FYF Festival has new venue but old headaches

 FYF Festival has new venue but old headaches
Against Me! performs during the FYF Fest at the L.A. Sports Arena and Exposition Park on Aug. 23, 2014. (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times)

The FYF Festival's mission sounds simple enough: Book a bunch of inventive, inspired musicians onto a big footprint in Exposition Park and inside the Los Angeles Sports Arena, set up some stages and sell tickets. Fans get to hang out on pretty land just south of USC, see favorites like Phoenix, Little Dragon or the Strokes and maybe fall in love with a few new ones like Kelela or Benjamin Booker.

But those pesky humans! Some of them try to sneak in without paying, so it's necessary to limit the entryways. This meant lines that for many early arrivers Saturday required a two-hour wait. Once inside, many wanted booze, so their IDs needed to be checked. More lines. Craft beer? Sure, but at 6 p.m., the chaotic wait was 30 minutes. Sustenance? Yes, these people needed grub, and without enough vendors — holy cow. Another line.


People sure can be unwieldy.

On Saturday, too many of them wanted into the arena; others already inside ended up in a balcony where they shouldn't have been. When the fire marshal reopened the arena before Todd Terje's mesmerizing set of thumpy disco, the cavernous room quickly filled back up. It stayed that way through Caribou, Four Tet and DJ Harvey.

Such was the first day of the weekend's FYF Fest, which concluded Sunday night with sets from the Strokes, Flying Lotus, Darkside, Built to Spill and others. The festival's keen booking, indie spirit and well-curated offerings, which last year made it the city's best music festival when it happened at Los Angeles State Historic Park, were no match for the new locale's labyrinthine festival layout and the first day's miscalculations. By Sunday, though, these problems had been fixed.

Featuring a roster of rock, rap, electronic and synthetic pop that was highlighted through inspired sets by Four Tet, Ty Segall, Grimes, Joanna Gruesome and Caribou, the gathering was stretched across four stages. Up there, the chaos was remarkably, wonderfully organized.

The diverse music offerings served as an antidote: It's hard to be grumpy when Four Tet is filling the Sports Arena with deep, pointillistic house music, or when the rap team of Run the Jewels is delivering a set every bit as hard and incendiary as that of Japanese experimental metal band Boris. The latter mixed down-tuned riffs with crawling, post-Melvins sludge. The former, consisting of rappers Killer Mike and El-P, spewed righteous indignation while further cementing itself as a team making relevant, furiously tight hip-hop.

Saturday closed with headlining French rock god Phoenix delivering all its singalong hits, while across the pitch and seemingly a million miles away, garage-rock king Segall force-fed fans music from his hot new album, "Manipulator."

Beneath a hard sun Sunday, New Orleans guitarist Benjamin Booker harnessed a powerful rhythm section to present tracks from his new self-titled album. Generating heat through a combo of tight rockabilly and early R&B, Booker delivered one of the fest's best sets.

Equally magnetic was Kelela, who performed from her buzz-generating and bass-heavy 2013 mixtape "Cut 4 Me." As the sun fell on Sunday, Canadian singer Mac DeMarco presented quirky, heartfelt songs that suggested a young Jonathan Richman. The set would have been perfect were we not all standing on the hot afternoon asphalt in front of the main stage. (Sunday evening's sets occurred after press time.)

In fairness to FYF Fest organizers, however, the reason for this year's challenges was the festival's grand success as a pioneer in downtown Los Angeles. It was born as a ragtag punk rock party dubbed the F Yeah Fest in Echo Park; then, its upstart promoters had a notion that the underused Los Angeles State Historic Park could be a perfect outdoor concert space: close to both downtown and the Chinatown Metro stop, with ample parking and room for expansion.

Apart from one year in which FYF suffered miscalculations at the park similar to those that occurred Saturday, the festival eventually mastered that area. Its success drew other promoters to use the park for events. Thanks in large part to FYF's vision, the state is investing in a renovation that will improve the site for future large-scale concerts.

But that didn't help us this year. Anarchy's fine to celebrate when you're a teenager and nothing is at stake. Just ask Against Me! leader Laura Jane Grace, who delivered her band's "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" to an adrenaline-heavy crowd. The moshing and crowd surfing was intense — probably letting off steam after the long lines of Saturday.

Twitter: @LilEdit