As a kid growing up in Los Angeles county, I took plenty of field trips to the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the same area for a music festival – the music festival of LA, FYF Fest. Apart from the trip down memory lane, I had an amazing time enjoying all the great music the 2014 occasion had to offer.
FYF Fest came from humble beginnings as the vision of an 18-year-old music enthusiast. Now in its eleventh year, FYF’s certainly come a long way, and this year’s sold-out festival marked its first year at the larger LA Sports Arena & Exposition Park. Despite some growing pains that naturally come with increased attendance and an entirely new venue, FYF Fest had one of the best lineups I’ve seen this year for any music festival, and all in all it was a well-organized and memorable musical experience.
My buddy Chris and I arrived at Exposition Park after a relaxing lunch at the world-famous pastrami sandwich restaurant Langer’s in Westlake. We spotted a line going into the festival, so we walked in the direction that we thought would lead us to the end of the line. After rounding a corner…and two more corners, we realized that the line had wrapped around the entire festival grounds. It took about an hour and a half to get in, and the hot sun didn’t help our wait. Still, we were patient because we knew that the music would be worth the wait – and wow, was it worth it!
After getting through the security line and scanning our wristbands, we were finally in the festival. We wasted no time getting to our first set of the day and made a beeline to the Arena Stage, which turned out to be in the LA Memorial Sports Arena. Suddenly, the hot sunny day transformed into a cool, starry night as we entered the air-conditioned indoor venue and watched Slint perform their classic Spiderland in its entirety. As one of the founding bands of the math-rock/post-rock subgenre, the group kept me absolutely transfixed with its loud-soft dynamics, explosion of guitars, and whispered, spoken word-like lyrics. It was such a spellbinding performance and instantly became my favorite of the entire festival. Not a bad start to FYF, I must say!
After Slint’s set, we finally had some extra time to explore the festival grounds and enjoy some LA-based craft beer in the nice shade by some trees. I loved the lo-fi feel of a lot of the decorations. Unlike the fancy art installations at some of the larger festivals (I’m looking at you, Coachella), the installations here were simple, fun, and quirky (including a bunch of random emojis).
We finished our drinks just in time for Little Dragon’s set at the Lawn Stage, located right in front of the Natural History Museum. Having seen the band perform at last year’s Treasure Island Music Festival, I have to say they did not miss a beat, energetically playing songs from their new album as well as crowd favorites. The Viking doppelganger keyboardist made his return, and we left the set in good spirits, ready for a quick dinner.
Chris and I had barely begun eating our pizzas when we heard the ethereal sounds of the English shoegaze/dream pop band Slowdive. We scarfed down our food and made a dash back to the Lawn Stage because we didn’t want to miss out on this classic group’s performance. The swirling and peaceful sounds of guitar and vocals filled the air as the sun set in the sky, and we bobbed our heads to the blissful music. We left the set a few songs early to catch another group called Caribou, but we arrived at the Sports Arena only to be turned away because the indoor venue had reached capacity. It was a bit disappointing to miss the set, but thankfully the festival organizers fixed this issue in time for the next day’s indoor sets.
We checked out the Main Stage for the first time to experience New York rock band Interpol’s performance. I loved how the group channeled New York in its sound, and closing my eyes I could picture late nights, subway rides, and city life. After a quick stop to catch the tail-end of Japanese experimental metal band Boris, we made it back to the Lawn Stage for Grimes’ synthpop performance. And performance it was – Grimes bounced happily along to her music while simultaneously singing and moving in sync with her back-up dancers. I was especially impressed that she was playing a live set, looping her own voice and showing her chops as an electronic music producer.
Our last set of the day was French alt-rock band Phoenix, who played another amazing set, similar to their 2012 Coachella performance, complete with crowdsurfing and some of their more well-known songs thrown into the mix.
I was impressed by the festival organizers’ quick turnaround – most the issues from the first day were fixed by the second day, and they gave out free water bottles to boot. After enjoying brunch and lunch while exploring the city proper, Chris and I parked at the festival and got ready to wait in line to get in. Except there was no line. We got into the festival grounds immediately and happily headed to our first set, once again inside the Sports Arena.
Les Sins is the dance side project of Toro Y Moi, and we definitely danced to the beats in the cool indoor venue, enjoying the hip hop influence and voice samples before heading back out into the sun to watch post-hardcore band La Dispute perform at the Trees Stage, where a Goodyear blimp and GoPro drone both flew overhead. Back at the Main Stage we caught part of Mac DeMarco’s super chill rock set. I loved his laid-back and relaxed style, and he seemed completely at ease joking around with the huge crowd and playing some great music
After another quick stop at the Lawn Stage for indie rock band Built to Spill, we headed over for Blood Orange’s night time set. I’d been listening to his most recent album in the weeks leading up to the festival, so this was one of my most-anticipated sets. His performance didn’t disappoint. Imagine Michael Jackson, Nile Rodgers, and Prince mixed into one person, and you get Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. The set was fun, with backup dancers, guest singers, lots of lights, and of course great indie pop music with R&B, funk, and New Wave influences.
We crossed our fingers as we made our way to the Arena for Darkside’s set. The group is planning to break up after this year, so we knew this was a must-see set. The only problem was that the venue was once again at full capacity. Meanwhile, a huge crowd had gathered at the entrance, and we collectively held our breaths for any solution. After ten minutes or so, the problem was solved – once again the festival organizers pulled through and decided to open up the balcony area for excess capacity, and we proceeded to enjoy a brooding, mind-blowing electronic performance. The floor was entirely dark, and at one point when the bass finally kicked in, the lights flashed and my heart nearly stopped as I caught a glimpse of the huge crowd absolutely jamming to the music, before the floor went dark again.
We took a break afterward and danced to John Talabot’s DJ set before heading to the most anticipated performance of the entire festival – The Strokes. The band arrived at the Main Stage fashionably late and wasted no time playing their hits in what came to be a career-spanning set. We bobbed our heads to “Reptilia,” danced to “Last Nite,” and even enjoyed a concert rarity “New York City Cops.” It was a treat watching the band play live, especially after realizing how rare live performances have become for a band that was plagued with long hiatuses. It was the best ending to FYF Fest 2014 and represented the amazing job the organizers did as the festival continues to grow and attract a huge variety of great music. I can’t wait for what the coming years will bring!