by Kayleigh Hughes
Photos by Ashley Bradley
Nothing could make me happier than being back in Austin for Fun Fun Fun Fest, bizarre weather be damned.
First up on Day 1 for me was Mikal Cronin at the Orange Stage. I’ve always loved Cronin’s albums for their sincere and contained self-examinations set to warm and easily digestible surf-influenced dude rock. He and his band were pleasant and knew what they were doing and I could recognize the songs I liked. They can play music well and Cronin has written very nice songs. The placement of him and his band very early in the day made sense and yet also did them the same disservices that all early-afternoon acts deal with. Mikal Cronin makes for a very nice festival experience, but at Fun Fun Fun Fest one often wants more than nice. It was a great performance during which to collect your thoughts and make plans.
From there, we headed to the Black Stage to watch the Dwarves, unfamiliar to me before yesterday and not easily forgotten after–though this had maybe less to do with the parodic(? Was it parody, you guys?) punk music and more to do with a certain set of bejeweled assless chaps. Despite some sound issues noted by others, it was a good welcome to the Black Stage and to the physicality, goofy stunts, and delightfully loud noises that contribute to the distinct FFFF experience.
While Parquet Courts bummed out the Black Stage and not in a good way, I watched Viet Cong play a very tight set at the Blue Stage. Lead singer Matt Flegel gushed about Cheap Trick–not the only performer to do so that day–and I counted a surprising number of Le Butcherettes T-shirts, which is cool because one time I interviewed Teri Gender Bender and I’m new enough to this type of thing that my heart still gets all “Santa? I know him!” about it. Note: Viet Cong has always been dickish about their name and it makes it hard for me to be that into them, but, again, their set was good.
The first awesome performance of the day for me was Babes in Toyland at the Black Stage. I grew up having totally bypassed this band, because of both chronology and geography, probably. But I knew that they Meant Something to many people and once they started playing I understood why. It’s probably counter to the tenets of one wave of feminism or another to experience their set in the way that I did, which is to feel an exciting fist-pumping newness at watching three badass ladies play heavy punk rock and own their instruments and own the crowd. There was also the subsequent rage at just how many dudes I had watched do the same and not even thought to feel outraged or excluded. For the longest time I didn’t even know that was an option. So even though this is belated, in a visceral way certain things really solidified in me during Babes in Toyland’s set. Also they all looked like they were having the time of their lives and the music was just truly great.
I left Babes in Toyland before, evidently, the drum kit collapsed out of nowhere, but I’m glad I did because I got to see Peaches for whom I was not ready, but still very, very willing. It was a great day for Girl Heroes all around, and I feel that my words can’t do enough to convey the wild, strutting, sexual, outrageous, glittery, body-positive, ferocious set that Peaches blessed the Blue Stage with. I sure hope one of our photographers got good shots. Her set was simply The Best.
In the afterglow of Peaches (which made me understand why people smoke a cigarette after sex), Dylan Garsee noted that it sucks for any musician to follow her. There could not have been an act worse than Hudson Mohawke to take on the task. Others tell me Hudson Mohawke once made music that was listenable, but his set at the Blue Stage leaves me unconvinced. It’s not nice to say that someone’s music was not only bad, it was intolerable, but I refuse to lie. How anyone could enjoy what was happening at the Blue Stage from 6:25 to 7:15 p.m. is beyond me, and I sacrificed a much closer Rae Sremmurd crowd position just to avoid the shrieking banality of this worst kind of EDM.
Fortunately, there was a light at the end of Hudson Mohawke’s extremely lucrative tunnel of terribleness and it was our boys Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy. They brought #SremmLife to Austin in the most spectacular fashion. I have never seen performers with more energy or better dance moves, and I am pretty sure that they both dance their way through even mundane daily tasks like getting dressed. Rae Sremmurd surged flawlessly through all their coolest and most crowd-pleasing songs like they were trying to make sure they were hosting the best party any of us had ever been to. Hits like “No Flex Zone,” “Throw Sum Mo,” “Up Like Trump,” and “No Type” (my personal favorite song of the decade so far) can’t be denied. Rae Sremmurd are everyone’s favorite kids and I hope any afterparty they went to was worthy of them.
It was hard to choose between headliners Chvrches and Schoolboy Q, but Chrvches won out because the last time I had seen them was during their now-legendary SXSW 2013 appearance, which marked their first time in the U.S., when they were still hyped-but-mysterious. I could not resist the opportunity to compare. Indeed, just as I had been hearing from friends, the band’s live performance and Lauren Mayberry’s stage presence are now practiced and tight, in stark contrast to that shy and stumbly Fader Fort set of two years ago. I still think their songs could bring out more energy from people than I was seeing, but the band is obviously professional and talented as hell. I also heard more shrieks of “she’s so cute!” than I could even begin to tolerate and I do not know how Lauren Mayberry manages not to gouge out everyone’s eyeballs for the collective patronizing “praise” consistently hurled her way because she happens to be a pretty, funny, talented, and petite person. I hate the word “cute” more and more each day.
Big Bill at Cheer Up Charlie’s
I have often felt that something happens at small and fiercely locally-oriented venues like Cheer Up Charlies (see: Cafe Bourbon Street and, to a degree, Ace of Cups and Double Happiness for Columbus, Ohio examples). It’s like everyone collectively lets go of a deep breath we have been holding for god knows how long–long enough that we had stopped noticing we were holding it. Fun Fun Fun Fest proper is a great festival–many folks’ (and my) favorite–and seeing such a variety of awesome musicians in one place will always feel exciting to me and like I am getting away with something. But it is hard to compete with–or really even fairly compare to–the joyful, trusting shared energy of a beloved local “weird rock” band and, say, fifty-odd fans sharing a space where the division between stage and crowd is essentially nonexistent. Releasing this collective breath, all of us shaking off the thousands of other shoulders we’d bumped into all day, was a perfect and cathartic way to end Day 1.
Day 1 Highs: the Cafe Bustelo coffee stand playing a “Bad Blood” remix that was more enjoyable than any of the performers that happened to be playing at the time, the chipper attitude with which some nice young lads from Denmark informed us that they squatted in a half-built suburban home last night, the Kama Sutra as interpreted by Peaches.
Day 1 Lows: the guy in the crowd at Blue Stage who was inexplicably excited for Hudson Mohawke but called Peaches “boring,” dumb branded koozies, Rae Sremmurd having to cut short their realest song “This Could Be Us” to make time for their greatest song, “No Type.”
Kayleigh Hughes is an editor, freelance writer, and overthinker. In addition to contributing to Ovrld, Kayleigh is the film editor at Loser City and contributor to Pitchfork. Talk to her about literally anything–she doesn’t have that many friends–on twitter or via email.