FYF Fest 2015 can certainly thank its lucky stars that it fell on the weekend of August 22nd rather than the weekend prior, when the temperature in Los Angeles was near the sweltering 100s. Its highs in the mid-80s offered an enjoyable backdrop to all who attended the two-day festival at Exposition Park near USC. This year being my first time attending FYF, I will say right off the bat that it is a very welcome change from most festivals — which is quite a lot considering the current preponderance of them in every nook and cranny of the country and beyond. Perhaps the chill ass vibe of LA also has something to contribute the equation, but FYF is proof that a little bit of restraint and tasteful programming can go an extremely long way.FKA Twigs at FYF FestFKA Twigs at FYF Fest 2015; All Photography by Vivian Hua unless otherwise noted

Whereas festivals like Coachella and Sasquatch are located far outside of city limits, in zones where weekend warriors are bound to descend in great number, one of the main things that stands out about FYF is that it is located quite centrally in Los Angeles. Thus, although some people were dressed up — including, apparently, a man who looked like a fairly realistic dirt clod — it was relatively free of over-the-top concertgoers who treat festivals as though they were their one opportunity out of the home. Yes, the crowd looked lovely, but it also looked normal and felt normal, rather than gave the impression that they had raided local retailers for the latest in the barf-worthy racks of “festival fashion”. No, the FYF Fest crowd actually seems to like music and seek it out actively — or, at least, they are really damn good at faking receptivity. It certainly also helps that this year’s lineup, while it did have standard fallback indie acts and truly horrible pop-punk acts like Joyce Manor, stands strong for music nerds nad casual music ingesters alike. Its inclusion of R&B, soul, and hip-hop acts is also noteworthy, as such is not the case amongst more indie-centric festivals.

Most people who went to both days of FYF Fest would probably agree that day two had the much more stacked lineup. The first day had its share of idle moments, where one floated between stages just trying to kill time. The second day was essentially a win-win situation no matter what stage you stumbled into, whether that was Toro Y Moi in the mid-afternoon on the Main Stage, HEALTH and Thee Oh Sees on the Trees Stage, or, of course, the killer closing block of Solange, D’Angelo, and FKA Twigs on the Lawn Stage. The following are my top moments of the fest, with a huge, huge bias towards day two.

FYF Fest

Horse Meat Disco @ The Woods

(Full disclosure: Due to how disappointed I was that Frank Ocean cancelled and how unimpressed I was by Kanye West’s set at last year’s Outside Lands, I missed his set at FYF. Everyone would tell me later that this was my huge mistake, but what’s done is done.)

So, while the always fashionable French psychedelic-surf-punk band La Femme were my other stand-out from the first day of FYF, what truly saved my day was the multi-hour set by Horse Meat Disco at the Woods stage, which was apparently a last-minute addition to FYF Fest. Surrounded by glittering metallic flags and disco balls hanging up high in trees, the scene was that of a funky house get down of epic proportions: quite literally the best dance party I’ve been to in the memorable past. Many of pre-drinking-age threw the fugg down, and there were more groups of young men blissfully dancing together than I have seen perhaps ever. It really made one appreciate the vitality of youth, which always outshines the jaded spirits of the older music lovers who stand by with pouts and crossed arms. Not even the oldies were standing around at the Woods Saturday afternoon, and the music seriously could not have been better. While Leon Vynehall and DJ Harvey would put their own spin on the Woods Stage’s dance party the following day, it just didn’t compare; the crowd on day two was older, the beats heavier and less fun. Horse Meat Disco at the Woods was a flawless, flawless thing that I feel lucky to have experienced so thoroughly.

Battles @ Trees Stage

Festivals are packed to the gills these days with danceable pop bands, and one might argue that actual musicianship and proficiency are no longer vauled in quite the same way as they were in the days of yore. I recall seeing Battles at Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle in 2008 — or something equally ridiculously long ago, back when they still had Tyondai Braxton as frontman. They blew my godamn mind even though I’d been only a fairweather fan. Every subsequent run-in I’ve had with Battles, the feeling has been the same. With Braxton off to do their own thing, and even without the gimmick of vocalists on full-screen LCDs that they have incorporated on other recent tours, Battles still reign supreme. They’re invigorating and challenging to listen to, their rhythms unexpectedly groovy and without the shallow simplicity or easily replicated sonic palettes found across the board in many a festival lineup.

This is not to say that I don’t love pop music or current trends in disco, funk, whatever, revival, because I do, more than anything — but let’s just say that Battles were a very, very welcome change of pace. May their shrieking guitars and killer percussive expertise live on forever… or at the very least, every few years or so, when they reemerge from nowhere to shred it up again.

 

Nicolas Jaar at FYF FestNicolas Jaar @ The Arena

Nicolaas Jaar at FYF FestOn a genre-melting evening where fans of Morrissey, Nicolas Jaar, and D’Angelo, Nicolas Jaar found themselves at the same place at the same time, one could say that these three headlining acts fell upon a spectrum of slightly depressing, pensive but danceable, and outwardly radiant. Nico would be the “pensive but danceable” act of the bunch. I’ve always managed to accidentally avoid seeing Nico and Darkside perform — and when I entered the Arena this evening, I found it extremely difficult to leave. The dark, beat-thumping interior of the Arena was too comforting, and some satisfaction lied in the fact that who wore raving backpacks with Morrissey gear were dancing not to EDM, but actual tasteful electronic music.

Nico is an expert at music selection — listen to any of his mixtapes and that is evident right away — and I enjoyed his set so much that I forewent the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with D’Angelo via the photo pit. In retrospect, twas a bit sad, but Nico’s finale made everything worth it.

DJs and electronic performers are often criticized these days for catering to crowds through button-pressing inauthenticity. Nciolas Jaar has managed to find worldwide success by marching to the beat of his own drum, and without compromising his artistic integrity. His warm sonic palette is quite well-known, as are his experiments in exploring interdisciplinary media and running his own label, Other People. But one should also take note that Jaar does not hesitate in opening his sets with ten-minute political intros which leave everyone confused as to whether they’re in the correct place — or in closing his sets with equally experimental outros that are devoid of easy melodies or beat drops. He doesn’t seem to give a damn if his unconventional moves clear a room, and I found myself grinning like an idiot as people filed out, dissatisfied that he ended his set with the exact opposite of what people might call a “banger”.

Utmost respect to Nicolas Jaar for challenging the masses, who perhaps are not challenged frequently enough.

 

D’Angelo & The Vanguard @ Lawn Stage

To harp further on musicianship and marching to the beat of one’s own drum, one need only conclude on D’Angelo & The Vanguard. Holy crap. Whereas the aforementioned acts are all masters of their crafts in their own specific ways, D’Angelo & The Vanguard are on another level, and everyone who saw them at FYF Fest can probably attest to this. Watching D’Angelo, one can only do a furious head-scratch and wonder, “Has this guy really been out of the limelight for more than a decade? Given that, how the hell is he doing this right now?”

In the ’90s, D’Angelo became one hell of a sex symbol, and believe it or not, male performers hate sexual objectification, too. He took a break from the pressure; he gained weight. And then he came back, and it’s as though no time had ever passed. Yes, FKA Twigs technically closed out the evening at FYF Fest, but for me and probably many others, D’Angelo was the true closer. Locating many an interval where he could show off his mad skills by manhandling a guitar or crooning over a piano, D’Angelo is much, much more than just an R&B vocalist. He exceeded my already-high expectations in ways that I can’t even truly begin to explain; watching him was like catching a glimpse of what it might’ve been to see James Brown or something. The level of professionalism exuded by him and his band left my friends and I wondering just what their rehearsals looked like, since both spontaneity and audience participation seemed built into the set in ways that were beyond planning and simple communications.

The energy was electric in the air, sending most of the crowd into uncontrollable dance fits that encouraged them to turn off their logical brains and truly let the bodies flail. It was a beautiful, beautiful conclusion-not-conclusion to FYF Fest 2015.

D'Angelo at FYF Fest
Photography by Jose Negrete for FYF Fest

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