It's a great time to live in L.A. As we've said before, our fair city is the best for music, period. But when it comes to festivals, there are perhaps too many. In fact, there were so many this summer that is was hard to keep up. And they're getting ludicrously expensive.
Assuming you have the do-re-mi, what separates a good festival from a bad festival? In a word: curation. If the artists on the bills made sense together, the festivals worked. If they didn't, the festivals sucked.
Using this yardstick, here are our grades for a bunch of them.
We're not saying you can't have a diverse lineup. It's just that there has to be a through-line, a connective tissue between the acts. Transitioning to a new location, FYF still managed to hit it out of the park this year. The acts ranged ranged from Interpol to Grimes, from Run the Jewels to The Blood Brothers. Some big names, but they were mostly stuff that your average Apple-toting Eastsider could be into. Or at least stuff his older sister could tell him about.
Curation grade: A
Made In America
The first Los Angeles incarnation of Jay-Z's Made in America festival spent a lot of taxpayers' money, and was undersold by about 15,000 tickets each day. We understand that many festivals struggle in their first years, but Made in America's biggest problem was curation. Sure, it had big names, including Imagine Dragons, Afrojack, Kanye West, and John Mayer as headliners for the two-day show, with Weezer, Iggy Azalea, and Classixx also on the bill. But what do those artists have to do with each other? It's hard to imagine anyone who likes all of those acts, and getting someone to ante up and fight crowds downtown for a truncated set is a tough sell. Indeed, the event lacked “a sense of theme and cohesion.”
Curation grade: D
Though a teenager died, the August incarnation of the Hard franchise otherwise continued its hot streak. Say what you will about new venue Whittier Narrows, the lineup itself got great reviews: “With headliners like Axwell, Jack U, Disclosure, and Tiesto, the lineup offered a variety of electronic music, from house to trap to dubstep, drum 'n' bass, and more,” wrote our critic Sarah Purkrabek. In other words, stuff ravers like, even if Hard doesn't consider itself a rave.
Curation grade: A
Sunset Strip Music Festival
The turnout for this West Hollywood event wasn't too hot. And, again, we blame the lineup. Probably the majority of the attendees came out for Jane's Addiction and Empire of the Sun, but, again, their fan bases don't overlap much. Throw in Riff Raff, the suburban rap star who got his hair done up while he performed, indie rock icons Cold War Kids, post-hardcore act We Came As Romans, and Big Freedia, the sissy bounce rapper — and it was hard to tell what the organizers were going for. “The lineup made no sense,” says one SSMF attendee we talked to. “Mayer Hawthorne himself probably didn't know why he was booked for the fest, in between some Swedish pop singer who just kept screaming f-bombs and saying stuff like 'Let's get high!'”
Curation grade: C
Burger Records debuted its all-female fronted festival Burger-a-go-go this year, combining little-known acts like Skating Polly with all-stars like Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast — which are still fairly diverse within the rock niche. But, it worked because the show appealed to an audience who was interested in seeing women rock hard on stage.
Curation grade: A+
Logistically, Nocturnal was a big step up from last year. Musically, it wasn't always the most compelling. Said critic Mary Grace Cerni: “Martin Garrix plays 'Reload.' Again. We get it bro. Cue to grab tacos.” But that didn't mean we, and the vast majority of attendees, didn't have a great time. And that's because even if each performer wasn't our bag, they all went together. Most Nocturnal fans go for the atmosphere, not for the names.
In that regard, you can call it the anti-Made in America.
Curation Grade: B