Day For Night Is Changing the Way We Talk About Festivals

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Consequence of Sound knows its stuff when it comes to festivals. Founded in 2007, the Chicago-based website’s primary focus is music and film-related news, reviews and interviews, including an entire section devoted to festival reviews. Another is called the Festival Tracker, an index that gathers basic information about festivals, including nearly 1,200 in the U.S. alone.

All of which is to say that it was a pretty big deal when earlier this week Houston’s Day For Night came in at No. 3 on CoS’s annual Fall Festival Power Rankings, beating out some pretty big names on the circuit — Lollapalooza, Governor’s Ball, Coachella, and even the UK’s vaunted Glastonbury, last year’s No. 3. (Even cooler: the D4N part of the article was written by Houston Press music freelancer David Sackllah.) “As more and more [festivals] pop up, it’s becoming increasingly aware that to thrive as a new festival in this climate, you have to contain a distinct, defining vision and offer a lineup unlike any other,” CoS glowed.

The achievement for Day For Night, whose second year is scheduled for December 17 and 18 at Post HTX — the enormous 16-acre indoor/outdoor compound near downtown, formerly used as the Barbara Jordan branch of the U.S. Post Office — is all the more impressive because its defining vision is already one of the most distinct of any festival in recent memory, even when so much of its identity has yet to truly come into focus. That said, Day For Night’s fusion of avant-garde digital art installations and a performer lineup heavy on alternative and electronic music made it an instant attention-grabber, both for the thousands of fans who turned up last year and for Consequence of Sound.

“[CoS] can see how many festivals are reiterations of each other, and I guess coming from that perspective you’re looking for anything that sticks out [and] represents a different experience,” theorizes one of Day For Night’s creators, Free Press Houston publisher Omar Afra. “If you’ve been to six to eight festivals across the country, it kind of becomes a blur: ‘Which one is that?’ ‘I saw Vampire Weekend where again?’

If anything, he adds, the article put even more pressure on him and the other producers to avoid a sophomore slump. “We high-fived, and then we reminded each other that we’ve still got a ton of work to do,” Afra says. “Now it’s like, ‘All right, no pressure. We’ve taken Glastonbury’s spot, so no pressure.’”

Booking Aphex Twin, the mysterious UK techno genius who hasn’t performed in the U.S. in nearly a decade, is certainly a coup that deserves its share of national attention; “we kept trying, and kept trying, and I think ultimately we were persistent and obnoxious enough, and somehow it worked,” Afra says. “We couldn’t believe it when he said yes.” (The Irish-born artist also gave the festival an unexpected promotional bump by releasing a bizarre Trump/Clinton-themed video just before Tuesday’s election.) But despite a group of performers that most other festivals would envy — Odesza, Travis Scott, Kaskade, Nick Murphy (Chet Faker), Run the Jewels, a Butthole Surfers reunion, Squarepusher, Blood Orange, Little Dragon and Lightning Bolt are among the other headliners — Afra says he thinks what convinced Aphex Twin to sign on had nothing to do with any of the other musical acts.

“We advanced him all of the information about the festival and we said, ‘Hey, let’s not tell him about all the other cool bands that are playing, let’s show him the art that we’re going to great lengths to create. This is more than just us putting a stage in a field and serving beer. This is us trying to fine-tune an inspiring experience for all the attendees. Something well beyond just a party.”

Indeed, Afra says Day For Night is still struggling to overcome its image as more than just an unusually esoteric music festival. He admits that even he has trouble explaining the impact of its digital artists beyond just “seeing is believing,” but it’s exactly the contributions of these people — who this year include United Visual Artists, Golan Levin, Nonotak and several installations by Bjork under the name Bjork Digital — that are allowing Day For Night to evolve past a festival model that is now decades old.

“If you think about it, to some degree, if you look at the festival model today, it hasn’t grown or changed or evolved since Woodstock,” Afra says. “It really hasn’t. And frankly it’s a lot of the same production managers, and they’re using the latest and greatest in lights and sound, but they’re using them the way they would have for Foghat. What we’re trying to do is get the music industry up to speed with where computational and generative arts are.”

Afra says he knew he was on to something when people came up to him after last year’s festival, telling him how much they wanted to learn coding, projection, or light manipulation.

“Computative and generative art are kind of in the same place right now where the electric guitar was when it first became commercially available,” he says. “So we’re just now starting to see the amazing things people can do. It’s a medium that’s only going to get better, and people are just going to continue to do amazing things with it.”

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