Day For Night Excels In Light; Still Some Work Needed in Darkness
I find it very interesting how a city’s underground artistic culture is so well reflected in the execution for big events that showcase those talents. Houston is primed for explosion when it comes to electronic music, causing many underground art & music lovers to fly down frequently. Houston doesn’t come across as smarmy; and on the contrary has a great balance of true talent, intellectualism, and Southern charm. A bit of a struggle is still present, but with a great amount of energy pushing it forward.
Day for Night was aptly named as while there were spots of brightness, it also presented issues that seemed too obvious to overlook. Overall, it was a worthwhile event and it will be to interesting to see how they address this year’s criticisms. With a few minor adjustments, Day For Night will be an unstoppable festival.
One thing that is undeniable: the chosen art installations were phenomenal. If you’ve traveled to a few festivals, it can be hard to be wowed in a subtle way. The exhibits were awesome in the truest sense of the word. One was Nonotak’s “Highline” exhibit, which lent a funhouse mirror feel. Tundra’s “Outlines”’ had red lasers which moved in different planes, looking as if it encouraged cat burglars to think more creatively. Michael Fullman’s “Bardo” was a favorite as well, giving a dance-floor inspired impression. Shoplifter’s “Ghost Beast” had a lot of pouty nylon clad-bum photos wrapped in its wall-climbing and hanging pink-ish fur.
One of my favorite aspects of the location (the unused Barbara Jordan post office) was the ability to flow freely between these exhibits. The visions of these artists were hypnotic and the spaces completely open with the exhibits spread far enough from each as to not be distracting. However, there was some trouble getting up the crowded, narrow, ascending-only staircases that repeated on the other side when you descended. The unavoidable jostling to enter or exit killed a bit of the experience. Additionally, the hours-long line for Bjork Digital didn’t bring exclamations of being worth the wait when chatting with attendees.
Outdoors, the Heineken Cube stage was a great spot for dance music fans. At first, its placement seemed odd – physically placed in front of the largest Red stage. However, the Cube’s set times were staggered with the bigger stage. The DJs were placed atop of the light-up cube structure with a bar inside, with a smaller area that encouraged a more intimate feel than some of the other stages. While this was a high traffic area, it still managed to maintain an inviting space. Josh Dupont, Secret Sands, and Light Wheel were great sets that grabbed by-passers and encouraged a lengthy pause. The two smaller outdoor stages were also set up well, high enough to see the acts.
For many, festival music is a soulful and physical thing and less of a cerebral thing- some choose to save more experimental or offbeat choices for activities at home where they’re deep in thought or in a comfortable environment. Festivals that have a cerebral focus often provide an environment that encourages that thoughtfulness. Day For Night could use some improvement in this area. I picture light-up risers so that people could really relax while watching the musical/visual acts without fear of being walked over. For example, I really wanted to watch Matmos’ set, but as a vertically-challenged person, I left 20 minutes in because the visual aspect was lost to me. It would have been great to see the exhibits more integrated with the featured musical acts.
Overall, a lack of smaller relaxation spaces created a bit restlessness atmposphere. The vast warehouse-style post office and the larger outer parking area space would have worked well a typical rave, where bass rattles the body for hours on end, but with multiple genres and a heavy focus on experimental types of music, groups of seating near the stages would have encouraged a more immersive experience. Often it seems like people were camped on the floor of the empty lobby or shifting between stages without any real direction. There were also issues with media access and the media lounge being closed at odd times, adding to frustration for those of us who were eager to report back to their audiences.
And no fault of the organizers was the massive shift in weather on Saturday night. Artists like Banks, Odesza, and Aphex Twin drew blissful crowds in the balmy Saturday weather. Even if Aphex Twin isn’t your style, many attendees were excited to see him because of his lack of US tour dates for many years. The environment was electric. This was only heightened when a cold gust of wind dropped the temperature and the skies unleashed their fury. The lasers played on the raindrops, and people danced in the downpour, however as the weather continued to intensify, many took refuge under building overhangs. My group sought refuge in the nearby La Carafe, one of the oldest bars in Houston.
Many attendees tried to stick it out on Sunday, however the crowd had noticeably thinned out, which may have had to do with the freezing temperatures and lack of places to relax and warm up. After the sun set on Anklepants’ set, my hands were so frozen that even dancing didn’t warm them up. I just couldn’t hack it. I’m a little bitter about missing Squarepusher, but I’m assured it was worth it from those hailing from Berlin and Chicago.
Overall, the musical acts and artistic choices of Day For Night drew an extensive and fun crowd that would normally perhaps not intersect. My impression is that scaling down a bit would benefit this event enormously. The music and art deserved a more intimate connection to the guests, and some very small tweaks would make huge differences. It has the chance to be a world-class festival if it takes strides to morph like the lights in the exhibits and the musical acts it presented.
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