When the Grammy nominations were announced earlier this week, Houston’s biggest winner this year could well have been Day For Night, whose Sunday-night headliner Kendrick Lamar led all nominees with a cool 11. Add to that Saturday-night closer New Order, the UK alternative-music legends who will be making their only U.S. live date of 2015 following the September release of their first album in ten years, Music Complete. Other top-shelf acts at next weekend’s two-day event include Phillip Glass, Janelle Monae, Dillon Francis, Flying Lotus, Nicolas Jaar, and Psychic TV — names that more than a few people might have to look up on Wikipedia, but that those who don’t are likely to say, “Whoa…they’re playing in Houston? At the same place? In December?”
The thing about Day For Night, though, is that it’s not strictly a music festival. Its creators, who include Omar Afra of Free Press Houston and Free Press Summer Fest, prefer the term “experiential,” a term that denotes anything “pertaining to or derived from experience,” according to dictionary.com. Here art installations are effectively co-headlining with the musical performers; all the creators on hand, whether performing bands or digital designers, will be manipulating light and sound in ways that amount to solving complex calculus equations as opposed to the basic arithmetic offered by most festivals. This is because when Afra looks at most festivals, he can’t help but see a lot of wasted space and missed opportunities.
“We want this to be an experience that as you move from stage to stage, it's as stimulating as when you're standing staring at a stage,” he explains. “I feel like the existing festival model out there is [to] move folks around from stage to stage, and as they're moving, they're just in transit.”
Afra says Day For Night will cover approximately six to eight acres around Silver Street Studios compared to the 12 to 14 utilized at FSPF's usual home, Eleanor Tinsley Park. The grounds are within walking distance from the northwestern fringes of downtown, but far enough out that organizers are encouraging fans to take public transport or Uber instead. Afra likens it to “somewhere in between being an art installation and a nightclub.”
The 40-odd musical acts spread over three stages, one outdoor and two indoor, will be offset by half as many installations under the curation of Alex Czetwertynski, a New York-based digital artist whom Afra describes as “a wizard…he’s so next-level it’s ridiculous.” For example, Czetwertynski’s Day For Night installation is entitled “Photoperiod,” which employs fake plants, a light bulb and projections to create an environment that imagines what it might be like were plants able to fall asleep and dream. But if fans want to skip all that and just check out Death Grips, CoCo Rosie or Madeon, they’re welcome to do that as well. (Houston acts performing at Day For Night, by the way, include Millennial Grave, B L A C K I E, Future Blondes, Richard Ramirez, Indian Jewelry, Wrestlers and FLCON FCKER.)
“It's important for this event to be not just different for the sake of being different,” Afra says. “There used to be a phenomenon where you went to music festivals and you found out about new music. Right? Or you found out about old music that wasn't at the front of people's brains. But the music-festival market has become so saturated with the same bands going to different places, and every festival lineup looks like a different iteration of the last festival lineup, you know?
“There's so much great music out there that I think it just took a little bit of stepping back, taking a breath and saying 'We're going to go out on a limb here,’” he adds. “People are going to love this, and they don't have to see it as part of some repackaging of what they've already seen two or three times already.”
There doesn’t seem to be much danger of the same old same old at Day For Night; for one thing, Afra's FPSF partner Pegstar is sitting this one out to focus on its under-construction music venue, White Oak Music Hall. (Head talent buyer instead is Ryan Chavez, an old hand at bringing hard-to-get acts to town from his days at Hands Up Houston.) But Day For Night's roots do lie in the audiovisual content created for FPSF by Work Order, the NYC design firm co-founded by Afra’s childhood friend Kiffer Keegan. Afra and the Work Order team have worked hard to crystallize the Day For Night aesthetic, a good deal of which stems from ideas born from FPSF brainstorming sessions that, for one reason or another, proved unfeasible or otherwise not quite right for that festival.
“Many of these ideas we just can't institute at FSPF,” Afra says. “We don't have controlled environments; we don't have indoor spaces; we don't have that much nighttime, because in the summer the sun doesn't go down until damn near 9 p.m. You'd be shocked how much light has to do with how we program FPSF, and the way we're programming this.”
In some prepared materials for Day For Night, Alex Czetwertynski also touches on twilight as a way of defining this experiential festival's fundamental experience.
“That space between day/night or light/dark is where our perception gets the blurriest,” he says. “All of the artists in our roster will, in one way or another, transform our feeling of time, space, perspective and place.”
Performances at Day For Night will run from noon to 11 p.m., meaning that more than half of the festival will take place under cover of darkness. But the shorter days and cooler temperatures are not the only things Afra thinks his new event has in its favor. After all, people have made jokes about what a Free Press Winter Fest might be like since shortly after the gates opened at the first FPSF in 2009.
“Being close to the holidays, it just barely starts to get cold,” Afra says. “Everybody's frisky, everybody's in town, kids are here from college. It's an exciting time of the year. People start going out more this time of year than they do in the malaise of the middle of summer.”
Nevertheless, as a first-time event, and especially one where shadows and obfuscation are practically built into its name, Day For Night remains an elusive entity, and will probably remain that way until it's all over. Even its founder admits that the concept can be difficult to articulate. Always one to choose his words carefully, Afra says Day For Night has been a “tough communication” rather than a tough sell; by way of explaining what he means, he points to a morsel of social-media chatter he happened on not long ago. A ticketholder had just watched the teaser video that appears at the top of Day For Night's Web site.
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“I saw somebody post like, 'Man, I bought my ticket two months ago, and I'm just now getting what this is,’" Afra says.
“It’s cool because people are going out on a limb with us,” Afra adds. “They’re willing to try this new, different thing. This place is gonna be packed, but it's gonna be packed with a lot of people who get there not knowing what to expect, and I think that's really kind of awesome.”
Buy tickets for Day For Night and see more info, including a schedule, at dayfornight.io. A map of the grounds is below.