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At Camp Flog Gnaw, fans share their rage and depression over the election

At Camp Flog Gnaw, fans share their rage and depression over the election
Chance the Rapper performs Saturday at Camp Flog Gnaw, the festival in Exposition Park in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Cassidy Hill waited in line Saturday for the Camp Flog Gnaw music festival in Exposition Park when she said a twentysomething man knocked into her as he rushed by the gates.

Hill, 33, had come from Texas on a road trip to see the festival, which featured headliners like Lil Wayne, Chance the Rapper and festival founder Tyler, the Creator. The entry lines were crowded, so she didn't think too much of the guy's brusqueness as first.

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That is, she said, until the man turned around and yelled: "Move, you black …," adding a sexist slur to the racial reference.

It's not news that some people have found a way to enjoy music made by African Americans while simultaneously holding racist views. But even at Flog Gnaw, a music festival in urban L.A. headlined by progressive black artists, some fans were left worrying about what the presidential election might portend for young people of color in America.

Sitting underneath a carnival ride by the L.A. Coliseum, Hill cited her run-in at the festival entry gates and said the election was already emboldening some people to express racism that has always existed but previously was hidden from public view. "It's going to show white people this experience of racism that they always said was exaggerated. Now it's all going to be so out in the open."

For five years, Camp Flog Gnaw has been Tyler, the Creator's escapist fantasy. A mix of top-tier hip-hop, experimental indie rock and thoroughly wholesome carnival rides and county fair-type games, the event represents in many ways the best of L.A., where a talented young artist of color can create a 40,000-strong world of his own.

But on Saturday, it was impossible to shake the bleak mood that filtered into the corners of the young crowd.

"Honestly, I'm just starting to come out of my depression," said Julissa Martinez, a 26-year-old visual artist from L.A. She struggled to find a silver lining in Tuesday's election. "Maybe all this emotion can feed into some new creativity. I don't know."

Amari Hollis, a 25-year-old from Dallas, said with a sigh, "I don't know if there's anything to be done." Under President Obama, she said, she was optimistic that the country would see change. "But what can we do now? Already I've seen a new level of rudeness."

The grimness extended to the festival stages, where artists did their best to keep the energy alive while acknowledging the election.

DJ Mustard, usually a genial craftsman of radio-rap hits and EDM-festival wilding, had some harsh words of his own.

"I know we just went through a letdown, letting that racist ... in," he said, using a profane term for Trump. "But looking out there, I see black, I see white, I see brown. All I see is unity. There's only one song I can play right now."

Then he cued up Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," the de facto anthem of the last year's Black Lives Matter protests, and thousands of fans sung, hope against hope, that "We gon' be alright."

Optimism was otherwise hard to come by at Flog Gnaw, but some still found their release. "We have to find ways to ease the stress," said Edwin Henry, 29, from Oakland. "Coming after the first black president, people just don't understand this. But as minorities, we've been going through adversity our whole lives.

"Hopefully with education we can come together and realize the power we have."

Back on the main stage, Chance the Rapper did his best to lighten — or at least uplift — the mood, rooting his set in gospel vocals and regal brass arrangements. But the tone shifted back when Tyler, the Creator played his own set. Tyler, one of rap's most volatile performers, careens over stages with a gangly exuberance. But on Saturday, he was all venom, screaming into the mic with a new baritone fury.

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No one was too surprised when he brought out the Compton rapper YG, whose song "FDT" has become the anthem of the Trump protest movement. During the first wave of rallies last week, the song's unrestrained Trump-loathing bumped from cars across L.A., spurring on the thousands of young people waving signs.

When Tyler and YG played it together on Saturday, it was a blast of catharsis for tens of thousands of Flog Gnaw fans, mostly of color, who were just starting to find a voice for their fear and rage.

As they performed, across main stage field, a ride called the Super Shot kicked into gear. A dozen young fans, strapped into a circle of seats, vaulted 50 feet off the ground to the top of a glowing tower. They screamed with delight as they reached the peak, taking in a view of the whole illuminated festival grounds. The riders paused in the air, and suddenly the bottom dropped out from under them.

"Wars, recessions, it's all going to happen again, but we've been through worse," Hill said. "But I'm a teacher. What do I say to all my black and brown students about what's going to happen to them? What do I say?"

For breaking music news, follow @augustbrown on Twitter.

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