FYF: A ‘mixtape’ of a festival, says founder Sean Carlson
Mon, Aug 27, 2012 (10:45 a.m.)
Coachella is more than seven months away, but music fans in need of a SoCal festival fix only have to wait till this weekend. LA’s FYF Fest, which launched in an Echo Park nightclub nine years ago, has become a full-fledged destination in its own right, and expands to two days for the first time this year. We caught up with founder Sean Carlson by phone amid his preparations for an extravaganza that will bring Refused, M83, Beirut, The Faint, James Blake, Dinosaur Jr., Yeasayer, Quicksand, comedian David Cross and dozens more to LA’s State Historic Park September 1 and 2.
It feels like a lot more Las Vegans are making the trip for FYF this year …
I’m a big fan of Vegas. I did the Matador at 21 festival there a few years ago, and I love spending time there. I’ve gotten to know a lot of really awesome kids there. I remember going to the Huntridge Theatre a number of times in the ’90s. And it seems like now there’s a new scene there with the Cosmopolitan opening, which is great. I always knew there was something there. It’s exciting to hear that people are traveling out for it from Vegas.
Do you get the sense that more people are coming in from outside the immediate area this year?
Absolutely. It’s very difficult to justify flying in and out for a one-day festival. Two days makes it more worth the cost of travel, hotel, lodging, etcetera.
Was that one of the reasons you expanded to two days?
It was more just a natural progression. The festival has been one day at the State Historic Park the past three years, and I was very inspired to do two days, because it’s a challenge and we wanted to push ourselves. There were so many bands that we wanted to work with, and we couldn’t squeeze it all into one day. So I’m really happy that we’re doing two days.
With so many quality bands on the bill, how tough has scheduling been for you?
It’s miserable, just terrible. I’m a fan of every band playing the festival. I’m so picky about the bands that we put on the festival, so it’s very difficult for me [to schedule]. What happens if Yeasayer and Twin Shadow are playing at the same time? That’s the case for this year’s festival, but somebody can watch 30 minutes of one band and 30 minutes of the other and make it work. There’s a hardcore band, American Nightmare, playing the festival, and a lot of those fans want to see The Faint. I don’t want to have The Faint and American Nightmare go against one-another when people are equally excited to see both bands. And I’m a huge fan of Simian Mobile Disco and also a big fan of Refused. I feel that they’re both punk bands—one plays heavier music and one uses electronics, but they’re both doing their own thing and being very creative and non-compromising.
- FYF Fest
- September 1 & 2, LA's State Historic Park
- $89 for a weekend pass, fyffest.com
But it’s a festival, and it would be impossible to do it without any conflicts. Or it wouldn’t be a good festival; there would be a lot of filler, a lot of bands people wouldn’t be interested in seeing. I treat FYF like it’s a mixtape. These are bands that I like and that I believe in.
It sounds like you’re saying when you pick acts for FYF, it’s less about selling tickets than what you personally listen to.
It’s what I believe in. I’ve turned down a lot of bands that are far bigger than anyone playing the festival that would sell way more tickets and make it more successful financially, but I book bands that I believe in. The festival doesn’t really have a headliner. There are larger bands playing, but it’s a package with everything there. That’s why we’re only doing weekend tickets, really hoping that people are able to experience the whole thing rather than just one band on one day.
It’s a fun lineup for making discoveries. Who are some acts closer to the bottom of the poster you’d suggest people pay attention to?
One that I’m very excited about is The Suicide of Western Culture. They’re from Barcelona, and this will be their first show in America. I would describe it as an electronic Explosions in the Sky, with beats—very beautiful and very visual. I’m beyond excited that they’re playing.
Paul Banks from Interpol is debuting his new solo project. I’ve heard the album, and it’s wonderful. The Allah-Las are a local band that I’m a big fan of. They’ve got a ’60s surfer vibe, but they’re much more than that. Daughn Gibson, an artist on Sub-Pop. And Tiger & Woods, a DJ duo from Germany. They’re flying over to perform two shows in America, one at FYF. What they’re able to do and how well it flows is incredible.
Last year was my first FYF, and it ran pretty smoothly, but friends who went in 2010 had some serious logistical complaints.
When you do an event outdoors there are a lot of unpredictable variables. In 2010, we got hit with a heat wave—it was 104 degrees that afternoon, and that’s gonna change the way people act when they’re working, it’s gonna change the people waiting on lines, etcetera. Teaming with Goldenvoice in 2011 made the process of producing the event much easier, and it’s allowed me to focus on the booking and the marketing and the creative, rather than worrying about the numerous things that I don’t even wanna think about anymore.
The only thing I had a problem with last year was the dust. Will that be any better this year?
We’ll be doing heavy watering in the park, and there’s a very thick layer of woodchips. There’s also a tent that’s similar to [Coachella’s] Gobi this year. Since dance music creates even more dust than punk music, we’ve laid out plywood in there—the dancefloor is all plywood. And we’ve made a couple thousand bandanas to give out. But it’s difficult minimizing all the dust with people moving around. You’re only able to do so much watering—you can’t eliminate it. It’s an ongoing thing. We’re hoping by next year the park will put in a sprinkler system, so we end up with a thick grass similar to Coachella. That’s the goal.
There had been talk moving it to the streets of downtown LA …
We’d planned on doing that last year, and then we realized we would have had to turn away a massive amount of people to do it there. By moving to the park, we were able to expand on production and on sound and make it a much bigger event.
Do you think FYF will outgrow the park eventually?
I don’t really wanna move. We’re comfortable, and it feels good. We’re focused right now on the location that we have, on making that location a better place, rather than thinking ahead and trying to find another location. At the end of the day, this is a music fan’s festival, where people know they’re gonna find quality music and have a good time. It’s not a Bonnaroo, it’s not a Sasquatch, it’s not a Lollapalooza. It’s a boutique music festival that started for free inside a club.