Words by: Justin Gillett | Images by: Court McGee
FYF Festival :: 09.05.09 :: Los Angeles State Historic Park :: Los Angeles, CA
It must be daunting to orchestrate a music festival. Stress no doubt ensues when organizers have to worry about finding a suitable place to hold the event and book talent as well as secure permits, sell tickets and arrange food and alcohol vendors. Once all the necessary elements are in place, all organizers can really do is wait for the day and pray that everything goes according to plan. For music promoter Sean Carlson pulling everything together for a gathering of musicians and music lovers has been an annual occurrence ever since he organized the first F Yeah Fest in 2004, when he was just 18 years old. Over the past six years, the event has held true to its roots and brought together some of the most talented noise rock, experimental and electro acts from L.A. and around the world to play at the intimate festival, which typically caters to a crowd that wouldn't be willing to pay more than $30 bucks to see a festival or show.
|FYF Festival 2009|
For the 2009 event, Carlson and the other organizers decided to relocate from Echo Park to the Los Angeles State Historic Park in Chinatown, change its name to the slightly redundant FYF Fest and scale the festival down from a multi-day event to a one day multifaceted musical hodgepodge. The fest was also a fundraiser to raise awareness about the possible closure of up to 100 of California's state parks. Considering the small scale and slightly guerrilla nature of the event, it's surprising the obstacles they had to overcome - including the fire marshal preventing the gates from opening on time, ridiculous lines for entrance, food purchases and restrooms, and the near shut down of one band's performance because the crowd was too rowdy. However, there were some truly amazing performances that turned the woe stricken festival into a resounding success.
As previously mentioned, the fire marshal delayed general admission into the festival for reasons that one assumes related to emergency exits and crowd safety. This one-hour setback forced early arrivals to linger in long lines while baking in the hot sun. Waiting for entrance and looking over mountainous wildfire smoke plumes that rose in the distance, many surely thought that the event was doomed. But as the gates were opened and people slowly started to trickle in, fears were put to rest as musicians hit the stage.
|FYF Festival 2009|
While there were 33 extremely different acts playing over the course of the day – some good, others not so much - four stick out in particular that are worthy of mention and recognition.
One of the first to play was Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Kurt Vile. Performing alone onstage with an acoustic guitar, beefed up with heavy chorus and reverb effects, Vile captured admiration of the lucky few who were able to gain entrance to the festival for his early set. Possibly best known for his work with the retro, garage-psyc outfit War On Drugs, Vile has recently been touring the country as a solo act and honing his one-man show. Even though his stage demeanor was slightly peevish, his songs were commanding and reminiscent of tracks off Springsteen's Nebraska. Many liken his songs to rambling era Neil Young, although after seeing Vile's set at FYF a more appropriate comparison seems to be the later years of Bob Dylan. Either finger picking or strumming his guitar without the aid of a pick, Vile's short set acted as an exclusive show for the sparse audience gathered around the stage.
Upon seeing manic drum alchemist Zach Hill setting up his kit with Wavves, rumors were quickly laid to rest that the percussion virtuoso is now playing with Nathan Williams, the mastermind of the San Diego-based lo-fi act. While the band sounded like unfocused adolescents noodling before the addition of Hill, with the noted drummer on board they sound more pronounced and professional. This is possibly not what the band's fans want, considering Wavves originally prided itself on having no real instrumental talent, but as Williams howled into a microphone overtly accented with heavy chorus effects, Hill proved his worth as he banged away on his kit and occasionally employed a double bass pedal. With the duo playing full force, the audience got riled up and eager crowd surfers floated around the audience, despite signs warning the revelers not to. Near mid-set Williams announced Hill had an abscessed tooth and was in extreme pain. Under the circumstances it wouldn't have been out of the question for Wavves to back out of the performance, but as a testament to his uncompromising character Hill played on.
|Wavves :: FYF Festival 2009|
Before this exalted Rhode Island noise rock act even hit the stage, organizers were telling the unruly crowd cramming and smashing as close to the stage as possible that if they didn't calm down and "all take a step back" there would be no show. Fans of the band could hardly be blamed for their excitement; this was the group's first U.S. festival appearance and one of the only times Lightning Bolt, notorious for playing on the ground, would be playing on a pedestal. When the band did hit the stage drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson got such a livid, borderline violent reaction from the crowd during the first few songs that event staff told the duo to stop playing. Organizers told the mob that if they didn't "step back and respect one another" the fire marshal would be forced to shut down the performance. This threat seemed more genuine and got the crowd to pay attention. When there was some semblance of respect amongst the audience, the band started playing again and struck into another ferocious song. Lightning Bolt played with such primal energy that it was surprising the music didn't inspire another manic reaction. But as the band played on, focus was shifted from the crowd to the musicians onstage. Chippendale stomped on his kick pedal and rattled his toms extremely hard while he screeched into a microphone affixed to a skintight cloth mask. The drummer had a few effects pedals set up near his kit that drastically warped his vocals, adding to the overall spastic quality of the music. Additionally, Gibson played his bass with such extreme feedback and utter distortion that the sounds coming from his Stingray 5-string were not characteristic of what a "normal" bassist would typically play. Even though the crowd raged on (at one point surfing a kid around the audience on a boogie board), the show continued without further interruption from authorities.
|Lightning Bolt :: FYF Festival 2009|
The seemingly nonstop onslaught of bands comprised of drum and guitar duos continued with the quintessential Los Angeles noise rock act No Age. With strong ties to the L.A. underground music scene and the FYF - the band claimed to have played the fest six times - No Age felt like a curator of sorts for the festival. While on studio tracks the band often sounds like it's playing on a child's tape recorder, live, the band is more pronounced and surprisingly crisp, a nice change for those who don't care for No Age's characteristic lo-fi sound. As Dean Allen Spunt banged incessantly on his simple kit – comprised of a snare, bass drum, floor tom, high hats, ride and the surprising inclusion of an electronic drum pad – he seemed to be experimenting and leading the sound while Randy Randall held down the back bone of the songs on his electric guitar. The group would occasionally fall into noise jams that got lost in the incoherent instrumentation, but their overall musicianship was impressive, especially Spunt, whose vocals rarely faltered as he played his kit. The energetic crowd was definitely stoked on the performance, and as a salute to fans in the front row Randall jumped down to the photo pit for the group's last song, giving fans a more intimate view of his playing.
|FYF Festival 2009|
Continue reading for a few more pics of FYF Fest 2009...