FYF Fest creator Sean Carlson would've been all of 12-years-old when Hawthorne natives Red Kross made their last album in 1997. Still, he cites some of the band's early releases in the late '80s as some of the most influential music he owns. So when the band recently emerged with its new album Researching the Blues, the fact that the first single off their record is called "Stay Away From Downtown," didn't discourage him from asking them to play his Downtown L.A. festival, which steamrolls into its ninth year on Labor Day Weekend.
"I've always loved Red Kross," the 27-year-old Carlson says. "They're one of those bands that were punk, but not strictly a punk sound and it was fun and I've always really appreciated that."
In a lot of ways, that sentiment rings true for FYF, which expanded into a two-day event this year on Sep. 1 and 2, hosting over 75 bands and as many as 25,000 people at the 32-acre Los Angeles State Historic Park. Celebrating four years downtown, FYF continues on its transition from poorly-executed punk fest to one of the freshest, well-oiled events of the summer. Many festivals employ the mixtape mentality of bands from multiple genres converging in a single space. But FYF's local, eclectic punk flavor mixed with big name out-of-towners is what continues to give the fest--run by Coachella Arts and Music Festival promoter Goldenvoice--its own gritty, fun-loving identity.
This year, Refused, M83 Beirut and The Faint headline over Coachella vets like Yeasayer and Aesop Rock and slew of championed LA/OC acts like The Entrance Band, Allah- Las, Nick Waterhouse and the Growlers. Not only do they supply you with a full year's worth of shows in a single weekend, but something that speaks to the diversity and unmistakable power possessed by the local scene that allows this kind of mixture to seem natural.
"I want people to be able to go and not expect something but for it to be an experience where they can let loose and really have fun but not have to spend too much to do so, and to be able to have diverse list of bands," Carlson says. The lineup (which he started booking last October) is all over the place. Weekend passes are going for $89 and single-day tickets will be sold for $45 each day at the event.
When we talked to Carlson last week, he described his life as remarkably calm. So far, he's been able to maintain a normal pace during crunch time-- just a week before the fest, he was talking about how he went to go to see the Entrance Band play and hang out with friends. "You have to do stuff like that," Carlson says. "Otherwise the stress will just get the best of you, which has happened in previous years."
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Many people remember the frustration of 2010's FYF debacle at Los Angeles State Historic Park--long lines, expensive water, no shade. But with Goldenvoice taking on the logistics and improvements for the second year in a row, those troubles appear to be long behind him. Steve McDonald of Red Kross remembers witnessing those growing pains first hand, as a guitarist for the Keith Morris-fronted punk band OFF!, which played the festival for a couple years in a row. He described 2010 as "less of a rock fest, more of a concentration camp". "Luckily, Sean was smart and he knew how to ask for help," McDonald says.
These days, major structural malfunctions are replaced by attention to light improvements like creating a solid, plywood dance floor for one of the dance tents instead of fake turf so people can move around a little better. As it continues to evolve, one of the most important aspects of FYF's ability to gather reunited old-school acts, buzzworthy indie bands and scrappy local acts in the heart of L.A. goes a long way to create a complex, exciting picture of the music scene in his hometown. Especially to east coast like Anand Wilder of New York-based FYF band Yeasayer who, outside of playing L.A. and knowing a few bands bands from the area, says he doesn't really know what he's in for when it comes to the local talent.
"A lot of times I associate L.A. as a lot of major label bands, like these hot guys that are like 'oh, I was trying to be a model but I'm also in a band," he says. "But L.A. I guess will always be linked to sort of a Hollywood aesthetic." Should he get the chance to stand in front of FIDLAR's reckless punk rock assault, we're betting he changes his mind.