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FYF Fest: The Pains and Pleasures of a Growing Music Festival

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Logistical snafus nearly overshadowed the great performances at this year’s FYF fest. Now in its 11th year, FYF has evolved from a one-day, 14-act affair at local venues in Echo Park to a full-fledged, four-stage festival in its first year at the LA Sports Arena and Exposition Park.

The Main Stage set up in a massive parking lot for FYF Fest 2014. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
The Main Stage set up in a massive parking lot for FYF Fest 2014. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

This expansion unfortunately has come with some growing pains: Concertgoers experienced long wait times to enter the festival on Saturday, and some were even turned away from the indoor arena stage, which had reached capacity. To the festival organizer’s credit, the crowd control issues improved by Day 2, when the entrance flow to the festival was expedited and the arena stage was more accessible. What couldn’t be changed, however, were the long distances between some of the stages, which made it necessary to make tough decisions between which of your favorite bands to see.

Once inside the festival, there was a lot to explore. Vintage clothing boutiques were set up alongside an Amoeba Music booth, and a spot selling all types of flower accessories, including the ubiquitous festival staple, the flower crown. There was even a Ray-Ban booth where free haircuts of the stylists’ choosing were being offered as onlookers watched men getting edgy new looks. The ultimate in festival clothing brands, Nasty Gal, had a phone charging lounge set up in the VIP section.

The craft booth at the at the festival. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
The craft booth at the at the festival. Photo by Gabriela Groth

Unfortunately, given the large distances between stages and the great line-up, there wasn’t much downtime to linger and truly experience all that the festival had to offer. The number of booths, including a crafting station where people could make custom pins and headbands, was probably excessive for the size of the festival. Perhaps with a third day, attendees could have better taken advantage of all of the experiences offered.

With the crowd flow issues that surrounded the Arena stage setup, there is something to be said for seeing electronic acts with their accompanying light shows in a warehouse-rave vibe that only comes with an indoor venue. The EDM sets in the Arena were much more effective experiences than the daytime electronic acts that played on the outside stages. Without a tent cover during the day allowing for a light show, there was a limit to how much visual interest could be brought on stage to enhance a DJ act.

Chet Faker playing at the Arena Stage. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
Chet Faker playing at the Arena Stage. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

On Saturday, Chet Faker took the stage in the Arena and for fans who were able to get in, the twinkling green lights and Nick Murphy’s excitement on stage made this a fun performance for all. Darkside also played in the Arena with a hypnotic light show, including a large mirror reflecting light across the arena and fog machines filling the stage with ominous-looking smoke. This complemented their minimalist down-tempo music, which had a futuristic yet retro vibe thanks to electronic musician Nicholas Jaar’s methodical beats paired with Dave Harrington’s bluesy live guitar playing. The whole experience made you feel like you were driving alone through a dark, deserted tunnel.

Danielle Haim of Haim playing lead guitar on the Main Stage. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
Danielle Haim of Haim playing lead guitar on the Main Stage. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

Over on the Main Stage, both HAIM and Phoenix ended their record touring cycles. Both bands had very similar sets to previous Coachella performances; HAIM played Coachella earlier this year and Phoenix headlined Coachella in 2013. Phoenix kept the crowd dancing and lead singer Thomas Mars crowd-surfed, as usual. For fans who had already seen Phoenix, which has been non-stop touring since its appearance at Coachella in 2013, it would have been nice to see the set evolve given Phoenix’s extensive catalog. But for those who hadn’t already seen Phoenix this tour, its set list was pleasing as it hit most of its big songs, including “Listzomania,” “1901,” “Lasso” and “Entertainment.” In any case, it is hard to get sick of dancing to Phoenix’s indie-pop rock, which is dripping with danceable beats and saturated with catchy hooks. Not to mention, Thomas Mars’ energy on stage and surfing above the crowd is always contagious.

Thomas Mars, lead singer of Phoenix, plays last show of tour at FYF Fest. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
Thomas Mars, lead singer of Phoenix, plays last show of tour at FYF Fest. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

Interpol and The Strokes, touchstones of indie-rock, generated a lot of excitement: Both bands were coming back from some time away from touring. Many festivals have followed Coachella’s lead, as well as music tastes in general, and moved towards delivering EDM-heavy lineups. For those who still enjoy guitar-driven, rock concerts, The Strokes and Interpol delivered that classic indie-rock festival experience. Interpol played some of its biggest hits including “Slow Hands,” “Evil” and “PDA” with lead singer Paul Banks singing in his signature melancholic, drone-like voice in a dapper suit with slicked back hair.

Lead singer Paul Banks of Interpol at FYF Fest 2014. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
Lead singer Paul Banks of Interpol at FYF Fest 2014. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

While almost every set at the festival started on time, The Strokes and lead singer Julian Casablancas’ other band, Julian Casablancas + The Voidz, both came on late, which added to Jules’ aloof, rock-star persona. Jules performed with his signature shy and somewhat awkward stage presence, which is either endearing or off-putting to fans. But he delivered with those unique muffled, somewhat gruff vocals that define The Strokes.

Both Julian and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. seemed to enjoy playing with their respective bands on Saturday more than with The Strokes. Watching The Strokes play can sometimes feel like they are doing the crowd a favor by playing. One could criticize their too-cool-for-you attitudes if they weren’t actually that cool. Even HAIM voiced excitement for playing the Main Stage right before one of their favorite bands. But The Strokes truly are indie-rock legends, so you’re still grateful that they graced you with their presence.

Lead singer Julian Casablancas of headliners The Strokes. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
Lead singer Julian Casablancas of headliners The Strokes. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

The most memorable experience of the weekend was watching The Strokes play some of the fans’ most beloved songs including “Last Nite,” “Someday” and “12:51.” From backstage, almost louder than Julian’s vocals, was the sound of the crowd singing every single word with unparalleled energy, a reminder of the kind of beautiful, euphoric emotion that live music can inspire.

For LA residents who have been attending FYF for years, it is easy to see why this growing festival may have been a disappointment due to the immense crowds. However as a newcomer with experiences at other big festivals, the concertgoers at FYF seemed to be more genuine than the Coachella crowd. Coachella, the benchmark for California festivals, has turned into a see-and-be-seen festival experience, as opposed to a marathon event for die-hard music fans to see many of their favorite bands play alongside new acts to explore. There were less flower-crown-clad concert-goers pushing their way to the front in the middle of sets and more fans singing along to bands lesser known songs. FYF Fest has definitely changed from its punk rock roots when it was called F*** Ya Fest, but the festival was still a great experience for LA music fans. So for all the logistical issues, it was exciting to be at an event for music fans who were there to see live music and not looking to chase down celebrities for photos.

 

Gabriela Groth is the Arts & Life Photo Editor and Music Desk Editor for The Stanford Daily, and she enjoys reviewing and photographing live music events. She has covered Treasure Island Music Festival, Austin City Limits, FYF Fest, and BFD. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Gabriela is a film lover, music enthusiast, and television aficionado. She is pursuing a Master’s in Computer Science. To contact her, please email gngroth “at” stanford.edu.