L.A.’s very first Fuck Yeah Festival took place as a free underground event way back in 2004, founded by a then-18-year-old indie fan with a dream named Sean Carlson. Eight years later, the festival is now a legit, Goldenvoice-promoted, two-day music marathon at Downtown Los Angeles’s 20,000-capacity Historic State Park, drawing impressive acts like omnipresent alt-pop radio heroes M83 and recent “Saturday Night Live” performers Sleigh Bells to its four stages and totally random celebrities like an apparently-still-dating Katy Perry/John Mayer and the one and only Octomom to its frenetically moshing audiences. The fest also now goes by the more family-friendly acronym “FYF Festival,” though please don’t ask me what the extra “F” stands for. (Seriously, doesn’t “FYF Festival” literally mean “Fuck Yeah Festival Festival”? Whatever.) All I know is the “F” doesn’t stand for “Fail,” because despite indie purists’ fears that the festival’s elevated profile and expanded lineup would cause the event to stray from Carlson’s original vision, this may have been the best FYF yet.
Over this past Labor Day weekend, no fewer than 94 musical acts played FYF 2012, from New York indie darlings Yeasayer, Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, and Tanlines, to Portland disco-glam collective Glass Candy, to a Clash-covering Desaparecidos and a Cure-covering Dinosaur Jr., to funky one-man bands George Lewis Jr. (aka Twin Shadow) and Damon G. Riddick (aka Dam-Funk). There was a whole lot of music to yell “f*** yeah!” about, really. But what 10 FYF moments really put the extra “F” in “FYF Fest”? Here are my picks.
1) Sleigh Bells’ Entire F-in’ Set
These thundering pop-bombast conquerors may be polarizing (their “SNL” performance was probably the most hotly debated this side of Lana Del Rey‘s), but I am totally Team Sleigh Bells, and it seemed like most of the FYF crowd felt the same way, once the Def Leppardian duo stormed the Main Stage on Saturday with their goes-to-11 audio onslaught of shouty cheerleaders-on-PCP choruses, tape hiss, punchy/crunchy guitars, “We Will Rock You” drumbeats, and Marshall-stacked noize, noize, noize. Before Sleigh Bells slayed, FYF almost seemed like a quaint backyard party. But the moment frontgoddess Alexis Krauss hit the stage in her Samantha Fox cutoffs and snarled, “DANCE FOR ME!!!!” – well, it felt like Coachella. Or even Ozzfest. And I mean that in the best possible way.
2) Refused’s Riotous Tribute To Pussy Riot
Perhaps the only FYF act that could make Sleigh Bells sound downright meek were Swedish hardcore heroes Refused, a band against which even the most industrial-strength earplugs were utterly useless. After reuniting earlier this year to play Coachella (the band split 14 years ago, surprisingly only months after releasing their breakthrough album The Shape Of Punk To Come), the emo/punk pioneers returned to SoCal this weekend for their first “official” L.A. gig, to blast more faces, blow out more eardrums, and open more minds with their revolutionary and revelatory rock ‘n’ roll. They hit Saturday’s Main Stage with the power and downright frightening ferocity of a hundred or so hungry tigers let loose in a meat locker, but during the rare moments when frontman Dennis Lyxzén actually came up for air, he of course used the FYF platform for his usual proselytizing. His best speech came when he rallied for jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot during his intro to “Rather Be Dead,” then added, “If I got sentenced to two years in prison every time I spoke out against the church and government, you would never see me again. I’d get 400,000 years in prison! This would be an instrumental band.” I don’t advise that Refused tour Russia any time soon. Dennis should never be silenced.
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3) The Faint’s Swoon-Worthy Return
Although rumors that these Nebraskan new-wavers would play their 2001 landmark Danse Macabre (one of THE best albums of the entire 2000s, in my not-so-humble opinion) proved untrue, the band still cranked out multiple Danse tracks (the mouth-breathing Antmusic of “Posed To Death,” the insistently rave-y Shamen soundalike “Your Retro Career Melted,” the office-drone anthem “Agenda Suicide”), and basically fulfilled the prophecy of their later-period hit, “The Geeks Were Right.” Many electronic acts, from New York’s Nicolas Jaar to Stockholm’s the Field to Britain’s Simian Mobile Disco, played FYF this year, but no FYF dance party came close to the Faint’s Sunday-night closing danse party on the Spring St. Stage.
4) Chairlift’s Japanese Whispers
This Brooklyn collective’s arty cocktail pop was going over well with Saturday afternoon’s Main Stage crowd, especially when enchanting front-ingénue Caroline Polachek started crooning an alternate version of “I Belong In Your Arms” in Japanese. Unfortunately, towards the end of the song (around 3:40 in the video below), she hit a language barrier of sorts, shaking her head in frustration, walking offstage, and cutting Chairlift’s set short without explanation. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.
5) Chromatics’ Gold-Medal-Worthy Kate Bush Cover
This Portland-bred, Italian-disco-damaged electronic band has been covering Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” for a while now, but there was something about hearing it so soon after Kate’s original version was used in the London Olympics Closing Ceremony – and hearing it on a Saturday at sunset, on an L.A. hillside – that made it special all over again. To loosely quote Kate herself, no one could steal this moment from me now.
6) Redd Kross’s Family Band
Los Angeles garage-pop legends Jeff and Steve McDonald, the righteous brothers of Redd Kross, recently released their like-they-never-left first album in 15 years, Researching The Blues, and during that hiatus, Jeff’s daughter with wife Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go’s, Astrid, grew up real nice. The now 17-year-old budding powerpop starlet joined her dad and Uncle Steve on Saturday afternoon for a cover of the Researching bonus track “Pop Show,” and it was soon clear that awesomeness runs in the McDonald clan.
7) The Vaselines’ “Sunbeam” In The California Sun
Scottish powerpop legends the Vaselines were one of the fest’s most anticipated acts, and from the instant they opened on Saturday with “Sex Sux,” they sure didn’t suck. “Molly’s Lips,” “Monsterpuss,” and “Rory Rides Me Raw” all went over wonderfully between Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly‘s gleefully offensive, unprintable stage-banter barbs, but it was when they played “Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam”–a classic obviously familiar to excited younger spectators thanks to Nirvana‘s famous Unplugged cover–that the real magic happened.
8) Laura Jean Grace Is Still One Of The Boys, So To Speak
This past May, when Against Me!‘s punk frontman Tom Gabel announced his shocking decision to live life as a woman named Laura Jean Grace, it was major news. Understandably, then, many lookie-loos flocked to Against Me!’s Sunday afternoon Main Stage set to see what all the fuss was about. But anyone expecting some sort of freaky sideshow or drag revue must have been disappointed. Fans of Against Me!, or of blistering punk-rock in general, however, surely were not. Laura Jean and her band put on a thankfully gimmick-free show, and the gender of the band’s singer mattered not in the least. At the end of the day, it was still all about the music.
9) James Blake’s Noise Pollution Battle
One great thing about FYF is it’s not very big. You can walk from one stage to another in about two minutes. One thing that’s not so great about FYF? Um, it’s not very big. You can walk from one stage to another in about two minutes. My point is, sound from one stage often bleeds into another artist’s personal space, and perhaps no FYF artist suffered as much from this too-close-for-comfort arrangement as English electronic auteur James Blake, whose ethereal piano compositions on the Spring St. Stage were rendered nearly indecipherable by the aforementioned Tanlines’ over-amplified dance-rock blasting out of the adjacent Broadway Tent. The whole thing sounded like a bad mashup, and it was clear that James, along with his gathered fans, was annoyed. But he soldiered on valiantly and managed to create some tender and special moments amid the chaos. And hey, it could have been worse. He could’ve been playing next-door to Sleigh Bells or Refused, right?
10) Paul Banks Makes A Name For Himself
After recording one album and one EP under the pseudonym Julian Plenti, Interpol frontman Paul Banks is finally planning to release an album under his own name this October, simply titled Banks. Judging from the sound of the new material he played at FYF, during what was only his second show with his tight new backing band, Paul’s eponymous solo album won’t sound all that different from, well, an Interpol album; his voice is just so resonantly, froggily distinctive, he could make any music sound Interpolian, for lack of a better adjective. But since songs like the standout “Young Again” sounded like lost gems from a really good Interpol album, this may not be a bad thing.