HOUSTON, TX: As music festivals continue to take over the world of live music, integrating music and art in the festival scene is not new news, but what Day for Night brought to the table was on a new level. This wasn’t a live painting or standing art galleries full of canvases kind of art scene. Free Press Houston immersed attendees in a realm of digital and multimedia art on a massive scale. Digital artistry is one of the most revolutionary movements of our time, simply thanks to its’ seemingly endless bounds. This past weekend Day for Night set the bar for what is surely soon to be a new standard of the festival experience.
The festival itself felt very intimate. Maybe it was just because it was the first year and there wasn’t an uncomfortably massive crowd, but it was very easy to navigate. The festival organizers even got on screen between sets and typed out funny messages to the crowd and kept it H-Town hood by throwing up phrases like “Screwston.” And a surefire way to amp up a Houston crowd is to bring out the hometown favorite Bun B to introduce an artist and do a dabbing lesson between sets. Free Press knows us all too well.
Upon arrival at DFN I was pleasantly surprised to see no long lines at the entrance and no overly intense security checks. The small community of studios all looked the same to me and I began to wonder if this was going to be as cool and different as it initially seemed. During the day you wouldn’t realize what a major transformation was on the horizon once the sun went down. There were massive projections on all of the sides of the studio spaces so even when traveling between stages you were still surrounded by dancing lights and striking imagery. It was an unfamiliar relief to see the walls covered in art rather than the usual corporate sponsor banners that usually plague festival grounds. Also, being the clean freak that I am, I was a huge fan of the Red Stage and the printed carpet squares that covered the dance space. For once coming home covered in mud and dust would not be a part of my night. I did question early on whether having carpet everywhere would absorb some of the sound but it didn’t seam to phase the energy at the stage. On the sound note, for anyone who typically wears ear plugs at festivals, don’t forget yours when DFN comes around again. These guys were not messing around, every stage at this event was loud. I personally love the loudness because people tend to give up on trying to talk to each other over the music, but I know some people value the life expectancy of their ear drums, so there’s your fair warning.
The crowd at Day for Night was a night and day difference from the usual Free Press Summer Fest crowd. Still a fairly young group but everyone kept it together and there was way less neon bro tanks and fanny packs. On that note, I was very impressed with the stylish attendees and crew of Day for Night. It was nice to be a Texan at a festival that wasn’t as hot as if we were standing directly on the surface of the sun for once and having no choice but to go to the fest in your swimsuit or shirtless. Savor that moment y’all, unless we throw a festival like next week, it’s still going to be hot as hell during every other H-Town fest of the year.
The artists of Day for Night visually and audibly captured this renaissance-like enigma that is multimedia art. One installation that I found particularly intriguing was VOLUME, created by the Nanotak studio. The installation took up half of a warehouse and was a series of bars connected like a bunch of scaffolding with strobe lights at each intersection of the bars. The lights were timed with a collection of sounds that circulated through the room like a tidal wave of sound. It was almost eerie in a way but so captivating it was easy to end up standing there for a solid twenty minutes without realizing it.
The Infinity Room consistently had a line wrapping around the corner of the building with what appeared to be almost an hour long wait time. While some seemed to think it may not have been worth the wait, I thought the immersive atmosphere that artist Refik Anadol created was one of a kind. Perhaps my experience with digital artistry is still too limited to have an educated opinion. While some said they felt like they were waiting for a big finish that never came, many others like myself appreciated the trance-inducing reflective waves of the room. In a time when we are so over-stimulated by our surroundings, I find that there is an immense amount of beauty in getting lost in the product of the inner workings of someone else’s mind on display for the world.
Countless other installations were sprinkled all throughout the festival and even though this event fascinated me with all of the intricacies of multimedia art, I honestly didn’t need much convincing to attend. It was like someone dug through all of my Spotify playlists and catered a festival lineup just to my liking. I was definitely smitten with this show before it began. There was so much variation among the lineup but it still maintained a consistency of electronic influences and very innovative artists from Kendrick Lamar to CocoRosie to New Order.
New Order (formerly Joy Division) is one of the bands that I think best embodies the influence that the 80s is still having on popular music today. New Order was a definitely a blast from the past but by far one of the best performances of the weekend. It was a giant dance party for all ages and I was extra stoked that they were given a whole two hour long set. Sets earlier in the day by Janelle Monae and CocoRosie lit up the Red Stage as well. Janelle Monae is a little firecracker and such a class act. Her upbeat music and appreciation for the classics are some of my favorite things about her and she brought those elements to the table for her performance at Day for Night when she covered some of the greats like James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” CocoRosie on the other hand, while just as stage commanding of performers as Janelle, have a totally different aura. Probably two of my favorite performers on the planet, Bianca and Sierra Casady are incredibly talented musicians but most importantly, some of the most innovative minds in music. Once they got all the little sound kinks worked out, the owned their set. I love to see the evolution of the facial expressions of people who have never heard CocoRosie’s music before because it always starts as utter confusion from the offbeat rhythms, nasal rapping, angelic harmonies and beat boxing all at once. By the end of their set, the result is always the same: everyone walks away in awe.
On Sunday, any big Kendrick fan knew his set was about to be the highlight of their weekend as soon as he opened with “Backstreet Freestyle,” but I don’t think anyone was anticipating the spectacle that was to come. When Kendrick pulled a random guy out of the crowd to flow “Alright” with him, I’m sure he expected the fan he chose to at least sing his song but that didn’t happen. Corporate Dough, as the young lad called himself, busted out his own freestyle when it came time for him to sing Kendrick’s verse but Kendrick let the guy have his moment. The look on Kendrick’s face was priceless and it got pretty heartfelt for Mr. Dough. I wish I could say the fifteen minutes of fame opportunity went as well for the three ladies Kendrick pulled up to flow with him. Finally the last girl that got up on stage at least knew the last few words to each verse so I guess Kendrick decided that was sufficient and it was time to move on with his set and on to more hits like “King Khunta.”
Another Sunday highlight was Death Grips. Whatever those guys are on, I want some of it. I don’t know any band with as much energy as these three guys. They took a very minimalist approach for their lighting tech, which was extremely effective. All you could see were their shadowy figures in front of a bright white screen. They did not take a single break between songs to chat up the crowd, just delivered a nonstop, hard-hitting set. Of all the artists on Sunday, Flying Lotus takes the cake for being the perfect artist to perform at a festival focusing on digital art. His screen of visuals in front of his equipment projected some of the strangest and most captivating visuals that ranged anywhere between cartoon bodies being disemboweled to morphing geometric sequences. Later, I tried to broaden my musical horizons a bit by stopping by B L A C K I E’s set but it was only a matter of time before my inner tipsy girl got the best of me and I just needed to dance, so on to Dillon Francis I went. Full of bass, confetti, projections of random stuff like broccoli and doughnuts with eyes, Dillon’s set was just about as fun and goofy as he is.
Overall, for its inaugural year, Day for Night and the homies at Free Press Houston get an A+ for diverse and eclectic music taste, innovative art, efficient production team, and a solid group of attendees. Thanks for keeping H-Town artsy and jammin’ during what is usually the downtime for festivals, DFN!
Staff Writer: Lindsay Shearon