Review: Camp Flog Gnaw celebrates weirdness, individuality and branding

Tyler, the Creator performs on the Camp Stage during Day 1 of Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival 2017 at Exposition Park.
(Rich Fury / Getty Images)

When Tyler, the Creator launched the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in 2012, it was a way to put his Odd Future collective’s raucous approach to hip-hop on full display while marking the close of the group’s tour that year.

L.A. Live’s Club Nokia (now the Novo) anchored the daylong event that paired performances from the creative camp’s many offshoots with traditional carnival fare like games, rides and an array of deep fried delights.

Quite a lot has changed since Camp Flog’s inaugural year.

Odd Future’s members have gone from internet sensations churning out free mixtapes and quirky YouTube videos to bona-fide rap and R&B stars with a reach that over the years has included a retail store on Fairfax Avenue and an Adult Swim series.


And Tyler has turned his zany brand into a small empire that includes a fashion line, a mobile app and a new series on Viceland. So it comes as no surprise that Camp Flog, now in its sixth year and produced by the rapper alongside festival juggernaut Goldenvoice, has swelled alongside its founder’s growing commercial ambitions.

In its second year as a two-day event, this weekend’s blowout at Exposition Park, where it’s been held since 2013, was as much about being a quirky, escapist playground as it was celebrating the countercultural yet marketable spirit Tyler and Odd Future have fostered.

The bill was deeply stacked across a myriad of genres and moods — singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey, R&B star Solange, electronic act Justice and hip-hop artist Kid Cudi were among the highlights — and the 40,000 festivalgoers who poured into Saturday’s opening were met with far more than music.

Stomach-churning rides with names like High Voltage, Pharaoh’s Fury and Hi-Flyer sent guests whirling and flipping into the sky, while multiple Ferris wheels provided gentle, serene views of the main stage.


Classic carinval games occupied fans between sets, while those who couldn’t bear to miss the World Series match between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros crowded into a pop-up sports bar — their cheers drowned out by the sounds of Mac Miller’s jazzy main stage show nearby.

Skate brand and film company Illegal Civilization screened short movies at an outdoor theater that featured dozens of plush benches underneath lighted trees (the audience listened with wireless headphones), and there were enough branded pop-up shops and food booths/trucks to give Coachella a run for its money.

Additionally, given the weekend’s proximity to Halloween, people came clad in wings and capes and donned face paint. Yet even if the holiday hadn’t been around the corner, such attire would have felt normal at Camp Flog, given the free-spirted vibe that Tyler and his Odd Future cohorts have long upheld.

Artist 6Lack performs during the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival at Exposition Park.
(Christopher Polk / Getty Images )

Odd Future’s classic pink doughnut motif was seen almost everywhere (branded hats, T-shirts and socks adorned many), and billboards for Tyler’s Golf clothing line, Le Fleur Shoes and his latest album, “Flower Boy,” hugged the ground’s perimeter.

A large sculpture of the golden yellow shoes he released through Converse glowed in the night and served as a hangout spot for fans who lounged underneath, many of them matching wardrobes with the installation.

In fact, if fans didn’t come dressed in Tyler’s Golf fashions — and many did — they crowded the massive retail store that had been erected on the grounds or faced off at carnival games where all the prizes were branded merchandise. Hats, throw blankets, socks and lighters were among the goodies available, and one would be hard-pressed to find empty-handed fans in the crowd.

Camp Flog’s biggest success, though, wasn’t just distilling Odd Future’s kooky aesthetics for the masses. Ultimately, the fest offered a necessary respite from the weariness of current events. At a time when the world feels constantly on edge, the festival offered escapism at its purest form.


Just weeks earlier, a gunman had opened fire on the country music-focused Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Yet such a tragedy hasn’t stopped fans from seeking solace via the communal power of music festivals. The sold-out Camp Flog sought to ease any tension with a bit of a theme park feel.

That’s not to say that the weekend was devoid of seriousness. The bill featured plenty of artists with a lot to say. Solange’s meditations on black life, Kehlani’s uplifting manifestoes, Kid Cudi’s honest exploration of mental illness and Brockhampton’s push for inclusiveness were all potent reminders that life outside this crazy, colorful carnival isn’t always fun.

“Middle finger up,” the members of Migos seethed amid their set of hits Saturday night.

Even Tyler, who made a name with brash in-your-face rants, had a moment of vulnerability amid all his spastic posturing. “I can’t even lie, I’ve been lonely,” he rapped, as his legions of followers — many dressed head to toe in fashions he dreamed up — shouted the lyrics back.


Here, at least, he was among friends — and disciples.

For more music news follow me on Twitter:@GerrickKennedy