The Best Of FYF, 2017

Highlights from the dystopian summer.
By    July 25, 2017
Credit: FYF Fest
Credit: FYF Fest

If Coachella is your Snapchatting, EDM-loving younger cousin from Diamond Bar, FYF is your cool, downtown-dwelling older sibling who stays out too late on the weekends and has a deep genre and decade-spanning musical acumen made cohesive by its overall quality. And the outfits are better.

FYF (originally Fuck Yeah Fest for all y’all out of towners) returned to Exposition Park over the weekend, this year expanding from two to three days. Now co-produced by festival behemoth Goldenvoice (who also puts on Coachella and New York’s Panorama Festival), FYF has matured since its days as the grungie DIY fest going down in a Chinatown park. The festival is now huge, with this year’s crowd size occasionally feeling out of control as hordes of humanity crushed through narrow spaces before and after mainstage sets in scenarios that felt claustrophobic bordering on dangerous.

But with this growth also came a world class, megawatt lineup featuring headliners Missy Elliott, the elusive Frank Ocean and Nine Inch Nails, along with sets Björk, Anderson .Paak, Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, Solange, Nicolas Jaar, and many more. It was arguably the strongest and most diverse lineup of the 2017 season. Here are some hits and misses. — Katie Bain

Missy Elliot

FYF17_B-5467-NEW
Credit: FYF Fest

Shortly into her Friday night headlining set Missy Elliott noted that this was her first performance in the United States in a decade — her scene-stealing cameo during the 2016 Katy Perry™ Super Bowl halftime performance notwithstanding — a detail that added gravitas to the already major anticipation surrounding this show. Missy is a legend, an innovator, an artist who has been supa dupa fly since she blew onto MTV in 1997 wearing what appeared to be a Hefty garbage bag and flowing over Timbaland beats that bounced and swerved like organic matter. Seeing her live was an opportunity a lot of us ‘80s babies never thought we’d get, and we all wanted this show to be great. While many argued that it was, from where I was standing what could have been a singular comeback was instead a scattered, undercooked mishmash that did little service to the artist at its center.

The set began with a video montage of career-spanning interviews and Elliott’s many visionary music videos. While the intent was presumably to highlight her legendary status, the effort felt more like Elliott was about to accept a lifetime achievement award than put on a show. Missy – who looked dazzling in a silver sequin tracksuit and waist length hair – in fact got very little play on the stage’s video screens. From the back it was hard to tell if she was even onstage most of the time. Her DJ and hype-man aggressively yelled over her vocals and used ample time to demand the audience cheer, which we obligingly did despite being given very little music. Major hits including “Work It” and “One Minute Man” were boiled down to snippets that didn’t do justice to the tracks or the depth of Elliott’s catalog, and the show show was broken up by a relentlessly used airhorn that would have been more at home at Jack Ü show.

Elliott herself was upfront that there were issues: her shoe lace was untied; she needed some water; her in-ear mic came out, the audience needed to put down their damn cell phones and pay attention. It was a humanizing effect that carried shades of Outkast’s reticent performance at the first weekend of Coachella 2014, but it was presumably not Missy’s intended effect. — KB

Frank Ocean

Roger Ho for FYF Fest
Roger Ho for FYF Fest

Sometime in the last doomed year disguised as a dank meme, Brad Pitt, an ex-journalism student and 53-year old human gravity bong, discovered R&B. It’s unclear how he made through the 90s without coming up on a Jodeci record, but apparently Tarantino never put him up on it during the making of True Romance—lending credence to my axiom that white guys should never rock dreads, even chill cinematic bros named Floyd.

As his most high profile romance in Hollywood suffered the fate of all high profile romances in Hollywood, Pitt discovered Frank Ocean, told GQ about how Frank Ocean had got him in his feelings, and therefore merged emotions with every Frank Ocean (bad) religionist.

So there he was at FYF, shot by Spike Jonze and serenaded by Ocean, speaking into a cell phone that wasn’t made of money, ostensibly to appease the dictums of the black Brad Pitt. I have no concrete statistics, but I surmise that everyone in the audience, including Angelina J. watching on the livestream was jealous of both.

Following a three-year, $500 a night, hotel suite hermitage, Frank Ocean finally returned in an Instant Karma Nike shirt, a slumped out backing band, and his clutch of skeletal but elegant songs. With a few exceptions, Ocean largely makes bedroom music full of scarred laments, irreconcilable distances, and meticulously curated details. Divorce music for dorm rooms or maybe it’s the other way around.

Either way, the songs sounded beautiful. With baptismal enthusiasm, someone told me they were on acid and molly and didn’t quite understand how to process the situation. That sounded right. Everything Ocean does strives for a minimalism that seems alien to the pornographic capitalism of contemporary American culture. When he fucked up a rudimentary keyboard riff, he insisted on re-doing it, blithely uninterested in the judgment of the masses, a perfectionist obsessed with ensuring the finished project showed no scars—no matter how many of his own that he reveals. His showmanship is subtle, almost scared, bone marrow honest.

He has a beautiful voice, which you already know. Sometimes, Ocean leaned a little hard on that 8th wonder resource, made mythic not by its range but for its capability to waver and sow doubt. It rose just high enough to strike those scarcely remembered chords that remind you why wherever you are isn’t where you’re supposed to be. You consider elemental figures that suddenly disappear from your life, your childhood gone, parents spinning in the soil, your siblings scattered. I bet Brad Pitt called home the moment the show was over, even though Frank Ocean told him it wouldn’t do any good. That place no longer exists. — Jeff Weiss

Anderson .Paak

Credit: FYF Fest
Credit: FYF Fest

Was that Anderson .Paak or a supernova onstage Friday night? The crowd for the show on FYF’s second largest Lawn stage was packed (.Paak’d?), with the audience singing along to every word as .Paak bounced between the mic and his drum set, where he set the beat to songs including “Glowed Up” and “Come Down” while singing with his eyes closed. It was easy to imagine him as a child performing for himself in his bedroom mirror while practicing for his inevitable stardom. Returning to his hometown after a lengthy world tour, .Paak demonstrated by that he’s only gotten sharper and more charismatic while on the road. The guy was made for this. —KB

Flying Lotus

Credit: FYF Fest
Credit: FYF Fest

The fact that the no one was dancing during FlyLo’s show-closing Friday night set was less a referendum of the music and more a sign he had successfully mesmerized the audience with the 3-D visuals that brought the show to life. (Glasses were mailed out with tickets.) The characteristically spatial beats combined with imagery that you could legitimately almost reach out and touch were together an apt reminder of why FlyLo has long set the standard for low-key excellence in the LA underground. He rounded out the show by playing the trailer for his feature length directorial debut Kuso, which is wonderfully disgusting and in theaters now. –KB

Iggy Pop

Credit: FYF Fest
Credit: FYF Fest

According to a rumor that I’m obligated to believe, they carried Iggy Pop into a limo horizontally after his show, sliding him into the leather seats like a boxed pizza. If this isn’t true, the laws of biology seem irrelevant. James Osterberg’s blood type is brandy, his skin is made of iguana leather, and even nuclear warheads couldn’t induce a scratch. Because he is still shirtless and shredded, the streetwalking cheetah searching and destroying with obscene accuracy, a human torpedo pummeling the stage with a belt, leaving mics in body bags, leaving the stand prostrate and calling it a bitch. Iggy being Iggy long after his hair should’ve thinned, his body decomposed, and his vertebrae crumped into esoteric Jenga formation.

If there’s anything the last year has taught us it’s that heroes eventually die, even the nominally invincible. Iggy is 70 and considering his mileage he could croak tomorrow, but if that happened, he’d go out on top. Watching Iggy Pop play the hits is one of the supreme and demented joys of existence. Who knows how many of these shows are left? Who knows if anyone half his age can come close? Maybe one day science will catch up to Iggy Pop, but I doubt it. – JW

A Tribe Called Quest

Credit: FYF Fest
Credit: FYF Fest

If Missy Elliott was a cautionary tale for hip-hop legacy acts on the comeback tip, A Tribe Called Quest’s Saturday night mainstage performance was a lesson on how it could and should be done. The group put on a tight, lean performance that didn’t just pay tribute to Phife, who passed away in March at the age of 45, but treated him like the invisible holy spirit by letting his booming verses play out over the speakers while his face gazed out from the big screens. The set began with “The Space Program,” from this year’s We Got It from Here..Thank You 4 Your Service and was followed by a career-spanning setlist that thrilled with the hits and didn’t lull with the new material. The guys seemed to legitimately be having fun together, performing choreographed dances and congregating at the center of the stage for an a-cappella verse of “Find My Way.” Q-Tip stopped the show mid-way to reflect on the loss of Phife, saying:

“This is our final performance here LA as Tribe, obviously because Phife Dawg, our anchor, has been called to another mission you know what I mean? So we had to come to LA and do one proper one for y’all, so we appreciate y’all being good sports. Just to share a little piece, I won’t be too long, and this is me personally, I speak for myself when is say this: It’s like one of those 12 inch records that plays for 15 minutes too long sometimes, it’s like an extended mix, just dealing with the waves and ups and downs. I know everyone out there has probably lost somebody or knows somebody who’s lost somebody. It hits you in waves. You feel like you get by it and something comes up and you never really do. Not to be a downer, but this experience being here with y’all is just cathartic. It helps. And I thank you. For myself personally, Phife is one of the oldest friends I’ve ever had. He actually is. We’ve known each other since we was four. He got me to start rapping. Right now, if you don’t mind, we just want to share one of our personal favorite of Phife’s for y’all.” –KB

Nine Inch Nails

Credit: FYF Fest
Credit: Roger Ho for FYF Fest

When I was in high school, I only knew one person who loved Nine Inch Nails, but she loved Trent Reznor so much that nothing else existed. Her name was Joanna Marrakesh and she dressed in all black like the Omen. She began dating a guy previously only known as Big David, but once they started dating no one knew him at all. They retreated into their own lampless void, uniformly soundtracked by Nine Inch Nails, claws sharpened, fuck it, mask on. After all, her father was a world famous antiquities dealer.

I imagine even Trent Reznor got exhausted by that darkness, which led to his 21st century evolution as a sober, weight-lifting Apple Music executive, married to a gifted and beautiful woman who seems straight out of a Wayne Campbell fantasy. He’s a walking “It Gets Better” advertisement. Since scoring The Social Network, Nine Inch Nails shows have been increasingly rare. To his credit, he’s avoided festival ubiquity and gimmicky nostalgia grabs, which has allowed him to retain some mystique that he might have otherwise lost as middle-aged semi-normalcy set in.

As the closing headliner on Sunday night, Reznor was nothing less than brilliant, dressed in all black leather like he was in Ministry but still pulling it off, merging industrial, Krautrock, trip-hop, bruising hard rock, and rockabilly into a hemlock cocktail that could only be Nine Inch Nails.

Under noirish black and white, tumorous clouds of pink and klieg yellow, it felt like being firebombed but slightly funkier. The thing about seeing Nine Inch Nails live is that it somehow brings Reznor’s influences into sharper focus but paradoxically reveals him to be a more interesting artist. You could hear inflections and rhythms from Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk and Bowie, for whom he paid poignant tribute by a covering a song from Blackstar. He mostly rasps in a permanent shadow, voice as guillotine, exhibiting a supernatural dynamics and all the raw emotion that conscripted teenagers a generation or two ago. I should probably tell Joanna Marrakesh that she was right all along, but last I heard, she moved to Abu Dhabi and begrudgingly embraced the sun too. –JW

Nicolas Jaar

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Jaar’s Saturday night closing set was his first FYF appearance since playing with his electro-psych duo Darkside in 2015, and with the show he demonstrated a continuously evolving sonic and visual aesthetic at once sensual and hyper-intelligent. The show simmered into life with a long build before gelling into a pounding, all-encompassing dance show that included tracks from his newest LP Sirens and his 2011 classic Space Is Only Noise. The notoriously private producer even came to the edge of the stage to sing a few lines before retreating back behind his wall of lights and equipment, demonstrating that his boldest artistic explorations are happening out near the edge of the stage. —KB