14 Best Sets at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2014
Fun Fun Fun Fest 2014 via the festival
Austin, Texas -- This weekend marked Fun Fun Fun Fest’s return to Austin for its ninth annual edition, and we were in attendance to catch the sights and sounds. 2014 saw FFF's largest and most diverse lineup to date, and featured the typical whimsical site installations the festival is known for in keeping with its city's mantra "Keep Austin Weird."
For those unfamiliar with Fun Fun Fun, the organizers separate acts by genre into four stages - the Orange Stage for indie rock; the Blue Stage for hip-hop, electronic, and pop music; the Black Stage for metal, punk, and hardcore; and the Yellow Stage for comedy plus a few up-and-coming musical artists. This minimizes overlaps for fans of individual genres, but makes the weekend for an overall music-lover a marathon of running across Auditorium Shores to take in the quality and variety of FFF's lineup.
In addition to the incredible musical acts the Fun Fun Fun staff brings to Austin, the festival also takes strides to make things more interesting by including a skate/BMX park and wrestling ring on the grounds with demos and matches occurring throughout the weekend. Maybe this example will paint the picture of just how cool this festival is: when splitting from the Run The Jewels set on the Blue Stage to catch the tail end of the Sun Kil Moon set on the Orange stage, we passed both an incredible skate demo and a gargantuan masked man body-slamming a little guy in an American flag Speedo. Only at Fun Fun Fun.
Photo by Russell Houghten for Fun Fun Fun Fest
And while all the side perks distinguish this festival from its contemporaries, when it comes down to it, the main attraction of a music festival is, of course, the music. FFF managed to feature a really interesting lineup compared to similarly set-up festivals this year, from classic metal artists to the biggest names in indie rock, hip-hop, and punk. With all of that in mind, here are our fourteen favorite sets from Fun Fun Fun Fest 2014.
SOHN kicked things off on the Blue Stage after some minor technical difficulties during sound check delayed his set. After a quick apology from the English electronic artist, he launched into the title track from his 2013 debut Tremors before going into the slow-building “Bloodflows.” SOHN rocks a sort of monastic look, wearing all black clothing under a black garment that’s somewhere between a hoodie and a robe. It’s clear the man keeps his voice in incredible shape, flawlessly hitting every high-pitched note, which, coupled with a superior understanding of synthesizers and drum machines, allows SOHN to build a cathedral of sound for the audience. This was most exemplified in the set’s penultimate song, “Lessons,” as the singer flowed through dynamic changes before dropping all instrumentation into an autotuned vocal harmony climax. If this is what we can consistently expect from SOHN in the future, he has a hell of a career ahead of him.
Pallbearer was up next on the Black Stage and assembled one of the more eclectic crowds of the festival, surely due in no small part to the band’s most recent release Foundations of Burden garnering Pitchfork’s Best New Music distinction. It was a mix of old metalheads and punk kids with a large population of younger indie fans. Nevertheless, Pallbearer seemed determined to bring the heaviest set of the weekend featuring soaring guitar solos overtop relentless sludgy riffs, bass chords, and slow drumming. Lead-singer Brett Campbell has a sort of Bruce Dickinson vibe to his voice, although the music is miles away from Iron Maiden. As the band closed with the twelve-minute “Foreigner,” we had to take a minute to make sure our eardrums were still intact. What more could you want from a metal band as heavy as this?
RUN THE JEWELS
Run the Jewels by Nadia Chaudhury for uproxx.com
Run the Jewels, the collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P, has seen tremendous critical success over the course of the last year. What’s most exciting about this duo is its fiery originality, combining psychotic, bass-heavy beats with politically charged rhymes. Their FFF set revolved mostly around Run the Jewels 2, which dropped earlier this month, as they blazed through tracks like "Jeopardy," "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)," and "Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1." The chemistry between these two MCs is astounding, and this project is certainly going places in the future.
SUN KIL MOON
The Sun Kil Moon set was one of the more surprising shows of the weekend, as it managed to entertain even though the music is decidedly more quiet and subdued than the rest of the lineup. Mark Kozelek, the frontman and brains behind the project, was, shall we say, visibly impaired, which caused his stage banter to provide tons of comic relief in between tragically sad songs that mostly came from his fantastic 2014 release Benji. He would throw out lines like, “I lived in Austin for a while and I was seeing this girl, but then I had a three-way in a hotel and she dumped me. So, I have pretty fond memories of this city.” Aside from his entertaining demeanor and another pot-shot at The War on Drugs (seriously, when is this going to stop?), the music was unbelievably moving. Slow, sad tracks like “Micheline” and “I Can't Live Without My Mother’s Love” were juxtaposed with dark, rock-oriented songs like “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes.” The whole set was breath-taking, and it was nice to see a change of pace from the normal let’s-be-as-loud-as-possible mindset most bands take on for festival shows.
Courtney Barnett by Nadia Chaudhury for uproxx.com
Courtney Barnett has had a fairly impressive festival run over the course of the last year, stunning us at both Northside and CMJ. Naturally, we came into her Fun Fun Fun Fest set with high expectations, and Barnett and band far from disappointed. She peppered in a few new songs to keep the set fresh among tracks from her 2013 release The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Her stage presence was both entertaining and endearing, as she would toss her guitar all around her torso whilst stumbling around the stage. In between songs, she kept the banter short with a simple, “Hey!” or “Thanks!” - at one point introducing her band as “a bunch of great guys.” She drew one of the larger daytime crowds of the festival, which went wild as she rocked through the last psychedelic songs of her set, “Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser.” It looks like this Aussie is blowing up, and it’s about damn time.
JELLO BIAFRA (SPOKEN WORD)
Jello Biafra’s musical career has been somewhat mediocre since his split with The Dead Kennedys, and his current band, The Guantanamo School of Medicine, has yet to deliver a record on par with any of his previous bands’ incredible releases. That being said, if you ever get the chance to hear him wax philosophical and political, it’s definitely worth your time. It seemed Biafra intended to ignite some fury in the Texas crowd as his spoken-word set on the Yellow Stage dealt primarily with gun control, a toxic issue in this part of the country. He started off with a bang, immediately equating the NRA to the Taliban. This sort of rhetoric continued for a full hour without a single lapse in energy, proving that although his music career has taken a downward turn, Biafra’s tongue is still as sharp as it was in the ‘80s, and his is a voice worth listening to in a time of such political and international distress.
It was practically impossible to find a spot near the Yellow Stage as Jello Biafra exited to let Fred Armisen start his set. The former SNL cast-member and Portlandia co-showrunner has garnered some serious indie-cred over the last few years by hosting acclaimed musicians as guest stars on his hipster-parody show like St. Vincent, Jack White, The Dirty Projectors, and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. It’s no wonder he took his Fun Fun Fun Fest set as an opportunity to display his musical appreciation as opposed to regular standup. Armisen opened as his Johnny Rotten-parody character Ian Rubbish before changing into normal clothes and performing some of his favorite songs. He called upon J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. to play the band’s hit “Feel the Pain” before inviting Big Boys lead-singer Tim Kerr to perform “Sound on Sound,” all the while raving about how the songs had gotten him through hard times. Armisen seemed intent on musically educating his audience rather than making them laugh, and while it wasn’t what was necessarily expected of a comedy set, it was still pretty damn cool to see his musical tastes showcased amongst his buddies (who all happen to be indie rock legends).
King Diamond via Fun Fun Fun Fest
Fun Fun Fun Fest was something of a victory lap for Danish metal god King Diamond, who, after surviving triple bypass surgery, managed to put together an incredible North American tour ending at the Black Stage Saturday night. The King’s falsetto range is still just as insanely high as it was back in his heyday, and his tight backing band, led by original KD guitarist Andy LaRocque, held down the heavy classics in flawless form. The group blasted through tracks like “Welcome Home” and “Tea” in a theatrical hour-and-a-half set complete with upside-down crosses and a giant Satanic pentagram center stage. An actress was on-hand to perform as characters from the band’s various concept albums, like a pregnant woman carrying the spirit of the devil and a wheelchair-bound grandmother possessed by demons. As the band finished their encore with two tracks from the seminal metal classic Abigail (“The Family Ghost" and “Black Horsemen”), it not only established this as the most evil set of the weekend, but also this aging metal icon as an incredible showman.
Although Iron Reagan isn't the most sophisticated band in the world, their set was among the most fun at FFF. To put into perspective how this band operates, lead-singer Tony Foresta claimed their 30-minute set would feature 25 of the band's songs - and he wasn't kidding. The tracks mostly came in three-song shifts, each hovering around three minutes, through which Foresta barked as the rest of the band pounded the crowed at a consistent high-decibel volume. With tracks like "Your Kid's an Asshole" and "Miserable Failure," it was clear Iron Reagan weren't taking themselves too seriously, and a thrashy midday performance was just what we needed to kick Sunday off right.
Pennsylvania-natives Pissed Jeans have actually been at it for around a decade now, spewing their noise-punk on audiences across the country. Their set at Fun Fun Fun started with some serious guitar technical issues, which frontman Matt Korvette played off saying, "We're better as a power trio, I don't know what he (guitarist Bradley Fry) brings to the band anyway." This was somewhat definitive of their set - shit would go wrong, Korvette would crack a joke, and what happened in between was loud. As the show was winding down, the frontman decided to throw his drummer a curveball by dragging the drum-riser backwards into the bass amp, effectively stopping the closing song after one verse as each band member started throwing their instruments across the stage. If one thing was made clear by this set, it's that Pissed Jeans lacks the capacity to give a fuck.
Deafheaven via Fun Fun Fun Fest
It's safe to say Deafheaven played the best set we saw at Fun Fun Fun Fest. After stepping onto the Black Stage to an ambient backing track, the quintet launched into the opening track of 2013's incredible release Sunbather, "Dream House," and announced their arrival with a thunderous boom. Lead-singer (or screamer for that matter) George Clarke spent most of his time at the front of the stage where throngs of fans were being squished by the constantly throbbing pit from behind. As they rolled through the album's title track and new release "From the Kettle to the Coil," Clarke would scream into audience-members faces as Daniel Tracy gave a clinic in astonishing drum technique and Kerry McCoy produced a wall of sound with heavily-effected guitar tones.
What's most interesting about this band is their reluctance to fit into a genre. A quick and misinformed judgment would pin them down into black metal, but they're closer to Godspeed You! Black Emperor than a band like Children of Bodom. They're also less concerned with the musical athletics metalheads get wrapped up in than they are with sweeping dynamic shifts. Sure, they'll bring the thunder and Tracy will employ thrash beats, but these guys also have the discipline to drop to a quiet section or build a movement into something triumphant. All of these elements come together in a reflection of honest emotion, which makes Deafheaven one of the most exciting and original bands making music today.
Flying Lotus, the moniker of producer/rapper Steven Ellison, made the interesting choice of hitting the Blue Stage about twenty minutes before his scheduled start which led to a fairly lengthy running time - not that we're complaining. He kicked things off with the opening jazzy tracks from his latest space exploration of an album You're Dead! before featuring a few of his old school tracks. The set held a few surprises, as FlyLo - for reasons unbeknownst to me - spun Schoolboy Q's "Man of the Year" before coming from behind his Wizard of Oz-esque curtain to MC a couple Captain Murphy songs. The highlight of the show, however, was the projection of psychedelic visuals onto a screen hiding Ellison. Coupled with a fantastic light show, this set was something fairly impressive to behold.
Sky Ferreira doesn't have the best track record when it comes to showing up for gigs and general reliability, so we collectively let out a groan when a notification from the Fun Fun Fun app revealed her flight wouldn't get to Austin in time to play the festival. Luckily, it was announced soon after that her set would take place at the Belmont a little later in the night. The whole thing was kind of a charming train wreck. She opened with Night Time, My Time track "24 Hours," which derailed when Ferreira lost timing with the backing track. At the end of the song, she simply said, "We're gonna do that again, but right," which spawned laughter from her bandmates, but the second time around was just as abysmal. The set went upwards from there, as she dished out more of Night Time with songs like "Boys," "I Will," and "You're Not the One" before an emotional and vocally impressive performance of "I Blame Myself." As she closed with the Dev Hynes-collaboration "Everything Is Embarrassing," it finally felt like the band and singer were back on track, which made it easy to forgive the set's earlier flaws.
Due to their devastating overlap with Deafheaven earlier in the day, we decided to catch Foxygen's Nites set over at Red 7 after the festival, which was probably the best decision we made all weekend. Something has seriously taken a hold of this band since their 2013 release We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, as lead-singer Sam France is barely recognizable with a slimmer physique and wildly colored hair. He's got a Mick-Jagger-on-crack thing going for him right now, as he exploded onto the stage when the band (now a nine-piece with three female backup singers) kicked off the set with "How Can You Really." After flipping out on the soundguy for his vocals not being loud enough, France quickly recovered by flashing the crowd a Cheshire Cat smile which was kind of unsettling to look at.
From there, the set was a blur. Multiple songs ran into each other, and the energy didn't subside for a single second. The last thing I remember was a particularly raucous version of "No Destruction" - which is kind of a chill song to begin with - that flowed into a Black Sabbath metal jam ending with instruments flying all over the place and France childishly waving goodbye to the crowd. Foxygen is on some sort of psychotic kick right now, and it's doing wonders for them.
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