By the time FYF day two finally opened its gates mid-afternoon, the asphalt and turf surrounding the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum had already been thoroughly baked from the 90-plus degree weather. Trying to stay cool with a steady flow of popsicles and beer, the day began with a quick stop at the Lawn stage, where Canadian quintet Preoccupations were busy busting the thermometer with their heated, post-punk deliriums. Led by Matt Flegel, the group is more than just a wildly affronting pandamonium of haphazardly thrown percussion and intelligible guitar medleys–instead, their driving hits dart back and forth between their evident 80-90’s influences. From blistering crowd triggers like “Continental Shelf” and “Silhouettes,” Preoccupations failed to wither in the face of their early time slot and its insane positioning towards the sun.
Over at the Club stage, a vividly intimate venue whose stage burst with hundreds of lights and a gorgeous collection of glittering disco balls, Julia Holter followed up the intrinsically bare-boned vulnerability of Julien Baker with her own lush, folk production. Surrounded by her multi-instrumentalist collective—which featured a gorgeous string section complete with cellist and violinist—Holter glided dreamily the depths of her baroque harmonizations. With a voice as sonorous as Austra’s Katie Stelmanis, the 31-year-old composer doubled-down on her crystallized trills and even her band’s lavish instrumentals took backseat to her vocals. Live, Holter and company drift spontaneously through both their upbeat, foot-stomping folk listens (“Everytime Boots”) and the more contemplatively ascending ditties (“Sea Call Me Home,” “How Long?”) with a poised verve.
Unbeknownst to potentially the entire festival, Paul Banks and RZA (Banks & Steelz) stepped onto the Trees stage to a welcoming but criminally small crowd for such star-power. One part Interpol and one part Wu Tang Clan, the unlikely duo between one of the world’s biggest rock bands and hip-hop collectives was grounds for some serious insanity–and Los Angeles seemed just the place to initiate their festival debut. But early heat and what could only be explained as ignorance left the first few songs of their set lacking, which showed a bit in the duo’s initial enthusiasm. But by their third song, bringing out the talents of Chicago trumpeter Donnie Trumpet to give them so adrenaline, the duo found their rhythm and proceeded to turn the Trees stage into a bonfire of scalding critiques. Spitting molten daggers from behind his keyboard, RZA’s lyricisms were the essential life-giving backbeat to Bank’s introspective wails. Like a moody, post-punk, grimy version of Run the Jewels, Banks and Steelz thrives on its duo’s dichotomy. From the red-hot poker disses and chained metaphors on “Giant” and “Anything But Words,” Bank’s haunting cries provide the overarching chorus/theme, while RZA digs his razor-edged rhymes into its many nuanced narratives.
The VMA’s had yet to begin by the time Blood Orange began his set over at the Fuck Yeah stage, but within the first fifteen minutes it seemed like he might bring out more stars than the television event. In a flurry of groovy, jazzed up tunes, Dev Hynes brought out everyone from Empress Of to Sky Ferreira, and for loyal fans who stuck around through the fading heat, he even called upon the angelic aid of Nelly Furtado who he dueted with. A dancer infused with an ungodly amount of funk, Hynes’ midnight R&B jams glitter and pop with an 70-80’s extravagance, channeling every bit of those era’s idols with an uncanny charisma. Calling upon the sizzling electrics and body-possessing harmonies in songs like “Augustine,” Hynes and his euphoniously-gifted backup singers brought down the heavens and pulled the sunset sensually across the crowd.
At pretty much the same time Blood Orange was squeezing every ounce of funk out of his fans over on the main stage, Charles Bradley stepped out into the blazing heat of the Lawn stage to give the massive crowd that had gathered there a taste of his James Brown stylized theatrics. Bradley sweat out his soul onstage, wringing the excess groove onto the crowd with every spin and spectacular lick of his fingers. An entertainer born into the glamor days of R&B and soul, Bradley’s age is matched only by his onstage antics, which include, but are not limited to, microphone tricks and signature raspy yells. Winning the crowd over long before his first song was even over, Bradley and his talented cohorts of backup singers, brass and sax players brought the soul to a festival that was seeping lacking in such. “Shall I take you to church?” Bradley screamed into the crowd as he dived into the gospel tinged, throaty croonings of “How Long.” In an era dominated by EDM and watered-down pop versions of R&B and rock, Bradley’s warm receiving at FYF is a strong indicator that people react as much to trends as they do quality and sincere talent, something the suave gentleman has an abundance of. Over blaring trumpets and saxophones, Bradley cemented his performance at the festival as one of the best of the weekend, burning a hole through the stage with his enthused dance moves and lighting a perpetual fire of funk in the bellies of every one of his hundreds of listeners.
By the time Mac Demarco began the surf-folk twittering of “Salad Days,” the area in front of the Trees stage had turned into a garden of stoned, eyes-glazed-over teens and middle-aged baby boomers. In a humorously deep and formal tone, Demarco introduced his band and pretty much every song they were about to play to the crowd, who ate up his normally quiet times with an inexplicable insanity. The crowd pushed wildly against the stage’s barricade as they moshed to “The Way You’d Love Her” and “Let Her Go,” while others found themselves crowd surfacing in a desperate attempt to reach Demarco. Boys and girls alike clamored in anxiousness as they roared out the nostalgia-ridden melancholia that seems to jump gleefully from Demarco’s songs, but the energy of the crowd pushed the singer/songwriter to match their enthusiasm. With every song the pace was accelerated, until Demarco and his band found themselves ripping up their guitars and banging their heads in an attempt to just keep up with the crowd’s assertive expectations.
Jamaican enchantress Grace Jones is a dynamite bundle of surprises, notwithstanding the shock value of her eccentric wardrobe changes. Appearing atop the stage and above her band covered in black and white body paint, wearing a boggling skeletal mask, Jones began her set with the bar high enough–and only managed to raise it with every song. Infused deep in the electronic marriage of funk, soul, R&B, disco, reggae and jazz, Jones pushed the tired crowd to their limits as she spurned them on to dance the night away with her. Joined onstage by a particularly enthusiastic and wild pole dancer, dubbed “Tarzan” by Jones, the 68-year-old kept pace with extraordinary vitality as she contorted her body onto poles, spun a hula-hoop around her hips for an entire song, and danced in high heels across the entire stage without breaking so much as a sweat. The only time she needed help was when she made the decision to get a bit closer to the crowd, which she accomplished by climbing on top of his back and having him carry her piggy-back to her fans, who reached out eagerly towards her. In her heavy Jamaican accent, Jones’ onstage charisma was not the very least infectious, and her little quips about LAX security and other topics (which spoke offstage over her microphone) kept the momentum going even while she engaged in her relatively quick wardrobe changes.
In the aftermath of Mac Demarco’s set at the Trees, almost nearly every soul present remained firmly ingrained in their position–waiting patiently with beer and puffs of cannabis for the inevitable arrival of otherworldly duo Beach House. Vivid enchantress Victoria Legrand wasted to time in casting her spell over the loyal crowd of followers, waving her harms and casting spells from beneath her hooded cloak, her slyly murmured, husky voiced fairytales of broken childhoods and existential crisis resonating as deeply as ever with the starry-eyed souls present. One of the unique singularities of Beach House crowds is the ratio of movement (or lack thereof) to passion; at first glance the immobile crowd is a somewhat deceptive indicator, but a closer look tells a bit different a story. Most seem dreamily lost, their eyes spaced out (even those not on drugs), mouthing with barely moved lips the words to “Wild” and “10 Mile Stereo,” their hair standing slightly on end, skin receiving wave after wave of goosebumps as Legrand utters the occasional favorite verse or chorus. It’s an entirely sensory experience, and the caved-in intimacy of the Trees stage, coupled with its glorious light show, only elevated the moment to that mysticism that Legrand seems to drench all her songs in.
Performing alongside LCD’s set on the Fuck Yeah stage was Chelsea Wolfe over at the Club, and while the decision to not dance to “I Can Change” or “Daft Punk is Playing At My House” is hard one to swing, the alternative was quite justifiable. A decidedly apocalyptic and doom-soaked folk songs, the California gothic singer is a twisted combination of Marilyn Manson tinged aesthetics and Bat for Lashes/Beach House atmospherics. Visible only as a black silhouette against a blood red backlight, Wolfe dazzled with her eerie murmurs, which at times soothed the soul to submission and electrified it with restless sorrow. Between warped guitars, which droned on loop against her softly trickled cries, Wolfe’s metal influences jump through the woodworks in cataclysmic eruptions–but sound and melody are seldom lost in the process. Lyrically, Wolfe’s work is as easy to follow as any other folk storyteller, and their disparate tales are almost addictive to listen to, but live the whine of her many electrics serve more as an ambient soundtrack than a cacophonous shock-and-awe tactic. There are even more upbeat tracks, like “The Warden,” which pulsed forward, piggy-backing on the stuttering beat of a drum machine and Wolfe’s ethereal howls, and the already dance-hungry crowd took advantage of the soul-stealing, witchy lights that burst from the stage to lose themselves under the Club’s large canopy of disco lights.
Words: Steven Ward
Photography: Danielle Gornbein
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