Fun Fun Fun Fest: Three Days of Dust, Delinquency and Danzig Drama
Trying to fabricate a deep meaning in a rock festival, especially one called Fun Fun Fun is a useless pursuit.
Fun Fun Fun FestCity: Austin, TX
Venue: Auditorium Shores
In Austin, Fun Fun Fun Fest is for the people. ACL is for the Disney Land crowd and South By Southwest is for the industry and the tourists. It represents both the niche music tastes of the locals and community-level business style that shape the city’s culture. To give you a picture of the audience: the average male at Fun Fun Fun is wearing a beard and the t-shirt of a band you have never heard of, and his female counterpart is dressed like an extra from the "Love is a Battlefield" video and wearing an antique camera as an accessory.
2011's installment showed signs of growth. Most evident was the change in venue from Waterloo Park to the larger and more centralized Auditorium Shores. There were more vendors and the skate park was expanded. Less conspicuous, but also noteworthy was the addition of a chill spot made of conveniently parked muscle cars and a slightly increased price on tall cans of Tecate.
If the name means anything, Fun Fun Fun is a time to let loose, forget about responsibilities and have a good time at any cost. That cost ranged $75 to $160 depending on when you purchased the tickets -- not bad for a lineup that boasted more than 100 bands from no less than four continents. The stages represented indie rock (orange stage), electronic and hip-hop (blue stage), comedy and novelty (yellow stage) and punk and metal (black stage) respectively.
The drag with festivals is that it's impossible to see everything you want. The following is a selection of events and performances that this writer thought were interesting, illustrative or simply fun.
Fun Fun Fun must be the only festival in the world where you can drink a beer in a ragged El Camino while watching local kids drop into a half-pipe and listen to Syrian techno. The afternoon crowds were thin but enthusiastic for the foreign sounds of Omar Souleyman, a D Generation reunion and the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company's genital-centric improv performance in the comedy tent.
It was hard not to notice that half the festival was wearing bandannas and germ masks. Someone must have spread the word the festival grounds were arid and loose. Seemingly innocent events like dancing and the wind blowing were causing mini dust storms that spiked drinks with dirt and momentarily blinded attendees.
Among Friday afternoon's most beheld performances was Big Freedia. The self-proclaimed "Queen Diva" of New Orleans led a large crowd though slogan-shouting over bounce beats. Freedia, a large and loud gender-bender, was beset in buttocks courtesy of his four backup dancers who rarely faced the crowd. When he invited the audience onto the stage to bounce backwards to his track "Azz Everywhere," two things were clear: ass deserves to be celebrated and this was the proper way to do it.
Nightfall brought on one of the city's coldest nights this year, dropping to about 40 degrees. While Public Enemy occupied the blue stage's Friday prime time slot, the lion's share of attendees stood in front of the black stage, waiting for something equally nostalgic: the Danzig Legacy. The career-spanning performance intended to include a partial reunion of the Misfits -- a project Glen has been artistically estranged with since the early '80s. The sound check was astronomically overdrawn and the stage crew was acting like something was up. At long last Danzig came out looking like rundown caricature of his once-great self and played a set of stuff no-one wanted to hear: his recent music. Then he played the stuff a few people wanted to hear: Samhain songs. When Misfits cohort Doyle stomped out and played "Death Come Ripping", the crowd was hysterical -- until Glenn buzzkilled it by announcing that the festival was cutting the part of the set everyone wanted to hear short. Clearly frustrated, he sang a decent version of "Vampira" and then spent his last precious moments of public address blaming the organizers and provoking the audience with"I guess they've never heard of a thing called a riot" before leading the crowd in chants of "Bullshit", "Rip-off" and "Let them play". When the band finally left the stage, trash started being hurled, hitting the festival staff and covering the stage in bottles and cans until officers from the Austin Police Department came over the barricade with flashlights and dispersed the crowd. In Austin, Danzig's legacy was sealed.
By now festival goers and musicians alike are beginning to suffer from a new condition called "dust lung" that comes from inhaling sand for two days straight. Its primary symptom is coughing, but it also includes side effects such as face coated in beige, dirt boogers when nose is blown and all water tasting like mud. Youth Brigade pointed out the festival grounds are usually a dog park -- an insight that made many ponder what the dust might be composed of.
Perhaps only band immune to dust lung was Captured By Robots, a group where automated music machines outnumber humans six-to-one. Humanoid lead singer JBot did the bidding of the conscienceless machines by playing original metal and punk songs as well as covers such as Rick James's "Superfreak" and a conga-line inducing version of Buster Poindexter's "Hot Hot Hot."
Three stages and a quarter-mile away, a proud group of well-dressed anarchists called World Inferno Friendship Society drank wine and charmed the crowd with their mix of punk rock politics and stagey delivery. Shortly after, rapper Cecil Otter played to a growing crowd and then reemerged with producer Swiss Andy to perform as Wugazi. Self-aware of the fact that they were basically pressing play, they humbly gave praise to Fugazi's bassist Joe Lally (who played on the orange stage). "Without him, this wouldn't be possible".
At night's end, Diplo's Dancehall incarceration Major Lazer party-rocked the blue stage with his super-charged hypeman while goth-punk originators the Damned proved they can still do it on the black stage, but for some reason Spoon seemed especially significant. Perhaps it was because they were backdropped by their hometown skyline or maybe it was because they played at the inaugural Fun Fun Fun Fest six years back, but they seemed right at home banging out a retrospective set began with renewed energy, included both a downtempo acoustic stretch and a portion with an auxiliary horn section and ended with Britt Daniel getting perfectly moody on the electric guitar. Not a bad show for the bands only 2011 performance.
As the festival-goers filed out, the mood was calm and satisfying, broken only by an impromptu chant from outside the gate, "Danzig sucks! Danzig sucks!".
Those in Cannibal Corpse's Texas-sized circle pit probably saw it as the most brutal stage-front environment of the night. As it turns out, Odd Future's set was. It didn't begin that way. The show started off cluttered an uninspired, until the entire group dove into the crowd to avenge an errant water bottle and returned with a new vitality. As they powered through a set that played out like an ODWGKTA mixtape, they stage dove, talked shit and eventually implored the crowd to rush the stage. For a group that stakes its reputation on being troublemakers, it was a satisfying go.
Even Odd Future had to give props to Slayer who could be heard thundering in the distance throughout their entire set. The venerable metalists performed to the festivals largest audience on the orange stage to close the night. Their two-hour set was a loud answer to the question of "Who is the best metal band of the last quarter century?".
During the day, smaller crowds were treated to excellent performances from the mostly naked rocker Nobunny, Indiana punk veterans Zero Boys, indie-rap icon Del the Funky Homosapien and The Budos Band, a nine-piece instrumental ensemble that sounds like the soundtrack for a mid 1970's car chase. Ted Leo also scored points with the audience by donning a Danzig wig and playing Misfits songs.
Only once on Sunday was the yellow stage tent overflowing and that was for Henry Rollins. The one-time Black Flag frontman shared punk rock war stories, regaled the audience with his foreign adventures and even slipped in a little motivational speaking to boot. The big surprise: he was hilarious. His take on the Fun Fun Fun crowd: future congressmen, leaders and innovators who will lead America into a great future. "It is you," he declared optimistically, "and I know you will not fail".
Trying to fabricate a deep meaning in a rock festival, especially one called Fun Fun Fun is a useless pursuit, so instead, we leave you with some of the weekends most profound quotes and the context in which they were overheard:
"Looks like Wile E Coyote put this fucking stage together and he got all the parts from Acme".
- Glenn Danzig (as the Danzig Legacy banner slumped crookedly behind him).
"Give it up to all my volunteers -- that was truly ass everywhere".
- Big Freedia (after bring dozens of fans onstage to present their posteriors).
"This song goes out to all the ladies, it's called 'Fucked with a Knife'".
- Cannibal Corpse singer George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher (with at least one small child in view at side stage).
"Life is very, very short. You must make it as memorable as you can".
- Henry Rollins explaining why he chased Dennis Hopper to his car, screaming his lines from Blue Velvet.