer and adult swim had found a winning combination of left-field music. Inter Arma continued their sonic barrage to a flurry of mosh pits and stunning faces, paving the way for a crushing set from HEALTH.
The impact of HEALTH arriving onstage was potent and immediate. A crushing bass rattled through the area as they kicked off their set with “VICTIM” as they often do before launching into “MEN TODAY.” The crowd was still fairly small, at this point, it was mostly USC students since a healthy 9-5 has never existed in HEALTH’s hometown of Los Angeles. This was never going to stop them from delivering a killer set as they always do. Luckily the early slot demanded that everyone, even the uninitiated, paid attention to them. And they were clearly gaining fans by the second because who can resist some crushing synths and head banding? Certainly none of those present. Surprisingly much of their set was comprised of early songs, despite the release of a new album, though of course, the endlessly catchy “SLAVES OF FEAR” got some time in the setlist.
Tim Hecker is the kind of artist you may not expect to translate to a live experience. His music is thought-provoking and patient, aimed more at meditation and introspection than jamming out with a crowd. When seen live, the music only becomes more absorptive, taking on an otherworldly quality through sheer volume, effectively smothering the listener in their own thoughts. His accompaniment with the Konoyo ensemble helped to make the music a bit more human. Onstage, the use of thick fog only added to the mysterious vibe, while humming bass notes forced listeners in on themselves and away from connection. It was an experience like no other, and when juxtaposed against the boisterous energy of HEALTH and Captain Murphy it only became more impactful.
Captain Murphy, the rap alter ego of Los Angeles super-producer Flying Lotus was easily one of the biggest draws to AS fest, the rarity of this performance alone would have demanded the attention of LA press. Onstage, Murphy refused to disappoint. Echoing his visually stunning shows as Flying Lotus the stage was backlit by gorgeous animation while in front of him a thin scrim caught projected visuals, creating a 3D effect. Onstage his DJ table was covered in cats and it was just as strange as you’d hope for a Captain Murphy DJ table to be. Visuals weren’t the only thing making this set great though. The thumping beats, live instrumentation (partially provided by none other than Thundercat) and ever so on point rapping kept even the most casual of fans on their feet, and the addition of Azizi Gibson certainly didn’t hurt things. Every person in the now large crowd seemed to know each word of his songs, making for an unbeatable atmosphere that pushed the festival into its closing sets. It was going to be hard to beat this though. They even played some Thundercat songs in the latter end of the series but halfway through the set, it was clear that no one would beat this set when he brought out MF DOOM for an incredibly rare performance – who of course turned out to be an imposter, Hannibal Burress. But the hilarity was worth the false hope.
Leikeli 47 was an interesting case where the crowd for her set actually had shrunk a bit since Captain Murphy had played, but she still assembled one of the larger crowds of the night. She possessed an impressive onstage energy that managed to keep the crowd warm while many of them waited for the main event of the evening. Her DJ and sound mixing were on point and despite being slightly less of a draw than Captain Murphy she still laid down a solid hip hop set and energized her front-row fans, who had the time of their lives.
No matter how good all the other acts were, and they were excellent, tonight was about one thing only, Dethklok. The animated band from the notoriously brutal Adult Swim series Metalocalypse rarely plays live shows, on account of them being an animated band, and since the show reached its conclusion live performances have become even rarer. What immediately stuck out was the size and diversity of the crowd. Metal isn’t always known for its inclusive ways so it was exciting to see a massive crowd bursting with diversity all gathered to see a dark comedy death metal band. When it came to the music the band was tight as a drum, everything from the vocals to the guitars to the drums was as searingly brutal as it was on the TV show. And speaking of the TV show, the show was bookended by interludes custom created for this specific concert and brief comic intermissions titled “Concert Etiquette with Mr.Facebones” kept the atmosphere light in between the metal. Each song was accompanied by clips from its corresponding episode, which really made it feel like the animated band was playing all the hits themselves. And play all the hits they did. During the seventy-minute set, they played “Murmaider,” “Birthday Dethday” and “Thunderhorse” to name a few. It was maybe the strangest show to be played in LA all year, but it was certainly one of the most fun and established Adult Swim festival as a must-attend event.
Despite being the shorter of the two days, Friday was setting a fast pace that would be hard to maintain. Luckily it’s easy to look ahead at the lineup and see that this pace is 100% going to be kept. All that, combined with the well-oiled nature of the festival setup and set times, is quickly setting a new precedent for how to do a mid-sized festival – hopefully, tomorrow can make this already great event even better.