Photography provided by Adult Swim.
Beyond the Gates: It might not have been the biggest news outside of Southern California, but the demise of the annual FYF Festival dealt a definite blow to a large swath of L.A. music lovers. A much more user-friendly option to the likes of Coachella, FYF provided a full-on festival experience in the heart of downtown. Not just a festival, but one that aggressively catered to indie rock fans. It’s definitely unexpected, but the Adult Swim Festival is here to fill that gaping hole in the L.A. music scene.
Last weekend, the first iteration of the festival took over the ROW DTLA, turning the outdoor area into a virtual playground for fans of twisted and progressive comedy, as well as really good music from acts that exist decidedly left of center. The musical lineup in particular spoke to fans who would have hightailed it to FYF with a strong communal vibe reminiscent of L.A.’s dearly departed Sunset Junction Street Festival of years past. With two days jam-packed full of truly independent and underground acts, the Adult Swim Festival is the new kid in town with the potential to be the BMOC in relatively short order.
Best Bites: There was definitely plenty to munch on at the Adult Swim Festival. Unlike a lot of music fests that are leaning hard into “culinary experiences,” ASF kept it simple, and the crowds seemed to like it just fine. As such, the weekend’s big winner was an old festival favorite and mainstay: Spicy Pie Pizza. Spicy Pie slices were as ubiquitous over the weekend as attendees in Rick and Morty cosplay.
Festival Fashionista: Speaking of cosplay, singling out a fashionista for the weekend is virtually impossible. Just when it seemed like the most amazing look had been achieved, someone even more stunning would stroll by. Onstage, the competition was just as fierce; for instance, Jon from Delocated proudly rocked a sweet denim jumpsuit with an American flag on the back. How do you top that?
Beyond just dressing up, however, there were plenty of thought-provoking fashion statements being made all weekend: a hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with the slogan “Illegal Business Controls America”, a throwback varsity jacket with the phrase “I’m Tired” embroidered across the back, an “Anti Social Media” tote bag—attendees pulled out their finest frocks for display at ASF.
For this native Detroiter, however, the prize has to go to the one and only Jeff Kopko. Rocking an amazing J Dilla shirt on Saturday, Kopko shut it down on Sunday with an authentic Electrifying Mojo Midnight Funk Association t-shirt. For old-school Detroiters and hardcore Prince fans alike, it was akin to seeing someone in a genuine Led Zeppelin concert shirt from 1977. The rarest of the rare, and something that would go for astronomical amounts on eBay. Gotta pull out the biggest high school sports trophy possible and hand it directly to the man. Well done, sir!
Ass Everywhere: When Big Freedia hits the stage, you already know: there is going to be an excessive amount of gratuitous ass-shaking going on, and the New Orleans icon did not disappoint. With a crew of twerk professionals by her side, Freedia turned the heat up to 11 and never looked back. Los Angeles represented itself well when she opened the stage up to fans, with one male dancer in particular igniting the energy of the crowd and even Freedia herself. Of course, it was the queen of the scene herself that really showed ‘em how it’s done. If she’s coming to your town, run, don’t walk. It’s a Nawlins bounce party that you do not want to miss. Trust me.
Rock’s Not Dead: You’re Probably Just Too Damn Fragile, Sensitive and/or Old to Handle it, Bunky: If I hear one more person griping about “where are all of the good new rock bands?,” I’m going to first scream, and then write down a bunch of band names on their arm and force them to discover something called Google. In a time when we literally have access to endless information in our hands at all times, such a question is a slap in the face to anyone who knows the struggle of hunting down and securing music in a world that existed before the Internet (ungrasp your damn pearls, Becky. There was indeed life and even bands before the ‘90s).
The Adult Swim Festival scored a direct hit in booking an array of absolutely killer rock outfits that melted a whole lotta pretty faces. Oakland’s High on Fire laid it down hard, as did the hardcore Austin crew Power Trip. Both bands earned my ultimate respect: the purchase of merchandise. Mastodon closed out the first day with yet another of their signature bone-crunching sets of moten hardcore metal.
The rock band that truly blew the doors off, however, was Pittsburgh’s Code Orange. Perfectly melding straight-up heavy metal with ultra-aggro hardcore, their set was a nonstop whirlwind of manic energy and raucous, razor-sharp riffs. The group’s secret weapon is guitarist Reba Meyers, who storms the stage like a Tasmanian Devil, firing off blistering leads from the edge of the stage, and even handled vocals on a couple of tracks more than admirably. The woman is a force to be reckoned with and the guitar hero we truly deserve in 2018. Watching her play made me want to pick up my own guitar, something that hasn’t happened in a while. Reba Meyers, I salute you!
“Did You Hear the One About…”: Being an Adult Swim event, there were plenty of genuinely funny comedians on hand to bring the laughs. On Cinema at the Cinema kicked things off on Saturday with an elaborate skit involving Dekkar, a fictitious cock rock band led by Tim Heidecker in The-Scorpions-Unplugged drag. He led the group through dubious songs, like the hilarious jam about the untimely death of his toddler, Tom Cruise Heidecker. The only thing worse than Dekkar’s guitar playing is his sense of rhythm, which caused him to throw a tantrum when he was unable to get the crowd, his band, and himself all on the same groove.
Naturally, Film Buff and Hobbit Head Gregg Turkington was also on hand for an edition of the Victorville Film Archive, presenting a slideshow detailing the career trajectories of actors who starred in George Burns’ massive 1997 blockbuster, Oh God.
Though, the weekend’s king of comedy was Hannibal Buress, who drew a massive rock star crowd to his set. His laidback brand of observational humor was a big hit with the audience, topped by a great bit about seeing Prince in Austin some years back where the Purple Wonder just wouldn’t stop coming out for more encores.
“I was a little drunk and a little high, so after the fourth encore I was delirious,” Buress joked. “Yo, is this what life is now? Prince just does encores while we die one by one?! Shiiiiiiiit!”
He Who Must Not Be Named: No, not Lord Voldemort. The twin towers of evil who’s presence lingered across both days like ominous storm clouds were Donald Trump and most notably, Brett Kavanaugh. With Kavanaugh being confirmed as the latest Supreme Court Justice on Saturday, his name was invoked repeatedly over the weekend, and not once in an even remotely favorable light.
“We have a huge audience of women tonight,” Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike bellowed at the start of the duo’s festival-closing set on Sunday night. “So keep your Kavanaugh-like hands to your mother fucking self,” to much applause and cheering before launching into “Blockbuster Night.” “you killed that shit, homie,” his partner in rhyme, El-P, responded.
Comedian Jena Friedman really let Kavanaugh have it during her brilliant routine.
“I don’t feel safe peeing next to women who still support Trump,” she said. “Peeing next to Susan Collins, senator from Maine, who I shouldn’t know. But I do. And I’m peeing next to her. And let’s say hypothetically a sexual predator walks in. What is she gonna do? Try to get him on the Supreme Court?”
“This one is for the Republicans and Democrats who all failed us so miserably,” screamed Neko Case during her Sunday night set, echoing the sentiments of many in the crowd.
That One Performance: Flying Lotus has come a long way since the early days of spinning DJ sets at the legendary Low End Theory club nights. Now, the artist born Steven Ellison has evolved into a bidding digital Sun Ra, conjuring bass-heavy blasts of space-jazz while an eye-popping 3D light show for a sea of fans wearing specially-designed glasses for the occasion (the good kind, too). Towards the end of his mind-bending show, FlyLo thrilled fans by announcing that new music is imminent. “I’m mastering it now, y’all,” he shared, letting everyone know that his next salvo is indeed on its way to detonation.
Julianna Barwick Saved My Life: Sometimes, going to festivals is no fun, particularly when venue security decides that you’re “the one.” So after watching person after person breeze through with a less-than-cursory pat-down, I was suddenly being subjected to the most thorough search this side of TSA. It was a most unfortunate event that left me shaken and more than a little angry, especially considering the proliferation of drugs throughout the event. So after being humiliated for no good reason on the way in, Julianna Barwick’s quiet, warm and melodic synthesizer tones were indeed the music that soothed this savaged beast. It was enough to send me to her discography after the festival, and the album Will has been in heavy rotation ever since. Bless you, Julianna.
Musicianship: It’s Still a Thing: You’ve seen them: the high energy “EDM” acts that whip crowds into a frenzy literally at the push of a button. Thundercat is here to save us from all of that. Along with his band, the ‘Cat displayed a musical virtuosity that was both inspired and inspiring. His fleet-fingered bass runs are like Stanley Clarke on a quart of espresso. While there was no surprise cameos from Michael McDonald or Kenny Loggins, the added star power was unnecessary. Thundercat can more than hold his own, with a trove of jazzy crowd-moving tracks that absolutely get the job done.
It’s Rick and Morty’s World. We Just Live in It: It all came down to this. A live presentation of notorious “The Rickshank Rickdemption” episode presented on a big screen with a live orchestra providing the music. It drew the biggest crowd of the weekend by far, showing in stark detail the mass influence and popularity of the late-night animated hit. Fans lined up patiently for opportunities to snap pics with a giant inflatable Morty as well as an impressive statue of Rick that was parked next to the awesome bucking hot dog ride. If you could buy stock in that show and its characters, a lot of fans would be very rich right now.
The Verdict: For a first-time festival, Adult Swim knocked it out of the park. Even Neko Case was inspired to show the event love during her set. “They don’t make festivals like this anymore,” she marveled. “This is really great.” Zola Jesus shared similar sentiments, thanking the network for seeing her as more than just an elite goth queen. “I’m so glad I’m here. You may not realize it, but I do like to laugh. I like a good moment, like watching Xavier or whatever, Tim and Eric,” she explained. “So this is kind of like a miniature, very validating moment for me, to be validated by Adult Swim. This next song is about suicide!”
With a fantastic lineup across just two stages, and set times staggered so that fans could very easily take in every act if they wanted, a whole host of fests across the country could take some big tips from the Adult Swim Festival. Considering how well it went off in its inaugural year, word-of-mouth buzz could very easily make it the hottest ticket in town next year. I know I certainly plan on being there. Viva Los Angeles!