After being confined to the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Ballroom last year by USC’s new security requirements, KXSC Fest made a triumphant return to the outdoors on Saturday. Founders Park was filled with local families, USC students and a considerable number of fans who made the trip just to see their favorite performers. For those unfamiliar with or uninterested in the musical guests, there were art installations, food trucks and all kinds of small vendors set up across the lawn. This year’s KXSC Fest truly had something for everyone.
The music kicked off around 5:00 p.m. with power-pop group Tempest le Mans. The five-person outfit is comprised entirely of USC students. Somewhere between the ’70s swagger of Fleetwood Mac and the dry, self-deprecating style of Belle & Sebastian, Tempest’s laidback harmonies were the perfect background to the wandering crowds of local children playing and curious students starting to arrive. Tempest also had a more in-your-face side, displayed during its last song, “A Lamb,” which was named after singer Nathan Castiel’s favorite meat. The tune ended with a raucous drum solo from Paul Carter that was finally cut off by his bandmates physically removing the cymbals from his drum set and the sticks from his hands. Castiel then went on in a sardonic tone to thank his many sponsors, “KXSC, USC, USG, USA, USB … US … Y.”
As the sun came down, the vibe gradually changed from family-friendly rock concert to a hip L.A. nightclub where dancing and revelry were encouraged. The group Breakfast and singer Kirin J. Callinan, though widely different in style, both helped with this transition. Breakfast captured the spacey synth sounds popular with so many audiences today, ending with an ethereal version of Cher’s “Believe.” Kirin J. Callinan’s set was quite a jump from Breakfast’s understated grooves. The baritone crooner donned a military uniform and talked/sang over distorted guitar loops and loud bombs of sound that seemed to come out of nowhere. Imitating the strange, detached aesthetic of Joy Division, or maybe even Kraftwerk, Callinan was never boring or predictable.
Though many students seemed to love his noisy, avant-garde approach, those looking for some easier-to-digest fun found salvation in the variety of delicious food trucks.
Patrons had the choice between Kogi Truck and The Grilled Cheese Truck for lunch or dinner, and for dessert, many found their way to the Coolhaus Truck. Coolhaus makes tasty ice cream sandwiches of unusual flavors, such as sweet potato or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, complete with edible paper napkins, which seemed to confuse many customers.
Attendees also stopped at the tents set up for local artists and vendors. There was a tent devoted exclusively to robot art by Matthew Spangler (which was fitting, given KXSC’s robot mascot) as well as one tent selling art with laser-eyed cats in space. There were tents acting as a miniature vintage clothing thrift store, as well as one where people could try out SubPac, a backpack that connects to a music source and emits low frequency vibrations according to the song. This wide variety of non-musical attractions kept people in Founders Park during the set-up between acts.
These distractions proved necessary when the venue ran into sound trouble before both Sun Araw’s and special guest Jessy Lanza’s performances. They worked it out in a timely manner, however, and Sun Araw — also known as Cameron Stallones — and Lanza went on to play without a hitch. Supported by a DJ friend, Sun Araw’s experimental blend of chillwave, trip hop and psychedelic rock hypnotized the crowd and prepped them for the dance-heavy acts that were to come.
The final two sets, Jessy Lanza and DJ Rashad with DJ Spinn, are DJ acts in two very different senses of the word. Evoking obvious comparisons to fellow female DJ Grimes, Lanza’s ethereal synths and floating vocals captured the zeitgeist of the contemporary interpretation of what it means to be a DJ. Headliners DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn, however, took spinning back to its roots with their Chicago-based dancehall style appropriately referred to as “footwork.” Their bombastic hip-hop samples spanned everything from Outkast to Kanye West, and this got by far the largest and most enthusiastic crowd response. Joined on stage by a dancer exemplifying authentic Chicago footwork, Rashad and Spinn had smiles on their faces the entire set, encouraging the crowd to let loose.
From the time it started, KXSC Fest gradually built up in both attendance and sonic intensity, until the headliners provided a wild and riotous climax to the packed lawn of Founders Park. The return to the outdoors allowed for bigger sets and more space. And despite the concerns of previous years, there was not a single security mishap. It felt like a step in the right direction for USC in terms of effectively integrating both students and the surrounding community into on-campus events.