Peter Holslin will never pay $10 for chili cheese fries again
FYF is the only big music festival I bother attending. I don’t fuck with Coachella or Bonnaroo or whatever, but FYF is smaller, pluckier, more endearing. I’ve attended FYF almost every year since 2010, and every time something big has gone wrong. But I keep lining up again next year, as do a lot of my friends, ’cause it’s the flaws that make a big event feel more human.
This year, the two-day fest was held at Exposition Park in South L.A., and I honestly felt a little nostalgic for the days in the L.A. State Historic Park when the line to the lone water fountain was absurdly long and the whole place felt like the Dust Bowl. But I’m also happy to see that this punk rock Little Engine That Could has finally made it over the mountain to become a “scalable” brand, as the business majors over at USC might say.
Here’s the highlights and the lowlights and everything in between of FYF 2015.
Best Rapper to Lead Audience in a Sing-Along: Gangsta Boo
I’m sure you read on Pitchfork or whatever that Rihanna and Travis Scott made an appearance during Kanye West’s set. Zach de la Rocha and Travis Barker also showed up for Run the Jewels. But Gangsta Boo, who came out during a performance of “Love Again (Akinyele Back),” showed all these people how it’s done, relaying a message of mutual love and respect in the bedroom by way of an a cappella chant of “He want this clit in his mouth all day!”
Most Jesus-y Post-Punk: Savage’s Jehnny Beth
At the Trees Stage, U.K. post-punks Savages powered through a breathtaking set of old and new songs. Guitarist Gemma Thompson sculpted melodic curls of distortion and reverb over the churning, driving rhythms of bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton. And then singer Jehnny Beth straight up walked atop the crowd. Literally. She was crowd-walking. Suspended above everyone, treading carefully atop hands and shoulders, mean-mugging and barking out lyrics. Finally she did a little jump, a twist, and let the audience catch her in a trust fall and carry her back to the stage.
Worst Lineup Switcheroo: Kanye West instead of Frank Ocean
OK OK OK, Kanye did actually put on a good performance. He had the loudest sound, the biggest bass drum, the Auto-Tune-iest Auto-Tune. He was larger than life and human at the same time—but one man upon the giant stage. But… c’mon. It would’ve been way more amazing to grind to “Pyramids” and hear new songs off Boys Don’t Cry and you know it.
Worst Bathroom Option:
They had these outside by the porta-potties. Four men to a pee pod. You had to get up close to ride this rocket ship. No thanks.
Best Item at the FYF General Store: Blueberry Flavored “Cigar Wraps”
So you could roll blunts with the weed you weren’t supposed to take in.
Band that should’ve been Play Banksy’s Dismaland: HEALTH
L.A.’s HEALTH play a fucked up amalgamation of electronic noise, pummeling dance beats, and fallen angel vocal melodies. Add to that a battery of stuttering strobe lights and the glorious headbanger stage moves of bassist John Famiglietti, and you’ve got the best seizure-inducing ride on Earth.
Band that Needed to Take a Fuckin’ Chill Pill: Death Grips
Does “breaking up” mean nothing anymore? These guys called it quits last year and then turned around and booked a bunch of shows, and so there they were at the Trees stage Sunday night, bathed in blood-red stage lights, making the audience go absolutely fucking bonkers with jarring bursts of anti-music. I ended up getting smacked in the balls during their set, and I wasn’t even close to the mosh pit.
Best Grizzled Old Timers: The Jesus and Mary Chain
It kinda smelled like a leaking porta potty over by the Trees stageat the end of Saturday night, but it was alright because these ’80s Scottish legends were killing it—all skuzzy, fuzzy riffs and catchy melodies with badass attitude.
Most Unnerving Sign of the Times: Cops with Tactical Vests and Drug Dogs
Seriously, there were multiple layers of security at FYF. Maybe some would’ve found it reassuring to know there were people out there who knew what to do in the event of a mass shooting or terrorist attack. But I just found it depressing.
Greatest Reminder of Why Music Matters: D’Angelo & the Vanguard
D’Angelo was performing on the Lawn Stage. He had a flawless falsetto and a pirate bandana wrapped around his head. I lost count of the number of people onstage with him—10, maybe? It included two backup singers wearing Straight Outta Brunswick t-shirts, and a guitarist in a Dick Tracy-style fedora and trench coat, who was busting out gnarly solos on a Flying V electric guitar.
“This for all the victims of police brutality,” D’Angelo said before playing “The Charade,” off last year’s Black Messiah. The backup singers raised their fists in defiance, and the guitarist made his way into an epic solo that channeled the spirit of Jimi Hendrix’s great ode to the killing floors of Vietnam, “Machine Gun.” The guitar wailed with distortion; it felt heavy and dark and real. But then the band launched into “Brown Sugar” and the struggle lifted. Release came as thousands of people danced, waving their arms back and forth in unison, confetti popping in the air.
When you listen to a lot of music, it’s easy to get caught up in the technical side of things. The scene stuff, the hype, the hooks. But D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s set reminded me why music matters in the first place. It was amazing the way they put musical notes to so much violence, anger and frustration—only to turn around and remind us that there’s reason to celebrate after all.