By Gabriel Mathews
FYF FEST, LA State Historic Park, Los Angeles, August 24-25, 2013
If you’re not an Angeleno, or even if you are but you live west of Western, you probably don’t know about FYF. So to fill you in, it all began ten years ago when this guy named Sean Carlson evidently grabbed a bunch of bands he thought were cool, booked the Echo for a day, and had said bands play there. He called it the Fuck Yeah Fest, and it ignited a punk rock fire under the asses of the Los Angeles youth. I don’t really know what happened in the intervening few years, but by year six of the fest, it had moved to the dry, dusty pit north of Chinatown known as the LA State Historic Park and I moved to Los Angeles and became a regular attendee. Last year, it turned into a two-day event for the first time, and this year, the Fest celebrated its 10th Anniversary. Somewhere along the way, FYF ceased to be a mere festival and became one of the best across-the-board show organizers in the area, putting on excellent punk, metal, electronic, etc. shows all over town. I see Mr. Carlson and his small band of acolytes at most shows I attend, even the non-FYF ones.
This year was my fifth FYF Fest. Every year it’s gotten a little bit bigger, a little bit better, and a little bit worse. But more on that later—let’s talk about what actually went down!
The gates into the dusty hellhole that (normally) is the LASHP opened at two, and I was there around 2:45. There was no real line, so after collecting the free water bottle I got for riding Metro to the show and getting my drinking wristband, I wandered in and headed over to the Miranda Stage (the smallest of this years Sex and the City themed stages) to wait for Waxahatchee’s 3:20 set. Imagine my surprise when some rad power-trio I’d never heard of were tearing up the stage! The first act of the day, Buffalo’s Lemuria set the bar real high. I mentioned them briefly in my recent review of Titus Andronicus, but they deserve more attention here. Frontwoman Sheena Ozzella shrieked and wailed in a timbre reminiscent of Buke & Gase’s Arone Dyer, bassist Max Baylor was all smiles and pogos, and drummer/primary songwriter Alex Kerns tore up his skins like someone who should be much more famous than he his. The band played super tight together, and hit some epic hooks which I later learned belonged to songs like “Lipstick,” “Pants,” and “Ruby.” If you dig Rilo Kiley, but wish they were way rougher around the edges and more plugged in, check these guys out. Especially live. Or if not live, especially on their debut, Get Better.
Waxahatchee is a band with zero stage presence, but a rare ability to captivate anyway. Katie Crutchfield’s sophomore album, Cerulean Salt has been an obsession of mine all year, and she certainly didn’t disappoint in power-trio format. She even rearranged several American Weekend songs for the full band treatment. Interestingly, a lot of songs were slowed down, or even switched to waltz time. This made it sort of hard to sing along with songs like “American Weekend” and “Brother Bryan,” but certainly helped the songs to sink their claws into my heart and freeze it. Crutchfield’s confessionals are treasures, and deserve the attention they’re getting.
From the Miranda Stage, I made a beeline for the Charlotte Stage (stopping at the Origami Vinyl tent to pick up Lemuria’s most recent album, The Distance Is So Big), where I caught METZ. This band has been receiving a lot of attention for their self-titled 2012 debut, but even more attention for their live performances, honed for something like twelve years of gigging around Toronto. Their brand of post-hardcore favors thudding low-end, screeching high-end, and endless repetition. It’s brutal, and the pit was fittingly wild. That said, I couldn’t help but feel something was missing, and I don’t think it was the sweat-drenched METZ’s fault.
I went and met some friends in the beer garden where we watched Ty Segall from a hill and were largely unimpressed. This dude gets a lot of press, but I really can’t say I get the scene he and fellow FYFer Mikal Cronin run up north in San Francisco. It strikes me as a rehash of things that have been done before and done better. I liked Ty better last year when he played with his Band.
The scene I can get is the one super young punks Joyce Manor are currently the kings of. Every single Hispanic teenager within a five mile radius seemed not only to be at this show, but screaming along with every word. In fact, it seemed they were at the fest exclusively for Joyce Manor’s blink-182-influenced emo-punk. I’ve caught this band a couple times before in random situations, and I’m always shocked by the percentage of words from their two incredibly brief albums the kids at their shows know by heart. Songs like “Beach Community,” “Leather Jacket,” and especially “Constant Headache” are disarmingly catchy, while also exhibiting the finely honed crafstmanship of a band that does little other than play together. Watch as these guys come up, it’ll be a whole lot of fun for your inner teen.
Then it was time. Time to go to the Carrie Stage to watch The Breeders play Last Splash as part of that album’s 20-year anniversary tour. Everyone was on stage—Kim and Kelly Deal apparently took a break from the bands current incarnation to invite bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim McPherson back into the fold so as to best replicate the classic album. In fact, the effort that went into making this sound like an exact plaster cast of Last Splash was pretty impressive. The inimitable Kim Deal sang the “ooOOOoohs” at the start of “Cannonball” into a microphone covered with a paper cup, Kelly plugged into a pocket amp mounted atop a stand and mic’ed for the tin-can sound of “Mad Lucas,” and, since she apparently played drums on the recording, Wiggs stole the throne from McPherson for “Roi.” The band had some great, snide-yet-loving banter going back and forth, thanking each other constantly for the smallest little things (“Thank you, Kelly. Your guitar solo on that song was beautiful.” “You’re welcome, Kim. I appreciated your singing, it was lovely.”), but aside from this, their stage presence was slightly lacking. That is, until Deerhunter‘s Bradford Cox came out to sing the “Suuuuummmmerrrr’s reaaaaaadddyyyyyy” part of “Saints,” and gave Kim a big kiss on the cheek. Finding themselves with a little time after “Roi (Reprise),” The Breeders snuck in Pod track “Oh”. While I love the song, I would’ve liked to see them just walk off stage after the feedback ending of Splash, letting it sink in just what a classic we’d just seen recreated.
After an anonymous foodtruck dinner and some time spent wandering around the vendor tents (Stories Books had an excellent setup of recommendations from various bands playing the fest. Spoiler: Everyone loves Vonnegut.), and catching a tiny bit of Dan Deacon‘s unsurprisingly tech-plagued, surprisingly dual-drummered set, I came back to the Carrie Stage for TV On The Radio. This was the fifth time I’d seen them, and I’ve gotta say they haven’t aged a bit. This band still kicks ass (though bassist Gerard Smith was sorely missed, RIP). They also know, thankfully, that their most recent album, Nine Types Of Light, was overwhelmingly mediocre, and mercifully stuck mostly to their excellent back catalog, hitting “Blues From Down Here,” “Staring At The Sun,” and “Dancing Choose”. More exciting than those classics, though, were new tracks “Million Miles” and “Mercy,” the latter of which might rank among the best songs TVOTR has ever written. I’m super stoked for their forthcoming fifth LP, to be released on guitarist/producer Dave SItek’s brand new Federal Prism label.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the night’s headliners, and I didn’t know what to expect. I knew Karen O would be a thrill to watch, and I knew that Nick Zinner and Brian Chase are sorely underestimated musicians (Zinner, in particular, is one of my favorite guitar geniuses and I think he deserves about 1,000 times more credit than he gets, simply for the tones he achieves), but this year’s Mosquito left me and apparently a lot of others pretty damn cold. The YYYs, who I’d never seen before, played with characteristic energy, and O did plenty of funny things with her costumes and her microphone, but I left after five songs because less than half of them were songs I cared about (those being “Rich” and “Phenomena”.) Also because I was really far back and it was hard to tell which pedals Zinner was hitting from where I was standing. Also because Death Grips were playing at the other end of the park.
This was Death Grips‘ first show since their now-legendary Lollapalooza no-show performance piece (which I think was utterly brilliant, fuck the haterz), and people had been fretting all day that they might not be present for their set. Having seen them this past spring, I wasn’t too concerned, but I was thrilled to find all three members on set (Andy “Flatlander” Monin, producer, had been absent at the spring show). Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett strutted and writhed with characteristic fury, looking strangely not-human, Zach Hill decimated his stripped down kit, and Flatlander looked like a hacker straight out of The Matrix in a power stance behind his table of doohickeys. This set was even more overwhelming than the one I caught at The Echoplex. Maybe it was the fact that the band was playing over pre-recorded tracks, so the sound was doubled. Maybe it was because, in addition to the constantly moving, flashing, and very red lights coating the stage, Metro trains kept streaking by behind the band. This was actually an awesome touch and I have to wonder if Sean & co. planned it this way, to heighten the sense of acceleration and mechanical intensity Death Grips deliberately foster. I ended up walking away from the stage due to sheer sensory overload when I heard the band play my favorite of their songs, Money Store closer “Hacker.” I was too far away to head back, and plodded sadly out of the park. Moral of the story about Death Grips, though, is that if you haven’t seen them, do. It’s a trance, it’s a dance, it’s a religious experience, it’s like nothing else in music right now.
I went home tired, but not as tired as I should have been. I was ready for Day 2.
I really, really wanted to hit up the comedy tent to catch 2/3 of Human Giant, Paul Scheer & Rob Huebel, but apparently those dudes somehow did not have the last slot of the comedy set. That honor went to Ron Funches, who told the best joke about why to have sex with John Goodman that I’ve ever heard. Check him out.
There wasn’t much I wanted to catch this early in the day, so I wandered over to the Miranda Stage, where my friends were gushing over the king of laziness, Mac DeMarco. I don’t fucking get it. Yeah, the guy is kinda funny, and yeah, his songs are kind of pleasant, but it’s really telling when the best parts of your set are a cover of “Taking Care Of Business” with ad-libbed raps in place of the verses and an amped up rendition of “Bluebird.” Both of these I heard from the neaby RevHQ.com tent (RevHQ clerk: “Are they really covering Bachmann-Turner Overdrive? Really?”), where I bought The Obits’ Moody, Standard and Poor on red vinyl, cursing myself for having not known about Hot Snakes in time for their set at last year’s Fest.
Up next on the little stage was Chelsea Wolfe, who I’d seen once before in a very strange corporate basement at USC’s annual radio station “festival”. Wolfe’s band seemed to be intentionally comprised of people who would look perfect as Chelsea Wolfe’s backing band: there was a hipster ninja drummer, a small, snazzy, mustachioed guitarist, and a Special Agent Dale Cooper-lookalike bassist/keyboardist. (Speaking of Twin Peaks, I saw a Black Flag-knock-off shirt with squiggly bars that read “Black Lodge.” Well played!) All of them wore black. Wolfe, though, perhaps as part of the image change she seems to be going for on the brand new Pain Is Beauty, was decked out in a beige gown with an elaborate train she waved around like wings at various points in her set. The imposingly tall Wolfe has serious pipes, and even if you don’t know any of her epically sad songs, you can’t help but be impressed by the way her voice could probably carry out across the park without amplification.
I migrated over to the Carrie Stage to see a few minutes of Kurt Vile, whose newest record, Walkin On A Pretty Daze I found pretty boring. Vile has a new drummer, and this is really too bad. Oh, well, onward to Samantha’s Tent, where I caught a few How To Dress Well songs. Unfortunately, Vile’s chiming guitars, characteristically Carrie-Stage-too-loud, overpowered Tom Krell’s sensitive white-boy R&B for much of the set. I headed over to the beer garden to eat and watch from the sidelines as No Age showed us just how boring they could be by playing a couple of the drumless songs from brand new album An Object. That said, classics like “Eraser” were still pretty great from where I was sitting.
Up next on the list of things I actually cared about seeing was Beach House, whose newest record, Bloom, I found by-and-large boring (are we detecting a theme here?). That said, the band pulled off a gorgeous set, being TVOTR-like in their ability to pick just the crowd-pleasers out of their mediocre new shit (“Myth,” “Wishes,” “Lazuli,” “The Hours,” aka, the only songs I like off that record), and hitting a lot of great back catalog material, including Devotion’s “Heart Of Chambers,” which, in a foreshadowing move, I think was dedicated to Colm Ó Cíosóig. Beach House’s set made for perfect lover’s rock—everyone around me was making out, and I think that’s just what I needed at this point, as a respite before heading over to The Melvins.
This is a band I clearly need to check out. I went into their set knowing none of their music, and came out wanting to know all of it. Their double-drummer setup kicked the shit out of me, the thundering low-end was awe-inspring, and when the older drummer came out from behind the kit to hula hoop and sing a song whose sole lyric was “MAKE THESE DONUTS WITH EXTRA GREASE! / THIS BATCH IS FOR THE CHIEF OF POLICE!” repeated ad infinitum, The Melvins won me over completely. Too bad I only caught their last ten minutes or so.
Next up on the Miranda Stage was the set I have to, in retrospect, call my favorite of the weekend. Les Savy Fav put on one of the most gloriously deranged and straight up fun shows I’ve ever seen. I’ve always liked LSF, but they’ve never been one of those bands where I need to hear every new album, or check out the whole back catalog. In fact, I’m pretty satisfied knowing little more of their material than fascinating singles-compilaton-project Inches. While his band acted all straight-laced behind him, playing some pretty basic dance-punk grooves, hideous frontman Tim Harrington donned a gold-lamé full-body suit, shone a flashlight out his ass, climbed a tree, fondled his bellybutton, pranced around in his underwear, covered the audience in toilet paper, and crowd surfed on a ladder he treated like a canoe. The crowd went wild for classics like “Patty Lee” and “The Sweat Descends,” and for the first time of the weekend, the pit felt right. This set embodied everything FYF should be (see below): fun, anarchic, dusty, furious, painful, glorious, communal. Well done, LSF (Fun fact: at the Stories Tent, LSF’s recommendations included a children’s book by Harrington called This Little Piggy, and deranged book of illustrations by bassist/Frenchkiss label head Syd Butler entitled Who Farted Wrong?)
It was then time for the moment everyone had been waiting for: My Bloody Valentine on an American tour for the first time since the release of their first album in 22 years, the actually really awesome m b v. Before the band appeared, the stage-side screens read “PROTECT YOUR EARS! Wear Earplugs.” and various anonymous staffers walked around the crowd handing out little foamy pellets. I had been expecting this, and put in my high-tech rubberized plugs right as the band took the stage. And here’s the thing: while nothing can detract from MBV’s utter incredibleness, it wasn’t that loud. Ever since Deerhunter made it impossible for me and my dinner companion to converse 1000 feet away the day before, and Kurt Vile of all people had nearly blown my ears out, I’d been asking myself, “If this is normal, what is MBV?” Turns out, MBV was just about normal. Sure, my ears were ringing for two days at frequencies I’d never heard my ears ring at before, but I blame that on the festival as a whole. Anyway, the Irish legends put on one hell of a show, recreating their painstakingly recorded sound to perfection (Naturally, this required an anonymous third guitarist half the time). Old Loveless classics sounded great, m b v standouts like “Wonder 2” sounded great, and the feedback squall of “You Made Me Realise” was feedbacky and squally. Even through a few episodes of actually blowing out the mains, though, MBV were, through no fault of their own, a slight letdown because they didn’t make my ears bleed. That said, I went home incredibly satisfied because, Christ on a stick, I’d just seen My Bloody Valentine. And a weekend of truly great music.
FYF: LOSING IT’S EDGE?
Even so, I can’t help but have felt something about this year’s Fest was just off. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised: sometime between when it started and the first year I attended, the Fuck Yeah Fest sanded off some of its edges by re-dubbing itself the FYF Fest (Fuck Yeah Fest Fest?) in a bid to be a bit more family friendly (read: corporate). I’m not trying to be some anti-corporate stooge, but this year’s FYF was the fourth in a progression of tipping the scales a little bit more in the favor of “Yeah” over “Fuck.” This was the first year where I’d say I felt the balance was actually off. Why?
Because I was there.
I was there when we had to stand in line for two hours to even enter the park, only to hear over some loudspeakers that Dan Deacon, the main/only reason I went the first year, had cancelled due to illness.
I was there, throat burning because the lines to get water were impossibly long, skin burning because there was no shade anywhere, no misting stations, no amenities, at all really.
I was there, coming out of Death From Above 1979’s triumphant set two years ago, weathered through a complete lack of working monitors, hacking up black dust out of every crevice of my throat, removing my shirt to blow black snot into it, without a voice for a few days because you couldn’t scream along with “Pull Out” without inhaling massive amounts of dirt kicked up in the pit.
In short, I was there when FYF sort of (read: really) sucked. I was there before they brought in ubiquitous Coachella gods Goldenvoice last year to iron out some of the kinks. This year I hardly waited at all to get in, water was abundant, the heat was pretty easy to cope with due to the misting station at the Chili Beans® tent, and the Epic FYF Dust Problem was, for the first time ever, squashed at two out of three stages by massive, industrial plastic floors spread out across the park’s dead grass. And while all of these are, yes, improvements, and, yes, the festival is far more comfortable now than it was in the past, well, the festival is far more comfortable now than it was in the past. And this is kind of sad, because the difficulty inherent in FYF is what bound those of us who were there together. The hardships were what made it stand out of a crowd of similar festivals all over the country. The dust, the thirst, the sunburn, the shitty sound, the crazy lines, the dearth of Port-a-Potties—while all these things really fucking sucked, they also made FYF a unique experience that led to a lot of knowing eye-locks with strangers, a lot of feelings of general connectedness-through-pain (aka “symapthy”), and honestly, a lot of love. Though the music may have been at an all-time-high, atmosphere can be everything, and this year was the first time FYF felt to me like just another festival in a park.
FYF: It’ s time to bring the “Fuck” back.