FYF Fest 2013. Photo: Tod Seelie
The Choice of a New Generation
Ten years ago I was 17 years old. I "road tripped" 40-minutes south of the small, sinkhole town I lived in to one slightly more populated (with rest homes) for my first concert at a venue imaginatively named the Electric Theater. The headliner didn't make it that night––van troubles or something––but I still have the ticket taped to the brick I claimed as my laptop and covered in Weezer stickers. That year also marked my first mutual boyfriend, and my very first kiss––also mutual.
Around the same time, a kid in Los Angeles named Sean Carlson, just a couple of years older than me in 2004, decided to "boldly go where no man has gone before"––probably to impress some babes––and started Fuck Yeah Fest by booking some shows in a bunch of venues around the city. Honestly, anything I write here about his story is speculation, as the "About" section on the FYF website was blank up until this year, when a lineup history magically appeared along with a link that makes me wish I had requested an interview with the man himself, rather than vying for time with the dazzling lineup of bands at this year's festival.
Regardless, the little information I could piece together about FYF's history, along with this telling Wikipedia page and the clever, generational details observed at FYF Fest 2013––from stages named after Sex and the City characters to the exclusively '90s movie sequel trailers playing after dark between sets on the main stage monitors––give me the confidence to declare that Carlson and I have a common goal, and this past weekend, we sold out together.
Nobody Jaywalks in LA
I have a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles. The reliable weather, the [overcast] beaches, the abundance of vegan food, and its general "vacation" vibe are all reasons why I forget how much I hate all the concrete, the snotty attitudes, the careless drivers and mind-numbing traffic. I know FYF Fest was organized by a like-minded individual because doors aren't until 2 p.m., which means plenty of time to sleep or read a book while shivering on a hotel towel in seagull-infested sand. On our way to one such aquatic adventure, a perfectly manicured 20-something bumps into the back of our rental, causing a few hours delay and ultimately leading to an untimely appearance at the festival, but I am happy to let Dan Deacon introduce me to my FYF 2013 experience. Technical difficulties result in an atypical Dan Deacon set that is more stand-up than music––which works out because I'd missed the comedy during the first part of the day. He makes fun of his balding head, apologizes for all the glitches and the fact this is, indeed, their final song, and manages to still blow me away in his final five minutes on stage with a rainbow light show, two frenetic live drummers, an improvised monologue, and electronic music that sounds like a band made up of Jane and Michael's playroom toys brought to life by Mary Poppins.
Eye Wonder Who Karen O Dates?
When I was a teenager, I used my weekly church attendance as a runway show. At school, I wore the same drab clothes as everyone else, but at church, I was ahead of every revivalist movement: goth, Bohemian, ’60s, ’90s––you name it. I was also a master hair braider, but that’s another story. Now, all I really care about is being comfortable, maximizing my assets and minimizing my … well, other ass-ets. Karen O lives out every minute of her stage life like the rowdiest runway show you’ll ever see––this ain’t no mall walkway with waifs in pastel––and for this reason (OK, and because the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ music is awesome), I find myself at the Carrie Stage on Saturday night. The YYYs’ latest album, Mosquito, has already become a go-to on my playlists, and as Karen O comes on stage in a dirty-blonde bob, sparkling pantsuit (with shorts), pink knee socks and colorful sneakers and moves right into the title track, she sucks all the energy from the thousands gathered and blasts it back in wild yelps and guttural screams.
The songs move into each other seamlessly, congruent with Karen O’s wardrobe changes. They’re more raw and punk-infused live, and favorites include “Gold Lion,” “Runaway,” “Cheated Hearts” and “Sacrilege”––whose gospel wails follow me out of the festival at the end of the night. A thick, long bright-yellow cord connects to her mic and she moves it around her body like a snake, pulling it over her shoulder, spinning it above her head, and to everyone’s delight, pushing it into her open mouth as a long, throaty moan envelops us like an electric blanket bursting into flame on contact. She dons her famous studded “KO” leather jacket for “Zero,” and at one point, even pushes a headlamp onto her head like a third eye. Speaking of eyes: From the back of the stage, before anyone can look twice, a giant inflatable eyeball is pushed into the crowd midway through––which I guess has been happening at all of their shows, but is a complete surprise to me. As I watch the spectacular performance, all I can think is, “Damn, I wonder who Karen O dates.”
Beach House Lullabies
Sitting on my FYF Fest map, looking at everyone’s dirty faces while I wait for Beach House, I ease into Sunday. In back of the Carrie Stage, there looks to be a wall of vertical wires shimmering as the sun sets, like those fountains at fancy restaurants that look like pouring rain. The dream pop duo are joined by an extra musician so as to maintain the luscious layers of music they’ve created for nearly a decade. I’m far enough from the stage that the people are blurs of slow-moving flesh, but the background shows a starry mess of lights, supplementing the dingy L.A. sky above me, while puffs of smoke from the front of the stage look like bubbles. The coolness of Victoria Legrand’s whispers is complemented by blue lighting, and as the wire wall behind the band starts to move with crimson shapes and the audience sways back and forth, I feel like I’m watching a concert under the sea.
Across the country, Miley Cyrus is pushing her chicken butt into Robin Thicke as Solange drops to her knees with class on the Charlotte Stage in a bright, patterned sweater and Lisa Simpson haircut, gyrating to the funky, retro bass lines thumping behind her. "Let's turn this into a grind fest," she croons into the mic, and immediately, all the white kids around me drop two inches and start shuffling back and forth. Ever since watching 20 Feet From Stardom, I've been keen on any act with back-up singers, and I know that, regardless of Solange's down-to-earth vibe, the sister of Beyonce Knowles will surely boast some classic R&B bells and whistles. As her back-ups ooh and aah, giving the set glimpses of Destiny's Child influence, Solange shows off dance moves that are comparable to her big sis––though they'd feel more at home in an intimate club full of eclectic jazz-hounds than a post-apocalyptic music video set. It must be difficult to have your work constantly thrown up against that of a worldwide pop culture icon's––but really, don't we all live in Beyonce's shadow? As if reading our minds on whether her notable family members might be hiding backstage, Solange happily mentions her mom has come to watch, and lightly asks everyone to say, "Hello Mom." Now that there is no question as to whether or not Beyonce is present, we can enjoy Solange for who she is and what she has to offer: soulful, classic, booty-shakin' music with a '90s twist.
Well, What Other Bands Are There Now?
Sunday is a hazy blur of romantic waves. "We're in this together," is our mantra, and every piece of life and media thrown our way parallels the past year in a microscopic experience. The Breakfast Club plays out in the hotel room as we make our way to the metro, but sit on opposite ends of the aisle, looking past each other to the other side of the weekend in silent repose. As we walk inside, Flume beats like a mad heart in the aptly named Samantha Tent in the center of the grounds, and there we break apart to Melvins and Beach House, respectively, meeting back in the middle for Solange. Washed Out's "Feel It All Around" permeates the festival grounds as we sit on a curb, sticking morbid PETA stickers on each other's plaid button-ups and thinking about not 10, but 20 years ago, when the '90s meant divorce and new schools and new friends. Washed Out fades away and 2005's summer anthem, "Time to Pretend," sounds out at the south end of the park on the Carrie Stage. Like an oracular beam of light, groups of kids walk past us toward the music, which becomes unfamiliar until the intro of "Kids" marches into our ears, and we know MGMT's set is nearly over, making room for a different tractor beam of noise.
Just about everyone has made jokes about it, but the warnings that pop up between flashes of inculcating "FYF Fest––Best Weekend Ever," trailers for Batman and Robin, and "Next Up … My Bloody Valentine," are very real, along with the bright orange earplugs we pick up at the info booth. This feels new, but in a regurgitated way, mimicking the nervous expectation of that first show I attended 10 years ago. The past six months have culminated into this recursive moment, which I've subconsciously set up as a reset to infinity. Taking a good five minutes to get my earplugs just right so I won't have to mess with them again, I wait in anticipation with everyone around me, but really, just one other person, because this is our moment. The lights drop and the letters "m b v" appear like blood surfacing on a swirling blue pool in the background. The stage looks crowded already with towers of amps, but as the musicians file in, they fit into their respective positions like the last pieces of a puzzle. Kevin Shields leans into the mic, and though I'm too far to make out facial features, and the giant monitors to each side show nothing, his shoulder-length, frizzy white hair is illuminated by the blue light behind him, giving his crisp and single "Hello" an ethereal quality.
I expect a wall of noise to push us all backward from the very first note, but we're eased into the music like a first kiss with one of my favorites, "I Only Said." My Bloody Valentine's most critically acclaimed album may be called "Loveless," but there is a tangible romance inside the static and reverb, which is why we're here together, arms wrapped around each other. I don't have most of the track names memorized, but I know Loveless' melodies and whispers by heart, and though muffled by the foam in my ears (which I end up repositioning so they're not quite so stifling), I smile wider with each song I recognize. We're enjoying the on-and-off violence of "Only Shallow" as the background turns to fiery noise, the amps opening their mouths like dragons and short, shadowed glimpses of Bilinda Butcher's sparkling red guitar––matching her hair and heels––move on the screens––and then silence. I look up from my sway and see the band still playing. More heads in the audience pop up and audible panic swells. The guitars turn back on like a switch, but it happens again, and I fear the magic lost. I feel like Dorothy, peering behind the curtain to see the truth. Just humans with big machines. All seems lost. For some in the audience, this is just another show, another checkmark on their list of bands to see, and these technical glitches are simply minor annoyances. To me, they're stabs in my back. Waves of doubt and despair wash over me as I question the past year-and-a-half, seemingly reflected in the blown speakers and five-minute interruption.
Shields announces the end of their set, apologizing for the difficulties and throwing us a bone by dubbing us their best audience thus far. It feels insincere and only makes it worse. They move into their final song, which I later find out is "You Made Me Realise," from their EP of the same name released in 1988. It's a discordant track, bouncier than anything on Loveless, but I'm frozen in place. The song seems to end, at least the melody, and in its place, the slow climax of thunderous noise rockets from the stage. I'm still frozen, but this time, I can't stop staring at the noise displayed visually on the backdrop. I know it's dumb, it's cliche, but I can't remember how long I stood there. A tractor beam of the loudest music I have ever heard holds onto me, and like a strong dose of radiation, clears away the malignant thoughts that had built up in my brain. I tear myself away and search for recognition in the faces around me. A few creased foreheads express confusion, but for the most part, My Bloody Valentine has managed to baptize an audience of thousands with a single, reverberating chord. I'll learn later that this part of the song is rightfully called "Full Holocaust," and after what seems like a lifetime of eleventh hours (but was only five minutes), they fall back into the melody and finish out the song. We turn around with everyone else to walk out of the festival grounds, but I barely noticed the crowd. "It was like the biggest 'fuck you’ to every band who has ever said they're loud!" I exclaim, thinking it's a witty thing to say. There's more going on in my mind, but for now, I feel relieved and hopeful. It's not until we're back at the hotel, packing silently for the plane ride back home in the morning, that it all comes into perspective. He says, "Well, what other bands are there now?" All the moments––the good, the bad, the hopelessness, the elation––they've culminated here and will repeat into infinity––and you made me realise, it will always be with you.