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Review: FYF Fest matures along with its musical acts

An event in its ninth year showcases some of the most magnetic underground performers of the moment. Risk-takers include Future Islands and Chromatics.

September 03, 2012|By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times (m9r4yapd20120903051556/600 )

This post has been corrected. See below for details.

Between songs during Baltimore band Future Islands' simultaneously jarring and hypnotic late-afternoon set at the weekend FYF Fest near downtown Los Angeles, lead singer Sam Herring took a moment to highlight his wardrobe. Wearing a fitted black T-shirt and wrinkle-free brown pants, he motioned to his outfit and said proudly, "I tucked in my shirt for you!"

FYF Fest: In the Sept. 3 Calendar section, a review of last weekend's FYF Fest described the band Future Islands as being from Chicago. They are from Baltimore. —

The charismatic Herring smiled like a salesman, knowing that the stylishly unkempt young crowd at the annual festival might have a snarky thought or two about the relative squareness of his Don-Draper-on-vacation look.

The FYF Fest brought thousands of teens and twentysomethings — what the "2012 Field Guide to Stereotypes" might describe as "L.A. hipsters" — to the Los Angeles State Historic Park adjacent to Chinatown for a two-day roster of underground punk, electronic dance music, post-punk, post-disco, techno, electronic rock and many combinations thereof.

PHOTOS: FYF Festival 2012

For an event whose original two-word festival moniker was a cuss word followed by "Yeah!," Herring's brag about his spiffiness felt symbolic. The FYF Fest, now in its ninth year, has shed the sloppiness in favor of the clean creases of a fresh outfit.

Over nearly 24 hours of music on four stages, the FYF Fest showcased a narrow-cast roster of a young but maturing underground music scene struggling to perfect the art of performance in the YouTube age. At its best on Day 1 on Saturday, the event highlighted artists willing to take risks. This ranged from Future Islands' showcasing a nuanced mix of rhythm and drama on "Inch of Dust" to Chromatics' analog-synth wanderings of "Night Drive," which inspired rhythmic head-nodding. Sunday's early afternoon set by White Fence, the excellent L.A. project of Darker My Love's Tim Presley, set the tone for Day 2.

Veteran Scottish guitar pop band the Vaselines' wry, catchily bawdy love songs on Saturday included two cuts made famous when Nirvana covered them, "Molly's Lips" and "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," jarring thirtysomethings' memories and confusing the teenagers who thought Kurt Cobain wrote them. Young L.A. funk impresario Dam-Funk built Prince-like bridges to 1984. And M83 proved why it is music's current Most Likely to Graduate to the Arena Rock circuit with its savvy mix of electronics and drama rock.

By 5 p.m. Sunday, German duo Tiger and Woods had the Broadway Street tent moving, its plywood floor bouncing with dancers re-engaging with the thump of deep house music that had driven many of the festival's electronic acts the night before.

Florida punk band Against Me! provided sunset angst a few hundred yards away. Singer-guitarist Laura Jane Grace, in her first L.A. festival appearance since the former Tom Gabel announced he was a pre-operative transgender, was typically ferocious, of course. "I was a teenaged anarchist," she sang as anthemic power punk rang behind her.

The FYF provided a glimpse of the most magnetic and buzziest artists of the so-called Pitchfork generation, but it also revealed the razor-thin line that separates blog hype and true artistic inspiration. This "Best New Music" world in 2012 is ruled by bands such as the Cloud Nothings, Sleigh Bells, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Atlas Sound, Beirut and Yeasayer, all of which were booked during the two days. At its least impressive, as with Sleigh Bells' shallow bombast and preference for shock and awe over texture, or with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's thin take on 1990s shoegaze pop, you can see the use-by date fast approaching.

PHOTOS: FYF Festival 2012

In addition to those guitar-based sounds, the roster featured British electronic dance music stars Simian Mobile Disco, whose transcendent set of minimal house and techno closed the Spring Street stage; young New York electronics prodigy Nicolas Jaar; and minimalist Brit crooner James Blake. And in their first Stateside appearance, Spanish electronic duo Suicide of Western Culture shot walls of abrasive feedback riddled with hard beats, like My Bloody Valentine smashing into a beatbox. It played alongside hard-core punk bands such as Ceremony, Lightning Bolt and the unprintably named Canadian group otherwise known as "Messed" Up," whose rise has mirrored the FYF Fest's.

This seemingly inclusionary bent can be deceiving, though. The closest thing to a Latino act was Nebraskan singer Conor Oberst's band Desaparecidos, and Dam-Funk was the only African American artist represented. Despite the rise of a new generation of punk-inspired rappers, none save early 2000s vet Aesop Rock was at the FYF.

[For the record Sept. 3, 12:49 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly described Conor Oberst as an Oklahoman. He is from Nebraska.]

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