WORDS AND PHOTOS by Dan Catalinotto
This year’s FYF Fest was held at the Los Angeles Historic State Park, a calm, dusty park next to a trainyard and a bunch of industrial warehouses just below the main drag in Chinatown, where even the temples are framed in neon lights.
The park is on Schwarzenegger’s hitlist- since our California legislators can’t agree on a funding plan, hundreds of state parks are in danger of being budgeted out of existence. The FYF Fest organizers made this the unifying theme of the festival, calling on everyone to “Save Our State Parks,” then promptly closing off the park to the non-paying public and allowing thousands of kids to spread hot dog wrappers and plastic bottles all over the ground and tear up the grass. But I digress- what the festival may have lacked in full-thinking, (including horrifying lines for everything from the ticket counter to the one water fountain and weird scheduling glitches that had some bands playing before anyone was allowed in the park), it made up for by providing a showcase of a wide variety of acts, new and veteran and near-veteran, that have been buzzing on blogs and in clubs for years.
The first band I saw was Portland’s Eat Skull. They thumped and droned and seemed a bit mellowed out by the 90-degree heat. They have a similar feel to early, “Loser”-era Beck, which is always a great thing. Unfortunately, their short set lost energy as it went on and they seemed relieved to be finished at the end.
I then saw Dios, a local Southern California band that has a surfy, breezy country-tinged feel. Their singer and guitar player, Joel Morales, also plays bass in one of my favorite bands around, The Underground Railroad to Candyland, but Dios is Joel’s show. The band sounded perfect in the hot sun; the keyboards swelled and rose over the park, and Joel’s high voice was calm and captivating.
Morales’s voice is high, but he has nothing on Jeremy Earl from Brooklyn’s freak folk band Woods, who were playing at the same time as Dios on a nearby stage. Earl’s voice, though, seems like a total affectation, as if he’s trying to one-up Neil Young. In spite of that, I thought Woods sounded great; their folk chops were good enough and the dude kneeling on the floor, turning knobs on a tape effects machine really brought energy and weirdness to what could have been a standard folk rock jam-along fronted by a weary cartoon mouse.
Long Beach psych punks Crystal Antlers were next. They’re one of my favorite local bands, but they’ve gone through some recent changes, adding a second guitarist and replacing their keyboard player after their old one supposedly disappeared while they were on tour in Spain. The first time I saw them with the new lineup, in a smallish dive bar, I thought they’d lost some muscle and added too much unfocused noise to their sound. However, on the FYF festival main stage, they sounded tight and focused and absolutely blistered through their short set. As always, their percussionist, Sexual Chocolate, provided an overload of personality to balance the serious, sometimes angry psychedelic noise the rest of the band was making, which was anchored by Johnny Bell’s bass and screams. One of the top sets of the day for sure.
Wavves played next on the big stage. Nathan Williams is Wavves, but he’s hired a heavy gun to man the drums: Zach Hill from hella. I recently went to 88 Boadrum at the La Brea Tar Pits- this was the Boredoms’ composition for 88 drummers and Zach Hill was one of them. That day he was up against 87 other drummers, but goddamn if he wasn’t the loudest and craziest of them all. So Williams hardly had a chance- Hill clearly stole the show and I thought his drumming, while fucking awesome and tight as hell, took away from the songs (which aren’t particularly substantive in the first place). “No Hope Kids” was pretty awesome, though.
After Wavves, I was only able to watch a little of Carbonas’ set from far away, but it didn’t catch my ear, so I went to see Har Mar Superstar on the small stage. Har Mar is a fat, hairy dude with a skullet who prances around the stage in a leopard speedo while singing R&B songs about Girl Power and getting it on. Silly, but so goddamn entertaining. He ended with a song about his “cute cuticals” that he said he wrote for the Cheetah Girls. Sadly, they rejected it, but at least now he gets to sing it himself.
A side question for you all: it is a hipster thing to enjoy watching fat shirtless guys jump around on stage or is it just part of being human? Between Har Mar Superstar, Pink Eyes from Fucked Up and Tim and Eric, there sure were a lot of fat guys jumping around at the FYF Fest. Maybe watching fat guys and laughing at/with them is something that unites all the people on the planet?
I thought the collaboration between Japanther and Ninjasonik was pretty much unlistenable, so I went to see The Thermals. I really don’t understand the hype behind these guys. To me, they sound like they belong on late 90s radio between Semisonic and Fastball. Watching The Thermals made me miss most of Times New Viking’s set, which I regretted as soon as I got to their stage. They were spooky and tense, mixing well with the cooling weather and the plumes of smoke from the forest fires in the distance.
I was really excited to finally see Lightning Bolt after too many years of missing them. However, they were a complete mess, done in by a sound system that made the drums invisible and the bass wispy and a security team that stopped the show twice to discourage moshing and “aggressive behavior.” It was a total disappointment and violated what should be a rule of festival planners: don’t ask bands to play if you are going to stop their set repeatedly because you’re afraid of their fans.
I saw Fucked Up next. While I’m not a big fan of their recorded material, I thought they absolutely ruled at the FYF Fest. Pink Eyes was in the crowd, smashing bottles on his head, having the crowd sing every third line, getting sweaty and shirtless, even freestyling some lines about the FYF Fest being the “hipster Woodstock.” And the band, led by three guitar players, was pummeling- and took the heavy sound down some pathways I wasn’t expecting.
Hardcore veterans Converge were mourning the loss of a close friend, and they carried that mourning, pissed-off energy into their performance. I’ll let my friend Clayton, who is such a huge Converge fan that he braved the pit with a broken face, do the rest of the Converge review:
“After a day of hipster-tinged indie rock, the crowd at FYF fest was rabid for a healthy onslaught of genuine Hardcore courtesy of Converge. Despite some technical complications, the band tore into their ferocious set with all the heart and angst anyone one of their songs convey. Their new record “Axe To Fall” is coming out on Oct. 20 on Deathwish records, so the band treated everyone to a handful of new tracks from the upcoming release. Never a band to offer disappointment in their set, the new songs sent fists into the air, dirt into the night, and blood out of the bodies of those battling in the pit. As the show was dedicated to a fallen friend of the band who died the previous day from cancer, an air of urgency and memorial rang through every note and chord demolished by the members of this highly respected Boston area hardcore institution. The most profound part of the show came just before Converge tore through the song “No Heroes.” In the words of J. Bannon, “Don’t ever live your life vicariously through ANYONE. Leave your own mark!” With soldiers like Converge in the trenches of modern day hardcore this scene and community will not die easily, and thank god something other than pussy-rock graced the stages of Fuck Yeah Fest 2009!!!”
No band represents the FYF Fest better than L.A. noise-punks No Age. They’ve played each of the festival’s six years and, as the festival’s grown larger and become more of a gatekeeper and tastemaker for music listeners, No Age has grown from experimenting at The Smell, an all-ages warehouse venue in Skid Row, to headlining in front of thousands around the world. No Age is just two guys, drums and guitar, but they make a lot of noise. Sometimes melodic, sometimes punky, sometimes pure effects pedal wankery, they put on a quick, sloppy performance, and even stopped the show at one point to stop a friend from being arrested by the show’s security. All in all, they were interesting and fun, and hard to describe, and I’m starting to learn why they’re so beloved by the kids in this town (but I’m not fully convinced yet).
The last band of the night was Atlanta’s Black Lips. They played their rough-at-the-edges country and blues punk stuff pretty much perfectly and had the crowd excited and energetic, even after a full, hot day of bands and lines and spending money. They mixed up the set between brand new songs and old favorites, and they spit on the stage and themselves and bounced gigantic balloons into the crowd. “Buried Alive” was particularly ripping, and my cue to leave the park after twelve hours of music. Black Lips provided a great ending to an interesting show that, despite a few kinks, was something I’d label a success.