FYF Fest 2017: Five key performances

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  • Heading into its 14th year, FYF has developed from a scrappy indie rock festival into a full reflection of the city it's based in: Los Angeles. The event, like the city, feels less like a melting pot than a mosaic, a place where you can find your tribe within the sprawl. LA is still the world's entertainment capital, and Frank Ocean brought out Brad Pitt for a cameo even though the rest of the R&B star's show was refreshingly informal. (It featured, among other things, a cover of a Nigerian disco holy grail.) Elsewhere, '90s cult bands like Slowdive and Sleep played to massive crowds, while fresher names like Mac DeMarco, Solange and Moses Sumney supported legacy acts such as Nine Inch Nails, Iggy Pop, Missy Elliott and A Tribe Called Quest. More intriguingly, a wave of underground dance acts—who typically appear in LA's clandestine network of warehouse parties—were given the full run of two stages at Exposition Park: The Woods and Outer Space. There was a further stratification within these artists, meaning attendees could choose between the arena-sized (Flying Lotus, Nicolas Jaar), the boundary-pushing (Arca, Helena Hauff) and some returning favourites (The Black Madonna, DJ Harvey). For many longtime followers of LA's underground, joining throngs of kids losing it to Omar-S or Motor City Drum Ensemble felt downright surreal. Though not without its hiccups, FYF and its various rammed afterparties indicated just how far the city's electronic music scene has come. Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
    Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 FYF's second day began with an appearance from Afrobeat royalty. Seun Kuti, son of Fela, performed alongside Egypt 80, the band his father led for many years. They set the tone with Fela's immortal "Expensive Shit," which demonstrates the elder Kuti's ability to imbue a serious political message within party music. "If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution," Emma Goldman famously said, and the anarchist icon would have smiled at the scene at The Lawn—every member of the hundreds-strong crowd was fully in motion during the performance, despite the sweltering heat. "Africa Dreams," a nine-minute-plus jam showcasing the big band's preternatural rhythm and musicianship, was a late highlight, its lyrics urging the struggling continent to abandon materialism in favor of building community. Kuti was the consummate showman, whether cavorting around his horn section, backup singers and guitarists, or taking solos on a Nord piano and sax. At one point, he had a singer help remove his shirt to cheers from the audience—a flashy James Brown-indebted move. Sure enough, Kuti sported a large tattoo of the Godfather Of Soul on his midsection.
    Young Marco The Outer Space stage was home to the weekend's most challenging dance bookings, but it suffered occasional technical issues and spotty attendance. For those in the know, Saturday brought a wild digger lineup with generous sets from Horse Meat Disco, Young Marco and DJ Harvey. Marco, who came straight from a gig at Northern Californian gathering Sunset Campout, has been playing deeper than ever recently. At FYF, that meant dub, an edit of Can's "Vitamin C," Italo obscurities, a bizarre version of Bob Marley's "Exodus" and even some pitched-down drum & bass. I hadn't heard a set quite like it, and was fully in the zone when a technician forced Marco to stop—a wiring issue had electrified the surrounding metal fence, and the music was cut for ten minutes for safety reasons. As the small crowd filed out, Marco came over, seemingly unfazed. "At least I can piss now."
    DJ Harvey DJ Harvey, like Horse Meat Disco, was scheduled for a couple of long sets over the course of multiple days. (He wasn't the only one—Honey Soundsystem were also given a hilariously long set by festival standards. They used their nine-hour Sunday slot to host unannounced appearances from The Black Madonna, Avalon Emerson and a few LA staples.) Harvey turned up at Outer Space not long after the electric fence incident. While Marco explained the situation, Harvey assessed the scene, resplendent in a white blazer. For his Sunday marathon at the preferable Woods stage, Harvey was in full-on Balearic don mode, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and the tunes to match. A surge of peak-time festival bookings have meant he's as comfortable playing darkroom bangers as he is Sarcastic Study Masters-style fare, but he still knows when to play the classics. He gently eased up the tempo over the course of the afternoon, dropping sun-kissed hits like Marcos Valle's " Estrelar," Tullio De Piscopo's "Stop Bajon" and Johne Forde's "Don't You Know Who Did It" while some polysexual fly boys and girls danced on top of the speakers.
    Omar-S I've seen Omar-S DJ in plenty of settings—a hookah bar in Pittsburgh, a fairly average club, a warehouse in LA that got shut down by police helicopters—but never has it been as good as his first FYF appearance. On Sunday, he played mostly vinyl. (Helena Hauff, who also lugged records to Exposition Park, had some technical issues with the decks over at Outer Space on Friday night, but things had been sorted at The Woods by day three.) When the FXHE boss launched with Crystal Waters' "Makin' Happy," it was well and truly on. He charted a clear line between the swaggering functionality of '90s New York house (K.D.G.'s "Hey," John Ciafone's dub of Kim English's 'Learn 2 Luv," Todd Terry's "Jumpin'") and his own productions ("Day," "Heard Chew Single," "Set It Out"). The latter, nestled between two gnarly Chicago acid tracks, made for a particularly rapturous moment. As the sun faded from view, the bucket-hatted Detroiter ocassionally shook his head when he didn't like a mix. And then, looking over the bustling, ecstatic crowd, he cracked a well-earned smile.
    Nine Inch Nails You could easily spend all your time at FYF's smaller dance stages and never get a good idea for just how large the festival has become. But its size became obvious as soon as Nine Inch Nails hit the Main Stage for the final headline slot. A huge crowd—larger than I ever thought Nine Inch Nails could attract—gathered to sing and fist-pump along. It was Trent Reznor and co.'s first proper performance in three years (bar a warm-up gig in Bakersfield), though you'd never know it from the way they barrelled through their set. The five-piece band, which includes modular synth wiz Alessandro Cortini, hit all corners of the NIN catalogue, from Pretty Hate Machine favourite "Something I Can Never Have" to the brand new "Less Than." All were performed with faithful arrangements that showcased Reznor's detailed productions as well as the live band's powerful thrust. There were deeper cuts that I didn't expect to hear at a festival. "The Wretched," from The Fragile, elicited one of the band's most spirited performances, while "Reptile," from The Downward Spiral, highlighted the group's industrial side, with the screeches and buzzes coming to life over the near-perfect soundsystem. Maybe best of all was "The Great Destroyer," taken from the underappreciated 2006 album Year Zero, complete with an IDM breakdown that sounded like Aphex Twin on a rampage. It was electronic music you could headbang to, which felt like the perfect way to end the FYF experience. Photo credit / Photos courtesy of FYF Fest Andrew Ryce contributed to this piece