Festival Recap: L.A.’s FYF Fest Rocks Despite Logistical Challenges on Day 1

Thundercat.

Thundercat plays L.A.’s FYF Fest on August 23.

Often called Coachella’s younger brother, Los Angeles’ FYF Fest (August 23-24) has experienced immense growth over its 11 years. Many Las Vegans, including me, make the annual pilgrimage to this music mecca. But with the festival’s growth causing changes, would it deliver this time?

Perhaps the biggest change to the festival was its location. This year, four stages were spread across the grassy lawns and tree-laden areas of Los Angeles’ Sports Arena and Exposition Park. One venue, The Arena, was just that. Acts such as Chet Faker and Darkside performed inside the L.A. Sports Arena and utilized the indoor environment by incorporating impressive lightshows. Other bands, such as headliners Phoenix, The Strokes, Interpol and Future Islands, played traditional outdoor festival stages.

It seems like everything would flow smoothly, right? That wasn’t the case. A sign of its growth over the years, fans had to endure lines, awful foot traffic and venues (The Arena) reaching capacity. Another thing to note: at times of heavy traffic, the walk from one venue to another could exceed 15 minutes. That left many fans with bad tastes in their mouths by the end of the first day, but this story is one of redemption. Here’s what happened:

DAY ONE:

The biggest challenge on the first day was just getting into the festival. Some attendees waited as long as two-and-a-half hours, missing opening acts Mariachi El Bronx or Angel Olsen. That was the case for me: I arrived around 2 p.m. and didn’t see a band’s full set until 4 p.m.. Later in the night, The Arena reached capacity, forcing hundreds to miss sets by electronic artists Caribou and Four Tet. It was a day of full of lines, sweat and disappointment.

Band Name: Joyce Manor
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 4:05-4:45 p.m.
Audience size: mid-size
Impressions: I was lucky enough to make it inside the venue to catch Torrance, California’s very own punk rock darlings, Joyce Manor. The quartet’s set was also their tour kickoff and was comprised of a nice mix of songs most from their latest effort, Never Hungover Again. The band opened with the fan favorite, “Constant Headache” and ended with “Heart Tattoo.” They sounded great live and made up for the insanely long wait I had to endure. Well … almost.

Band Name: Real Estate
Stage: The Lawn
Time: 4:45-5:35 p.m.
Audience size: large
Impressions: A good chunk of the audience watched the set while sitting down: utilizing the trees for shade. The band played “Kinder Blumen,” and while their performance was well-received, I found it to be very quiet, though the soundman may be the one to blame for that issue.

Band Name: Chet Faker
Stage: The Arena
Time: 5:20-6:10 p.m.
Audience size: large
Impressions: Faker blessed the most grandiose stage with his brand of neo-soul mixed with EDM flair. Utilizing the venue’s darkness and atmosphere, Faker treated fans to an impressive light show while he played songs from his latest album including “Dead Body,” collaborations with New Zealander producer Flume, (“Drop the Game”) and his rendition of the Blackstreet classic, “No Diggity.” I was impressed to see Faker seamlessly switch between playing the music and interacting with fans.

Band Name: Future Islands
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 6:30–7:20 p.m.
Audience size: large
Impressions: It was a treat seeing these Synthpop touring machines command the main stage after they played the Las Vegas Beauty Bar in April. The quartet performed songs such as “Back in the Tall Grass” and “Seasons (Waiting on You)” with alarming precision. Charismatic frontman Sammuel T. Herring danced and expressed gratitude to fans. Herring’s moves and snarling growls were a highlight of the festival, and I cannot wait until the band’s next Las Vegas show.

Band Name: Slowdive
Stage: The Lawn
Time: 7:25–8:25 p.m.
Audience size: huge
Impressions: The recently reunited shoegaze giants followed the footsteps of fellow rockers My Bloody Valentine, who headlined the fest last year. The group performed an emotional, introspective set at FYF, which was one of a handful of reunion shows. The group’s reunion was at the top of my list of sets to catch at the fest this year, and they did not disappoint. Songs “Alison” and “Souvlaki Space Station” translated well in a live setting, and fans chanted “Slowdive! Slowdive! Slowdive!” in disbelief because this impossible reunion was unfolding before their eyes.

Band Name: Interpol
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 9:10–10:10 p.m.
Audience size: large
Impressions: Hot off the road from Las Vegas the night before, the band performed a satisfying set that was one of their first run of shows in three years. Interpol played fan-favorites such as “C’mere” and “PDA,” but threw some curveballs—performing lesser-known songs such as “Length of Love.” Vocalist/guitarist Paul Banks’ voice sounded a bit nasal-y at times, but that didn’t harm my overall impression of the band’s performance.

DAY TWO:

I received an email from festival organizers who announced that the problems that plagued day one had been remedied. There would now be additional entrance points, expanded seating in the arena, more staff working the food tents and even free bottled water. I was skeptical at first: How could such a debacle be resolved in a manner of hours? As my Uber vehicle dropped me off at the venue, I saw that the line was a fraction of the size it was the day before. That wasn’t all, though—it was moving. I made it into the festival grounds within 15 minutes, and I was even able to grab a few waters on my way to catch the first band on my list.

Band Name: Joanna Gruesome
Stage: The Trees
Time: 3:15–3:45 p.m.
Audience size: small
Impressions: The female-fronted noise-pop act competed with other openers such as electronic musician Kindness and Toro Y Moi side-project, Les Sins. That didn’t stop the band from rocking out, however, as they blazed through songs from their debut album, Weird Sister. Unfortunately, the sound problems from day one returned, and although frontwoman Alanna McArdle’s shrieks pierced the air, it was hard to distinguish between lead guitars.

Band Name: Balance and Composure
Stage: The Trees
Time: 4:05–4:35 p.m.
Audience size: mid-size
Impressions: In a somewhat similar vein, emo/post-punkers Balance and Composure’s music also suffered from sound problems. With two back-to-back sets from otherwise great bands sounding awful, it seemed like The Trees stage got the short end of the stick. Balance and Composure’s guitar-driven songs such as “Quake” and “Stonehands” sounded weak as a result of the problems, and I was ultimately let down.

Band Name: Ryan Hemsworth
Stage: The Lawn
Time: 4:30–5:20 p.m.
Audience size: large
Impressions: The Canadian DJ and producer fused top 40 hits with his own material. His performance was well-received as fans danced to songs on his latest effort, Guilt Trips, mixed with hip-hop artists such as Drake, YG and Future. It was during his set when I realized a trend amongst performers: DJs and artists who create and perform electronic music drew in the bigger crowds.

Band Name: Mac DeMarco
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 5:05–5:55 p.m.
Audience size: huge
Impressions: Indie underdog-turned-champion Mac DeMarco performed performed at FYF last year, and it’s shocking to see how much his audience has grown since the release of his latest album, Salad Days. Now on the main stage, Demarco played a mix of songs from 2 and his new album including “Let My Baby Stay” and “Freaking Out the Neighborhood.” We also got some of his signature quirky stage banter. “So Jennifer Aniston is here … we met her. She’s pretty cool,” a smiling Demarco said.

Band Name: Thundercat
Stage: The Lawn
Time: 5:50 –6:40 p.m.
Audience size: large
Impressions: Stephen Bruner a.k.a. Thundercat likely played the most academic set of the weekend. Donning a six-string bass and an animal headdress, Thundercat embedded long bouts of jazz improvisation and jams between R&B songs. It was refreshing to see something like this on the festival lineup especially given the number of DJs on the bill.

Band Name: Blood Orange
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 7:40–8:30 p.m.
Audience size: large
Impressions: One of my favorite sets from the weekend came from the UK’s Blood Orange. The group gave fans nearly an hour of funky Prince worship, playing the infectiously dance-y “You’re Not Good Enough” and a cover of Mansun’s “I Can Only Disappoint U.” Singer and instrumentalist Dev Hynes utilized the entire stage—dancing, speeding through guitar solos and singing with collaborator Samantha Urbani.

Band Name: HAIM
Stage: Main Stage
Time: 9:00–9:50 p.m.
Audience size: large
Impressions: This was more like a homecoming show for Los Angeles’ HAIM as bassist Este Haim announced that it would be their last one for the album cycle. The band’s set was disappointing however, as they recycled the same set from their Las Vegas and Coachella performances—banter and all.

Band Name: Flying Lotus
Stage: The Lawn
Time: 10-11 p.m.
Audience size: large
Disappointed, I left to watch L.A.-based producer Flying Lotus play behind a screen. His performance was visually and aurally stimulating with staccato drums and flashing lights. He surprised fans with a short set by Captain Murphy, his hip-hop side project.

Band Name: Jamie xx
Stage: The Arena
Time: 10:45 p.m.–midnight
Audience size: large
Impressions: Attendees had to choose between three acts to end their night: Deafheaven, Jamie xx and the Strokes. The lightshow seemed the most appealing at this point—probably because I was exhausted, but I let the U.K.-based DJ put me in a state of delirium.

Festival takeaway:
Thanks to some stellar performances, I left the festival (and L.A.) satisfied. I was surprised at how quickly the dreadful issues of Day 1 were resolved, and thinking back, they weren’t as bad as others made them out to be. As with any large-scale music festival, there will always be problems. And thankfully, most of them were dealt with accordingly. For now, I’m just happy to be at home while my ears continue to ring from watching Slowdive’s set.

Click here to see more photos from FYF Fest.

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