FYF Fest 2017 saw the Los Angeles city festival expand even further from its roots as the small Echo Park party back in 2004. The festival moved to three days for the first time, though Friday’s music didn’t kick off until most people were out of the office for the weekend.
The festival doubled down on what made it popular — multiple left-field bookings that were unique to it like Missy Elliott, Bjork, Iggy Pop, as well as few if any mainstream radio successes. FYF Fest is the festival you prefer if you grew out of Coachella once they started booking a pop-heavy lineup. But with stars like Beyonce, Janet Jackson, and even Brad Pitt showing up unexpectedly to take in this weekend’s festivities, how long can it hold onto the cool crown?
We’re nearly into August and you can call it a recency bias, but FYF Fest 2017 is my favorite festival of the year and a hard one to top with the fall coming up. Now let me give a rundown of what I found to be the best and worst this year while I nurse these bruises I acquired in the moshpit during Nine Inch Nails last night.
BEST: Frank Ocean not only shows up, but dazzles
The third time is the charm, I guess. For me, I’ve been scheduled to see Frank Ocean perform twice in the last three years before this weekend, only for him not to ever make it to the stage. FYF Fest 2015 was harsh on Los Angeles Frank worshippers, as he pulled out the week of the festival, leaving Goldenvoice scrambling to replace him with Kanye West. He was supposed to perform at Hangout this year before cancelling due to “production delays beyond his control” and was replaced by Phoenix (he also cancelled Sasquatch).
But Frank would thankfully not fool me three times. I am not well-versed on his catalog but was pretty impressed by the show overall. The attention to detail was easy to notice, and the Brad Pitt appearance was one of the most bizarre but memorable things I’ve ever witnessed at a festival. I just want to know what that conversation was like — “Hey Brad, it’s Frank. Would you mind coming to my L.A. performance and holding a phone to your ear while Spike Jonze filmes you and I sing a song? Great!”
Overall, Frank set the bar high with all the anticipation and delivered, which is all you could ask for. He showed a level of fragility in the way he started a song over that you don’t often see from top-level musicians, and a reminder that these heroes of ours are human.
WORST: General lack of surprise guests
When you book a festival in Los Angeles, it comes with a heavy expectation that you’re going to get some unexpected drop-ins during major performances. FYF Fest has generally leaned away from what their parent festival Coachella has become known for, but why?
You book Anderson Paak at the same festival A Tribe Called Quest is playing — why not bring them together for the excellent “Movin’ Backwards” from Tribe’s latest (and final) album? Both acts put on two of the better sets of the entire weekend regardless, but there was an opportunity for some hip-hop legends pass the torch off to one of the genre’s fastest-rising talents. Considering it was by their own words ATCQ’s last Los Angeles performance, it would have been a magical way to highlight it.
When Brad Pitt holding a phone to his ear during a Frank Ocean performance is the most-talked about surprise guest of the weekend, it’s a slight letdown. If you were an in-the-know FYF attendee, you may have been stoked when Beach Fossils brought out Rachel Goswell from Slowdive during their set, if you were early enough on day 1 to catch it.
BEST: Daily lineup breakdowns
The FYF Fest brass has truly figured out how to configure the best daily schedules of any festival so as not to piss many people off. They put all of the old-head R&B and hip-hop on Saturday with some of the genre’s best of today. Rock icons Trent Reznor and Iggy Pop performed on Sunday, with youthful entrants Cherry Glazerr and Temples playing daylight sets.
There also weren’t many soul-crushing conflicts. The worst for me personally was Anderson Paak vs. Slowdive — but I can’t imagine there was a ton of crossover fans between the two. For the most part people jumped from set to set with little breaks in between, further illustrating the strength of the festival’s lineup.
WORST: Route leaving the festival
FYF Fest has finally fixed the problem that plagued them for so many years — the speed of entry into the festival. I made it in without much waiting each day, but I went on the early side all three days. That said, even people who showed up later didn’t have complaints about how long it took to get in. Security was pretty quick and smooth.
That said, leaving the festival grounds was a bitch each time. As far as I knew, there was only one way they were letting people leave each night, and you had to walk the length of the block the festival entrance runs across. It wasn’t bad walking a few blocks from there to catch a ride, but an additional exit point would have been nice.
BEST: The moshpit during Nine Inch Nails
I enjoy Nine Inch Nails, but I wouldn’t call myself a superfan. Growing up with older brothers, I listened to and enjoyed ’90s alt-rock like the thirty and fortysomethings that packed to the front waiting for Trent Reznor and Co. Though not overly familiar with their entire back catalog, their show with Soundgarden was my first experience ever at the Hollywood Bowl and a highly memorable one. So I decided I was gonna get as close as I could after Solange ended, and I got to 10 feet from the front.
Once the band hit the stage, I realized very quickly how rough it was going to be in there. I got slammed into for 90 minutes, but it was all worth it. They put on one of the most intense rock shows I’ve ever seen, and being able to see the emotion in Trent Reznor’s face up close as he shouted, whispered, sang beautifully was a special thing. It was also cool to see so many whose best physical days were behind them endure the pain of people surfing on top of them and being run into full speed. A special bond is formed when you withstand that kind of physical abuse together, knowing full well you’re going to pay for it the next day.
To the tiny woman with the elbows like razorblades who jammed them into my back for the last 20 minutes of the show Sunday night with so much angst — respect.
WORST: Screen malfunctions during shows
Pretty minor here as there were very few things to complain about at this year’s FYF Fest. But the screens at the main stage and lawn stage had some issues (mostly on the first two days) that distracted a bit from what was happening on stage. This was especially noticeable during Bjork, when red dots were all over the left screen. I wasn’t sure if this was part of her visuals, and someone answered my query on Reddit by saying they saw her show with the same visuals and the red dots weren’t there. There was also a noticeable delay between the screen and reality for several sets, which was bothersome.
One thing to add, as FYF Fest’s talent budget increases, here’s hoping their production increases in the same scale. Nine Inch Nails performed with a much scaled-back version of their usual production (or at least what I remember from the Hollywood Bowl show.
Five favorite sets of FYF Fest 2017:
- Nine Inch Nails — Being in the pit for this one is what made it stand out for sure. A warmup gig in Bakersfield aside, this was NIN’s first real show in three years, since I first saw them at the Hollywood Bowl. There were longtime diehards all around me, and people shook off accidental elbows to the face like they were nothing. Their ability to go super fucking hard but then also play some beautiful quiet tunes in between is rather impressive.
- Anderson Paak — It’s been a whirlwind 18 months for the Los Angeles resident since dropping his second full-length Malibu last January. He sold out the Palladium in a day last December and by the time FYF Fest came around this past weekend, everyone knew all the words. The peak unadulterated moment of fun of the weekend was when he jumped into “Come Down” two songs into the set, everyone breathless by the song’s finish. His level of musicianship is up there with the best — the way he switches up song arrangements from show to show is remarkable. Few people in the world have as much swag as Anderson Paak, and on that night not a single person in Los Angeles could match his. He will be headlining major festivals by the end of his next album cycle.
- Solange — I’m taking my 7-year-old niece to one day of Outside Lands in a few weeks, her first music festival. After Sunday, Solange is the act I’m most excited for her to see. The amount of detail involved in her choreography and production was not lost on the crowd, old fans and new. Her backup singers doubled as dancers, her brass section was impeccable, and her voice was pitch perfect. It’s amazing how she’s grown as a performer, and her humility in thanking the fans for taking that journey with her was a nice touch.
- Erykah Badu — Halfway through her set, the neo-soul queen rattled off a list of nicknames that’s more than most musicians have hits. Erykah Badu aka Sara Bellum aka Low Down Loretta Brown, the list went on and on and on. She’s earned them all. She’s one of the true divas left and she lived up to that by arriving on stage more than 20 minutes late, not apologizing, and ripping through a mesmerizing set that had people laughing, and also in tears. My favorite part was when she asked what decade people were from, and then told the ’90s babies she’d been waiting for them to be mature enough to handle her shit — which was now. “The last time I saw y’all you were suckin’ on my titties,” she followed up. I’d watch her do standup comedy.
- Iggy Pop — One day, Iggy Pop’s skin will make someone a fine leather coat. Until then, he proved he can still rock out with the best of them that are a third his age. He’s one of the last remaining holdovers from an era of rock n roll debauchery we will never see again thanks to today’s lack of privacy. He didn’t waste any time getting to the hits, and also shouted expletives at his band and the crowd with pleasure. The most rock n roll moment was when he paused between songs to shoot a snot rocket out of his nose and everyone around me winced in disgust. It was fantastic.
FYF Fest 2017, you won’t soon be forgotten. Thanks for staying true to your original mission statement more than a decade later.