Exposition Park is a strange venue. If the layout of most festivals resembles an apartment with an open floor plan, FYF Fest is more like a Victorian unit with a long hallway that has openings to many “rooms.” At Expo Park, the hallway is the path alongside the aging L.A Coliseum and through each stadium gate is a different stage. Any feeling of being in a Park is an afterthought with the Banc of California Stadium being built in the periphery of the festival grounds and Expo Park never ceases to feel like a construction site. This is a challenge that festival acts—and festival-goers—need to overcome. Lucky for FYF, Friday’s night’s excellently curated, diverse set of artists didn’t seem to have much trouble.
Any act that played before Bjork’s 8:50 pm Main Stage performance felt like a formality before the main event. BadBadNotGood played jazzy sunshine vibes in the Trees Stage, Hundred Waters were a refuge for the waning daylight in the Club Stage (more of a tent) and even the fantastic Angel Olsen felt like merely a sunset appetizer for the evening’s crescendo.
Björk took to the stage wearing a bird-like tri-color fluffy dress and an otherworldly tubular mask. Jesse Kanda’s visceral videos played on the screen behind her as Arca masterfully manned the beats behind her in place of Björk’s usual right-hand beat-maker, Mark Bell. The videos started off-sync, but as soon as “Isobel” arrived, it was all pay-dirt for Björk, Arca and a full string orchestra. Arca dominated the pulsations and thumps on ”Isobel,” but knew exactly how to pull back and let the orchestra provide the prevailing canvas for the diva’s shimmering vocals on “Bachelorette.” The set wasn’t short for pyrotechnics and something about hearing Bjork’s quaint “thank you” after a song just tickles the soul. She’s still as engaging as ever.
Over on the Lawn Stage, Anderson .Paak had something to prove. The Southern California native played a homecoming of sorts that felt akin to Flying Lotus’s successful set on the same stage two years prior. Clad in a leopard print jacket, Paak made for the evening’s first full-on explosion of energy, coursing through tracks off of his stellar Malibu and other collaborations like Kaytranada’s “GLOWED UP.” Whether he’s navigating the stage, or banging away at the drums while singing, Paak keeps getting better and the Dr.Dre “protegé” has firmly established himself as a fixture of the LA scene.
“This is my first time in ten years performing in the States!” said the dazzling Missy Elliott. Her Main Stage entrance was nothing short of magical as she came out of a mirrored magician’s box, donning a rhinestone and pearl-studded jacket, “Queen” hat, long, straightened hair-extensions and an ornery monogram mic attachment. She played every classic under the sun, from “The Rain” to “Pass That Dutch” to… you name it. Flanked by elaborate dancers, she sported a million dollar smile, which never left her face. Missy had bided her time before finally headlining a festival and this was the performance the patient fans—and Missy—deserved.
Back on the Lawn Stage, LA-producer Flying Lotus gave out 3-D glasses to all ticket holders before the festival and delivered easily the evening’s trippiest moment and one of the most creative stunts in festival circuit history. The visuals were on point, with even a Star Wars Devastator spaceship drifting into the crowd (in 3-D) and maybe a few too many visual (and promotional) cues to FlyLo’s disturbing new movie, Kuso (“Invite your friends over [to watch it.] And people you hate!” he said of the oft-disgusting movie. As the set neared a close, he played “Never Catch Me,” the Kendrick Lamar collaboration that he debuted here two years prior and it was a fitting circularity.
In the grand scheme of things, FYF’s first day will be remembered for those four big acts. Not only for their worthy performances, but because promoters broke the mold of all male headliners (often white males at that) and booked four headline-worthy acts who were either women or people of color and sold the whole damn thing out. Memo to other festival organizers: It can be done.