"How many internet memes did your fest spawn?" seems as good a criterion as any to judge the success of a music festival – and by that metric, the Austin, Texas Fun Fun Fun Fest made out like gangbusters. This was thanks both to the three-day attendance of ab-tastic movie and Tumblr star Ryan Gosling, and a grade-A diva fit from former Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig involving a delayed set, complaints about the cold and specific demands for food including French onion soup and a Wendy's chicken sandwich. Even Sunday night headliners Slayer contributed to the mockery on their Facebook page.
But the sixth annual Fun Fun Fun, which took place November 4th through 6th, distinguished itself in other ways, both from the festival season's earlier events and from its own previous incarnations. This year, the fest added a third full day, moved from the city's Waterloo Park to the much larger and more visible lakeside Auditorium Shores, and increased attendance by an estimated 30 percent, according to promoter Transmission Entertainment.
Fun Fun Fun has established an identity as a fan-friendly indie rock destination and a pilgrimage site for fans of fringe acts, especially metal and hardcore, with four stages divided roughly by genre: Black for metal/punk, Blue for hip-hop, Yellow for comedy and Orange for rock/indie/anything in the vaguely more buzzy or mainstream category that helps draw a general audience. In addition to Slayer and Danzig Legacy, this year's featured acts included Public Enemy, hip-hop upstarts Odd Future, U.K. punk pioneers the Damned, indie favorites Spoon, Swedish star Lykke Li, French electro act M83, and rock veterans Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, who closed their Sunday set with Leo in Danzig drag, performing three Misfits covers and offering an apology for "his" behavior two days earlier.
Transmission co-owner James Moody says a major challenge was in bringing bands like Slayer and more fringe sounds to Auditorium Shores' downtown neighborhood. "Waterloo Park is also downtown, but there we're surrounded by parking garages and hospitals . . . this is a really active park for running and dog walking, much more high-profile, and some of the music we book, like Trash Talk and Kool Keith, might be better off hiding out among the parking garages, to be honest."
In prime demonstration of how attentive the fest is to its fans, Transmission orchestrated the wedding of two Fun Fun Fun regulars for Sunday afternoon on the Yellow Stage, and got Henry Rollins, there to perform a spoken-word set, to officiate. Rollins took the assignment very seriously, writing a speech for the young couple that included words of wisdom such as "Never forget the sheer odds of this never happening, and how lucky you are to have found each other," and "Men are bear like. They have to do those things they do, so don't waste your time wondering why. Allow him to go into his room and play with his objects, and search online for information." After the ceremony, the couple recessed to the soothing sounds of internet-famous Sexy Sax Man, who played the Wedding March recessional right into his signature song, George Michael's "Careless Whisper."
"That couple are Fun Fun Fun regulars and they met here," says Moody. "They bought their tickets, and told their friends to buy tickets, and then told us that they were going to get married here."
With the exception of Danzig's 45-minute delayed set, voice-challenged set, artists gave top performances all weekend, starting on Friday with tight, rhythmic early-afternoon punk from bands including Australia's Total Control and Portland's From Ashes Rise, who drew a massive crowd to the Black Stage for their adrenaline-boosting orchestrated hardcore (frontman Brad Boatright also reportedly posted a French onion soup recipe to his Facebook page that included the ingredient "laughing stock"). Other punk/metal standouts from the weekend included a rare reunion of San Diego post-hardcore band Hot Snakes, an insane, stage-battering set from San Francisco old school-style punks Ceremony (whose guitarist made a Purple Rain-era Prince look work with hardcore) and the Damned, who were one of many bands on throughout the weekend to jokingly complain about the cold (which was non-existent on Saturday and Sunday) and/or declare a craving for French onion soup on stage.
While Danzig Legacy was testing a huge crowd's patience on the Black Stage, Public Enemy delivered on the Blue Stage with a live band and plenty of classic callbacks, from "911 is a Joke" and "Fight the Power" to AC/DC mashup "Black Is Back" and a riff from DJ Lord on the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which seemed to excite Flavor Flav more than anyone. Controversial hip-hop troupe Odd Future, who are currently under fire for an alleged assault by member Left Brain on a photographer at Voodoo Fest last week, were predictably ridiculous (charging the crowd, leaping from tall speaker stacks, constantly chucking water bottles and flipping birds). Group leader Tyler the Creator's major complaint was that someone had thrown a dildo on stage ("that shit is nasty") – a rather squeamish reaction from someone who routinely raps about freaky sex and rape with a homophobic slant.
Stellar daytime performances came throughout the weekend from diverse acts, including a handraising dance party from Syrian singer Omar Souleyman, a joyously funky and fluid set from Tuareg group Tinariwen, and a Bacchanalian bouncefest from New Orleans hip-hop star Big Freedia, who successfully rocked a matronly plaid sweater with elbow patches while her legion of on-stage dancers demonstrated why her signature song is "Azz Everywhere" (Ryan Gosling was, appropriately, in the vicinity).
The festival's crowning performance was a 90-minute non-stop thrashing from metal gods Slayer, who plowed through songs from "World Painted Blood" to "Raining Blood" to Angel of Death, with minimal banter of any kind save an explanation that "This next song is about freedom. It's something you have to watch out for in this country, because they're slowly taking it away and you don't even know it" – after which they burned through death anthem "Mandatory Suicide."
The defining tone of the festival, however, was of friendly, chaos-free (except where it was warranted) communal appreciation. Attendees coped with extremely dusty and sometimes windy conditions by embracing a bandit-chic trend of face bandanas, and even the fiercest mosh pits maintained their boundaries. If anything, Friday's Danzig incident gave everyone else, from fan to artist, reason to take themselves less seriously.