Photography by Philip Cosores
It’s a strange thing, to attend a major music festival less than 24 hours after one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent memory. It’s an even stranger thing when that festival is the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, an irreverent mash-up of state fair and alternative hip-hop concert that has no room in its stacked lineup for sentimentality. Camp Flog Gnaw seems to exist in a universe untouched by the concerns of the one we normally occupy, and after a night of horrific events in Paris and Beirut, it was an escapist’s dream come true.
Now in its fourth year, the festival has never been a purer reflection of its grand visionary’s id. LA rapper and Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator once again took it upon himself to curate the lineup, but his influence wasn’t limited to the stages surrounding the LA Sports Arena. Everywhere you looked, there’d be a massive billboard featuring Tyler and his Golf Wang brand or a wall painted over with Odd Future’s pink donut logo. Though rampant, the branding somehow didn’t feel insidious, as if there was something playfully self-conscious about it that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. Of course, that’s probably exactly what the rising business mogul Tyler wanted us to think.
Speaking of what Tyler wants, he got pretty much all of it at Camp Flog Gnaw this year. Snoop Dogg agreed to headline the bill, lending some mainstream star power to an event that tends to focus on some of hip-hop’s darkest (and unquestionably brightest) corners. Even when things went wrong, they kind of didn’t, as when Flosstradamus couldn’t make it and one of LA’s best young rappers, Vince Staples, stepped up to wow the crowd with a surprise set. And the events that other festivals wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole — like the skateboarding competition held inside the Sports Arena — went off without a hitch or a broken femur. Tyler seems to thrive on the swirling chaos of his own creativity, but the experience of attending Camp Flog Gnaw was more pleasant than chaotic. In fact, it was one of the least stressful festivals of the entire year.
That means the focus stayed on the music, where it belonged in the first place. Odd Future members popped up everywhere on the bill, with Syd tha Kid and The Internet spreading their soul across the afternoon and Tyler holding down one of the premier late-night spots. Left Brain, Mike G, Domo Genesis, and Hodgy Beats represented OFWGKTA in name as well as spirit, delivering an hour-long set memorable both for its highs (Domo) and its weird, rambling lows (Hodgy). Elsewhere, the lineup gravitated toward prolific LA artists such as Flying Lotus and — dare we say — Willow Smith, resulting in a carnival that felt more like a homecoming celebration than a traveling circus.
Consequence of Sound was on the scene at the sold-out Camp Flog Gnaw, whipping our hair and taking assiduous notes (at the same time, in Willow’s case). Now that the carnival has closed up shop, we’re ready to present the best and worst of a day that gave us some hope for an odd future when we needed it most.
Minneapolis rapper Prof is a legend in his own mind — so much so that he felt compelled to introduce himself to the Flog Gnaw crowd as “one of the best rappers in the history of the world.” Twice. I’d take issue with that claim based on his afternoon set at the (aptly named, it turns out) Camp Stage, where he put on a mostly corny show with a few unexpected mood swings.
For the most part, Prof comes across like an especially creepy bro (“I don’t remember shit from last night/ But by the smell of my fingers, I had a great time,” he raps on “Church”) after one too many Red Bulls. There’s no denying that he brought the energy, as his shirt was soaked through with sweat by the end of his set. Best rapper in the world, though? That’s a claim that’s hard to take seriously, like much of Prof’s shtick.
Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Yes, Snoop Dogg is a legend. Nobody’s disputing that. But he’s also proven to be kind of a depressing festival headliner, churning out the same tired hits year after year with diminishing returns. Do we really need to hear another half-assed rendition of “Gin and Juice” or a version of “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” without Dre’s iconic verse?
Snoop doesn’t even have enough of his own stuff to fill out a legacy set, it turns out. During the weird middle section of his performance — after he had already coaxed the crowd into singing the chorus to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” — he cycled through Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Biggie’s “Hypnotize”, and 2Pac’s “Gangsta Party”. Play your own hits, dude! Following a full day of hip-hop’s brightest new stars, Snoop only showed that his blunt is almost cashed.
Odd Future is nothing if not fluid. The LA-based collective has earned a reputation for unpredictability, to the point where nobody knows quite what to expect when they show up to their own festival in piecemeal fashion. With Tyler, The Creator busy preparing for his set and other key members off doing their own thing, the group’s firepower was somewhat diluted but nonetheless formidable. Mike G made sure of that, coming out ready to rip with a green lightsaber in hand.
After fronting the group for a few songs, Mike G took a step back and let OFWGKTA compatriot Domo Genesis take over. Most of the set’s highlights came from this midsection when Domo bounced around like a firecracker and surprised the crowd with his spitfire verse from Tyler’s “Rusty”.
And then things got weird. Hodgy Beats is a hugely important part of what Odd Future does, but he looked lost for long stretches of his interminable set (or at least very clearly high out of his mind). At first, his raw freestyles and off-script asides came off as refreshing, but he lost all good will when he started berating the stage manager for simply doing his job, actually threatening to kick his ass when he got off stage. The incident wasn’t funny, though it was ironic. Hodgy had just finished a rant about how fame changes people for the worst. His own little temper tantrum served as Exhibit A, whether he knew it or not.
With long lines preventing many fans from getting into the festival in a timely manner, the fact that Willow Smith was the first act of the day was kind of a cruel joke, as the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith was one of the most anticipated artists on the bill. And while many couldn’t get in to watch her, Smith was unfazed, saying she couldn’t imagine a better crowd or festival to be performing for.
As for the anticipation, it delivered in all ways. Those hoping for the weirdness that we’ve witnessed in interviews with Smith and her brother, Jaden, were satisfied with some really bizarre stage banter. One song she dedicated to everyone that loves living on planet Earth, while another she prefaced by urging everyone to jump and play in creeks with their friends. And, with a reggae twist on her best known song, “Whip My Hair”, she was joined by Jaden, fit with hair primed for whipping, as the pair danced with a strange blend of confidence and obliviousness.
Smith’s parents watched from side stage, and friend Kylie Jenner was also on-hand for support, but the truth is she didn’t need any of these connections to entertain or be interesting. She’s plenty weird and talented enough to do that on her own.
It’s hard to believe that The Internet once existed as a mere two-piece, one of the more novel Odd Future offshoots, though hardly the most essential. But what started as a collaboration between Syd tha Kid and Matt Martians has since mutated into a new kind of beast, the kind that leans on a full band to flesh out its alluring blend of jazz, soul, and R&B.
It’s this band that helped The Internet stand out at Camp Flog Gnaw and achieve a noticeably fuller, more dynamic sound than most of the festival’s other acts. Syd has learned to extract more soulfulness from her lyrics with each album, and she’s clearly the main attraction at any Internet show. But it doesn’t hurt that her sly, smoky delivery is backed by some truly filthy bass lines. Both elements of the band’s sound were on display during the set’s highlight, an abbreviated version of the slow-burning single “Girl” , during which Syd had the crowd trapped in a chilly kind of reverie.
While the lineup for Camp Flog Gnaw changes from year to year, some artists have shown a sort of loyalty to Tyler and the brand by appearing frequently. Mac Miller tops this list, popping up on the lineup in each of the last three years, with this installment supporting his recently released GO:OD AM. And this year, as much as the previous ones, cements Miller as one of the best performing rap artists around, combining a smooth live delivery with a ton of energy and using songs that thrive in a party atmosphere to his advantage. It’s no secret as to why Miller keeps getting invited back, with a mid-set run through “Insomniak” as big and self-assured as anything to be performed on the Camp stage all day.
Long Beach rapper Vince Staples made the short trip up the 405 for a surprise set, and he was greeted with a warm hometown welcome as the sun began to set over the Camp Stage. The crowd nearly quadrupled in size between opener “Lift Me Up” and raucous closer “Blue Suede”, probably because Staples was such a last-minute addition to the carnival slate.
By the set’s latter half, though, the rapper had hundreds of fans jumping, moshing, and losing their collective mind. It takes a little something special to command a crowd so effortlessly, and Staples’ natural charisma is a big reason why he’s one of hip-hop’s most promising young stars. The takeaway from his latest conquest is pretty straightforward: When Vince Staples tells you to bounce, you’d better motherfuckin’ bounce.