Review: Powerful surprises at every turn at FYF Fest 2013


This post has been updated. Please see note at bottom for details.

Those looking for evidence that the 10th annual FYF Fest had hit a Saturday afternoon peak found it during songwriter Ty Segall’s set. As he and his band pushed a hard-strummed acoustic guitar-driven song, the crowd up front danced frantically.

Suddenly, a pair of pants flew up from the pit, floated in the air, legs akimbo, then drifted back into the crowd. Up they flew again, and you had to wonder about the potentially trouser-less participant below. Was he or she so lost in the moment that the pants just had to go? Judging by the enthusiasm, I’d wager yes.


FYF Fest: A review of FYF Fest in the Aug. 26 Calendar section said that more than 20,000 fans attended the weekend event in downtown L.A. The attendance was more than 30,000.

Whether pants and human were ever reunited is unknown. But the hits, however underground they may have been, just kept on coming this past weekend at Los Angeles State Historic Park in Chinatown.

PHOTOS: FYF Fest 2013

A shaggy-headed Mikal Cronin delivered catchy, acid-drenched rock to the gathered masses Saturday afternoon. Across the pitch on another stage, Brooklyn rap duo the Underachievers sampled the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” The veteran L.A. punks in Flag tore through Black Flag’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” singer Keith Morris bellowing the chorus.

As more than 30,000 underground rock, soul, folk, punk, house, hip-hop, techno and experimental electronic music fans baked in the sun and then chilled under the stars, TV on the Radio offered hard new material — huge guitar anthems that echoed off the warehouse walls. Los Angeles beat producer Nosaj Thing delivered thick, scatterbrained synthetic rhythms and sampled Kendrick Lamar’s L.A. anthem “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Mesmerizing guitar rock band Deerhunter’s lead singer, Bradford Cox, sang with his head enveloped in a creepy-looking scarf.

Each was memorable in its own way, part of a music event whose tastes are as wonderfully unpredictable as the music swirling within shuffle-generation brains. An event geared to the tastes of the left-of-center music fans, FYF offered a virtually seamless and aesthetically varied two-day festival. The pit during San Francisco garage punk band Thee Oh Sees was swirling, crowd-surfing chaos — but so was the sweaty center of the dance tent when Horse Meat Disco dropped the classic synth-disco jam “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc.

FYF Fest: The Sunday artists to see, hour by hour

Four stages, dozens of food trucks and merchants spread over an easily traversable plot of acreage, FYF Fest has been called a mini-Coachella, which is somewhat accurate. The fests share an aesthetic — indie rock, punk, dance music and hip-hop — and many of the bigger bands at FYF, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, My Bloody Valentine, MGMT, Dan Deacon, TV on the Radio and Devendra Banhart, have also performed in Indio. This event is much more manageable, for obvious reasons, and as such it’s much more relaxing.

But despite the smaller scale, the surprises arrived with equal power.

Magnificent soul singer Charles Bradley and his band poured every ounce of sweat into their late Saturday afternoon performance. Wearing maroon pants, vest and a sheer black shirt, the sixtysomething Floridian roared through the sunshine, his Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-suggestive yowls and Otis Redding-esque pleadings echoing across the park. A commanding performer, Bradley should offer lessons to many of the young singers around the festival. He foot-shuffled, he thrust his pelvis, he gesticulated with his arms while offering big-boned soul and blues. He was impossible to ignore.

Jonathan Richman performed an early Sunday set under a hot sun, singing an ode to suffering that seemed apt. Wet with sweat from dancing, the Boston iconoclast sang about the necessity of pain. “When we refuse to suffer, when we refuse to feel, your life becomes a bore, and you’re suffering even more,” he sang.

Later that afternoon, young singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco delivered a rousing set of smart songs that had his growing fan base screaming along. His “Ode to Viceroy” was a love song to his favorite cigarette. One fan honored the sentiment by smoking — while crowd surfing.

PHOTOS: FYF Fest 2013

But on a bigger scale, what the FYF Fest has accomplished goes further than merely throwing a great outdoor music party. When the festival moved from a duct-taped, DIY gathering occurring (in the early years, just barely) in Echo Park to L.A. State Historic Park, the producers saw land perfect for a festival. They were the pioneers of that plot and helped lay the foundation for other music festivals to use the land for large-scale events. With the downtown Los Angeles skyline as a backdrop and a yellow moon hanging low in the sky, evidence that this is a perfect use of the land surrounded us.

And though in years past, FYF suffered from growing pains — long lines, artists not having adequate preshow accommodations — these hiccups have passed. Though the site was crowded, the vibe remained calm, easy and, well, nice.

For example, during a break in Torrance hard-core punk band Joyce Manor’s tough Saturday set, unfortunately shortened by technical difficulties, a moshing fan screamed up from the pit that he’d lost his phone. As technicians worked on a powerless amp, singer-guitarist Barry Johnson asked to crowd to keep an eye out. Ha. Yeah, right.

A few minutes later, though, as the band tore through scream-along punk and the fans slammed and crowd-surfed, a single arm shot up from the mess, holding a Samsung. Crisis averted — though whether the phone survived the stomping feet is another issue.

[Update, 5 p.m. Aug. 28: An earlier version of this post said that more than 20,000 fans attended the FYF Fest. The total number of attendees, according to FYF’s post-concert numbers, was in fact more than 30,000.