Review: The Gary Richards-programmed All My Friends joins the crowded California festival scene

Review: The Gary Richards-programmed All My Friends joins the crowded California festival scene
Jhené Aiko performs Saturday night at the All My Friends music festival in Los Angeles. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Jhené Aiko wanted to finish on a high note.

“Can we do one more song?” the R&B singer asked as she wrapped up her performance Saturday night at the inaugural All My Friends music festival. “We gotta party like it’s the last night of our lives.”


This was Aiko’s introduction to “OLLA (Only Lovers Left Alive),” a spirited pop-soul jam for which she brought to the stage her boyfriend, rapper Big Sean, as well as a few dozen folks from the crowd who proceeded to dance around the couple.

The scene was undeniably jubilant. But when the song ended, the party did too: Drink plenty of water, Aiko advised everyone as she made her exit, and be sure to get eight hours of sleep.

Hedonism tempered by reality — that was kind of the vibe at All My Friends, which took place Saturday and Sunday at Row DTLA, a mixed-use office-and-entertainment complex in the buzzy Arts District of downtown Los Angeles.

With a lineup that also included rap and dance-music acts such as Gucci Mane, RL Grime and Smokepurpp, the two-day festival was the first large-scale event presented by former Hard Summer mastermind Gary Richards after his recent departure from that Southern California institution.

The festival took place at Row DTLA in the Arts District.
The festival took place at Row DTLA in the Arts District. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Which means that the veteran promoter (who performed Saturday under his DJ name, Destructo) was eager to show he could still throw a great party minus the proven brand name that drew tens of thousands to Hard Summer earlier this month.

The results were decidedly mixed.

In terms of music, the relatively cozy All My Friends — with an audience of about 10,000 on Saturday, according to a representative — sought to move away from the in-your-face EDM that dominates Hard and other mega-raves like Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas.

“I had to try to figure out a new formula for the music,” Richards told The Times in April, adding that he was targeting people ages 27 to 35.

At those other shows, Aiko’s trippy, delicate R&B would never survive the atmosphere of booming beats. Here, though, she was accompanied by a harpist and mused between songs about the importance of “dwelling in the present moment” — a refreshing change of pace at a festival, even if her stuff could get a little drifty.

Gucci Mane was more commanding as he cycled quickly through some of the boisterous hip-hop tracks that have made him one of the most influential figures in Atlanta’s trap scene. (His leopard-print tracksuit, worn without a shirt, helped keep your attention.)

Gucci Mane performs.
Gucci Mane performs. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

But the rapper’s slick 30-minute appearance also felt deeply perfunctory — nothing more than a paycheck for an artist unmoved to complicate this crowd’s understanding of him and his work.

Headlining the main stage — All My Friends had three overall — was Grime, the L.A.-based producer whose songs marry muscular trap percussion with shimmering pop melodies.

He was fine. (M.I.A., Jamie xx and Armand Van Helden were among the acts scheduled to perform Sunday after deadline for this article.)

The best performance I saw Saturday was a long set of warmly ecstatic house music — impassioned vocals, funky bass lines, grooves that seemed to stretch out forever — from the clever Boston duo Soul Clap, which felt like precisely the thing to distinguish All My Friends from its comparatively boorish competition.

RL Grime performs.
RL Grime performs. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

But even when the music was right, the festival’s iffy setting made true enjoyment difficult.

Richards has spoken about his desire to present his new show close to home, in contrast with Hard, which in recent years has gone down in Fontana and San Bernardino. (After FYF Fest was canceled in May, reportedly due to low ticket sales, All My Friends’ marketing efforts seemed to emphasize the idea that this was now the only major festival set to be held in L.A. this summer.)

But with its hulking warehouses and its many, many square feet of unshaded asphalt, Row DTLA — which will be used again in October for a music-and-comedy event sponsored by Adult Swim — doesn’t exactly set the mind free to wander.

The space is sufficient for a free or low-cost night catering to the neighborhood. Yet All My Friends and Adult Swim, each with single-day tickets around $100, have ambitions well beyond that.

Was it convenient to drive home after Saturday’s show instead of booking a hotel room, as one does out in the desert for Coachella? Sure.

But one reason the American festival scene has exploded the way it has over the last decade is because promoters understand that ticket-buyers are in search of an escape — an immersion-level experience provided by Coachella’s dramatic landscape, for instance, or the coherent story FYF has told about art and culture.

All My Friends made gestures toward that with a “blow dry bar” and a booth selling biodegradable body glitter.

But then you’d turn around and glimpse the golden arches of a McDonald’s at the corner of Alameda and 7th Streets.

Nobody would want to see that on the last night of his life.