Endless immersive installations, a cacophony of live music from every corner, crazy weather, and a whole lot of dancing–welcome to Day for Night 2016. Yes, the hype was real for Aphex Twin’s return and the U.S. premiere of Björk Digital, but there were plenty of surprises waiting inside this curated hybrid festival. Brace yourself for all the details and our top picks in the awesome photo gallery below courtesy Free Press Houston.
The second annual end-of-the-year festival deep in the Downtown heart of Houston, TX is still working out some kinks. (VIP inconsistency seemed to be the major issue this year.) But it took some bold steps into the future of not only music festivals, but music in general. It was basically a free for all of events and sounds placed in the hands of attendees. What they listened to and how they spent their time at Day for Night was theirs for the taking, a curated experience within a curated festival. And after the initial jolt of uncertainty, the crowds slowly realized that they weren’t on a leash—they could pretty much go anywhere and do anything.
Quick real talk: lines are the bane of every festival-goer’s life. The Day for Night masses were unleashed upon the festival grounds on schedule in the afternoon and allowed re-entry only once per day; at least mandatory bag-checks were quick, albeit thorough. Multiple food, bar, and bathroom lines were predictably long too. Food trucks were located in their own area away from passing crowds, which was helpful. But one particular line dominated just about everyone’s life over the weekend: the stand-by line for the highly-anticipated Björk Digital exhibit.
Day for Night ticket holders had to reserve their free Björk Digital spot days ahead to get into this super intimate shared space in groups of 25 for up to 140 minutes. Shocker—reservations sold out in under an hour of general release, causing fans to wait in a massive first-come-first-serve line that spanned the entire first floor during its extended open-and-close hours for both days. Those who camped out for upwards to 10 hours in line experienced something truly special once inside: five rooms of intense Björk feels in full VR.
Some peak VR creations from the exhibit include NotGet VR, which took viewers into a spellbinding galactic realm with a life-size mutating Björk avatar singing and dancing to this bewitching song, and the interactive Oculus Rift experience of one of Björk’s most empowering songs, Family. Vibrant female genitalia in cosmic form included. Fair warning, a common complaint from more VR-savvy attendees was that the output quality of some of the exhibits wasn’t running at 100% on the Samsung headsets. For the visually impaired like myself, headsets for extended periods definitely aren’t a comfy fit with glasses on.
The Preview Party on Friday and open Sunday evening performance came complete with Björk’s unique DJ set of beats sans her vocals. Fighting jetlag and wearing a glowing purple face mask on Friday and a elaborate microscopic red one on Sunday, she shimmied around her covered jungle of potted plants. Over time, people realized that, like Aphex Twin the next day, Björk wasn’t about making this performance about her image. It was 100% about the music and surrounding space.
Another hyped headline act was the stage return of Richard D. James a.k.a. Aphex Twin—the undisputed landmark performance for Day 1. What made this IDM set so special was the exclusivity of it all. The hype was real. Five hundred copies of a mysterious 12-inch vinyl of his were sold at Merch tables; no explanations were given about its tracks, but it blindly sold out within hours. Turns out this super exclusive album is a two-track pre-recorded album featuring new music used during his set! (Good luck hunting down a copy for under the selling price of $30!)
The opening visuals over cryptic beats included various flight-control maps and animated missiles landing on multiple major cities, signaling the hypothetical end of days with that iconic Aphex Twin gargled laughter over layers and layers of sound breaking through. Rumor has it that Björk joined the audience during the first minutes of Aphex Twin, dancing up a storm… literally, as about 30 minutes in a predicted cold front hit Houston hard and quick. (I’m a firm believer that the Icelandic deity known as Björk controls the weather now.) It goes without saying that the crowd went wild during those 20 minutes of cold rain, bright lights, and unfiltered Aphex Twin.
He remained hunkered down under a tarp over his set-up, enigmatically delivering a steady stream of well-crafted tracks. His trademark facial manipulations won the crowd over with severe digital manipulations on the faces of Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling as well as a host of Lone Star names including Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, members of the Texans and Rockets, and (my favorite) a squished-up Walker Texas Ranger a.k.a. Chuck Norris!
On the light side, the majority of the phenomenal installations at Day for Night were housed inside, as only a few projections could withstand Houston’s erratic humidity and, later, frigid weather outside. London-based United Visual Artists gained hype with their intimate piece, Musica Universalis (see below), a meditative conceptual installation in pitch-black with rotating lights and ambient sounds inspired by the “harmony of the spheres.”
On the sound side, artists weren’t exactly sectioned off by genre since they were scattered within reasonable walking-distance across red, green, blue, and yellow color-coded indoor and outdoor stages. Eclectic was an understatement here. You could have hung out with local rap legends at the Welcome to Houston set and catch Run the Jewels at the end of the night. Or hang out with Chelsea Wolfe as she screams into her guitar then experience the return of music veterans The Jesus and Mary Chain. Nestled inside during the Aphex Twin chaos, the humble legend John Carpenter swayed a smaller, more intimate crowd with his vast collection of themes in electronica form. And things got strange with S U R I V E, followed by killer sets all around by RZA, Travis Scott, and the reunion of the Butthole Surfers.
A few light installations even received pop-up performances, such as local audiovisual musician James Templeton of LIMB bringing the house down in the Octa room, a collaborative installation with visual artists Eric Todd and Daniel Schaeffer that included eight surrounding speakers and 12 overhead Kinect light sensors triggered live by Ableton over OSC. Nonotak Shiro was also peak audiovisual symbiosis with their symphony of live ambient sounds against blazing white lights and mirrors.
It’s that combined vibe of well-curated music and art that helped solidify this young event as one of the top festival destinations for lovers of sound and light. Did any of you guys go to Day for Night? Are you planning to hit it up next year? Let us know below!
Featured Image: Roger Ho courtesy Free Press Houston