Magnifique: Transcending The Rave
As September 17th approached, I think no one, not even USC Events, really knew what the weekend was going to be like. Even the weather couldn’t seem to make up it’s mind. This marked the first ever instance of Magnifique, a brand new event hosted at the aesthetically stunning Gorge Amphitheater in Washington State. Paradiso, USC’s other major event at the same location, is a pretty quintessential summer electronic music festival. Multiples stages, beautiful venue, massive headliners, rides, art installations, vendor booths, and a general ambiance of organized chaos. Besides the venue, Magnifique had almost none of that. One stage and not much else, all during a colder (much colder) time of the year. USC seemed to be doing everything they could to tell you that this was not Paradiso.
It actually reminded me of Above & Beyond’s “We Are All We Need Tour” tour back in 2015, when Tony, Paavo, and Jono made a very deliberate choice to have the show at the Tacoma Dome because it wasn’t in the heart of Seattle. The casual crowd isn’t going to make the trip to Tacoma (or in Magnifique’s case, halfway across the state). Instead of larger events where I believe this approach to be a detriment, what this relocation accomplishes is setting the environment to be populated with a very specific kind of interest. Magnifique would have sold out if it had been in Seattle. There’s no question about that. But because it demanded investment and planning and time, the only people there were the ones who really wanted to be.
At first, this seemed to be working a little too well. I thought USC was overextending themselves a bit this year. Magnifique was the third entirely new brand they created in 2016, sandwiched in between Bumbershoot, Seattle’s 45-year-old music & arts festival, and Freaknight, USC’s Halloween massive. And with most still relatively fresh off of Paradiso, I wondered how many could realistically even make the return for another overnight show. At a certain point, you just can’t go to everything, and when people have to choose, the artists on the lineup make a pretty big impact. Magnifique’s, while undeniably good, seemed kind of arbitrary. And at the end of all of this, the ticket sales for appeared to be suffering. USC was doing a lot of promo, offering Groupon deals (which they’ve never done), flash sales, and promoters constantly offering hard copy tickets on social media. Even the drive over and the arrival at the campground made the difference immediately obvious. Instead of the familiar half hour wait in line and overflowing campground, we drove up to find a quiet, mostly empty field. In all the years I’ve been to The Gorge, I had never seen it this relaxed.
However, the venue was anything but empty, slowly filling over the course of the day despite weather that always teetered on the verge of threatening. Like with most things surrounding Magnifique, the attendance came gradually, and the logic behind the low ticket price became clear pretty quickly. If you weren’t interested in Magnifique, a Groupon deal wasn’t going to make a difference (much like the reveal of Gramatik as the surprise guest). But for anyone with even the slightest desire to go, decisions like this made it that much more accessible and appealing. Magnifique demanded your curiosity. It wasn’t a safe bet, and as a result had a crowd who was willing to travel far to take a chance on something unknown, mostly deciding to attend simply based on a feeling in their gut. People could really only be there for what was in front of them: the music and each other.
And as that vibe was radiated across the venue, a lot of these smaller elements (one stage, no rides, etc.) that could easily be passed off as random or as happenstance, start to feel very intentional. For example, you take a lineup that initially raised some eyebrows from it’s apparent randomness, turned out to match the mood flawlessly, incorporating live elements and vocalists in a way that probably wouldn’t fit into your standard summer festival. From Giraffage who spent a good portion of his set mixing in 90s throwbacks to Chromeo’s rock show to Kaskade, who’s music has so infiltrated pop radio sometimes you forget he’s a DJ. Except for being hosted by USC and people certainly dressing the part, the entire experience felt to be anything other than a “rave.” It was just a show at the end of the summer that happened to feature some electronic acts.
And this is where it starts to connects to the bigger picture. For the last five years, we’ve all heard not-stop about the inevitable bursting of the fabled dance music bubble. You can stop holding your breath, because it’s not coming. What will happen instead, what’s been happening for a while now, is a slow expansion into the rest of the music industry until electronic and non-electronic are indistinguishable from each other. We see this in the mainstream pop of Zedd and the cerebral indie dance of Odesza. We see this in the fusion of hip-hop and funk and dubstep put into live performances. We see this as the scene evolves past it’s explosion into the mainstream and the rush to produce disposable, but catchy festival tracks to where we are now, facing the question…what else can we do?
The answer, I honestly believe, is Magnifique.
We will always have Paradiso. We’ll always have Ultra. We’ll always have EDC. We’ll always have those festivals and those genres of music that are strictly electronic. The sanctuary and privacy that this community provides is never going anywhere. But dance culture has spent most of it’s life existing on the fringes, and until recently basically wasn’t popular outside of a specific kind of person. Something changed a few years ago and it established itself as the music of this generation. And after a short period of enjoying it’s own success, I would say that for the first time, it’s finally beginning to look outwards towards the future and how it can incorporate itself with the rest of the world. Look, it’s no secret that the dance scene is still a little ostracized because of it’s connection to drug use or that it’s often dismissed as simplistic and repetitive. But those ideas are also constantly being challenged. Whether it’s the gradual shift away from using the word “rave” or the blending of genres or someone like Kaskade speaking up about harm reduction. Or in this case, shows like Magnifique. This is what can begin to change the way the outside world perceives this culture. Eventually it’s not electronic music anymore. It’s just music.
USC Events has already proven their talent in throwing massive events that meet the party standard, and more recently their ability to put on smaller, more directed genre shows. Much like the scene as a whole, they had a long time living somewhat under the radar, grew into a staple of the Seattle music scene, and are now beginning to branch out in a way that has a much larger impact. Magnifique was the first time I think I was really aware of the the intentionality behind what they do. Even after a week of decompressing the experience, I’m not sure I can focus on anything that I didn’t like about it. USC took a pretty enormous risk with this show (albeit a very calculated one), and it paid off extremely well. My only hope is that I’m not giving them too much credit and all of the little things along the way, were in fact meant to be. And if they are as smart as it would appear, they will take the right lessons from the experience when Magnifique returns in 2017 (hint: keep it to one stage).
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