Suburban Chicago’s the Orwells were one of the first bands playing the two-day FYF Fest in downtown Los Angeles, and no doubt one of the least known. Yet the band unknowingly offered what could have been a mission statement for this celebration of the underground and the independent.
“I can’t walk and I can’t dance,” shouted the scruffy, snotty young band, offering up a lyric that doubled as a statement of pride in one’s own misfit status.
If multi-day festivals such as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Lollapalooza are signifiers of what’s trending at the mainstream and just below it, FYF Fest dispenses with any such designs on importance. There’s the occasional artist overlap, of course, but the FYF Fest loosely stitches together a string of below-the-radar scenes.
With an attendance expected to ultimately hit about 25,000 per day -- FYF Fest was not sold-out when gates opened at noon Saturday -- FYF lies on the more modest end of the concert festival spectrum. The majority of artists slated to perform over Labor Day Weekend at the Los Angeles State Historic Park leaned toward the harder edges of rock and the more experimental fringes of electronic.
There were, of course, exceptions. Early Saturday revelers hunted for shade near a stage that bordered the Gold Line to catch Sandro Perri, a Canadian softie who floats between jazzy meditations and moody guitar textures. When Perri leaned on the latter, the songs could be intoxicating, the result of a dark insomniac mind. When the songs leaned more on their electro-jazz, they floated away in the afternoon sun.
There was no danger of that happening to FIDLAR. One of the fastest-rising bands on the L.A punk scene, FIDLAR dotted its stage with beach towels championing the Lakers and cheap beer brands. If it didn’t turn the FYF stage into a basement rec room, it reflected the band’s vibe of hanging out and poking fun
FIDLAR easily could have had a later set than 1:15 p.m., especially based on the large draw, and the band ran through various aspects of frantic punk rock. This is rock ‘n’ roll in the snotty vein of early Green Day and Screeching Weasel, but given nods to West Coast surf rock and even owning a brief flash or two of L.A.'s ‘80s metal scene. In the grand battle of jocks vs. rockers, FIDLAR toes the line, poking fun equally at both, teasing those with surfer dreams and as well as those wearing skinny jeans.
It’s all lighthearted good fun, though. “I Wanna Be Your Cocaine” even cops some Beach Boys riffs in concocting its shout-along party anthem. And like most everything at FYF, it was a jubilee in honor of the weird and the outcasts. The band makes no attempt at being romantics, unless the promise to “make it super awkward” is your thing.
Now in its ninth year, FYF has, however, made an effort to become professional. This is the second year FYF is working with Goldenvoice, the promoter behind Coachella, and while lines to get in the venue were a manageable 30 minutes, there are some corporate concessions here and there.
Vendors, for instance, could be overheard griping they had to raise prices to cover the percentage of sales revenue that must be given to the event (although any concession stand approached by The Times said it was absolutely worth it), and water here is $3, compared to the friendlier price at Coachella of $2.
Musically, when a fest targets the underground, there’s sure to be a fair smattering of acts who are destined to stay there. Electronic artist John Maus, for instance, was an embarrassment, simply shouting the occasional lyric over rudimentary synth pop. Rock act Moonface was better, but stayed awfully close to early ‘80s, Joy Division snyth-darkness.
Thankfully, long-time L.A. cult band Redd Kross was on the bill to draw a connecting line between the underground of yore and punk of today. Now in their mid-to-late 40s, brothers Steven and Jeff McDonald showed the importance that melody and sarcasm play when one a band is trying to not take itself too seriously.
“You’re getting ugly,” Jeff growled, but hey, embrace it, the band seemed to be saying, backing him up with some sing-along “woo-woo’s.”