I didn’t know it was possible to experience FOMO while actually at the event of the weekend until coming to Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival on Saturday afternoon. While I wasn’t too late to see the artists I wanted — and in fact, got to see pretty much everyone I planned on with only a few exceptions — the truth is, there is so much going on at any given moment that I just had no clue how I was going to get to do all or any of it.
When Tyler The Creator envisioned Flog Gnaw, the “Carnival” part of the name wasn’t just for show. There are hoop tosses, Ferris wheels, and all kinds of other rides and games to distract and amuse between sets — but only if there is actually a “between.” Because of a tight agenda, I chose to bypass or forego so many of the other amenities, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense that I wasn’t doing all that I could be. In fact, there was an entire stage I didn’t even see the entire time because so many of the acts I wanted to see performed primarily on either the Flog or the Camp stage. That’s the sign of an impossibly good lineup.
And, just those two stages were more than enough to occupy the time I did have, leaving me perfectly satisfied and exhausted by 10 PM on Sunday, which was about the point my knees, calves, backs, and soles gave out on me completely and I had to either head home or dig a hole right in the middle of Exposition Park and bury myself in it.
For one thing, the lineup was utterly massive and one of the most diverse and inclusive lineups of any festival this year. The unique layout (and a small directional snafu that ended up detouring me through the “backstage” area with catering and artists’ crews) meant that my arrival at 2:30 PM on Saturday and subsequent wanderings put me in contact with both Kamaiyah’s set, of which I was only really able to absorb a snippet, and Fidlar, whose punk proclivities tugged on my heartstrings and brought back fond memories of wannabe teen rebel days.
Speaking of teen rebels, Camp Flog Gnaw’s lineup, including an intriguing blend of up-and-comers with younger veterans alongside Tyler’s merry band of musical misfits, tended to run much younger than nearly any other fest. Quite possibly the oldest artist I saw there was Kelis, who started out performing to a merely respectably-sized crowd of longtime acolytes before some of the younger guests realized that they’d heard her songs somewhere before, and came swarming.
Of course, the larger crowds were reserved for radio favorites like Migos and ASAP Rocky; however, I was surprised at how ridiculous some of the audience sizes were for more underground or “internet-exclusive” acts like Vince Staples and Syd were. Neither is a tremendous fixture on terrestrial radio, nor even has a significant presence on the Billboard charts, yet they drew some of the largest, most energetic crowds. Vince especially was a revelation, playing his set without the aid of backing vocals with a relatively empty, undressed stage. Likewise, Syd’s ability to control the largest stage solo was impressive; even her backing band played offstage, allowing her the full run of the stage and a simple backdrop, yet she filled up the space so well despite her small stature.
Meanwhile, some of the busier sets flashed the potential of their performers, yet also tapped into the unbridled energy that can create careers out of internet hits without the polish of practiced stage shows. Brockhampton, with their full-body, Blue Man Group paint jobs, golf carts, and raucous, passionate gyrations almost made up for bad sound and general unfamiliarity of their material, just by being their rambunctious selves. They flailed so hard they forgot to direct their shouted lyrics into the mics, but the abandon with which they composed themselves was like permission for the crowd to stop listening and just watch; the visual component, as with their many bizarre, low-budget videos, was just as engaging as the lyrics or the beats.
Even more established artists, such as Kehlani, were able to turn the young crowd’s infectious energy into strong sets despite obvious shortcomings and drawbacks. When she forgot the lyrics to her new song, “Honey,” she simply admitted to the mistake and received a warm round of encouraging applause from her huge audience, which only bolstered her performance. As she ran through hits both old and new, she gave off a radiant, infectious energy that told of endless leagues between her first year in the game, and the deluge of year-end drama that hospitalized her, and the newly confident, increasingly solid artist that she’s become.
Another artist who benefitted from a massive wave of support from her fans: Solange, the final act of my weekend. However, her polished set was unlike any other. Elaborate and precise, yet loose and whimsical, Solange’s dances whipped between the measured, modern interpretive style that implied studied dedication to her stagecraft and rambunctious booty-shaking that evoked a simple desire to let it all hang and have fun with a crowd of several thousand friends. Hair swinging, hips swaying, and stretching her lilting vocals further than any of her prior efforts ever implied they could go, Solange proved she is one of those vaunted artists who is such an incredible live performer, that listening to A Seat At The Table now, it feels like something is missing.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Flog Gnaw without a set from the man of the hour, Tyler The Creator. The notoriously media-shy multihyphenate brought all of his signature energy to his own performance, slashing through Flower Boy songs like “Boredom” and “I Ain’t Got Time” with the easygoing confidence of a performer who knows he’s got the crowd in his palm.
Looking out into a sea of kids rocking his Golf Le Fleur line and trademark look — Hawaiian shirt, shorts, high socks, and Converse — how could he not? This crowd came to see him; they came because six years ago, he tapped into something in his fans, and they’ve loved him for it ever since. They’re the reason he’s got a television cartoon, a brand new clothing boutique on Fairfax in Hollywood, and a whole carnival smack in the middle of LA, where he gets to invite his friends to chill out, put on a show, and ride a Ferris wheel, which may have been the whole point of the festival in the first place.
The truly great thing about Flog Gnaw, aside from its inclusiveness, is that it feels like there’s always more to do. This can be a drawback as well; by the end of Sunday night, I felt like my legs were going to fall off, but I’d still only seen two stages and played zero games, without getting the chance to peruse the rides, or check out the equally packed Camp tent. With so much going on, the event leaves fans already marking their calendars for next year’s Carnival, contemplating exactly what bands to catch while dreading just how much they might not get to see, and hoping they can somehow cram it all in without missing a thing.