Adult Swim Festival blends comedy, music

Rapper Vince Staples, one of the headliners of the festival, performed his latest single, “Sheet Music,” live for the first time. (Matt Garfinkel | Daily Trojan)

“It’s about to get super weird,” an announcer told spectators shuffling into the Meatwad Dome, a 25-foot-tall hemisphere designed to resemble a character from “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” for an immersive, 360-degree screening of the psychedelic short “Six Minutes Of Your Life That You’ll Never Get Back.”

Featuring optical illusions of M.C. Escher, “Six Minutes” distorts viewers’ perspectives by warping from a sprawling cityscape to a strand of DNA in a matter of moments. The disorientation was not out of place at an event that existed almost entirely outside of the norm. 

This was just one facet of Adult Swim Festival, the second annual iteration of the entertainment network’s two-day experience that brought together fans with a diverse array of interests in music and comedy at Banc of California Stadium over the weekend.

Attendees went all out in their self-expression. People sported dyed hair of every hue as well as costumes of their favorite Adult Swim characters such as Rick from “Rick and Morty,” Jesus from “Black Jesus” and Dr. Rockzo from “Metalocalypse.”

“What really stood out to me [was] how diverse the crowd was,” said Connor Christ, a freshman majoring in music industry. “I definitely saw the most people in costume than I ever have. I kind of felt like I was at a ComicCon or some convention like that.”

Adult Swim matched the dedication of festival-goers by creating over-the-top activations for the event such as a 40-foot-tall inflatable slide shaped like the head of Morty from “Rick and Morty,” a mechanical-bull-style hot dog ride and a “Rick and Morty” VR minigame machine called the “Rickflector.”

“You might die, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. Death is cool,” Rick said in a voiceover as the simulation began.

Throughout the weekend, fans had opportunities to get exclusive first looks at upcoming Adult Swim content. 

Similar to Kanye West’s recent preview of “Jesus is King” at The Forum, viewers were required to secure their phones in Yondr pouches to prevent  them from recording unreleased material. The most anticipated screening was of a new episode of the fourth season of “Rick and Morty”. Fans waited in line for more than an hour to get into one of the five screenings of the episode, which was set to air for the first time the next night.

“The way they did it was really interesting,” said Grant Conley, a freshman majoring in music industry. “They put us with a bunch of other fans … They hyped up the crowd by [asking], ‘Who’s your favorite character?’ It was just an interesting experience, I’m glad I got to do that.”

By far, the most bizarre yet captivating event of the weekend was “The Eric Andre Show Live!” 

Known for its crude satire of late night talk shows, the Adult Swim show translated well in front of a live audience. The opening credits of “The Eric Andre Show” depict him destroying his set in various ways. For the live version, he hurled gallons of Silk soy milk, dozens of hamburger buns and raw hot dogs at the audience.

Comedian Eric Andre hurls a carton of soy milk at the audience, bringing his bizarre parody of late-night television, “The Eric Andre Show,” to life at the second annual Adult Swim Festival. (Matt Garfinkel | Daily Trojan)

“Eric Andre was just unforgettable,” Conley said. “That was one of the most interesting sets I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Andre was joined onstage by his co-host Hannibal Buress, who donned a bedazzled mask and sport jacket. The pair interviewed surprise guests Seth Green from Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken,” singer Elah Hale and a random audience member named William. Andre also invited a trio of audience members onstage to compete to see who could chug an entire bottle of ranch dressing the fastest.

“I’ve seen comedy live but this was something else. This was just a completely different genre,” Conley said. “I can’t even put it in a box. It was just so interesting and entertaining.”

He brought out a slew of rappers for a segment titled “Rapper Ninja Warrior,” during which they were supposed to freestyle while navigating a series of zany obstacles. They were blindfolded and made to walk across a wooden beam as Andre and crew members pelted them with hamburger buns and poked at them with dildos.

The live music component of the festival showcased acts from different genres, including rappers 2 Chainz and Vince Staples to metal bands Dethklok and Inter Arma. For the sake of logistics, the two main stages were placed directly next to each other to allow one act to set up while another performed, making for seamless transitions.

“The one thing that actually stuck out to me the most was how the stages were set up,” Conley said. “You could always hear the other artist instead of having to sacrifice and go to a completely other side of the stadium and miss an artist.”

One of the first night’s highlights came during a rare set from Captain Murphy, a.k.a. Flying Lotus, who was accompanied onstage by Thundercat. Murphy took the mic to announce a special surprise.

“I know y’all know about my man MF Doom, right?” he asked the crowd. “I brought my man all the way from London to rock with y’all tonight.”

Out walked the masked rapper, or so it seemed. FlyLo took off the mask to reveal Buress, who would return to the stage the next day for a live rendition of “The Eric Andre Show.” 

After his appearance, Buress could be spotted mingling in the crowd with the likes of Blake Anderson from Comedy Central’s “Workaholics,” Kamasi Washington, who played alongside Thundercat last week at Camp Flog Gnaw, and musicians Duckwrth and Eryn Allen Kane.

Another of the festival’s noteworthy guests, Gerald “Slink” Johnson, star of “Black Jesus,” established a banter with Freddie Gibbs during his set with Madlib the next day. Gibbs, who came onstage with his daughter on his shoulders, would gab with Johnson between songs, quipping at one point that Johnson should run for president in 2020. 

“It’s electrifying, energetic, cutting-edge and fun. I’m digging it,” Johnson said. “I’m most looking forward to smoking up a lot of good people’s good weed.” 

Two last-minute adjustments were made to the lineup. Fellow Atlanta native 2 Chainz replaced Young Thug while Grammy-nominated rapper Rapsody replaced Billboard-chart-record-breaker Lil Nas X. 

The replacement performers did not disappoint. Rapsody passionately performed cuts from her recently released album “Eve.” 2 Chainz was backed by a four-piece band and brought out signees from his record label T.R.U. to perform their song “Shoot It Out” live for the first time.

Vince Staples was shrouded in a thick cloud of haze for the duration of his performance, likely to draw attention to his set design. The large screen behind him was divided into eight televisions, each tuned to a different channel showing popular shows with Staples edited into them. He appeared in the opening credits of “Rick and Morty,” “That ’70s Show” and “The Simpsons” as well as scenes from “The Office,” “South Park” and “Game of Thrones.”

Considering his set design and recent, surreal debut episodes of “The Vince Staples Show,” it would appear that he’s gearing up to release a new album. Both episodes, “So What” and “Sheet Music,” were accompanied by the release of singles of the same titles that he played live at the festival for the first time.

“First, I’d like to apologize ’cause I am not Frank Ocean,” Staples joked early in his set, referring to last week’s controversy at Camp Flog Gnaw. “Second off, I wanna welcome everybody to ‘The Vince Staples Show.’ I’m happy you could come. I’m not, but I’ma pretend.”

Overall, Adult Swim Festival’s combination of varying attractions worked to broaden the event’s appeal beyond a specific niche to garner a larger audience.

“This was definitely … the most interesting festival because of the mix of comedy and music — it’s not something that happens a lot,” Christ said. “Half the people there were for all the Comedy Central stuff such as ‘Rick and Morty,’ and then the other half were there for the music. It didn’t clash but it was a unique environment.”