The long term build-up to this year’s FYF Festival had centered around how well the organizers had dealt with some of last year’s more glaring logistical issues following the move to Exposition Park as a venue, yet on the eve of day one the story was unavoidably about the man who wasn’t there. Those who were eagerly anticipating Frank Ocean’s only live appearance of the year would be left hugely disappointed following what was suspiciously dismissed as a “scheduling conflict.” I’m sure there will be more to come out about what exactly happened there.

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Kevin Morby
All photos by Laura Chirinos

In the meantime, there was plenty else to keep us occupied. Saturday always looked like the thinner lineup, but it was still eye-catching in its versatility and quality. We spent our early afternoon checking out the three other stages, beginning with the inoffensive Americana of Kevin Morby at the Lawn Stage. “Inoffensive” always seems like a backhanded compliment, but in truth Morby’s set was one of those that would benefit from a more intimate setting.

It was nevertheless focused on some of his more expansive work and was more distinctive than the fun but derivative indie pop of Broncho on the Trees Stage. This is a band with evident talent that focuses a little too much on the big obvious hook to really stand out in terms of personality.

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Broncho

One of the more dispiriting trends of recent festival lineups is to load up on EDM stars to the point that individual festivals become somewhat indistinguishable. Despite accusations (occasionally merited) that FYF’s growth has seen it lose something of its identity, this was thankfully kept to a minimum, and the sole afternoon concession to that crowd still ended up being a local act on an independent label. In that sense, DJ Dodger Stadium’s fun set in the indoor Arena managed to be both an example of the smarter end of the genre and a representation of the DIY ethos that made FYF special to begin with.

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DJ Dodger Stadium

The festival’s punk roots were better represented by a couple of acts that focused on guitar rock with very different approaches. The sun blazed our backs as we watched the power trio of METZ from Toronto, and as always, the band delivered a no-holds-barred display of raw punk energy. The trio can sound a little nondescript on record, but they always bring it live, and they seemed to thrive on the uncomfortable heat on stage rather than wilt under it.

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Metz

Better still was Savages on the same stage, arriving comfortably after the sun had set. This is the third time I have seen the band since they emerged a couple of years back, but while their live prowess was evident from the beginning, it has now become a fierce and honed thing of wonder.

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Savages

The presence of plenty of new material (which incidentally sounds a couple of shades darker than their debut album) did nothing to halt the momentum of the set as Jehnny Beth led the quartet in thrilling the evening crowd with their incredibly tight post-punk. They even had the nerve to extend their biggest hit, “Husbands,” into something of a jam, yet somehow it never felt like an indulgence as Beth kept the crowd rapt by clambering on top of the pit to survey the adulation. It was clearly one of the day’s standout sets.

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Savages

Yet for all of the guitar bands on show, the day really belonged to two hip-hop acts. Firstly, Run The Jewels continued the long ascension for El-P and Killer Mike from underground heroes to world conquerors. They’ve had plenty of opportunity to get comfortable with live appearances over a slew of festivals, but in truth, since they began their collaborative period, winning over crowds has been pretty easy for them. It’s amazing what a golden run of great music and an enormous amount of on-stage chemistry will do for your reputation.

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Run The Jewels

There were the not-so-unexpected guest appearances from local heroes Travis Barker and Zach De La Rocha, as the duo did a hell of a job of keeping a crowd enraptured at a main stage that suffered greatly from being put up in the middle of a giant concrete car park area, something that really detracted from the summer festival vibe. Still, it didn’t seem to bother Run The Jewels, and it did nothing to kill the excitement of the headliner either, namely the late replacement act, a rapper named Kanye West.

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Run The Jewels

There’s not too much to say about his set. It’s more than likely you already know how you feel about the man and how you feel about his music. It’s also more than likely that those two opinions diverge wildly. Having said that, in the flesh his hour-long set was a reminder of the fact that other than a brief and clearly unplanned cameo from Rihanna and a scheduled one from Travis Scott, the man is right in thinking he can just stand up their on his own and make a crowd go crazy, and his set was a reminder of the sheer number of globe-slaying hits he’s released in his career, not least in a stunning medley during the final ten minutes.

There was little conversation with the crowd, but at the end of a day that saw FYF still struggling slightly with what the festival has now become, we had the image of a genuine superstar owning a huge crowd and expecting us to be grateful for his mere presence. I’m absolutely certain that following his last-minute salvation act, the gratitude belonged to Goldenvoice.

Keep an eye out for our coverage of day two!

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