Born as a ramshackle punk rock festival in 2004, the FYF Fest in 2015 will be a whole other beast altogether if founder Sean Carlson has anything to say about it. Yes, guitars will still be loud, but few expect much moshing when headliners including soul singer Frank Ocean and British crooner Morrissey hit the stage.
Carlson is not only fine with this evolution, but he and his team have actively worked to upend expectations — for better and, occasionally, worse — he said during a walk-through of the Exposition Park site a few weeks back. The result? When FYF happens on Aug. 22-23, Carlson hopes that fans will experience an immersion “like going to Disneyland. You can turn your brain off and just smile.”
Among the changes, he said. More pathways around the Sports Arena to reduce travel time; more food vendors in a better location; an additional stage harboring a roster of left-field DJs; a bigger bar area; varied headlining slots and a later 2 a.m. closing time; and a Mac DeMarco tent where the Canadian singer-songwriter will set up shop and do … something.
Disneyland is hardly the template one would expect for FYF, which in earlier years earned a reputation as an excellently curated festival burdened by logistical challenges. After graduating from Echo Park, the festival relocated to the Los Angeles Historic Park near Chinatown, where the first year there was marred by water shortages, long food lines and sound-bleed from neighboring stages.
By the end of its time there in 2013, FYF had mastered the location and the problems had dissipated. Deservedly, by then its reputation had been cemented as a hub of curatorial inventiveness. “It went from a boutique festival to a major festival,” said Carlson walking past the arena and pointing out a triangular plot of land where artists including DJ Harvey and DJ Dodger Stadium will likely play. Part of the ascent is due to promoter Goldenvoice’s backing, which delivered FYF organizational support. Most, though, was because of undeniably adventurous rosters.
In addition to the headliners, this year’s terrific, varied lineup is a little lighter on distorted guitars and heavier on electronic sounds and innovative soul music. Highlights include D’Angelo & the Vanguard, FKA Twigs, the Jesus & Mary Chain, HEALTH, Jon Hopkins, Death Grips, Laura Marling, Run the Jewels and dozens of others.
Last year when the festival moved to this location, the fresh spot once again prompted issues. Long entrance lines resulted in extended waits under the afternoon sun. At the arena, capacity concerns and fire marshal monitoring slowed entry. The fest’s footprint, which holds about 40,000 people, was shaped like a wishbone and required longer-than-necessary walks among the stages.
The issue was basic. “We were always just trying to keep up with things, and we weren’t thinking about the little things of the experience,” said Carlson. “That has a big effect. Now it’s constantly, ‘How do we make this better? Let’s think of it from the female perspective, the male perspective and how we make it a better experience.’”
For 2015, Carlson seems most excited about the later closing time and the shifted set times, a notion he learned at Primavera, the Barcelona, Spain event considered to be one of the most innovative among the major destination concerts.
FYF headliners Ocean and Morrissey will perform in prominent slots, but they won’t necessarily close the festival. When the big names leave, the sets continue. Nor will all the stages simultaneously close. The “tree stage” will host acts until 1 a.m. and the music will extend one more hour.
“It’s all about vibe,” said Carlson. “You want to go in and feel good. You don’t want people going in with a negative attitude. That was the problem last year. The line going into the festival — they already had a negative attitude going in.”
Standing on a potential plot where DeMarco has been allotted space to hang with his fans and do some sort of to-be-determined performance, Carlson is quick to accept blame.
“That was our fault, and even though we fixed it the second day, it didn’t make up for people missing bands they wanted to see.”
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit