Our take on Fun Fun Fun Fest 2013 continues with this entry from Michelle Ofiwe, who arrived at the event first, and therefore had a different experience. Ofiwe’s extensive knowledge of mixtape releases and recent pop culture history is on full display in the following selection of live reviews.
The best way to start off Friday night was on the other side of Big Freedia’s beck and call. For me and plenty others who had been unfortunate enough to neglect a festival program, finding the Blue Stage was a little difficult, but following Freedia’s heavy Lousianian drawl was not. Although I can’t confirm it, several onlookers later related to me that all they’d seen for a second was my blurred frame as I shot right past them into the crowd; one man in particular told me I looked as if I was running for my life. Personally, it felt as if I was running towards home, towards music that soundtracked some of the more important parts of my childhood. Bounce music feels like home, and so watching Big Freedia tear through her set over a sea of confused yet energetic faces, presented me with some sort of debased glee.
For instance, there’s something exciting about about watching someone recoil in the face of pure, honest fun. I forget sometimes the way bounce and twerking are viewed in the larger stratosphere of pop culture, sans Miley Cyrus. Big Freedia and her dancers worked with more skill and (obviously) more ass, and for the first fifteen minutes of the set I was witness to plenty of signifiers of culture shock. One guy well into his cups pantomimed vomiting as Big Freedia danced; another declared, “I don’t want to see a dude shaking his ass.” (Big Freedia identifies as a gay male, but sometimes uses female pronouns.) Another set of girls behind me could only laugh nervously as the female shakers on stage made their way through their moves. However, it’s probably to the crowd’s credit that I weathered the night without any screaming requests to twerk or some stranger asking me to teach them how to twerk, which are two occurrences that happen very often in atmospheres like this one. The crowd was gracious enough to leave the dancing to those brave enough to try, and those who didn’t feel up to the more vigorous moves still shimmied along with the rest of them.
There’s nothing inherently strange about a Big Freedia show if you’re familiar with bounce music or if you just like to dance in general. Someone—not me—could make the argument that bounce music isn’t very complex, and they’d be somewhat correct. The music tends to use repetitive drum sequences, and you can bet that somewhere in the song, a breakdown will present itself—for quality ass-shaking time. But it’s also to bounce’s greatest strengths that no song sounds exactly alike, and so Big Freedia’s set followed in that fashion, with new dancers and moves making an appearance with each song. Through a gaggle of female and male shakers, Freedia led the crowd through her bigger hits, including “Gin in My System” and “Na Who Mad,” with the former drawing a hilarious beck-and-call between Freedia and a crowd who warmed up quickly to the declaration that “somebody’s gonna be my victim.”
Towards the end of the set, Big Freedia invited some volunteers on stage to shake with her on stage, and the crowd reacted easily to seeing their own work it on stage. The set later concluded with “Excuse,” Freedia’s most popular song to date, and easier dance moves for the audience to enjoy. This time, Freedia only asked for “spirit fingers,” a request the crowd and dancers were happy to oblige.
Thanks to poor planning and lineup confusion, I initially stumbled into the Chromatics’ set expecting someone else. After realizing my mistake, I still found it easy to stay. The crowd was nice and eclectic, with fans who knew every word and others who could only just nod along. Patches of space were dedicated to those who wanted to dance, hula hoop, or just generally bust a move, but fans mostly crowded around the stage loosely to enjoy the music.
The band wasn’t particularly chatty; in between cuts from their Kill for Love album they only stopped to preface some of the songs. Such a stage presence worked for them, however. It was obvious the real focus was on the music, and their set came and went smoothly.
Most of my Saturday was spent roaming, and it’s to my fortune that I found myself in the midst of Geographer’s set. Truthfully, they were hard to miss – their sound stretched far beyond the Orange stage and was essential in drawing in plenty of onlookers. Watching the band is sort of like witnessing a special kind music acrobatics: between lead singer Michael Deni’s synth skills and cellist Nathan Blaz’s accompanying sound effects with his own cello, it’s very easy to find something about Geographer’s live sets to enjoy. The crowd was receptive but stratified, with dancers in the front, and others taking to the grassy knoll farther away from the stage in order to better witness the show. While the band worked their way through their hits, with a noticeable contribution of songs from their 2012 effort, Myth, onlookers danced, nodded or otherwise enjoyed themselves.
Although it was obvious that some of Deerhunter’s crowd was peppered with excited M.I.A. fans—one woman in particular stopped to ask me who was on stage, then launched into a pretty thorough conversation about M.I.A.’s pregnant antics with a friend—the band still delighted all who were there to see them. A definite highlight was vocalist Bradford Cox’s stage banter and presence, which both seemed straight out of the 1950s. No one else on stage seemed to do much talking other than Cox, but it was enough to keep the crowd engaged and even laughing occasionally.
Cuts from 2010′s Halcyon Digest and their recent release, Monomania, made up much of set, with the live rendition of the popular “Desire Lines” drawing the most cheers of the night.
Perhaps the best metaphor for the night was hidden in the background of the Orange Stage. Many artists took to the stage on Saturday, but if you squinted hard enough, you could make out the shadowy frame of “MATANGI” signaling the night to come. From where I stood during the Deerhunter set, I was surrounded by plenty of M.I.A. fans, some who had been there all day and some—myself included—who were edging their way in, song by song. Unlike other sets throughout the day, when Deerhunter’s concluded, no one moved. Usually the sign of disappearing fans would mark the beginning of another performance, but the crowd was packed in as tight as ever during the forty-five minutes it took set up M.I.A.’s stage. The set was the most grandiose of the night: featuring actual props and plenty of lighting, stagehands had quite a time running through the motions of checking everything. The crowd stayed patient in the beginning, but as time wore on, cheers gave way to chants for M.I.A. to appear.
A special highlight for me was finally being able to see and watch Venus X, Ghe2oGothik founder and primary DJ, who is also M.I.A.’s DJ. Later, she would provide backing vocals to some of M.I.A.’s slower songs, but the opening of the show was all hers as she ran through some sound loops under a blaze of light. With the sounds of helicopters backing her up, M.I.A. took to the stage and launched into some crowd favorites from her Matangi Mix for Kenzo – an approximately 8-minute long teaser that gave way to her 2013 release, Matangi. Nothing was really off-limits when it came to what was being played: everything from her first release, Arular, to obscure mixtapes—including her highly controversial Vicki Leekx tape—made an appearance during her set. But two of her more well-known braggadocio-rap tracks received major approval: “Bad Girls,” the recent club banger that worked its way into the hearts of many with the still-mesmerizing visuals from the accompanying video, and the smash hit “Paper Planes,” which was embellished with a Holi-like celebration of colors. One man, upon seeing the pigmented packages being tossed around, exclaimed excitedly, “Oh, it’s that Color Run sh*t!” Other hits, like “Galang,” “Sunshowers,” and “Boyz” were still largely recognized as such by the crowd, and the latter—along with the aforementioned “Bad Girls”—became an invitation for some female fans to dance it out on stage.
The set was energetic from beginning to end. Everyone grooved: M.I.A., her backup dancers, Venus X, and anyone who failed to keep up with the antics were extremely noticeable. I found my eye moving to a random backup singer who didn’t give much more than a shimmy. All smiles, M.I.A. kept her stage presence heavy, while constantly crawling in and out of the crowd, dancing her way across her set, and standing on anything she could find. The show ended to cries for an encore, to which a fan behind me declared: “Nah, there’s just no way. She does whatever the f*ck she wants.”
All photos by Andi Harman.