Los Angeles — FYF Fest has officially blown up. The LA music festival that has been known as a calmer version of Coachella was not only overcrowded, but it was jam-packed with obstacles at every corner of downtown’s Exposition Park. Thank goodness the music was blasting to soothe festivalgoers’ frustration and broken spirits.
Overall, the weekend was less than the relaxing experience I remember from FYFs of the past. Perhaps it was the new, bigger location or the lack of clarity among those working the event. Still, despite the 4-hour line and being intentionally hit in the head by security, FYF offered one of the best lineups of artists this festival season. Mainstream headliners like Phoenix and The Strokes gave solid performances, but the introduction of promotional giant Goldenvoice didn’t stop the flurry of fantastic up-and-coming new bands. Yes, the once free-and-easy music festival is dead, but one important piece remained on Saturday and Sunday: FYF’s stages were an epic playground for rising stars.
Real Estate was the lucky band to benefit from the hardship of gaining access to the festival grounds on Saturday. Maybe attendees huddled around the barricade because of The Lawn stage’s close proximity to the entrance gate, but they hung around thanks to the East Coast four-piece’s smooth and intellectual surf rock. Songs like “It’s Real” and “Talking Backwards” floated for a gentle few moments amid the chaos.
Real Estate managed to turn the overwhelming summer heat into a warm and toasty hug. The songs from their Atlas album and the 2011 Days album were quite possibly the most pristine of the day. Lush sounds aside, it wouldn’t hurt to add a little more character to their performance. After all, isn’t one draw of seeing a band live to witness a peak into the soul in between songs?
It’s a music lover’s triumph to find a band with as much spirit as Future Islands.
Within moments of opening track “Back In The Tall Grass,” lead singer Sam Herring was drenched in sweat; not from the stubborn weather, but from the passion that he spewed with every note.
What Future Islands provided Saturday afternoon was pure synth pop, disco-laden bliss. Though Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion’s instrumentals added a silky layer of texture to his vocals, Herring was the one who gripped attention and held on tightly. What intrigued was Herring’s everyman look. It was difficult at first to accept that a man without the rocker uniform of skinny jeans and shaggy hair could rock as hard as Herring, but he did, and he did it better than most legends. Beyond his animalistic physicality like a drop to the knees or a knock at the chest, “Dream of You and Me” and “Seasons” were given a rough makeover with a gravelly quality, entirely different from their mild recordings. Which version of Future Islands is better? Fortunately, we don’t have to choose.
A Grimes performance is always a treat, but her hits were that much more precious in the festival twilight. While the 26-year-old is known to embrace all things strange, her performance was refreshingly stark.
Grimes stepped onto a candlelit platform with smoke swirling and a gust of wind blowing through her hair. In between synths, she walked to the stage’s edge and joined two dancers in a hip swivel during fan favorites like “Phone Sex” and “Go.” “Oblivion” is one of the catchiest and innovative songs of our time and when it was paired with such authenticity and attitude, it was as electric as her blue hair.
Mesmerizing, authentic, bewitching, euphoric, and rapturous could all be words used to describe whatever happened that evening, but it just doesn’t seem like enough. A Grimes performance has to be experienced.
Kelela was like a queen upon her throne on The Arena stage Sunday afternoon. The heavy bass, flashy lighting, and billowing vocals made her set something surreal.
This is where I applaud FYF for utilizing the indoor arena. Though getting into the stadium was like maneuvering a wild stampede, Kelela would not have been nearly as magical in the glaring sun. The giant stadium was truly fitting for the massive sound living in her petite frame.
Kelela’s eyes closed over the microphone and released a voice that was a liquid blend of soul, sex appeal, and grandeur. There is nothing meek about this woman — her name, her style, her synths, and her moves are unchartered and entrancing. The addition of Total Freedom’s special manipulation of her most popular songs from “Cut 4 Me” made the production even more fanciful.
Mac DeMarco’s gap-toothed smile isn’t the only thing that’s infectious. His pleasantly disheveled persona is like a little boy who can’t help but get into trouble. DeMarco is so utterly charming, but he distracted his audience on Sunday from the darkness in “Salad Fingers” by discussing Jennifer Aniston’s presence backstage and his casual use of meth.
Like DeMarco’s songs, he is light and bubbly on the surface with sadness in his eyes. It is that juxtaposition of vulnerability and playfulness that sets DeMarco apart from any of his music-making peers. The songs he played from his latest compilation were his tears disguised in surf rock and the results are beautiful if close attention is paid. For those who set out to simply have a good time that day, the quirky sounds that overshadowed sorrowful lyrics supplied the lightness and looseness perfect for a sunset pick-me-up.
Darkside’s very last performance in LA was everything a festival addict craves — it was transformative and striking. Both Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington have showcased their talent and will continue to on other projects, but there is a magical glint when they’re together. The duo said they will be done “for now” and I’m hopeful that means they’ll be back sooner rather than later. Their danceable psych rock is simply to stunning to be lost forever.
The production was just as all encompassing as the notes of LP Psychic. A spotlight refracted off a mirror before a wall of light circled above the awe-stricken audience. Jaar and Harrington remained dark silhouettes, hiding behind the power of their music and shadows of tumbling smoke. It was the kind of performance that dances in the head long after its end.
Visit FYF’s website to learn more about 2014’s best performers.
All Photos By Ariela Kozin
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