FYF Fest turned 10 years old this year, and, my, how it's grown. Founded by promoter Sean Carlson, the Los Angeles festival started out as a DIY production in the city's Echo Park neighborhood. In the time since, it's moved to a bigger location (the 32-acre L.A. State Historic Park in Chinatown) and overcome some serious organizational deficiencies with help from an influential partner (Goldenvoice, which organizes Coachella) to become perhaps the best summer festival a Southern California music fan could hope for.
On Saturday and Sunday, FYF – formerly known as "Fuck Yeah Fest" – passed by in a delirious, delightful blur. As many as 30,000 people showed up each day, including plenty of stylish young hipsters decked out in their best Nineties-revival getups (flannel shirts around waists, hair dyed funky colors, guys wearing bucket hats). Dozens of indie-rock, metal, hip-hop and electronic acts performed, with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MGMT and My Bloody Valentine headlining. And everywhere you went, the funky scent of marijuana wafted through the air.
The music took place at four stages, all of them named after characters from Sex and the City. At the Carrie Stage on Saturday, sixtysomething R&B singer Charles Bradley seduced a big crowd with soulful cries, killer dance moves and a sexy suit to match (sheer black shirt, dark red pants, shiny belt buckle) while his backing band, the Menahan Street Band, held it down with pocket grooves and bulletproof brass. When giant video screens onstage showed Bradley's face in close-up, one could see a glint of exuberance in his eyes.
Over at the Miranda Stage, the more hardcore festivalgoers flocked to see one of the biggest highlights of the day: the Locust, a ferocious foursome from San Diego. Famed for their ultra-fast, ultra-loud, ultra-aggressive songcraft, they served up a frantic mix of alien guitar sounds, whirlwind synth runs and knotty math-rock rhythms, all brought together with a chorus of artful shrieks. Some songs barely lasted a minute – and others involved lots of brutally slow drones – but they were no less intense because of it.
The Locust recently stepped out of a four-year hiatus, and they only plan to play one other show in the U.S. this year, at Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest in November. To celebrate their return, scores of people bum-rushed the stage to form a mosh-pit the moment the band started playing. For the next 40 minutes, the pit resembled one of Hieronymus Bosch's grotesque panoramas: twisted limbs, crushed bodies and delirious smiles were encircled in a cloud of dust.
Dust was everywhere at FYF. The grounds of the L.A. State Historic Park are covered with mulch and dead grass, and throughout the two days, a thin brown cloud seemed to float perpetually above the teeming festivalgoers. After a long day, you could count on having your shoes covered and throat caked with the stuff – a minor discomfort, sure, but one that also helps give FYF its character.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs closed Saturday with a ferocious and theatrical set mixing older songs ("Rich," "Zero") with cuts off their latest album, Mosquito ("Sacrilege," "Under the Earth"), with Karen O performing in a dazzling suit covered with colorful sparkly patterns.
The fest's eclectic musical offerings continued on Sunday. In the afternoon, L.A.'s Poolside put on a happy-clappy dance party with vanilla-flavored electro-disco, while on another stage songwriter Chelsea Wolfe used delay and loop effects to turn her voice into a ghostly howl. Later, Savannah, Georgia's Baroness – who're back on tour after recovering from a bus accident a year ago – executed feats of stunning metal artistry. At one point, they busted out an intricate interplay of dueling lead guitars, set to a dance beat, a combination that might sound weird, but came off perfectly.
After the sun went down, perhaps the most visually striking set of the weekend came from Beach House. As singer-keyboardist Victoria Legrand carried the trio's radiant dream-pop with her bittersweet vocal melodies, the group moved in silhouette against an ever-changing bath of light and fog. Even from several hundred feet away, the sights and sounds drew you in.
More disappointing was the dreary dance party of Washed Out, the electronic "chillwave" project fronted by Ernest Greene. Though they were performing to a massive audience on one of the festival's biggest stages, Greene and his bandmates came across like a modest bedroom project with limited abilities, moving sluggishly through the song "Feel It All Around."
Leave it to Omar Souleyman to get a proper party started. A singer from Syria who commands a cult following in the West, he drew a big crowd even while MGMT played on a nearby stage. His late-night performance was delayed by nearly half an hour (festival staff never explained what the problem was, though they appeared to be working out some kind of technical issue), but the crowd in front of the stage flipped out as soon as Souleyman came onstage in his trademark outfit: flowing black robe, red-and-white checked kaffiyeh and sunglasses.
For the next half hour he served as the party's master of ceremonies, singing raspy verse in Arabic, but mostly letting keyboardist Rizan Sa'id take finger-flailing runs on his two keyboards. As a drum machine throbbed throughout Samantha's Tent, people clapped their hands to the steady, four-to-the-floor stomp. At one point, a woman climbed onstage to dance with Souleyman. Security then escorted her off, but it wasn't long before she was back onstage again, only to get escorted off a second time.
Alas, for all of FYF's memorable moments, the fest didn't go exactly as planned. A glaring screw-up came Sunday night, when the sound intermittently cut out during My Bloody Valentine's highly anticipated headlining set. What could've been a transcendent performance of blissfully loud shoegaze turned into something of a disappointment as Kevin Shields and his bandmates wrestled with technical glitches.
Still, for all we know, Carlson is tearing his hair out right now trying to figure out what went wrong so it doesn't happen again next year. Indeed, FYF seems to be getting better and better each year: more food trucks, more places to chill in the shade, bigger bands, less organizational hitches. FYF has been likened to a mini-Coachella. But maybe that's not right. Maybe it's a future Coachella competitor – a Southern California institution in the making.