While many FYF-ers were lounging about in the grass or claiming front and center position at the main stage, a herd of electronic music fans huddled anxiously in the shade outside the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Inside, Kaytranada was commanding a full house – full enough, in fact, to hit capacity, leaving a line of security guards to be the bearers of bad news.
The scene outside the Arena was indicative of electronic music’s growing presence at the festival, which has come a long way from its roots as a small DIY event showcasing punk rock acts. Over the years, it’s grown both in size and clout by curating trendier, more diverse lineups that liken it to a smaller, inner-city Coachella–just with skyscrapers standing in for mountains.
This year’s festival, held at Exposition Park, was its biggest yet, and in ways that organizers couldn’t have initially anticipated. After headliner Frank Ocean bailed just days beforehand, they replaced him with Kanye West, who blew up social media by bringing out Rihanna and Travis Scott during his set. Meanwhile, Flume–the only electronic producer to play the main stage–instantly proved worth the hype when he invited Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt onstage for “Some Minds.” Then, to top it off, Lorde made a cameo that not even he saw coming.
Further validation of this groundswell could be heard across the festival’s other four stages, including a brand-new area booked exclusively for DJs. Though two of its biggest draws, Joy Orbison and Ben UFO, pulled out due to visa issues, replacements Flying Lotus and Bonobo, plus Dixon, Nicolas Jaar, DJ Harvey, Leon Vynehall and Shlohmo, kept the card strong. Here are seven sets from FYF 2015 that prove the genre’s right at home.
[Article photo by Jose Negrete for FYF Fest]
HORSE MEAT DISCO
On day one, the London-based collective broke in FYF’s new fifth stage, The Woods, which was the smallest of the lot and also the barest in regard to stage production. Despite its size, it wasn’t hard to find, thanks to its central location in the park and the glittering waves of multi-colored streamers swaying with the breeze above its dancefloor.
While the other stages were about showcasing forward-thinking artists and music, the four horsemen threw back to the golden days of groove with jovial disco cuts that thrived in the open air. The all-ages crowd skewed somewhat young as dancers got down to tunes from their parents’ heyday; still, a mix that built from Dimitri From Paris’ remix of Diana Ross’ “The Boss” into Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” inspired an impromptu Soul Train line that made for one of the festival’s heart-warming moments.
Meanwhile, The Trees stage nearby boasted a new half-dome setup nestled among, well, the trees. For Josh Legg, the production brain behind Goldroom, the occasion was a special one on multiple fronts: he was performing across the street from his alma mater, USC, and it was the first time he was performing with his now six-piece live band.
The timing of Goldroom’s sunset stint couldn’t have been more appropriate. It had the warmth and laid-back air of a breezy summer day as their nu-disco, tropical-tinged sounds and sugarcoated vocals transported the slow-grooving crowd out of the Expo Park and onto the beach. The seamless transitions between songs made for a well-balanced hybrid of live performance and DJ sensibility, though mid-set, Legg took a page out of Win Butler’s book, telling the crowd, “Thank you for being down to hear real instruments and shit.”
Though Shlohmo immediately followed Goldroom on The Trees stage, the atmosphere for his set did away with the feelgood vibes. By the time the Wedidit staple hit the stage, night had fallen, and fog machines and pulsing lights against the darkness turned the half-dome into an ominous, pseudo-UFO landing.
Much of the crowd seemed like they were pulled in by sheer curiosity, but Shlohmo’s focused performance gave them reason to stay. With the help of a live band, he drilled through the audience with heavy bass and harsh sounds bordering on industrial–hey, X-Files is coming back, right? If they’re looking for a music scorer, this just might be the guy for the job.
FYF’s increasing popularity proved both blessing and curse last year, as the electronic lineup–housed mostly in the Sports Arena–drew a crowd that overwhelmed the enclosed space, leaving many waiting outside in the heat. This year, organizers opened up part of the seated section, which helped greatly for the most part: the only time the Arena hit capacity was during Kaytranada’s set. Once his set ended, his legion of fans left with him, leaving the stage wide open for the LA festival debut of Jon Hopkins.
Fans of the UK mastermind have been anticipating his return to Southern California since his impressive Coachella debut back in April. Though he was performing another live set, the addition of trippy, intricate custom visuals put the show on a new plane, though technical difficulties unfortunately marred an otherwise awe-inspiring performance.
The majority of his set was heavy on intensity, building momentum with a combination of dark, organic and atmospheric beats fit to soundtrack a meteor hurtling toward Earth. “Open Eye Signal” got the biggest reaction, being his most recognized recent work of late; but 2009’s “Light Through the Veins,” coupled with mosaic-like visuals, was a true highlight.
The Woods’ dancefloor was noticeably more crowded on the second day, starting off with festival newcomer Leon Vynehall, who was a late yet entirely welcome addition to the lineup. Whether it was due to the sweltering heat or simply to Day Two exhaustion, there was a lot of dancing-while-sitting beneath the shady edges of the dancefloor.
Regardless, the Brighton-based jock kept up the previous feel-good vibes of Horse Meat Disco with two hours of smooth and soulful boogie, funk and deep house. One track that went over particularly well was Osunlade’s transcendental “I’m Happy,” whose pseudo-chorus the crowd took to heart as they bounced across the dancefloor with smiles all around.
Next up at The Woods was DJ Harvey, who’s been to the FYF rodeo a few times. While he was well deserving of his coveted closing slot last year in the darkened Arena, the Sarcastic Disco don’s music felt better suited for the open air.
He started mid-afternoon, just as a cool breeze began to set in, and he kept the crowd at a relaxed groove, building to more sweat-inducing cuts that even caught the attention of Dixon, who briefly stepped into the crowd–shades on and popsicle in hand–before disappearing backstage. A pair of fan-wielding, moss- and flower-covered voguers added some whimsy.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a music festival without someone getting weird: while it’s usually the artists who do the stage-diving, this time it was an audience member who catapulted himself into the DJ booth before being escorted away. Harvey, like the pro he is, didn’t blink an eye. In the words of the Instagram user who caught it on camera, “Don’t drink and dive, kids.”
After a solo appearance back in 2012 and a legendary performance last year as half of Darkside, Nicolas Jaar returned to FYF for a spell that many were quick and confident in declaring it one of the best electronic shows they’d ever seen.
Jaar’s set was the most-attended after Kaytranada; the Arena floor filled to about three-quarters of the way, and nearly all the upper-section seats were taken. Those in the latter, perhaps, opted to view the spectacle like a film–and that was very much what it was like at first. With darkness swallowing the space, save for a dim light on an American flag, the 20 minute-long intro – a cinematic crashing of spoken word against harsh atmospherics – had some disconcerted walk-ins heading straight back towards the exit. The devotees who stuck it out, however, were immensely rewarded for their patience.
Backed by pulsing lights, rotating sheets of lasers and blankets of thick fog, Nico thundered through the set with mesmerizing techno that hit so hard, it rattled the arena well up into the furthest seated section; and the heaving masses approached collective insanity with each swell. By the time it was over, the rumbling drones of Jaar’s last winding moments were almost drowned out by the massive roar of appreciation from the dancefloor.