FESTIVAL REVIEW: Adult Swim Festival

For just one weekend the Banc of California Stadium was transformed into a carnivalesque outdoor funhouse for the Adult Swim Festival. The stadium was alive with colorful distorted animations reminiscent of children’s cartoons and claymation scenes warped and hyperbolized beyond the mind’s comprehension, while a giant Meatwad dome sat across an even larger inflatable slide shaped like Morty’s head vomiting a rainbow.

The venue was comprised of three stages, two dedicated outdoor spaces that alternated performances throughout the day and an indoor stage, as well as several immersive experiences, games, rides and exclusive screenings for festival attendees. One of the more interesting aspects of the fest was the lineup that boasted deep cuts in disparate genres, each with their own dedicated fanbase. It’s hard to imagine so many different kinds of concertgoers converging onto one field, but the hodgepodge of metal, hip-hop, and pop is a testament to the broad appeal of Adult Swim’s content.

Thrash supergroup Iron Reagan took the stage early Friday evening to a small crowd of moshers blissfully colliding into each other to songs like ‘Cycle of Violence’ and ‘Fuck the Neighbors.’ Inter Arma immediately followed suit, the post-metal sludge of auditory hell hailing from Richmond, VA. By then the crowd, having since grown in size and variety as the night marched on, seemed to collectively lean in as images of crudely fashioned clay Ricks sat strewn about in an animated version of the Dutch House of Stairs lithograph behind the slow weighty breakdown of ‘The Atavist’s Meridian.’  While the smell of beer and violence, punctuated by bright LEDs jumping between blues and greens, are a sight familiar to Inter Arma fans, the reaction from the uninitiated appeared to be a nervous morbid curiosity as ‘An Archer in the Emptiness’ roared into the cool evening air. 

Health took the stage next to serve as a bit of a palette cleanser, a mellow industrial pop crossover that would help the audience transition into the next wave of genres with the melodic pulsating rhythms of ‘Tears’ and ‘Stonefist.’ I stole this chance to sneak away to the Meatwad Dome, an oversized wine-colored inflated ball fashioned in the image of its namesake. Armed with a pair of Bluetooth headphones and ushered inside where I reclined between a stranger’s musty socks on a thin blanket at the center of the crowd, I stared up at a projection of a night sky one could only experience in movies and planetariums. The next six minutes peeled a sliver of sanity away. We touched the stars and fell straight through the earth. We floated above existence and within it. I deeply regret being sober for that.

Back outside, though the rest of the festival seemed untouched by my commune with the universe, I was changed both by the experience and the ensuing ambient siren song emitted by Tim Hecker and the Konoyo Ensemble. Across the stadium, their sound bounced through fog that at times glowed orange and yellow, at times purple and blue, an eerie and cohesive journey that encouraged a deep meditative state of being. Los Angeles twinkled behind the smog and cars silently push through the night unaware of the swells and clangs of the performance.

The highlight of the evening, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Dethklok taking the stage for the first time since 2014. The words “Dethklok is back” flashed in enormous bold letters behind the band as they stood in darkness, the proclamation eliciting an eruption of exultation from the audience of sweaty feverish fans foaming at the mouth in unadulterated jubilation. The band did not disappoint, playing favorites like ‘I Ejaculate Fire,’ ‘Deth Support’ and ‘Murmaider’ to narratives playing on the big screens behind them, social commentary dressed up in the Metalocalypse mythos like Vikings engaged in aerial combat, the post-apocalyptic zombie raid of a hospital, and sex slaves exacting revenge on the men who enslaved and abused them; compelling stories that played out in real-time as the band pummeled their fans relentlessly.

 

If Rick and Morty felt like a prominent feature of the festival’s activities, Adult Swim may be forgiven for capitalizing on the timing; the massive and unmistakable success of the franchise was now entering its fourth season after what felt like an interminable wait, and so there was no shortage of Rick and Morty fans attending. On Saturday the Morty slide was joined by virtual reality experiences, allowing participants to dance along with Rick and Morty as they ‘Get Schwifty’ at the Show Us What You Got! Volumetric Reality station, or transport themselves into the world of Rick and Morty through the Rickflector. Fans of Pocket Mortys, a Pokemon-style game with a goal to collect different Morty types across different realities, could even get their own stuffed Morty for joining in on the fun. Episodes from the new season were also showing in several viewing rooms throughout the stadium.

Almost in spite of the fun offerings found at every turn, the music on day two was less cohesive overall compared to the intimate and somewhat cerebral experience from the prior evening. The thoughtfully curated artist lineup now seemingly devolved into fistfuls of college rock and angst interlaced with forgettable turntable performances for much of the day.

Standing apart from the blur was the artist clipping., whose lyrical prowess captured the crowd’s attention and approval despite significant technical issues with his DJ that persisted throughout the performance. “We do great without a soundcheck,” the rapper mused aloud to cheers and chuckles from the crowd. Songs like ‘Nothing is Safe,’ ‘Taking off’ and ‘Shooter’ were sobering reminders of reality beyond the relatively safe bubble of joy that the fest created, but clipping.’s delightfully endearing and humorous stage presence brought balance and charm to the otherwise depressing subject matter. Cupcakke too brought a sort of playful belligerence to the delight of her core following with her performance. A fierce advocate of the LGBTQ community that only months ago appeared on social media in a somber message to fans to declare her retirement from music, she pulled no punches with covers of ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Old Town Road’ fashioned in her unique, albeit hypersexualized, delivery.

 

If Health was the perfect palette cleanser between the savory meals of Inter Arma and Tom Hecker, Helado Negro felt more like stubbing your toe first thing in the morning to transition from deep slumber to peaceful waking. The electric energy-carrying concertgoers through the long day all but disappeared. Onlookers wandered away seeking sustenance in the form of craft beer and burgers, some jumping onto the line for the mechanical hot dog challenge or simply grabbing a seat before returning to the field. The hiccup in pacing did not deter the crowd, however, that grew thicker, drunker and rowdier as the hour grew late, until the festival finally erupted into an all-out rave featuring the notable and audacious stylings of acts like 2 Chainz, Vince Staples, and Jamie xx, who closed out the evening on a high note.

WORDS BY DAHLIA HUNT

PHOTOS BY TYLER KANODE