FYF Fest 2017 Delivered Big Names Without Losing Its Edge

For many in the L.A. music scene, Los Angeles’ homegrown FYF Fest will always be remembered as the scrappy little festival that could. When Sean Carlson started the fest in 2004, the biggest band at the one-day event was probably Nintendocore pioneers Horse The Band. Of course, as time has gone on, the festival can no longer be confined by The Echo. Instead it sprawls across Exposition Park over the course of three days. FYF Fest has morphed into a behemoth, complete with corporate sponsorship and this year’s big name headliners like Missy Elliott, Björk, Frank Ocean, Nine Inch Nails and Solange.

While the scale may have increased drastically, what has never worn away is the festival’s commitment to bringing awe-inspiring, independently-spirited music to the city’s fans. You might not see anything as fringe as you would have a decade ago, but you’ll see Perfume Genius contorting his lithe frame around the stage as his lush, majestic chamber pop consumes the audience whole. So, what has been lost for those that witnessed the beginning likely won’t bother a new generation of fans, who will no doubt applaud the bigger names, increased accessibility and additional stages – which all adds up to more variety and more bang for their buck. This year has continued the bigger is better trend with the additional Friday festivities and an even larger layout to accommodate more room at the festival’s five stages.

To set the tone on Friday evening, the festival offered a main stage of Björk and Missy Elliott, performing her first show in the state in over a decade. Missy Misdemeanor packed the crowd and dropped more hits than previously thought possible, opening her set with an extended mashup of everything from “All n My Grill” to “Pass That Dutch.” Needless to say, the crowd was electrified and exploded for hits like “Work it,” “One Minute Man,” and “We Run This.” The rap impresario even took breaks in the performance to thank her fans, acknowledging that she was battling both a cold and monitor issues. Any such roadblocks went completely unnoticed by the crowd, which was too busy moving along to a montage of her influential music videos.

Before Missy took the main stage, Björk trotted out a delightfully bizarre look that was every bit as arresting as her powerhouse vocals. With a ten piece string section and world-class producer Arca on the ones and twos, she wove a rich musical tapestry that bordered on orgiastic for attendees. Favoring selections from 2015’s “Vulnicura” (which Arca co-produced) but also highlighting string-heavy classics like “Bachelorette,” “Isobel,” and “Hyperballad,” the Icelandic singer also incorporated segments of her Björk Digital art installation to  provide even more sensory emersion.

MGMT warmed up the main stage on day two with their colorful electro-rock, getting the crowd pumped with an extended take on “Kids.” The sawing synths and pumping drums were enough to get every groove-minded body out on the dance floor. After MGMT got things heated up, A Tribe Called Quest opened up an effulgently flowing river of rhyme to cool off the crowd once the sun went down. The groups MCs effortlessly handled a non-stop stream of beats, and incorporated their Ummah collaborator Raphael Saadiq on upright bass for some “Low End Theory” throwbacks. Following a stirring tribute to their fallen comrade Phife Dawg, Q-Tip informed listeners that they would most likely never perform again under the Tribe moniker, making the night an awe-inspiring but bittersweet journey through the group’s illustrious catalogue.

But the highlight of Saturday’s groove-centric program was Frank Ocean, who made amends for ditching the festival in 2015 with an outpouring of gorgeous soul-infused hip hop. His star-studded set featured a Stevie Wonder cover, as well as cameos from Brad Pitt and Spike Jones – which made his first stateside show in nearly three years well worth the wait. Wearing headphones and traipsing unhurriedly across the stage, the introverted Ocean came off cool and comfortable, whipping out favorites like “Thinkin’ Bout You” and “Nikes” before walking off stage with little warning or ceremony. The idiosyncratic talent definitely left fans wanting more, but the crowd was so grateful to receive such an inspired set from the reluctant star, that they didn’t bother asking for an encore.

Away from the main stage, Perfume Genius and Mitski built off the critical praise they’ve received recently, establishing themselves as worthy torch bearers for the future of indie. Erykah Badu also brought the house down – as she always does – with moving, fiery, compassionate soul, not concerned that she was encroaching on Ocean’s time to finish up her flawless set.

If day two was all about rhythm, then day three brought the rock, and who better to lead the charge than the Godfather of Punk himself, Iggy Pop. Coming out of the gates with “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” Pop took the stage with a devil-may-care enthusiasm that belied his hobbling frame and septuagenarian status. While recent concerts have featured solo favorites and selections off 2016’s “Post Pop Depression,” he instead veered heavily into sludgy classics from his Stooges days, such as “Gimme Danger,” “Search and Destroy,” and “T.V. Eye.”

To make the case for soul on the main stage, Solange brought a celebration of black culture that allowed audiences to get lost in the bliss of her seductive grooves. This might be her third time playing the festival, but this go-around was easily her most compelling and powerful following last year’s watershed album “A Seat at the Table.” Dressed head-to-toe in red – with an eight piece ensemble to match – she brought an effortless and knowing grace to the stage for favorites like “Rise,” “Cranes in the Sky,” and “Mad.”

But nothing really prepared crowds for the festival’s grand finale – Nine Inch Nails. Thick smoke veiled the towering amplifiers and electronics before the band (appropriately draped in all-black) took the stage sub rosa. The secrecy dissipated, though the smoke screen never really did, when the first blasts of metallic noise jettisoned from the stage and Trent Reznor emerged to cheering adulation. Favoring selections off their new EP “Add Violence” to open the set, Reznor’s self-destructive and sloganeering blend of industrial, hardcore, and metal annihilated the crowd. Then, the mastermind abandoned the pyrotechnic sounds in favor of a brooding, slowbuilding piano ballad. The emotional tune, complete with dark ambient soundscapes, then led into sample-driven rocker and perennial favorite “Closer.” All in all, Nine Inch Nails may have given the most dynamic and authoritative performance of the festival, serving as the perfect closer to three days of mind-expanding music.

FYF Fest took place at Los Angeles’ Exposition Park from July 21-23.