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Sunday, October 26, 2014

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FYF 2014: Growing pains and rising bands

FYF

By Ariana Assaf, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 1, 2014

Until this weekend, I had never been to a music festival that’s younger than I am. Then I was introduced to FYF, the baby of the festival world.

At just 11 years old, FYF is characterized in part by similar muddled uncertainties and growing pains that plague the pre-teens of this generation. And at only two days, it has yet to grow quite as much as more senior festivals. But, like the 11-year-old kid everyone hopes to have, FYF is smart, ambitious and eager to learn and please.

Before the festival really got going on Saturday afternoon, everyone had just about had it with its disorganization. People waited up to two hours to pass the security checkpoints, a sign that this youngin’ didn’t know exactly what it was getting into with its increased popularity and larger venue.

FYF started in 2004 with just one day of shows in a few rooms of L.A.’s The Echo (before it was The EchoPlex). By 2009, after trying its hand at two and three day events, FYF went back to one day and moved to the L.A. State Historic Park with the fanatical, outlandish and downright out of this world amazing Black Lips headlining, making me wonder why I didn’t know about it then … I guess I was too young.

As of 2012, the festival seems to have settled on two days, but this was its first year at the L.A. Sports Arena and Exposition Park. Fortunately, lines had cleared by about 5:00 p.m. and organizers responsibly sent out an apology notification the next day, plus an apology email about a week after the festival.

But then there was the matter of actually seeing the performers. Our plan was to start with Chet Faker in The Arena, but it was at capacity before he even went on. I’d never experienced an indoor stage at a festival and was excited to try it out, but unfortunately never made it in. Instead of waiting around to see if we could squeeze in later on to catch Caribou or DJ Harvey, we turned to Albert Hammond Jr. — known to me as a vital member of The Strokes, who headlined the whole festival — in his smart starry button-up and burgundy pants, to cheer us up. We made it to the main stage in time for his last song and a reminder that we’d see him tomorrow with Julian and Fab and the whole gang, right where he belongs.

I say “where he belongs” because while I think it’s great that members of The Strokes have developed as solo artists for their own sake, I still wish they would have toured Comedown Machine for my sake. Even though the album itself wasn’t mind blowing, at least I could have seen them together. And I wish they would keep making that for-every-occasion-to-make-it-the-most-special-of-occasions music together like they used to. That was the music that I grew up with, guiding me through the horrors of adolescence, falling asleep to when nothing else could clear my head. I had high hopes for them before the novelty of their 2011 album Angles had begun to wear off, but that eventually turned into nostalgia when Comedown Machine was released in 2013 — sans tour — confirming that they would never be the same band that created the gem that is Is This It again.

But, I digress. The rest of Saturday was a world of discovery: seeing Little Dragon, Slowdive, Tycho and Interpol for the first time was fantastic individually and enlivening as a whole. FYF may be a slightly scatterbrained 11-year-old, but an 11-year-old that knows where it’s at when it comes to curating a lineup. Little Dragon is a rather little-known band with a magical lead singer who should be more popular than she is (and likely will be soon). She has the endearing stage presence of Taylor Swift minus the constant boy drama, and a unique sense of style that contributes to her overall charm.

Performing in L.A. for the first time in 20 years, Slowdive certainly attracted tried-and-true fans that were excited by its appearance. Lead singer Rachel Goswell’s “I’m in an indie band and trying to appear angelic” expression mostly translated into a boring look, but nevertheless they sounded great and a rousing drum solo to close the set left fans elated. Scott Hansen of Tycho and his bandmates looked wonderfully comfortable on stage together, so much so that I had the sense we as the audience were almost intruding on a private practice. They pulled off their set with flying colors, enhanced by a beautiful impromptu visual set that included short clips of surfers just doing their thing among stunning scenery.

Once Phoenix took the stage to close the day, everybody really seemed to wake up. Kicking off with “Entertainment” immediately got everyone singing along. And when they got to “Lisztomania” a few songs in, almost everyone screeched like star-struck tweens. People seemed inspired to let their goofiness show. Thanks to the group of girls surrounding me, however, I realized I must not be the Phoenix fan I thought I was. While they recited every lyric like life-giving anthems, I was standing there relieved when “Trying To Be Cool” finally came on and I could actually join in. Phoenix is definitely one of those bands that sound just as perfect live as they do recorded, a major reason I enjoyed them so much despite not always being able to sing along. Plus, you really get a sense of their uniqueness watching them perform that just isn’t accessible in a recording.

Instead of making an all-day event out of Sunday as well, I slept late and rolled into FYF as the sun was going down, just as Built to Spill was closing their set. I was instantly drawn into their song and I was sad that the one I heard was the last. For the rest of the evening, the band came up in many attendees’ list of best performances.

The first artist I actually saw was rapper Earl Sweatshirt. I felt especially accomplished when I discovered that he graduated from a nearby LA high school at the same time I did. But all kidding aside, he maintained an essence of maturity despite being a relatively young artist. “Chum,” arguably one of his most popular songs, deals with identity issues and tense parental relations, which really seemed to speak to everyone in the audience. Earl definitely knows how to put on a show while mixing in deeper messages.

Later on, Haim took the main stage for the kind of jam session usually only found at house parties. In fact, one of the sisters told the crowd stories of the “epic” celebrations they used to throw as high schoolers living in the Valley. I’ve been listening to Haim a lot lately, and find their songs take on a much different feeling recorded versus live. On Spotify, the music is nice and crisp. You can even listen to them having a perfectly polite conversation about the making of their album Days Are Gone. But live, Haim is loud, raw and full of solos and anecdotes that make the whole experience incredibly lively. The girls are an absolute joy to watch together; you can tell they’re used to working with each other’s styles, which makes the music flow that much easier. Then, the band ended with a shout out to the weekend’s headliner, and all hell broke loose.

Judging by the sheer number of band t-shirts that could be seen throughout the weekend, it’s safe to say that there was no lack of love for The Strokes. I felt this love firsthand when thousands of people literally charged forward, sweeping me up in a human stream moving straight for the stage. In classic rockstar fashion, they came on about 40 minutes late (very possibly because Julian was still sobering up), giving me time to reflect on the anxiety I had been feeling about seeing them. Questions like “What if they don’t sound the same as they used to?” and “What if they only play songs from Comedown Machine?” plagued my mind for days leading up to the festival. That anxiety started melting away when Julian, with his greasy/shaggy hair and I-don’t-give-a-fuck strut started singing “Barely Legal.” The set continued with “Welcome to Japan” and “Automatic Stop,” and I realized I had nothing to worry about.

They knew what we wanted, and they were going to give it to us. Their ultra-clear and often poignant lyrics unfortunately inspired many tone deaf but die hard fans to belt along with them. After a bit of shuffling I found a relatively quite place to watch, but I had to wonder … when did The Strokes start attracting such intensely vocal fans? Maybe it has something to do with how Julian sings. Not just his voice, but the way he leans forward and squeezes the microphone, like he’s working really hard to get everyone to understand (it worked). Maybe it’s how he addresses the crowd but then decides he doesn’t want to talk, simply saying “I love you guys.” Well Jules, we love you too.

But I came to a realization throughout their performance: I no longer love them the same way I did when I was sixteen. I don’t need them as much anymore. 1251 was the code on my phone for the longest time, and I even toyed with the idea of including lyrics to “Someday” on my personal yearbook page, but all the words I wanted to use wouldn’t fit. Working my way through any given album of theirs used to make me feel progressively better after a shit day. Now, their songs coming up on shuffle is more like a surprise visit from an old friend: lovely, but not the same. Seeing them live is almost the same thing. It’s a great time and it’s liberating as ever and it makes you feel the way you want to feel all the time. Not to mention that there’s such a novelty to it. The Strokes don’t just perform with the frequency of any other touring artists. But they’re not touring artists, and I’m not 16 anymore. They were amazing just like they always are and I’ll love them like I always have, but I have to start coming to terms with the idea that they very well may never be the same band who created Is This It again.

FYF was a weekend of exploration, and it was a weekend of growth. I saw a lot of bands I hadn’t seen or hadn’t heard before, and as you read, I saw one I have a whole lot of feelings for. Before going to FYF, I sort of just saw it as something different to do for a weekend and noticed that a lot of the crowd used it as a temporary alternative make-out location. But besides being a reason for Angelenos to use public transportation (there’s a metro stop just outside the venue) or an excuse for girls to wear either wine bras or no bra at all, it’s a wonderful way to step away from mainstream music to find out where all those Top 100 hits start, and why. The amount of talent and potential at FYF is hard to overestimate, and I’d bet money that some of those little-known bands playing at noon on Saturday will be closing shows in a few years, singing to swarms of people who need them just as much as they need the people.


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