FYF Fest 2014 has come and gone. While I was never punk enough to catch FYF in its original Echo Park manifestations (it launched in 2004), I did experience the festival a couple times at L.A.’s State Historic Park. With that past in mind, this weekend’s number of attendees and its newly bloated size—this is the festival’s first year at the much larger Exposition Park—shocked me.
What shocked me even more was how this year’s festival succeeded in maintaining its indie rock spirit despite its obviously less-than-indie production style and supercharged Goldenvoice identity. There were definitely some rose crowns and some Molly at play, but even amidst pop culture’s total veneration of the music festival lifestyle, there was a noticeable lack of certain eye-roll-worthy festival tropes. I even missed some of them, like the ravers. The majority of this year’s FYF-goers clearly loved to ROCK more than they do to RAVE, a dynamic I hadn’t experienced in a festival setting in some time. It was nice to enjoy rock and roll without it feeling nostalgic, although some of the good old jam-outs did make me laugh.
And while I really loved the lavender lemonade popsicle I slurped on during Phoenix’s closing set on Saturday, Sunday was the festival’s natural day of worship. Its offerings made my first FYF return since its grand upsizing way worth it. Blood Orange delivered a stunning sunset spectacle, and The Strokes, who still command mega-fandom, ended the evening nicely. But for me, the festival peaked midday: Kelela was FYF’s Queen.
Kelela’s FYF arrival was more of a return, her reunion with a city and a crowd that loves and had missed her. After releasing her CUT 4 ME mixtape last October, Kelela spent the better part of the last year traveling, touring, and working on all that is to come. In that time, she made a fan out of Bjork, posed in Calvin Klein’s latest CK One advertisements, and released a song with fellow songstress Tink. But her performance Sunday wasn’t about any of that. It was not unlike the number of Kelela shows I had the pleasure of seeing in L.A. before and directly after the release of CUT 4 ME—sexy, soulful, and simple. Only this time it was in an arena, the L.A. Sports Arena, and Kelela’s friends were no longer the only ones singing the music back to her as passionately as she performed it.
Kelela’s set offered the exact experience music festival attendees crave—entrance into an artist’s fully-crafted world of beauty, where their talent makes their work look easy, and their grateful spirit makes audience members feel like co-creators of the power of their shared moments. She performed as a true delegate of the L.A. “juice and a joint” lifestyle she mentioned during the show—aesthetically perfect and exposed in her bliss. Impeccable lighting filled the Arena with a variety of glows that furthered the spiritual probing achieved by Kelela’s voice alone. Majorly pink washes of light painted the arena rosy during one of my favorite songs, the Girl Unit-produced “Floor Show,” and never had anything on the half-decrepit Coliseum grounds looked so pretty, at least in my limited experience.
“I don’t ever get bored of my shit,” Kelela told the crowd. She accredited this to having best friends as producers and producers as her best friends. On Sunday, she was accompanied by Fade to Mind label favorite Total Freedom and Loric Sih. Total Freedom’s ability to manipulate music alone can invigorate a crowd for hours at end. Pair it with Kelela’s voice and the result is magic. Nothing is ever exactly the same. Everything is live, and they are very much alive in it together. Their 4:20 p.m. set gave FYF-goers a space to feel really, really good. What more could we want?