By Josh Herwitt //
The 12th annual FYF Fest returned to the LA Sports Arena and Exposition Park last weekend, and from everything we witnessed over two action-packed days, it felt like a major success. For starters, we didn’t have to wait in a three-hour security line and it didn’t take 20 minutes to walk from one end of the festival grounds to the other (it was more like 10 minutes), which already made this year a huge improvement compared to last year.
It should also go without saying that FYF has come a long way since its early beginnings as a punk fest, and teaming up with Coachella promoter Goldenvoice back in 2011 hasn’t hurt its rep by any means. If anything, it’s only made it more accessible for mainstream music fans (though there are still plenty of “indie” acts to come by). That couldn’t have been any more apparent than this year with Kanye West replacing Frank Ocean as Saturday’s headliner less than two days before the gates officially opened. And yet, somehow FYF didn’t end up selling out. We’re still not sure how that didn’t happen.
But the festival’s well-publicized slogan has long been that it delivers the “best weekend of summer,” and such a proclamation certainly sets the bar pretty high, especially in Southern California, where there is no shortage of ways to keep oneself preoccupied on a late-August afternoon. So, whether FYF was or wasn’t (it was one of our eight California music festivals you won’t want to miss before the end of 2015), here are our top 10 highlights from its 2015 edition.
New York City trio Battles have been creating some of the most interesting rock music in the business for more than a decade, bordering on prog while throwing a heavy dose of math rock into the equation. With their third full length La Di Da Di due out September 18th (and thanks to Ableton, fans can get a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s writing and recording process for the album here), Ian Williams (guitar, keyboards), Dave Konopka (bass, guitar, effects) and John Stanier (drums) debuted some new material on Sunday evening for their Southern California fan base, most notably “The Yabba”, which gradually navigates its way through sonic peaks and valleys over the course of seven minutes. Meanwhile, Stanier, the glue that holds it all together for Battles, is still proving to be an absolute beast on the skins at age 47.
9. FKA twigs
British singer-songwriter Tahliah Debrett Barnett, better known as FKA twigs, has been all the rage lately after performing at Coachella in April, and she closed out FYF in style, donning an elaborate burgundy- and gold-colored robe for her Sunday night set. Just the week before, the 27-year-old fiancée of actor/musician Robert Pattinson released her brand-new EP M3LL155X, and with it receiving high marks from a number of music outlets, there were quite a few fans who stuck around after 11:30 p.m. on a “school night” to watch her perform some of them, including the opening track “Figure 8”, “In Time” and “Glass & Patron”. FKA twigs might be one of the most compelling live acts out there right now, and after scheduling Purity Ring to close out The Lawn the night before, FYF seemed to make a point of letting women rule that stage in the late-night hours this year.
8. The Arena
While there hasn’t been much use for the LA Sports Arena these days with The Forum and Staples Center serving as LA’s two primary large-scale music venues now, FYF made sure to utilize the 56-year-old stadium as best it could in conjunction with Exposition Park — and surprisingly enough, it actually ended up being our favorite stage this year. With space to roam on the floor — except during Flying Lotus’ DJ set from what we were told — and the seated area upstairs providing a nice respite from more standing, The Arena felt very much like a different world when you walked inside its doors. Plus, it had one of the most visually stunning stage backdrops and lighting setups that we’ve ever seen at a music festival.
7. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
After capitalizing on the success of their sophomore album II in 2013, Unknown Mortal Orchestra have become one of indie rock’s buzziest bands this summer thanks to release of their third full length Multi-Love in May. Led by singer and guitarist Ruban Nielson, the New Zealand/Portland, Ore., quartet creates an intriguing mixture of lo-fi, psychedelic rock with garage, funk and R&B elements thrown in for good measure. After a long and tiring first day at FYF, UMO served as an uplifting way to start Day 2, and the turnout was pretty impressive with a large crowd arriving at The Lawn on Sunday for their 4:30 p.m. set.
Instrumental jazz/hip-hop trio BADBADNOTGOOD was high on our list of artists to catch at FYF this year, holding down a relatively early slot in The Arena on Saturday. Evoking almost a free-jazz spirit at times, Matthew Tavares (keyboards), Chester Hansen (bass) and Alexander Sowinski (drums) put their chops on display for close to an hour. Within minutes of arriving at the festival’s only indoor stage, it was fairly easy to see just how talented they are when it comes to playing their instruments, and together their sound had us wanting to hear more the next time these three Torontonians come to town.
5. Chet Faker
When we saw Chet Faker perform in LA following the release of his debut album Built on Glass last year, we were underwhelmed by Nicholas Murphy’s stage presence and a cast of sidekicks who didn’t add much to his overall sound. But a lot has changed since that early June night at The Roxy Theatre, and Murphy’s live show has grown leaps and bounds from 2014 to 2015, in part because he’s surrounded himself with some very skilled players lately. Though Murphy didn’t drop his newest single “Bend” into a nine-song set on Saturday, the FYF mainstay gave us every reason to believe why he belongs on the festival’s main stage.
4. Special guests
Ever since FYF founder Sean Carlson teamed up with Goldenvoice, his festival has felt more and more like a mini Coachella each year. That trend continued in 2015 on a number of levels, with one of them being the fact that quite a few artists introduced special guests during their sets, something that has become rather synonymous with Coachella over the past few years. Chet Faker brought out BANKS, Travi$ Scott joined Kanye, Flume handed the mic right over to Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt (pictured above) and then later danced with Lorde, and Run the Jewels gave Zack de la Rocha and Travis Barker their moment to shine onstage, too. If that doesn’t sound like a typical weekend at Coachella, then we don’t know what does.
3. Kanye West
Yeezus was all the talk less than two days before the festival kicked off, and we must say that we were pleasantly surprised by the last-minute Kanye-West-for-Frank-Ocean trade that FYF was able to pull off in the end. The headlining performance, nonetheless, delivered on all fronts, as Kanye ran through a career full of hits, eventually playing one every minute as his set went down to the very last second. We won’t go as far as to say that it was the best show of the weekend, but an impromptu performance from Rihanna on “Four Five Seconds” and “All of the Lights” after she was pulled onstage by Yeezy himself will have us remembering that moment for quite some time.
2. D’Angelo & The Vanguard
One of the most anticipated sets of the entire weekend was none other than D’Angelo’s — and for good reason. The R&B/neo-soul singer-songwriter hadn’t dropped an album in 14 years until he suddenly dropped his 2014 masterpiece Black Messiah last December, so you knew that getting the rare opportunity to see Michael Eugene Archer work a crowd at FYF would be something special. Sounding more like a youthful James Brown than a wannabe Prince (we still don’t totally understand where those comparisons are coming from), D’Angelo and his eight-piece backing band The Vanguard took the audience for a ride as they doled out new and old hits like “Really Love” and “Brown Sugar” over an eight-song setlist.
1. Run the Jewels
It’s hard to find a more entertaining and raucous show in hip-hop right now than Run the Jewels’. Yes, El-P and Killer Mike have been making the festival rounds this year much like Outkast did in 2014, but one actually released an album last year and the other hasn’t since 2006. Never ones to hold back, RTJ’s post-sunset show on the festival’s main stage was both highly provocative and hilarious, getting the adrenaline pumping within the first few minutes and setting the tone for the rest of Day 1.