FYF Music Festival Draws Locals, Katy Perry and John Mayer to Downtown L.A.: Concert Review

Kyleen James
Thousands flock to downtown Los Angeles for the fledgling two-day festival, which featured sets by the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Refused, M83, Beirut and The Faint. 

Thousands flock to downtown Los Angeles for the fledgling two-day festival, which featured sets by the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Refused, M83, Beirut and The Faint.

There was a strong sense of satisfaction backstage Sunday night as the two-day FYF Festival drew to a close. Following a breakneck weekend that brought thousands to downtown L.A.'s 32-acre Los Angeles State Historic Park for more than 40 music and comedy acts, performers and staff members celebrated by cheerily pounding back drinks and watching some of the last sets.

And it was a well-deserved pat on the back. The first of the FYF Festival's current downtown incarnation to be held over two days, it gave the appearance of settling in nicely as the city's biggest, most official music festival. Think: a local Coachella or, in the absence of the long-running Sunset Junction, a welcome gathering of music and art on LA’s east side. Even celebrities made their appearances: Gold medal-winning snowboarder Shaun White enjoyed a beer Saturday while watching Chairlift from the VIP area and later joined the crowd to watch Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Nadya Suleman, the Octomom herself, joined comedian Eric Andre onstage for his bizarre mock interview and clip show performance. That same day, John Mayer and Katy Perry were also seen holding hands backstage.

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Born from a community punk event in 2004, in achieving popular legitimacy FYF --which stands for Fuck Yeah Festival -- has seen its share of growing pains. Most notably, in 2010, its first year at the current location, when the then-one day festival was a logistical nightmare that saw its organizers run out of bottled water and entry to the grounds took ticketholders upwards of an hour. To remedy the situation, FYF teamed with Coachella promoter Goldenvoice to handle production. In turn, FYF pulled some of its top acts from Coachella's lineup, including M83, Beirut and Refused (pictured below), as well as Yeasayer, Warpaint, Sleigh Bells, and Father John Misty, all of which will participate in the Coachella cruise launching in December.

Pointedly, folkrock singer Father John Misty mocked California's most recognized festival by telling the crowd, "F--- Coachella. I don't want to go to the desert when I can get a slice of pizza right here." Sure enough, the comment was met with cheers giving credence to the common complaint that the three-day, now two-weekend extravaganza has gotten too big for its britches.

"Is everybody drinking enough Sailor Jerry's? I'm feeling properly sponsored," Misty continued in his wiseass way, underlining the event's corporate partners. And there were many, including Anheuser-Busch, Incase apparel, Seagate hard drives, Adult Swim, clothing brand The Hundreds, and the relatively unknown Brazilian sunglasses brand Chili Beans, which handed out special edition FYF Fest glasses to artists backstage and peppered the grounds with promo in the form of giant statues.

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Shilling aside, for $89 and the wherewithal to tolerate 90-degree weather, fans of all ages were able to relentlessly bounce between stages and take in a well-stocked lineup. While the festival lacked the top-tier headlining acts of a Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, it made up for it in depth. The earlier sets were filled mostly by Los Angeles up-and-comers such as Nick Waterhouse, FIDLAR and King Tuff, and over the day transitioned into more established artists and some seminal acts. There was the standard festival fare such as Yeasayer, Beirut, Purity Ring and Twin Shadow, but there was a distinct edge to the weekend as well that was conjured by a strong hardcore punk presence that included American Hardcore, Converge, Quicksand, Redd Cross, Fucked Up, Ceremony, Against Me, and Refused.

For their part, Dinosaur Jr. blew the decibel level way into the red while appeasing longtime loyalists with songs from their earliest work. Among them: "Deep Wound" from J Mascis and Lou Barlow's first band Deep Wound, Dino 1994 favorite "Feel the Pain" and an extra-heavy version of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven," which the band issued as a single in 1989. 

"Thank you for putting up with this dust and heat," said a topless Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham, Fucked Up's hefty lead singer. "Isn't it nice here year 'round? Couldn't this have festival had been in January? This is not fat dude outside weather."

Jokes aside, political discourse had a presence throughout the weekend. Later, the Toronto-based Abraham added, "Depending on how this election shapes up, why don't you secede and join Canada? We have a socialized healthcare system and, trust me, it's awesome. And we love your marijuana policy, so we can make a trade. Canada and California, it sounds good together."

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Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame, performing with his reunited post-hardcore group Desaparecidos, dedicated a new song called "Anonymous" to whistleblower Bradley Manning. "This one goes out to an American hero … who's in solitary confinement in prison right now,” Oberst said from the stage. “Mr. President, if you believe the things that you say you do, then you should not only let him out of prison, you should throw him a big parade in New York."

Later in the Desaparecidos set, which included a cover of The Clash's "Spanish Bombs," Oberst continued his politically-charged speak. In introducing "Backsell," he said, "This one goes out to you Arizona. If you have brown skin you are a lesser citizen. Anytime a government oppresses any segment of humanity it is a great tragedy and I hope they can fix it. I like Arizona and I want to go back there."

Meanwhile, referencing Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot by writing "Free Pussy Riot" written on a kickdrum, Refused’s frontman Dennis Lyxzén dedicated "Rather Be Dead” to the three girls who were recently sentenced to prison for “hooliganism” after performing songs critical of the Russian government and leader Vladimir Putin. "If I had two years for overtime I spoke out against the church of government, you'd never see me again," said the singer.

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Elsewhere, Norwegian deathpunk band Turbonego dedicated their track "Wasted Again," to the three-day Labor Day weekend as the crowd moshed along, with several fans in front wearing face paint or the band's trademark sailor hats, while Omaha dance-punks The Faint, off a two-year hiatus, closed the festival's northern most stage with a set of booming bass and flashing pink lights.

The festivities ran late into the night, with after parties around town that included surprise sets by Decline of Western Culture and Lightning Bolt (both at downtown DIY space the Smell), and the promising young punk band The Men, who appeared at the tiny Blue Star Bar nearby.

There were no blaring missteps this year, except perhaps the campy 1990s-style video displays and shoddy Instagram service throughout the festival grounds. On the plus side: with its location convenient to a nearby train and bus stop, public transportation was a rare option in a city that openly mocks its own metro system. If nothing else, it certainly made the 20,000 people in attendance appreciate the nearness of it all. 

With reporting by Portia Medina

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