FYF: From the Underground to Coachella Jr.
FYF 2018 has been canceled, and the organizers explain that they “felt unable to present an experience on par with expectations of our loyal fans and the Los Angeles music community this year.” Other outlets, however, are reporting a more direct explanation: poor ticket sales.
The reaction to the announcement has been somewhat split. Many news agencies are reporting the cancellation as a shocking turn of events, especially after the announcement just weeks ago of a lineup that was gathering a lot of attention, at least in part due to its heavy emphasis on female performers like co-headliners Janet Jackson and Florence and the Machine.
However, a look at the social media reaction provides a different take. Many of the comments on the Twitter announcement make reference to the quality of the lineup and the increased price of the festival, with many fans expressing disinterest in the headliners.
Some media entities have been treating the widespread apathy of fans toward a lineup that has been lauded for its diversity as a step back for the overall progressive agenda. The Los Angeles Times called the festival’s cancellation a “discouraging setback” and the reported ticket sales “a deeply discouraging development given that the show’s lineup represented an important step in the effort to bring gender parity to an overwhelmingly male-dominated festival scene.”
Similarly, Billboard’s piece on the cancellation makes a point of the lineup’s impressive diversity in conjunction with a mention of the poor ticket sales.
Undoubtedly it’s a shame that something like this should happen to the summer festival that seemed the most invested in creating a diverse lineup. However, many reactions to the news are ignoring the role the festival’s history plays in the overall fan reaction to the 2018 edition.
The first FYF took place way back in 2004, going by the more deliberately provocative name, “Fuck Yeah Fest.” The lineup was stacked with small punk and alternative bands who, frankly, you’ve probably never heard of (I certainly haven’t). It was held in the Echo and Echoplex (which Wikipedia notes was not the Echoplex yet, but just a banquet hall), and was a one day affair. In subsequent years the names on the lineup would become slightly more recognizable to fans of punk and alternative music: No Age when they were still going by the name Wives, The Black Lips, Mika Miko. In 2005, they featured what was probably their first nostalgia act, legendary punk band Circle Jerks. Even when the festival officially made the switch from “Fuck Yeah Fest” to the more investor-friendly “FYF Fest” in 2009, the lineup continued to cater to a very specific musical sensibility: probably the most well-known artists on that bill were Wavves or Kurt Vile, popular names in indie circles but hardly on the same level of recognition as, say, Florence and the Machine.
Still, even back then longtime fans of the fest were bemoaning what was perceived as a gradual shift toward mainstream acceptability, and ensuing years and lineups only confirmed those fears. 2011’s headlining set by Death From Above 1979, six years removed from their first (and at the time, only) album, marked a major evolution in the festival’s booking of legacy headliners. The next year saw a headlining set by ‘90s hardcore heroes, Refused, and the following year gave the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and My Bloody Valentine the opportunity to show off some golden oldies from the ‘00s and the ‘80s, respectively. 2016 saw the festival mixing things up with co-headliners The Strokes and Phoenix, combining a legacy act with a more current band with greater mainstream appeal. The following years repeated the formula with Morrisey and Kanye West in 2015, Kendrick Lamar and LCD Soundsystem in 2016, and last year’s powerhouse head lineup of Missy Elliot, Bjork, Frank Ocean and Nine Inch Nails.
All this is to say that 2018’s lineup represented a major shift for FYF in that it jettisoned any pretense toward balancing crowd-pleasing and showcasing more challenging, less recognizable acts. Janet Jackson, undoubtedly a hugely talented artist, is also extremely well-known and renowned around the globe, and has been for years. Similarly, Florence and the Machine possess a wider mainstream appeal than possibly any act in FYF history, arguably due to the overwhelming palatability and inoffensiveness of their music.
The combination of the two sent a clear message to longtime patrons of the festival: the priorities have changed. This is no longer a festival that specifically strives to serve an audience looking for the chance to see offbeat, lesser known performers. That hasn’t been the festival’s only goal for years, but this year it seemed that it had gone from the list of priorities completely. FYF had become a Coachella for those who couldn’t make it to Coachella, or maybe more accurately, those who can afford to do both.
The main issue with this shift in priorities is that it means FYF is no longer doing what it was best at, showcasing lesser-known artists. Instead it is attempting to enter a wider festival market that is already saturated by much bigger festivals like Coachella and Outside Lands. An examination of the lineup for this year’s Outside Lands makes the problem apparent; in addition to The Weeknd, the other two scheduled headliners are none other than Janet Jackson and Florence and the Machine. Where as recently as last summer FYF provided headliners that can’t be easily seen anywhere else, this year saw them trying to provide the same experience as other, much more popular festivals. Not only does this approach rob the festival of its uniqueness, but it leaves fans who have counted on FYF to provide something different out in the cold.
With the future of FYF in doubt and the major music festival market getting more crowded every year, there is now a vacuum where the original idea of FYF existed. What remains to be seen is whether FYF can reclaim that spot in future years, or if another festival can rise to the occasion and provide a showcase for the lesser-known artists that exist outside of the summer music festival hype.
Skyler Romero is a third-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.