After a thrilling but exhausting first day at FYF Fest I fully expected us to turn up on Sunday weary and aching, so it was to my complete surprise that both my photographer wife and I found ourselves rejuvenated by an excellent night’s sleep and arguably feeling stronger than we had at the beginning of day one. A gentle start catching some stand-up comedy in Samantha’s Tent helped before we launched ourselves into another busy day of live music.
We stayed in the tent for our first act of the day, Bay Area rapper Antwon, who took to the stage with two hype men and his huge and imposing DJ to deliver his brand of eclectic hip hop. Anyone who has listened to his End Of Earth mixtape from last year knows to expect the unexpected from Antwon, and the set duly delivered with songs that mix a heavy ’90s West Coast rapping style with backdrops that alternate between all kinds of sounds, from chugging guitar to icy ’80s electro.
This is a man for whom pigeonholing is not an option, and combined with his stage presence and punk-rock energy, the eclecticism made for an invigorating start to the day. I still feel a little like he needs to focus some of his eccentricities into stronger songwriting, but he has the foundation to become a fascinating underground rapper and a prominent live fixture.
Next up we headed towards the Miranda Tent where we prepared for a triple bill, with food trucks conveniently stationed right behind the stage for our next refueling. We pitched up here initially for Chelsea Wolfe, an artist whose work has become difficult to classify, leading to some rather odd descriptions, but “doom-folk” will do for now as a short, if somewhat inadequate summary. A constantly heavy cloud hung across the majority of the set, with hazy guitars entwining with Wolfe’s echoing, ethereal vocals.
The music was rich with atmosphere, but not so much as to undermine the strength of Wolfe’s new material (her latest album, Pain Is Beauty, will be released next week, and it’s a corker), which was evidence of someone who has absolute clarity when it comes to her sound. The only drawback of an otherwise effective performance was the timing. Wolfe’s unique appeal demands an evening time slot as I’m sure she would sound even better under the night sky, but her relatively low profile saw her relegated to a sunny afternoon slot despite the fact that she is an intriguing local artist.
From there it was a 180-degree turn to another local act: hardcore punk band Touché Amoré. The band deals in a brand that used to be termed “screamo” back in my college days. It was a genre I never really cared for, but the LA natives have found a real sweet spot between innovative guitar work and the emotive lyrics and vocals of lead singer Jeremy Bolm. Indeed, when Bolm paused at the end of the opening track of the set and basked in the sound of dozens of fans shouting along word for word, it was a goose pimple moment.
This moment clearly overwhelmed Bolm himself, who, like me, was astonished to hear such devotion at a late-afternoon festival set. Touché Amoré reciprocated this love with a tight and fiery performance that saw them fly through a good two dozen songs, revealing one of their strengths to be editing songs down until they are no longer than necessary. A couple tracks from their forthcoming new album (Is Survived By is due in September) suggested that the band has developed their sound further towards something even more impressive. Seeing as they tour incessantly, they will be well worth catching on their next trip to the city.
Our final act on the Miranda Stage was Baroness, which had to register as the feel-good set of the weekend. The band was due to perform last year, but instead spent most of the second half of 2012 recovering from a horrific and near-fatal bus crash in the UK. That they survived is fortunate. That they have made it back to playing and touring is a testament to the members’ sheer will and dedication.
Just appearing at all was enough to get the crowd on Baroness’ side (especially after the least necessary apology in history for missing last year’s festival), but their set was the best of the day, a performance of rock that thrives on old-school elements like mighty riffing and soaring choruses. The guitar work was terrific throughout, and “March To The Sea” in particular sounded epic.
Baroness is a band that took a little while for me to warm to initially, but there is something hugely likable about any band that is so hard working and dedicated, relying on old-fashioned elbow grease, not to mention that they are simply one of the best rock bands in the country right now. To me they look like the potential heir to the throne currently occupied by Queens of the Stone Age. Plus they were badass enough to warm up for this set by playing an old Iron Maiden song beforehand, which gets them extra brownie points.
We had three acts remaining, two of which were on the main stage (Carrie, as she was known for the weekend).
I have never been convinced by Beach House on record, their dream pop always passing me by somewhat and failing to engage me. My decision to catch them at FYF was mainly based on a glowing live review from fellow LAmb writer David Fisch, so I decided with a relatively thin time slot to give them a go.
Staring out onto the downtown skyline with the stars above the city, the band gave a pretty mesmerizing performance, with a gorgeous visual backdrop that complemented the music perfectly. Even as a total agnostic, this was hypnotic stuff, and Victoria Legrand’s voice sounded like honey after two days of harsh dust inhalation and hot temperatures. The music had the effect of a cool breeze, and I have to give credit where it’s due: in terms of my ratio of expectation to result, this was the most surprisingly enjoyable set we saw all weekend.
FYF’s reputation for catering to the more left-field side of musical taste is what makes it a special festival, but for our penultimate act of the weekend we decided to head to the Charlotte Stage for something a little more mainstream.
Solange has had something of a stop-start recording career so far, being forced to live a little in the shadow of an older sister who is about as famous as you can get. However, she has recently begun to emerge as a pretty special artist in her own right, and she took to the stage with a live band to transform the field into a giant dance floor one last time.
Solange’s statement of intent turned out to be her footwear. In her words, she chose flat pumps instead of four-inch heels because she came to dance. What initially started as an understandably tired crowd slowly got into the spirit of things and began to lap up Solange’s smooth soul music. By the time she got to “Losing You” (which started the biggest dance party we saw at FYF) and a lovely cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move,” the set had become something of a triumph. Solange deserves to be considered a sparkling pop star in her own right, albeit one operating in a different sphere from the other Knowles sibling.
And so it was on to the grand finale, one that came with a very clear warning to wear earplugs. My Bloody Valentine had not played a show in Los Angeles in years, and the band has just released their long, long, long awaited follow-up to the classic Loveless, so it’s a safe bet that this was the most anticipated performance of the weekend.
As far as volume goes, they did not disappoint. This had to be the loudest show I’ve ever been to (clearly audible for a good mile in any direction, I would imagine), and the guitars sounded simultaneously devastating and soothing. My Bloody Valentine had clearly brought their A game to the headline slot and looked to blow the audience away.
However, there was one major glitch, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that the sound was something of a disaster. Vocals have never been high in the mix for the band anyway, but on this occasion they were almost completely inaudible. During “Only Shallow,” the sound cut out completely twice, forcing to the band to pause the set for five minutes to try to figure out the technical difficulties. The set never recovered momentum, and a clearly disappointed Kevin Shields was forced to apologize to the crowd.
It was a sad end to what had been another impressive weekend, especially for those ticket buyers who had come specifically to see the shoegaze legends. If the FYF organizers can figure out the sound issues (seriously, not being able to hear the headliner counts as a major flaw) and some very strange drink-based security policies, there are the makings of a great festival here.
The paying public behaved fantastically all weekend, and as usual they were the ones that made the festival. There is no doubt that FYF has grown to the point where the festival is playing with the big boys. It’ll be fascinating to see how they cope with this increased profile going into their second decade.