FMMF version 3: Ryan G’s experience
Words: Ryan Getz
In Columbus there are things you can just count on. The city being gridlocked on OSU game days. Traffic on 270 around US 23. And now, fashion and music combining downtown (and people making FMMF the butt of a joke year after year). This writer thinks those jokes are tired (though they are often rooted in fair criticism). The controversy and unique concept of this festival has made Fashion Meets Music Festival one of the most interesting events for Tuned Up to cover in our five years of existence.
You are on this blog to hear about music, so let’s focus on that for now. Reaction to the festival as a whole aside.
I can always count FMMF to introduce me to some under the radar talent that remains firmly on my radar post-festivities. While some bands may not wish to have their names associated with a controversial brand, when one attends said event and then is wowed by a band’s performance they are planted firmly in that person’s psyche (mine). Some of these bands this year included Goodnight Tonight, Ledges, The Outer Vibe, Motherfolk and LOLO. Goodnight Tonight is from Kent, Ohio (easy to remember because I have grandparents up there) and is arguably one of the stronger female-fronted hard rock bands in recent memory. Some bands in this paradigm suffer from vocals not being as strong live as recorded (or at least a perception thereof) – not the case with Goodnight Tonight. In spite of their early time slot and sparse crowd (though the grass was dotted with fans) they delivered a tight performance backed by strong songs. Speaking of strong female vocalists – enter LOLO. She was informal and cheery throughout her show on Saturday, showing off some pipes to be reckoned with. This pop singer is going places for sure. Shout out to Kids Interview Bands for introducing me to her stuff.
A trio of bands that have been on my radar for a while left a fresh impression with me this year. This FMMF was my first time seeing Cincinnati’s Motherfolk (gotta love that name, eh?), introduced to me by Jared of Graceful Closure. Suffice to say they deliver on all fronts with their brand of folky rock n’roll. I hope to hear more from them very soon, even if they think they suck (it’s a part of their branding). The Outer Vibe from Michigan, soon to be relocating to Nashville, performed in front of a crowd of dozens which didn’t faze the band, and especially not frontman Sean Zee. Zee’s vocal skills and stage presence are a throwback to the rockers of groovier days, and methinks this band would have paired well with Foxy Shazam when they were still active. This was my second year catching Ledges from Akron, who brought their vibey brand of indie rock to the Donatos Stage early on Saturday. I was more actively engaged in their set this year than last year, and was stoked to see the growth and that my passing favorable impression of them last year was more than confirmed in a setting where they had more of a spotlight (they opened the fashion tent stage last year).
So, “what are some other memorable performances?” you ask.
My favorite bands of the fest had to be Wavves, BØRNS, and Little Hurricane. Wavves presented an infectious brand of fuzzy rock that was tight and badass despite their semi-drunk performance (more on that later). BØRNS made the crowd of mostly young women swoon, and for good reason. His boyish face, throwback psych-rocker persona, and catchy psych/electro pop songs are all on point. His vocals are some of the strongest you’ll hear in the business today – I mean, hearing the hits live was nearly akin to hearing them on the radio. Very close. Little Hurricane hails from San Diego and absolutely crushed it. I especially loved hearing their cover of Moby’s “Natural Blues.” The blues rock duo might not be as loud or rambunctious as The Black Keys or The White Stripes but they know their niche and own it.
I’m sure you’re wondering what I thought of DJ Khaled. Well, the dude is definitely an entertainer. The guy is a genius for making a brand out of himself with little work actually going into his performance (though I’m sure lots happens behind the scenes – he directs a lot of his own music videos, for example). The dude alluded many times to this being his first appearance in Columbus and expressed gratitude for the most packed in crowd I’d see all the weekend (though Passion Pit won for sheer size). He mixed in some hits and classic hip hop tracks to get the crowd “lit,” as the kids say these days. I lost count of how many times he told us to “put our hands in the sky.”
Another memorable performance that wasn’t a personal favorite I appreciated for completely different reasons than DJ Khaled. Chris Jamison (flanked by what I was told was a borderline Capital University reunion backstage) absolutely killed it onstage, mixing some originals with covers. I felt kind of out of place since just about everything about this guy is tailor made to melt the hearts of ladies everywhere, but I thought his performance was spot on anyhow. I’ve never in my life heard live a guy nail so many falsettos. Though his feet are planted in a different genre, Jamison was giving Borns a run for his money in terms of sheer vocal chops. And, you have to love the Justin Timberlake medley that took place too. Jamison is definitely his own person, but there is a place for him in the JT fanbase.
So, year three I saw lots of cool music. All good, right?
FMMF has a lot of reckoning to do. I thought it was ironic that FMMF was able to secure the necessary permits for a North Bank stage (which Promowest did not) but the attendance did not reflect the footprint. I’m not great at guesstimating crowd size but I wouldn’t imagine more than two thousand were present over the course of each day. This was judging from the very sparse grounds which persisted until the evening headliners, in which the extent of the crowd barely reached the sound booth at peak volume. Fortunately, several hoopers were present in the fields to break the awkwardness with their graceful dancing and light-up hula hoops, which added an entracing element to the ambience. It didn’t stop some bands from trying to break the tension though, i.e. PUBLIC saying “it’s good to be in Columbus, even if we know most of you” and Wavves quipping “we got way too drunk before we did this, so it’s good there are only fourteen of you here.” VIP area accommodations appeared to be on par with previous years – offering shade in close proximity to the stage but not much else given that attendance was lacking. Water stations, a mentioned need last year, were not obviously apparent (though I didn’t look too hard, admittedly).
More troubling to me than the lack of attendance was the persona FMMF conveyed a bit leading up to the event – trolls by this year should be expected and ignored, not followed up with an occassionally snarky remark. The persona wasn’t overt, but when your media friends respond to said remarks it’s hard not to notice. Do your best, and then let the event speak for itself.
So, what’s next for FMMF? Well, if they choose to return in 2017, I think they need to rebrand and rebuild the infrastructure of the team. Shrink the footprint, and have fashion directly incorporated into the mainstage performances in a way that cannot be missed. I’m no fashion guru, but I think having models parade down the runway during St Vincent or Passion Pit while the band wears the designer outfits being exhibited would be pretty darn cool. Also, a shrunken footprint would condense the crowds and make the feeling less awkward. A more cohesive lineup would probably also help with attendance. Adventure Club fans aren’t necessarily going to be into Passion Pit, and I think that these fanbases aren’t going to pay $60 a ticket just for one artist. That said, most people I observed seemed to be having a blast. Passion Pit and Adventure Club in particular had the crowd really moving in a jovial way.
I truly hope that the FMMF personnel will do some critical evaluation and perhaps bring the concept back under a new name, and perhaps on a day that doesn’t compete with the first OSU game of the season.
One last thought: could Les Wexner be involved with the fashion element?