Los Angeles’s very first F*** Yeah Festival took place as a free underground event back in 2004, founded by a then-18-year-old indie fan with a dream named Sean Carlson. Now a major music marathon held at downtown Los Angeles’s sprawling Exposition Park, FYF Fest is one of the hippest and most anticipated events of the festival season. This year it expanded to three days — recruiting major artists ranging from old-school rap superstars Missy Elliott and A Tribe Called Quest to new-school R&B performers Frank Ocean and Solange and rock legends Nine Inch Nails and Iggy Pop.
These were our picks for the best moments of FYF 2017.
Nine Inch Nails Totally Nailed Their Fantastic Bowie Tribute
Playing their “first real show in three years” (aside from a low-key warmup gig in Bakersfield on July 19) after “kind of hiding out, watching the world go crazy,” Nine Inch Nails amazed with an FYF set ranging from the Pretty Hate Machine classics “Head Like a Hole” and “Something I Can Never Have” to “Less Than” from the just-released Add Violence EP. But the most magnificent moment came when they covered “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” the closing track from their late friend David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar.
NIN frontman Trent Reznor has long cited Bowie as a major influence on both his art (particularly The Downward Spiral) and personal life (Bowie’s support reportedly helped Reznor overcome his drug and alcohol addictions). The two even embarked on a co-headlining tour in 1995 and collaborated on 1997’s “I’m Afraid of Americans,” one of Bowie’s finest ’90s singles. Reznor recorded this “Farewell Remix” of the heartbreaking Blackstar track to process Bowie’s death last year, and an anonymously released studio version recently surfaced online. But nothing could compare to seeing Reznor and company perform the song live under L.A.’s night sky of black stars.
Raphael Saadiq Joined the Tribe
NIN’s Bowie moment wasn’t FYF’s only tribute to an icon who left us in 2016. With A Tribe Called Quest embarking on their farewell tour following the tragic death of group member Phife Dawg, their Saturday set was one of the most hyped and attended of the FYF weekend. And one special attendee was Grammy-winning musician-producer-composer Raphael Saadiq, who joined Tribe for a jam on “Buggin’ Out,” playing an upright bass decorated with Low End Theory cover art and a photo of Phife. “It was important to pay homage to Phife by joining my ATCQ family onstage and playing the bassline on ‘Buggin’ Out’ — one of my favorite songs — especially since I wasn’t able to make it to Phife’ s funeral,” Saadiq later explained in a statement.
Missy Elliott Got Her Freak On
The last time we saw the reclusive rapper, she was upstaging Katy Perry (and Left Shark) at Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl halftime show. This year at FYF, she triumphantly returned to the stage, playing her first full U.S. show in nearly 10 years. Perry was there to show her support, as were Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, and Tyler, the Creator — but Elliott was the star of the night. Let’s hope another decade doesn’t pass before she hits the concert circuit again.
Björk Stunned With Her Björkestra
Looking like a human snow-cone (or, as one enthusiastic Instagrammer put it, “the cutest piñata ever!”) in a froth of rainbow ruffles, the Icelandic art-pop icon — who recently played a similar set at L.A.’s Disney Hall with a 32-piece orchestra — amazed with her endlessly elastic voice as she danced in the dark to cinematic classics like “Joga,” “Bachelorette,” “Isobel,” and a fireworks-laden finale of “Hyperballad.” She shared the main stage with Missy Elliott, and the two fearless females formed an inspired and inspiring opening-night double-bill.
Frank Ocean Was Thinkin’ Bout Brad Pitt
In a candid interview with GQ earlier this year, Pitt expressed his admiration for alt/R&B darling Ocean, and Ocean — who was originally supposed to play FYF 2015, but canceled at the last minute — repaid the favor by bringing out the actor Saturday for a surprise serenade of the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” and the Stevie Wonder remake of the Carpenters’ “Close to You.” We can’t wait for Pitt to star in Ocean’s next music video.
Jonny Pierce Preached — in His Own Way
Over the past few years, and especially in recent interviews promoting the vulnerable and despairing new album Abysmal Thoughts, the openly gay Drums frontman has candidly discussed his struggles with his conservative and unaccepting Pentecostal preacher parents. And preaching to his LGBTQ fans during the Drums’ Trees Stage set, he spoke about how eventually breaking ties with his family was ultimately the right thing to do.
“If you are gay, you are queer, you’re a trans person … if they don’t love you for exactly who you are — unless you’re like a mass murderer — I’m not saying f*** them, but I am saying, let them go,” he declared. “We all have to educate, so that go on for so long: ‘Look, I’m a normal person. I just want to love like you.’ And then, boom — you realize you’ve got to let them go. And when you let them go, suddenly, you make space in your heart for people that f***ing love you.
“That’s why I’m making records. That’s all I care about now. I don’t care about Phil Spector. I don’t care about making f***ing perfect pop songs. More than anything else, I just want you to love yourself and f***ing respect yourself. That’s my mission.”
Sadly, due to timing issues, the Drums’ set was cut off before they could finish “Head of the Horse,” a heartbreaking ballad about Pierce’s troubled upbringing. But the cheering, supportive audience had thankfully already heard the important message behind the song. (Video below contains profanity.)
Anderson .Paak Packed the House
Fresh off his tour with Beyoncé (who was in attendance at FYF with her performing sister, Solange, to catch Elliott’s set) and a surprise Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, neo-soul sensation Paak exhibited nearly Bruno-level showmanship on the Lawn Stage. Backed by the relentless grooves of his in-the-pocket band the Free Nationals, and occasionally singing from behind a drum kit, the 31-year-old was the real deal. Expect him to graduate to FYF’s main stage next year.
Perfume Genius Lived Up to His Name
Mike Hadreas, aka avant provocateur and queer hero Perfume Genius, was one of FYF’s most compelling and unforgettable performers, playing the darkened Club tent where his act could be best appreciated. With his Mariah-in-her-prime/dolphin-call high notes, goosebumpily gorgeous alt-cabaret ballads, and accompaniment by Blake Mills, his set highlights included a moody, radical remake of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “Body’s in Trouble” and a duet of “Sides” with Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering. But really, the entire performance was pure magic.
Slowdive Went Star Roving
The recently reunited shoegaze legends, who this year released their first album since 1995 to critical acclaim, held the Trees Stage audience in thrall with their chiming guitars, lushly layered soundscapes, and the gossamer vocals of ethereal enchantress Rachel Goswell. Suffice to say, no one in attendance was gazing down at their shoes during Slowdive’s starry-night, starry-eyed set.
Iggy Pop Gave Us Danger
With so many important artists like the above-mentioned Bowie and Phife passing away recently, it gladdened our hearts full of napalm to see Iggy (at age 70, by far the oldest act on this year’s FYF bill) still displaying such a lust for life — and receiving such an enthusiastic ovation from concertgoers less than a third his age. (“F***ing thanks for f***ing us out! F****! F***!” he hollered at the young faces in the crowd.)
The proto-punk elder statesman — shirtless, of course, with his famously gnarled, sinewy, constantly contorting, and occasionally stage-diving torso on proud display — charged onto the Lawn Stage with the quadruple wallop of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “Gimme Danger,” “The Passenger,” and “Lust for Life,” and continued to nearly destroy the stage (literally — he banged and hurled his mic stand with frightening force) during “I’m Sick of You,” “TV Eye,” and of course, “Search and Destroy.” Iggy Pop will never be the world’s forgotten boy. And he’s worth way more than a million in prizes. This man is a priceless rock ’n’ roll treasure.