Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival 2023 is exactly as its father, Tyler, The Creator, explained during his set over this past weekend: the spirit of Los Angeles in two days. Dodger Stadium became a playground of approximately 56,000 music nerds’ on November 11 and 12, and was the Odd Future creative’s first edition of the concert and ride extravaganza since 2019, following a couple of years off due to COVID.
Now that it’s over, in all of its sun-drenched, expensive, passionate, grueling, talented, chaotic, diverse, and above all, fun glory, what was the best from CFG? And, is it worth attending next year? Tyler’s brainchild is up there with the best in the world when it comes to its hits and misses. The lines were eternal (especially for merch), pricing was quite steep, and there could’ve been fewer “fake fans” in attendance. Still, these definitely weren’t as bad as every other major fest. These issues haunt everything from the biggest of stages to the most humble multi-artist lineup. However, if you’re like me and you wouldn’t rather do anything else on a weekend, then you’re in luck.
I obviously didn’t get to see even close to the amount of acts I would’ve wanted. Some I caught the whole way, and others I saw from afar, making a line for some pork buns or on my way from one stage to another. I’m sure that Balming Tiger, d4vd, Liv.e, Domo Genesis, beabadoobee, Fuerza Regida, SPINALL, Khamari, DAISY WORLD, Toro y Moi, and many, many others put on amazing shows which I, unfortunately, couldn’t make it to. Below, we’ve ranked the top five sets we got to see, along with some honorable mentions.
The Hillbillies (Kendrick Lamar & Baby Keem)
Might as well start with the big dogs, right? There were plenty of huge names on the lineup this year in addition to those already mentioned. Lil Yachty brought out Offset, WILLOW performed with her brother Jaden Smith during her excellent sunset show, and The Hillbillies tapped Tyler, The Creator to join them onstage for their self-titled track’s performance. It’s fitting that we start here because the music video for Kendrick Lamar and Baby Keem’s 2023 single launched this year’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival back in June. Now that we finally made it, it’s no surprise that they closed off Saturday expertly across 24 tracks and alternating sets with spoken-word interludes. It was another masterclass in crowd control, mood shifts, lyrical performance, and dedication. As such, The Hillbillies is this year’s standout experience from CFG’s top-tier mainstream performers. Kendrick Lamar and Baby Keem showed everyone how it’s done.
For every few bangers, like their opener “family ties,” there was a cool-down moment like Kendrick’s “A.D.H.D.” and Keem’s “HONEST.” Their chemistry was evident, too, as they hyped each other up for their collaborative cuts and knew exactly how to play off of each other’s energy when they switched out onstage. Furthermore, this is what separated this performance from The Big Steppers tour, and showed another dimension to their already legendary reputation.
Next up is Kevin Abstract, the former BROCKHAMPTON main brain who was one of many genre blenders this weekend. The ARIZONA BABY artist was also one of a few with brand-new projects to unveil in a concert setting. Sure, it wasn’t the sharpest or most fine-tuned, but it crystallized something more important beneath those fluorescent lights.
Kevin Abstract clearly cared a lot about his first solo performance in about six years. His performance, vocally and demeanor-wise, was very raw, grateful, unfiltered, and fully sunken into the vibes that he and his band created onstage. He played killer tracks like “Madonna” and “What Should I Do?” off of his new album Blanket and revisited fan favorites like “Baby Boy” and “Empty.” The cherry on top was that he revamped these tracks to fit his new, shoegaze-like style. While many artists played their hits or stuck to their most popular sounds, the 27-year-old fearlessly dove into a new era, and crafted a gear-shifting and deeply personal moment in his career for old and new listeners.
Kali Uchis is one of many artists on Camp Flog Gnaw’s lineup whose work with Tyler, The Creator is very beloved. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone on the bill who isn’t at least good friends with the Hawthorne native, and the Colombian-Virginian singer goes way back with T. With a great backing band, dancers, and impeccable stage design, she crafted one of the most visually stimulating sets of the weekend. Her blends of soul, R&B, and other genres were just as wavy as those from PinkPantheress, Syd, and of course, SZA.
Moreover, she performed many old and new hits: the dembow anthem “Muñekita,” “See You Again,” “telepatía,” “Blue,” etc. What’s more, is that the 29-year-old even brought out Omar Apollo for their collab “Worth The Wait,” and they seemed to really enjoy their time onstage, especially Omar. If there’s one thing that this set represents from this festival, it’s the confident and fitting stage presence that many of these artists embodied. No one did a better job of creating that illusion and grandeur than Kali Uchis. As you’ve probably already noticed, Camp Flog Gnaw is full of superstars with underground sensibilities and sounds. Part of their charm is how they stay down-to-earth within their styles, but Kali knows that she’s larger than life. Among massive fame and acclaimed artistry, she’s right at home.
Don’t let that name fool you: if you live under a dozen rocks and have never heard of this jazz group, they are anything but. Among a cavalcade of indie, R&B, hip-hop, and rock-adjacent artists, plus some Afrobeat and Latine representation, BBNG still stands as the most unique set of the weekend. Not many artists can pull off opening their set with “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, going into ambient saxophone passages, and then coming through with a killer remix of their KAYTRANADA collab “Lavender” while still sounding cohesive as a unit. But BADBADNOTGOOD has been doing this for too long. They had perfect crowd control and a varied collection of jazz improvisation, psychedelic rock, Latin percussion, spacey soundscapes, amped and groovy drum solos, and some of their best compositions across their impeccable discography.
For day one fans, we didn’t get to hear their famous rap covers from back then, but we did get a gorgeous rendition of “Confessions.” On the other hand, we’d be remiss not to mention their incredible performance of “The Chocolate Conquistadors,” their MF DOOM collab. Drummer Alexander Sowinski and the rest of the band dedicated that cut to the late masked villain, and they also made sure that the crowd was having the best time of their lives. There were moments to gaze in awe at a solo, dance the night away, sing along to a melody, or take a moment to appreciate your place in the world right then and there. Music festivals can be overwhelming, especially CFG, but artists like BADBADNOTGOOD remind you of why it’s all worth it. No other set this weekend had me as completely immersed in the present as theirs.
Finally, we have the leader from Prince George’s County: redveil. He represents the amazing hip-hop on Camp Flog Gnaw’s bill: from Yachty to Earl, Domo to Ice Spice, Maxo to Maxo (Kream), The Hillbillies to Clipse to Paris Texas to AG Club… easily making up the most vocal and numerous fanbase here (although every other group felt just as welcome). Regardless of subgenre and labels, this festival had a lot of verses and moshpits, incredible crowd dynamics, and hungry MCs learning from the previous generation’s greatest. So why write this whole reflective and nostalgic intro for a 19-year-old, the freshest and youngest face here? Well, it’s because he’s the best proof that this weekend is not just Odd Future or Tyler’s festival: it’s the future’s festival.
Vibrant energy and fun moshpits from the crowd? Check. Unbridled hype, control, and stage presence from the learn 2 swim artist? Check. Sing-alongs, hardcore fans’ satisfaction, and new listeners falling in love with each song? Check, check, check. He ripped through all of his verses like “2daside,” thanked everyone who helped him along the way, kept his will, determination, and performance ethic at 100%, and put a spotlight on the world outside of CFG. He called for Palestinian freedom, powerfully closing out his set by speaking on their decades-long fight for justice. To put it bluntly, it was the most important moment of the whole endeavor. It’s that passion, awareness, talent, and love that redveil and every other artist on the bill will surely bring to Camp Flog Gnaw in 2024. After an incredible festival like this, all that’s left to say is, “We’ll see you again.”
More Honorable Mentions From Camp Flog Gnaw 2023
Ice Spice continued to prove why she’s one of the most beloved artists right now despite a short set time, and Pusha T and No Malice reunited as the Clipse in the most legendary and triumphant set of the weekend… that I only got to see footage of. At the end of the day, everyone on the lineup deserves a mention. This festival really focused on consistency, quality, and a no-frills attitude throughout its 48 hours. It’s all a matter of your personal taste. SPINALL and Fuerza Regida gave global spotlights, while new names joined a lineup of veterans. Baby Keem even took some time to unveil the trailer for his Amazon Prime short film, The Melodic Blue, which will be released on December 5!
Alas, there’s still so much to say, and such little time. For example, Earl Sweatshirt’s discography-spanning set, plus some new unreleased gems, could warrant a breakdown of its own for how he hypnotized the crowd alongside special guests The Alchemist, Domo, and Zelooperz. No other festival has this level of intangible closeness between fan and performer, and its atmosphere invigorated the Dodger Stadium grounds in ways hard to explain.
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