As the music festival space grows more and more crowded, organizers have to ask themselves, “What sets our festival apart? How do we ensure that our event provides a unique experience no other festival does?” That was the challenge facing Adult Swim in their first year of promoting their Adult Swim Festival — a challenge that they passed with flying colors by basing so many of the non-music attractions around its many, zany late-night properties.
But in year two, that challenge reared its head once again, along with a new one: How to scale the festival up so that it seemed both bigger than its inaugural event and still set itself apart from an even greater number of competing events like the rookie Day N Vegas and the growing Camp Flog Gnaw, both of which preceded it just weeks before. I’m pleased to report that Adult Swim Fest met its twin challenges once again by providing a tighter, cleaner musical experience bolstered by guests that did something I had yet to see from anyone at previous fests: Get the crowd to dance.
First things first, the festival was moved to a bigger venue; where last year’s “pilot” fest was held in the downtown parking lot of what used to be the American Apparel manufacturing plant, this year’s festival was moved to the Banc Of California arena near USC. The change of venue gave a sense of being at an amusement park rather than an empty lot and also cut down on the amount of walking attendees were subjected to.
Further mitigating the walking issue was side-by-side, alternating main stage setup. Real Street Fest also used this set up, and I must say it’s by far my favorite — and my knees’ favorite, as well. By keeping the two stages linked, it allowed bystanders waiting for one act to still hear and participate in an ongoing act’s performance while making it possible to see all the performances without having to jump back and forth across a half-mile lot.
The artists — who were mostly split up between Friday and Saturday along genre lines, with most of the rock and metal acts on Friday and the majority hip-hop acts on Saturday — made effective use of the setup as well. When Friday’s crowd for Metalocalypse broke into Leikeli47’s set with a chant, she made it her mission to set the crowd for her stage against the other audience, making for a good-natured competition that drew even more metalheads to her side.
Likewise, Vince Staples teased the rival audience for Jamie XX’s closing set on Saturday, challenging them to join in the fun on his side. They were more than happy to oblige, starting a mosh pit — without prompting from Vince(!) — a surefire sign that the Long Beach rapper delivered enough energy with his stage presence and charisma to forego the grating festival cry of “Open it up!”
Even better, during Leikeli47’s set, she asked people to do the one thing show-goers have seemingly given up doing in recent years: Dance. They did so with aplomb and gusto. When the masked Virginia-born, New York-raised rapper invited a couple dozen fans on stage, she proudly showed off their diversity, saying, “This is LA.” Then, while she gave a rousing rendition of her ballroom-inspired hit, “Attitude,” her impromptu backup dancers lit up the stage with vogues, catwalk, duckwalks, and dips (aka “death drops”). It was beautiful and it was perfect and it solidified my view that with all due respect to the sardonic efficiency of Vince Staples, the unhinged, conceptual execution of Tyler The Creator, or the raw, infectious energy of DaBaby, Leikeli47 is the best performer I’ve personally witnessed in 2019.
Of course, the primary draw for Adult Swim Fest — at least with regard to the late-night programming block’s target audience — is the experiences based around popular Williams Street properties like The Eric Andre Show and Rick And Morty. They delivered on those counts, with a Rick And Morty augmented reality app and virtual reality game experience that even a Rick agnostic like myself could enjoy. Screenings and panels returned as well, along with the Hot Dog Ride that folks couldn’t seem to get enough of last time I visited. New attractions included Cat Joust, another mechanical bull-type ride that featured the inclusion of huge foam swords, and the four-story Morty Slide, which drew an hour-long line.
A cool thing about the various attractions is that Adult Swim uses its own properties, so there’s not a lot of outside sponsorship or branding at the fest, but when there is, they tie it in, in an organic way. One of the sponsors was the Kojima Productions video game Death Stranding, which tied into Rick And Morty with a life-size sculpture of Morty in costume as the game’s main character and a short, hilarious video clip during the Rickflector VR experience that found the perpetually drunk scientist just as befuddled by the game’s premise as the non-gamers who’d come to watch 2 Chainz rip it up with a live band.
There are still a couple of festivals left in the year, but so far, Adult Swim Fest has been the best, hands down. By bringing an eclectic lineup of bigger name acts that haven’t already been booked at every other festival and giving them longer set times, they give the artists a chance to really shine — and fans the opportunity to enjoy an unconstrained performance.
The new venue and the unusual, but effective, format are also strong recommendations. Splitting up the rock and hip-hop acts on separate days also seemed like a gamble — waiting through three earsplitting sets while waiting for Dawn and Leikeli took its toll, while The Eric Andre Show Live segment broke up the momentum of the second day. But no other festival booked more female rappers than it did male ones, no other festival made such effective use of its venue’s accommodations, and no other venue let me slip a dancing Rick and Morty onto its stage with my phone’s camera. It’s different, it’s weird, and it’s so much fun. Here’s to the next one.