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Fun Fun Fun Festival 2015 Review: From Worst to Best

Ten years later, the Austin festival stays true to its original spirit

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    On the way to a 10-year anniversary, most American music festivals lose something. Whether that is a bit of their identity, a bit of their comfort, or a bit of their local appeal, at some point, some sort of consolation has to be made in the name of survival.

    Fun Fun Fun Fest, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year, might be the closest thing we have to an exception. Sure, the festival isn’t the same as it was in its inception, but still present is the atmosphere and appeal that has earned it a reputation as one of the premier music festivals in the country. Whether it’s big little festival or a little big festival, its punk rock ethos is still very much alive, and not just quarantined to the Black stage on the farthest corner of the festival. On Friday evening, Antemasque played the main stage followed by Cheap Trick — both artists who are very much in tune with what Fun Fun Fun Fest holds as its core.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    This isn’t just the impression of the festival we’re talking about. Back in 2012, when Consequence of Sound named Fun Fun Fun our festival of the year, co-founder Graham Williams spoke to the festival’s identity and ambition. “It’s just about having that reach and presenting everything that is great about underground/progressive music, old and new,” he said. “We never want to just become known as a nostalgia fest that only has old bands.”

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    If we’re to gauge the fest based on this vision, 2015’s iteration was exactly what FFF set out to be. Venom (who Williams was eyeing way back in 2012) played their first-ever Texas show. L7, American Football, Ride, and Babes in Toyland all brought their reunions through. And some of today’s most heralded contemporary acts, like Grimes, Future Islands, Neon Indian, Chromeo, Schoolboy Q, and CHVRCHES all impressed. Many bands even signed up to play twice, capping off their evenings with slots at FFF Nites series.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    While Fun Fun Fun Fest is a music festival, it also manages to be so much more. The taco cannon was back. So was the wrestling, the BMX and skate park, the headliner-themed hot dogs (the Wu-Tang dog from Frank came with a chance to sit on-stage with the rap group), and a pretty amazing frozen banana stand called Bananarchy. Fans could sit on the grass, stand and stare, or stage-dive from the front of the pit. But maybe best of all for the citizens of Austin and the music fans that make the trek here, FFF is a chance for like-minded individuals to gather and find their common ground. Metal fans get the chance to walk by rap or indie rock; fans of electronic music might get to witness the mayhem of Converge or American Nightmare for the first time. Never is there tension for the fest to cater to one group or another. Unlike pretty much every major music festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest can sit firmly in its identity and know that the audience is there for whatever it has to offer.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    With all that said, we caught more than 40 of the acts that played over the event’s three days. Here’s our take on them, from worst to best.

    Philip Cosores
    Associate Editor

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    Schoolboy Q

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Schoolboy Q was fighting a nasty cold and was visibly and audibly fatigued for his Blue Stage headlining set. “I’m worn out,” he admitted, taking breathers after each track to wipe down with a towel. After “Hands on the Wheel”, he stepped back for a monologue: “Ya’ll ready for another album? I know I am. I’m so tired of performing these songs. ‘Man of the Year’? Tired of it. ‘Collard Greens’? Tired of it. ‘Studio’? Tired of it. ‘Hell of a Night’? So fucking tired of it.” He performed all these cuts, albeit begrudgingly. Maybe it was the illness, but this was not Schoolboy’s finest hour. –Jon Hadusek

    Rae Sremmurd

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    What the youthful duo of Rae Sremmurd bring to the table in boisterous energy, they lack in the ability or desire to actually perform their songs live. While the pair entertained with declarations of their intent for partying, their encouragement of voting, and their distaste for ex-girlfriends, their backing track wasn’t just something to lean on; it was often the majority of the song that was heard. Chalk it up to inexperience, but in terms of live performance, jumping around for hits “No Flex Zone” and set highlight “No Type” just isn’t enough. Even the group’s DJ showed a lack of polish, botching a song only to be let off the hook by a dancing panda bear and a troupe of young women invited on stage. For fans, it wasn’t a bad time, but not the caliber of performance that they deserve given the group’s nighttime placement. –Philip Cosores

    Dwarves

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Legendary punk rockers Dwarves ransacked the stage, shouting, “Oh fuck yeah! Sit back and suck my dick.” As they roared through the entire Blood Guts and Pussy LP, it became apparent that the crowd was not ready for such an intensely energetic performance on this overcast afternoon. Blag Dahlia engaged the audience every chance he could with witty commentary and random addendums like, “No one told you punk was smart.” Halfway through their set, Dahlia again shouted, “C’mon, let’s start a fucking pit,” only to receive a weak response from the packed festival grounds around the Black Stage. Dwarves packed a mean punch, but they just weren’t loud or fast enough to awaken the masses. –Allison Franks

    Alvvays

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    A band struggling through sound issues on stage is hardly news at a music festival, but monitor levels got the better of gentle Canadian indie pop band Alvvays on Sunday afternoon. Singer Molly Rankin wore the hardship on her face and in her demeanor, making music that should be warm come across as a little bit of a drag. Fortunately, the band shook the vibe by set’s end, with Rankin getting in the Fun Fun Fun spirit in time for “Party Police” and the requested crowd singalong “Marry Me, Archie”. The overall impression was that the charm of the band didn’t come across, but for pretty understandable reasons. –Philip Cosores

    Viet Cong

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    Photo by Jon Hadusek

    Calgary post-punk band Viet Cong had to play their set with someone else’s gear. “American Airlines lost our shit, so this will be pretty stripped down,” vocalist Matt Flegel said. Though the songs lost their ominous tonalities without the proper effects pedals and amps, the quartet powered through with a more garage rock-heavy set. Their decision to play through less than ideal circumstances was admirable, even if it was a poor representation of the band’s typical live show. –Jon Hadusek

    Title Fight

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    The sun finally came out on Sunday afternoon, shining a light on the genre-defying tunes of Title Fight. Even if their current sound has incorporated more lush ’90s alternative, they still pack enough of their old hardcore punk to inspire a constant stream of stage diving and crowd surfing. But the set mostly fell into a low-key hangover, which even the grimaces of singing bassist Ned Russin and the triumphant “Rose of Sharon” couldn’t really wake up the crowd from. When Russin noted brightness of the sun on stage, it seemed as if the set as a whole would have been better suited for some mood lighting under the cover of darkness. –Philip Cosores

    Gogol Bordello

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    Photo by Dave Mead

    In preparation for their Dallas show the following night, Gogol Bordello rushed to the stage and performed their iconic Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike album in full. As always, Eugene Hutz carried the band atop his shoulders with enough energy to stampede through enemy lines. It was refreshing to hear infectious songs such as “Not A Crime” and “Dogs Were Barking”, but several parts of the concert felt forced. Hutz carried his bottle of wine during “Start Wearing Purple” more like a prop than a statement and seemed to run through the songs without a moment’s pause. Gogol Bordello tackled all their famous shticks with one too many new members aboard the boat. As we raced to shore weary from our travels, Gogol Bordello set us free to tackle new lands. One can only hope they will embark on some new adventures of their own. –Allison Franks

    The Charlatans

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    Photo by Jon Hadusek

    One of the great Madchester Britpop bands, The Charlatans‘ appearance at FFF was a pleasant and welcome surprise. Their 3:20 afternoon set on a rainy Saturday afternoon, however, was less ideal. The typical abbreviated festival soundcheck was not conducive to the band’s polished style, and the overall sound was empty compared to the grandiose textures heard on their recorded output. Still, the band appeared jovial and grateful to be back in Austin, and frontman Tim Burgess was warm and kind to the audience, leading clap-a-longs and thanking the crowd between each song. Even with iffy sound, hearing “The Only One I Know” live was a highlight of the weekend. –Jon Hadusek

    Parquet Courts

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    On record, Parquet Courts thrive as much on their sound as their lyrics, but at a festival they have to bank on vibes, as the group revels in their sloppiness. It works in the moment, but the songs quickly blend together, becoming less captivating and more background noise. There is strength in their frontman-by-committee approach, as each has his strength, but it masks the fact that none are compelling enough to carry the load on their own. This lets the band’s best material, like “Borrowed Time”, shine bright, both in contrast and in just how good it is. It all added up to an uneven set whose peaks were particularly lofty. –Philip Cosores

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