Words by Esteban Stabilo. Photos by Isaac Klotz and Esteban Stabilo
The awesome and redundant named Fuck Yeah Festival Fest in Downtown Los Angeles is the underdog day festival that came out of nowhere eight years ago in a shocking display of amateur tenacity. Crawling its way out of the underground, the rising popularity of the festival now features something for every musical taste including eclectic big name acts both local and abroad like Explosions in the Sky, Death from Above 1979, Simian Mobile Disco, Cold War Kids, Girls, OFF!, Descendents, No Age, Nosaj Thing, Four Tet, and… a comedy troupe? Alright, FYF, way to cover your bases.
In what might just be the hottest pile of shit venue in Los Angeles right now, the Historic State Park is a giant field of dirt where precocious yuppies like to jog and walk their dogs. The rolling hills and slight inclines make for trekking across the “venue” (I use the term loosely) even more exhausting than simply standing around in 100 degree weather all afternoon. In preparation for FYF, some dicknose had the bright idea to spread a thick layer of wood chips and fertilizer around all of the stages – an aromatic adjustment from the clouds of dust and dirt dancers/moshers were forced to eat at last year’s show.
Looking at the bill, you would be hard pressed to pin point what sort of crowd a festival like FYF would attract. If your guess was all sorts of cuts and creeds, then you win a gold star. The all ages, all hipster event brought out plenty of Ultra Vulgar Super Fiends, in addition to bringing out the hunger in most patrons who liberally stuffed their faces at any of the many food trucks, as well as plenty of local business booths like LA Weekly, Echo Park Film Center, Butter Vinyl, and… a fucking jewelry store? The surprises keep coming at FYF, for instance, an ice cream truck dealing in complimentary popsicles which lead to the obvious epiphany that more festivals require free ice cream.
As with most events at the LA State Park and throughout Downtown, the yellow jacketed Staff Pro employees who “work” the event (If work can somehow be interpreted as standing about with the demeanor of a parking meter) become a deterrent to the entire vibe of the festival. Speaking to them is not only a waste of time, but will actually make you dumber in the process. Would it be so difficult to hold a group meeting to brief your staff before an event instead of instructing them to “Stand here. Look busy” and turning them loose? At least their comprehensive incompetence makes sneaking in contraband that much easier. Aside from this, the actual stage production is decent considering everything was hauled into the ad hoc venue. All things considered, sound and stage lighting is not mind blowing, but on par.
In a traditional festival style, the four stages (I don’t count the comedy stage, sorry Future Island and Chormantics) force attendees to pick and choose who to watch and when. The first band I was perform was OFF!, the new old school punk band fronted by Keith Morris. It’s no surprise that they rocked the speaker in a dirty and raw style which only they could deliver, conjuring up one of only several mosh pits throughout the day. Their natural thrash punk style and 1 – 2 minute song runtime flawlessly saturated their 30 minute set with fast, high energy guitar licks.
On the neighboring stage, The Olivia Tremor Control had already set up and were ready to rock as soon as OFF had finished. After a brief decade hiatus, these guys are proof that psychedelia has invaded indie rock and is here to stay. Making their triumphant comeback while lacking a generation-relevant album (come on guys, cut a new album!) OTC is a prime example of the spike in popularity of throwback trends.
On the main stage, only slightly larger than the others, Cold War Kids were already well into their set, drawing a slightly younger crowd. The local pop punkers did a bang up job at satisfying their fans with choice songs from any of their three albums during their 45 minute set. With their charming boy band appeal, CWK is not nearly as bad live as they look on paper. No, really!
As the sun began to set, along came Four Tet. Haven’t heard of him? Well you should have; he’s been making music specifically for you for over a decade now. Alone on stage with his turntables, this London born post-rock meets electronic dance music artist threw down some uniquely danceable grooves. Whether you shuffle, krump, or just move your shoulders back and forth (that’s a dance, right?) Four Tet got everyone in the crowd moving and top tapping along with him. Love him or hate him, his ambient dance swagger is a welcome change from other guitar bashings heard throughout the festival.
It’s a great feeling to be forced to watch a band you plan of hating and end up sincerely enjoying it. That’s what happened with Yacht’s performance. Portland dance punkers rock their way through a 45 minute set with catchy synth lines, cosmic video projection, and the beautifully warm vocals of Claire L. Evans. Playing plenty of their fan favorite hits as well as songs from their new album released a month ago. Yacht’s set was a true crowd pleaser.
While not an the easiest transition going from a dance music band, to a dance punk band, to a punk rock band, Guided by Voices got off to a bit of a rocky start. Having been around for over a decade (nearly two decades if you don’t count hiatus’, but we do) their fan base was widely divergent as far as a generation gap is concerned. You have the 60 year denim clad old biker clinging on to a time when he could actually get laid and you have 16 year old mini skirt teeny boppers who are looking forward to a long future in the cocktail serving business, all moshing side by side in front of the same band. That is motherfucking diversity.
Keeping with the old school punk motif, The Descendents played the main stage in what would be the first hour long set of the day. Being the senior band at FYF, who better to have that privilege? While some critics bitch that they may be sorely overdue for a new album (only 6 in a 30 plus year span), hardcore fans content with the current Descendents catalogue couldn’t disagree more. All in all, they played like, well, like the Descendents play – dirty, hard melodies in a true punk fashion.
Nosaj Thing has been busy bringing down the Low End Theory at the Airliner for a good while now. His distinct lucid swagger and customized visual projection he created specifically for live performances are certainly worth of the gimmie moniker “No Such Thing”. That is why it’s not surprising that he would attract such a massive crowd at FYF while he ceaselessly throws down unique beats and tech setup. Unarguably one of the brightest up and coming of the throngs of LA DJs, the next chance you have to see Nosaj Thing perform, I suggest you take it, again and again. Check out the sick video w/ visuals:
Nosaj Thing live at FYF 2011
A leap in genre generations, Simian Mobile Disco played a brilliantly danceable set to a large, younger crowd. The London house group often works in rock melodies through their seamless EDM beats, creating unique and gorgeous soundscapes. From team of DJs of which they are comprised, from the frontier pushing genre obliteration they embody, from the giggle inducing silly name, these dudes rock.
Staff favorite Explosions in the Sky took their sweet time setting up, however, upon taking the stage these Texas post-rockers were met by the indifferent showgazing of generation X, Y, and Z. The vocal free, expansive harmonies created by Explosions are nothing short of cosmically moving – on their records. Surprisingly enough, as a hardcore fan of the group, I was very let down by their performance. That warm, ambient energy was there, but something was missing. It’s sort of like dying and arriving at the pearly gates, only to find out God is just some unshaven old dude you might have seen on America’s Most Wanted. Overall, their set was charmingly decent, but sorely missing that “wow” factor.
The inexplicable headliners, Death From Above 1979, are a duo raveled in Canadian mystery. Despite being contributors to MSTRKRFT and Femme Fatale, the drummer and bassist perform in the last set on the main stage to many attendees’ puzzlement. Having released only one album (which has been remixed to no end) the guys were rumored to have been broken up in 2006, however, reunited only just this year for select shows. After hearing them play it is immediately apparent exactly why the two split – Death From Above 1979 sucks! Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan as the next ironically miming hipster. Their album was great, though presumably it may have been post-produced to perfection, leaving little leeway in their live performances for the sound fans are accustomed to. Their drum and bass instrumentation relied heavily on distortion effects, which becomes very difficult live. Also, the dude can’t sing. I picture them in the studio doing 20 or so takes for each song before they nailed it. If you get the opportunity to go to one of their reunion shows, do yourself a favor and stay home and listen to the album instead.
I think it might be worth mentioning here that one covered stages (the smallest) was completely dedicated to comedy. In the sweltering heat, FYF took advantage of people’s natural desire for to seek shelter from the sun by hiding the comedy stage inside a shaded tent. One minute you think you’re going to get to sit down and finally stop sweating balls, the next you are getting old Comedy Central specials regurgitated in your face. That’s not the say the actual comics weren’t funny – they were actually hilarious… when I saw them do the same bits on TV years ago. Also, the two guys they found to host the whole spiel, who you would thing should be your comedy anchors, were more like humorless robot news anchors. FYF will always be about the music, but like rehab, the option is there for those who want it.
If you have a friend who “isn’t really into music” (these people actually exist!) then FYF would be a choice festival for them to get to see some amazing bands perform live and figure out just what genres they prefer. Remember, a good friend wouldn’t let a fellow fiend go on living with music, and a fiend living without music doesn’t live long.