Kanye West was just a few songs into his headlining set at Saturday’s opening night of FYF Fest when he proclaimed that he might get “too hype” and knock himself out.
The headline-grabbing rapper was eyeing his stage set, a grid of flashbulbs arranged as a false ceiling, as it was lowered precipitously close to his head. West’s energy reverberated through the audience, reinvigorating the crowd after a day of intense heat at the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena and Exposition Park.
West filled in for previously planned headliner Frank Ocean, who backed out of the two-day festival on Thursday. There was disappointment among the thousands who paid upwards of $175 for tickets to the two-day event. Ocean is a beloved R&B star whose intimate style connects deeply with fans, and he rarely performs.
But the volatile, noisy West (and guest stars during his set like Rihanna) may have been a blessing in disguise. He delivered one of the most spirited performances on a bill that included sets by Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus and Bloc Party on multiple stages. Sunday will feature Morrissey and D’Angelo.
FYF started as a punk rock festival a decade ago, and there is no figure in music that better represents the ethos of doing what you want, whenever you want, than West. His recent material has been informed by noise music and avant-garde electronic music, all of which abounded at FYF.
The excitement he brought to the festival was a welcome change from last year, when long lines and endless walking between stages at FYF left fans close to exhaustion by the time the headliner took the stage.
In earlier years FYF earned a reputation as a well-crafted festival that always suffered from navigational challenges. Last year when the festival moved to Exposition Park, it was saddled with crucial logistical issues, such as extensive waits for entrance and food and drink. And at the arena, capacity concerns for the estimated 40,000 who attended slowed entry. The fest even sent out an apology email to fans.
Organizers worked to eliminate those issues ahead of this year’s festival.
A “new improved shortcut” between the Coliseum lawn and the main stage sliced the walking time down significantly. But the walk from the main entrance to the main stage is still a drag and switching between stages is difficult — especially once the arena starts to get crowded and hundreds of festival-goers are lined up outside.
Sets by artists such as Run the Jewels made up for the slog. The acclaimed hip-hop duo of fiery, funny veterans Killer Mike and El-P bumped a virtuosic, party-starting main-stage set (with guest stints from Zack de la Rocha and the Memphis hero Gangsta Boo, among others).
Another last-minute addition, the L.A. experimental producer Flying Lotus, filled the Sports Arena to near capacity for a DJ set spanning the outer orbits of brain-frying club music laced with a free jazz mentality.
Back outside, the UK post-punk band Savages held a large crowd spellbound with a hissing, churning performance that proved bleak moods could be rousing when backed by three of rock’s strongest instrumentalists. When singer Jehnny Beth sang “Sad Person,” a new song forthright about its ceaseless malaise, the crowd surged at this unexpected anthem.
Across the field, the L.A. beat-music act Shlohmo expanded his palette with live instrumentation that added sizzle to his misty, after-hours sounds. Ditto for Jon Hopkins, the electronic artist and Brian Eno and Coldplay collaborator who left a smaller but devoted Sports Arena crowd dizzy with bass lines from the club music ether.
Bloc Party, one of the defining mid-aughts bands to introduce dance music to indie rockers, had a quiver of crowd-favorite hits but lost a step with a revamped lineup. Chet Faker’s airy lite-funk had huge crowds yet felt a bit cloying here. But the electro duo Purity Ring had no trouble captivating a post-Kanye crowd with big melodies and bewitching arrangements.
That’s not to say that Ocean’s absence didn’t thwart the night for some fans. Marcos Chappell and his girlfriend built their summer vacation around Ocean’s scheduled appearance, he said, and he was disappointed by the eleventh-hour change after spending $2,000 on tickets, travel and lodging for himself and his girlfriend.
“Frank is our favorite. We’ve seen Kanye West several times,” said the 29-year-old Richmond, Va., native. ”We’ve never been to L.A. but we would have picked a different city.”
But FYF’s blend of difficult sounds and earnest enthusiasm has proved to have a mass appeal that’s still growing. Younger fests like Berserktown and Runaway are holding up the scrappy spaces FYF used to occupy, because now it’s edged into almost-Coachella terrain. Even if FYF is still white-knuckling with its lineup at the last minute, now the fest is finally pulling it all off in the big leagues.