Live review: Odd Future at Hard Summer
There's no mistaking the message of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All's “F666 the Police,” especially when it's riding upon the boldfaced sound waves of a billion watts of power (I'm estimating) courtesy of the annual electronic dance music festival Hard Summer. It rumbled with crystal clarity Saturday night through the warehouse district near Chinatown just north of downtown L.A., emanating from the biggest of four stages at Los Angeles State Historic Park.
The track by Odd Future side project MellowHype offered a perfect glimpse into the young L.A. rap collective's brilliantly cartoonish — and, yes, at times horrifying — hate banter, a style that over the course of the crew's two-year ascendance has viciously and cleverly breached every taboo there is, from rape to cop killing to torture and porn.
“F666 the Police” is pretty self-explanatory, as is the repetitive chorus. It took on extra weight, though, as its lyrics echoed across the basin and landed in the ears of an impressively fortified police force that had negative interactions with dance music revelers a couple of weeks back in Hollywood before a screening of an Electric Daisy Carnival documentary. Officers leaning against cruisers, motorcycles, an armed personnel carrier, standing in the middle of the street with a menacing German shepherd — had no choice but to hear the onstage, mostly unprintable cop-baiting from the breakout rap collective, even as the officers surveyed the 30,000 revelers who made their way in.
Odd Future founder Tyler, the Creator bellowed, “All you wanna do is get that stick/ Beat me with it while the rest sit and watch.” Hodgy Beats bragged about shooting a cop in the chest and then “aimin' at his partner who know he up next.”
For those not familiar with the 11-member (give or take) hip-hop collective, here's a primer: Led by the charismatic, witty, razor-sharp, rape-baiting, trash-talking lyricist-rapper-producer-video director Tyler, the crew, all in their late teens or early 20s, formed in 2009 and started dropping mix tapes and video clips on their Tumblr page. It's a wildly imaginative if uneven group of rappers, including Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy, Mike G, Taco Bennett, Left Brain, Domo Genesis and others; its DJ is a young woman named Syd the Kyd, and her gaze is more intimidating than the rest of them combined.
The crew has been barnstorming America and Europe over the last year trying to turn the views into careers, and it's worked. Odd Future has become one of the most discussed new groups in the world, mostly because of the confusing, creative nihilism of its message and the undeniable charisma of its two central characters, Tyler and Earl, the latter of whom has been mysteriously absent from the group because he's attending a Samoan boarding school. Earl's father is former South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile. Tyler's superb first video, for “Yonkers,” which he directed, is nominated for best video in the MTV Video Music Awards, and Tyler has been nominated for best new artist.
Onstage, the group is a ridiculous thing to see, alternately funny, angry, lighthearted and easy. The members were clearly having a blast — how could they not? — and bounced around thrusting arms and tossing rhymes — and occasionally diving into the crowd. “My arms are tired,” complained Tyler, sitting at a stool because he'd broken his leg last month; he mimicked the thrusts he'd been doing for the song. At another point, the crew stopped the show midset to marvel at a female audience member; at another they halted to lightheartedly ridicule a guy's haircut.
At its best, as on “Swag Me Out,” Odd Future at Hard Summer was like the Three Stooges with words, throwing pokes, punches, slaps and kicks that would no doubt hurt in real life were it not for the very obvious fact that it was just putting on a show. Dangerous to 9-year-olds? Yes, but to anyone with a sense of humor and an admiration of artists interested in pushing at the edges of creativity, the best of Odd Future's music is undeniably entertaining.
But not all of it. They're still young — Taco looks like he's about 12, and Earl is only 18 — and the line between smart coaptation and dumb, clumsy misanthropy, homophobia and misogyny is thin and blurry at best; no doubt many a lunkhead in the Hard Summer crowd rapped along about murder while imagining violence, but the same could be said for fans watching Stanley Kubrick's horror film “The Shining.”
Whether anyone in Odd Future ultimately cares how their message is received was answered the moment they moved into “F666 the Police.”
Everyone in the northern side of downtown heard it loud and clear — and the officers in the LAPD copter hovering overhead may have even heard it too, as they shined a spotlight on the crowd.
-- Randall Roberts
Top photo: Tyler, The Creator, right, and Left Brain of the alternative hip hop collective, OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), during a performance at HARD Summer Music Festival at Los Angeles State Historic Park on Saturday, August 6, 2011. Credit: Christina House / For The Times
Bottom photo: Hodgy Beats of Odd Future performs during the HARD Summer Music Festival. Credit: Christina House / For The Times