Adult Swim has embraced music as part of its late-night stoner demographic’s passions since its inception. From the commercial bumpers with beats produced by Nujabes and J Dilla to the various collections of music the Cartoon Network-affiliated grown-up animation project has financed and released (shout-out to Witchdoctor), ultra avant-garde music has been one of Adult Swim’s calling cards, even from its earliest days of hijacked and repurposed Hanna-Barbera mainstays like Space Ghost: Coast To Coast and Sealab 2021.
Still, when Adult Swim invited Uproxx to its inaugural music festival at the Row in Downtown LA (in the parking lot of what used to be the American Apparel factory), I’ll admit I was somewhat apprehensive about the experience. Although they’re is known for innovative activations it uses to promote its slate of off-the-wall, absurdist animation and live action shows, I wondered how the network would execute joining the already-packed music festival space, a much-larger undertaking, even for a small festival as the first Adult Swim Festival turned out to be.
As it turns out, Adult Swim was the perfect entity to bring new life and original, twisted thinking to the festival game, perfectly combining its shows’ surreal humor and its innate appreciation for incorporating music into its nightly programming to create a festival experience totally unlike anything I’d ever seen before. If every new festival needs to have a gimmick, Adult Swim Festival may just have the best one baked right into its premise. By pulling from the already existing connections of 20 years of programming, Adult Swim has a wildly diverse range of rappers, bands, and stand-up comics to tap and a huge fan base willing to go with the flow, including T-Pain, Flying Lotus, Run The Jewels, Nick Rutherford, Jena Friedman, Hannibal Buress, and Jon Glaser.
It also had some impressive tricks up its sleeve to set it apart from the competition while simultaneously flexing a little synergy muscle. Rather than filler DJs playing in between sets as acts broke down and set up their stages, the festival premiered new episodes of fan favorites like The Venture Bros and Dream Corp, LLC ahead of their fall air dates. Each of the non-musical attractions played in some way off the network’s bizarre humor and surrealist aesthetic. A bull ride was reimagined as a hot dog, Rick Sanchez presided over a game of mini golf, and a wobbly, American Ninja-esque rope bridge challenged festival goers to smack the festival mascot cat’s dangling uvula.
And as far as immersive experiences go, it’s quite something to see fans lined up for nearly two hours to chance to encounter Dream Corp: The Ride in VR, which turned out to be every bit as trippy as the acid-washed visuals from the show. The Meatwad Dome likewise attracted extensive waits for a deeply weird cinematic roller coaster ride which rocked fans’ seats, blasted them in the face with rushes of air, spritzed them with water, and interacted with the specially designed, CGI scenes of a hallucinogenic trip through the center of the Earth, complete with Easter egg references to Aqua Teen Hunger Force‘s colorful cast of characters. Elsewhere, giant Rick And Morty blowups provided perfect photo ops and at night the walls of the old factory were lit with projections of Adult Swim’s iconic bumper animations and custom screens designed for the festival itself.
But of course, the primary draw of any music festival is its artist lineup, and that’s where Adult Swim truly excelled. Rather than simply bringing out T-Pain, Adult Swim has the leeway and the existing relationship to have T-Pain appear as his Ghost Of Freaknik Past character from Freaknik: The Musical to perform songs from the hour-long special’s excellent soundtrack, after re-airing the special in full on the screen between sets. What’s wild about T-Pain is that he’s got so many hits, it’s easy to forget just how many of America’s favorite songs he dominated by sheer force of personality. His Friday night performance was a casual, confident reminder that he once had many, many summers on lock, even for the show’s younger-skewing demographic who missed “I’m Sprung” and “I’m In Luv With A Stripper” but was fully engaged as he ran through more recent hits like “Can’t Believe It” and “Welcome To My Hood.” He even threw in his masterfully melodramatic hook for “Maybach Music, Vol. 2” for the hardcore fans.