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FYF Turns 10 Years Old & Comes of Age—Finally!
L.A.’s biggest indie music festival is all grown up and looking pretty good
There’s nothing quite like watching a band unleash a tidal wave of energy and then smash all their equipment on stage. That’s exactly what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did during their Saturday night headlining set at FYF Fest.
Wonderful and weird frontwoman Karen O dominated the stage in a series of colorful, sparkling outfits as she jumped and yelped through tracks off their latest album Mosquito and past hits like “Maps” and “Heads Will Roll.” Closing the frenetic performance with “Date with the Night,” the wiry singer bent backward and swallowed half the mic before smashing it repeatedly on the floor. Nick Zinner tossed his guitar on the ground and drummer Brian Chase couldn’t keep the smile off his face as the massive crowd cheered and hollered.
Now in its tenth year, FYF—which started as a showcase of local punk bands at the Echo—has evolved into a two-day outdoor extravaganza worthy of major headliners like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ‘90s shoegaze legends My Bloody Valentine.
The recipe of music, food trucks, beer, and live interactive art invites comparisons to Coachella—they share a promoter, Goldenvoice—but founder Sean Carlson seems devoted to maintaining the homegrown spirit of the event he started at age 18, even scaling back the number of bands this year to improve quality of experience. FYF is not so much a mini-Coachella as it is a Coachella for everyone, its mood of relaxed delirium a distinct contrast to the drug-addled hormonal energy of that other SoCal festival. The tens of thousands of concertgoers—from young children to people in their 50s and 60s—that descended on Chinatown seemed less interested in imbibing mind-altering substances than in hearing great sounds from a lineup of nearly 60 bands and singers.
Straightforward dance music has no place on the FYF bill—an eclectic mix of punk, rock, folk, and soul curated almost solely by Carlson—but the acts that fared the best over the weekend were the ones that got the crowd moving, swaying, and thrashing. Despite a fun, head-bobbing early set from garage rocker Mikal Cronin and inspired verses from acid-loving Brooklyn MCs the Underachievers, Saturday’s festivities didn’t really kick off until neo-soul singer Charles Bradley hit the main Carrie stage (named, yes, after the Sex and the City protagonist).
“Raise your hands if you want to go to church!” Bradley shouted partway through his set. Hundreds of hands went up as he launched into an impassioned rendition of “How Long,” backed by a full complement of trumpet and saxophone players. Bradley’s heartfelt, groove-worthy performance lured people from across the 32-acre field, the audience steadily growing as the 66-year-old danced and thrusted his way through the set.
South Carolina electronic musician Toro y Moi drew comparable attention at the nearby Charlotte stage, breezing through funky, layered songs that had the core of the huge crowd bouncing. One listener loved them so much that he climbed onstage midway, only to be promptly bear-hugged and escorted off by security.
S.F. experimental punk rockers Thee Oh Sees’ clipped, raucous delivery inspired some healthy moshing, and both English disco collective Horse Meat Disco and Spanish alt-dance band Delorean had the crowd in the Samantha tent sweating through their upbeat tunes. An inflatable pickle emblazoned with Nicolas Cage’s face made an appearance. So did actor Henry Winkler during MGMT’s Sunday night set, playing a giant cowbell for the band’s new single “Your Life is a Lie.”
Not all the acts went so smoothly. Ty Segall and Venezuelan-American freak folk musician Devendra Banhart both struggled. Whether that was due to technical issues plaguing the Charlotte stage or the artists’ disappointingly dull sets is unclear. Equipment glitches also afflicted Sunday night headliners My Bloody Valentine, with the sound cutting out during their loud but hypnotic performance—leaving some fans disappointed and angry.
One of the festival highlights came from another ear-splitting band: Experimental rockers TV on the Radio demonstrated their readiness to move forward following the untimely 2011 death of bassist Gerard Smith with a rousing, genre-defying performance of new songs (“Mercy,” “Million Miles”) and old favorites (“Wolf Like Me,” “Staring at the Sun”) that had 40-year-old guitarist Kyp Malone quipping that he felt like he was in his late teens again.
As we trudged out of the park at the end of each night, breathing in billowing clouds of dust and feeling tired but satisfied, we knew what Malone meant. Sure, not all the logistical kinks have been worked out—competing sound between the two middle stages was a persistent problem—but FYF’s tenth anniversary was an undeniably good one, cementing the faith of its fans along with its status as Los Angeles’ best indie music festival.