Inside the first festival of the future: Day for Night 2017

The city of Houston needed a win this year. Between the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and the less-publicized Tax Day flood, the fourth-largest city in the United States had a rough 2017. Happily, Day for Night’s third year was more than a win – it was a celebration of the best and weirdest of the city, along with international artists and musicians to reflect the spirit and culture of the strong music & art scene there.

Day for Night is unique because of two intertwined factors: the venue and the respect they show to the light & art installations found within. The two outdoor main stages are pretty run-of-the-mill festival fare, but the rest of the fest happens inside the now-defunct Barbara Jordan Post Office building, which is better described as a sprawling warehouse. Left mostly dark, the building housed two indoor stages on the ground floor, several bars & VIP areas, and an entire second floor dedicated to art installations with a particular focus on light, sound, and interactivity.

Light Leaks installation by Kyle McDonald + Jonas Jongejan. Photo by Kyle McDonald.

While art installations are nothing new to festivals, they often feel like an afterthought, something to entertain audiences on their way from stage to stage. Day for Night blows others away on the sheer scale and thought put towards them. You could easily spend an entire day exploring and experiencing the pieces, a fact underscored by the full queues for the bigger names in the visual lineup, including Ryoji Ikeda, Mathewe Schriber, and Ryoichi Kurokawa. But despite the quick-moving lines, the massive interior space meant that even though the festival seemed very well-attended, crowds rarely became an issue. You could move quickly and easily from installation to installation, spending as much time with the interactive pieces as you’d like without feeling rushed or pressured by a horde of people behind you. Clever partitioning meant that the immersive experiences, often involving detailed sound design in addition to bright and moving lights, never interfered with each other or prioritized one over another.

None of this is to diminish the incredible music lineup, drawing names across the spectrum. The eclectic mix appealed to all music fans with bigger names such as Nine Inch Nails, Cardi B, and Justice rightfully attracting many. But, like I said, this was also a celebration of the weird, and the more experimental performances from artists such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Jlin, and Shabazz Palaces were not only welcomed, but met with eager and raucous crowds and applause. Other big name Texas festivals like Austin City Limits or, elsewhere in the US, Pitchfork Festival struggle to draw so many stellar fringe artists. North Carolina’s Moogfest might be a closer comparison, but even that festival lacks the visual component and comes at a higher price-tag.

Justice at Day for Night 2017. Photo by Nick L. for Festival Snobs

Musical highlights included a powerful homecoming performance from the Houston-born Solange, who stunned the audience on Sunday with towering onstage sculptures, appearances from the TSU marching band, and a dynamic, heartfelt performance drawing largely from her masterful A Seat At The Table album. Closing out that night was the incomparable Thom Yorke, whose ensemble (including longtime producer Nigel Godrich) ripped through a 90-minute set filled with selections from The Eraser & Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, as well as songs from his Atoms For Peace project. Electronic acts Demdike Stare, Mount Kimbie, and the aforementioned Jlin explored brutal and heady terrains, and the more dance-centric Jamie XX, Roni Size, DJ Tennis, and Nina Kravitz had crowds tearing up the floor. Back on the main stage, Russian ex-pats Pussy Riot powered through a set that engaged the huge crowd despite being mostly in their native tongue, and Justice had every person in the crowd losing their mind with perhaps the best stage production of the weekend.

Day for Night 2017 is the best festival experience I’ve had in years. There are always things to improve: the layout of the Blue Stage meant most of the audience had limited view of both the stage and the visuals, especially important as it housed most of the electronic artists. Vegetarian and vegan food options were limited, and better signage for restrooms scattered within the building could have improved lines. But the staff was helpful and friendly, audience spirits remained high all weekend despite heavy rains on Saturday night, and there was a true sense of brotherhood and appreciation for how special the festival was.

Telestron installation by VT Pro. Photo by Randall Pugh.

On Sunday, I met a festival-goer who had lost her apartment & many of her belongings in the hurricane, which meant she had to leave a job she loved for a higher paying retail job to help offset the losses. Shortly before Thom Yorke, I asked if the festival was a way of her giving a middle finger to 2017. She laughed and said, “No, this festival is a way to celebrate what I love. That I’m gonna be – that Houston’s gonna be – just fine.” Then we hugged and turned to watch our musical idol take the stage.

The Burning Ear’s November 2017 Spotify Playlist

This month’s playlist comes especially recommended after the high-octane eating spree of Thanksgiving. We recommend jamming out to this playlist at least 5 times a week for cardio and digestive aid. 6 times if you helped yourself to that extra slice of pie. We’re looking at you, Todd.

Be sure to follow us on Spotify for more great playlists.

[PREMIERE] Jon Coyle – “Fun & Levitating”

Longtime TBE readers will recognize Son Step, which gives you a starting point for the new solo project by member Jon Coyle. But “Fun & Levitating”, the debut single from his upcoming Happy Place EP, is a slightly different beast. While Coyle’s music doesn’t fully divert from the electronic-indebted folk styling of Son Step, it does find him reprioritizing those elements, favoring delicate layering and meditative rondos over more traditional song structures. It’s a musical smorgasbord with dashes of Fleet Foxes, CAN, ambient, krautrock, lofi drone, and even Indian ragas, and Coyle’s velvety overlapping vocals melting all those influences together into something a little bit more. But despite all the lush singing, this doesn’t feel like a song to sing along to – it feels like a song to get lost in. Dreamy Sunday mornings just found their new favorite soundtrack.

If you want to re-explore Son Step, start with “Sweet Wife Life” from VINYL MOON Volume 015: Taking Shapes.

[PREMIERE] Rattlerette – “Here Be Dragons”

 

There’s a lot of things that Rattlerette sounds like, but there’s nothing that sounds like Rattlerette. Their brand of rock feels gothic without being “goth”, more reminiscent of glaring statues and dramatic arches than graveyards and black eyeliner. There’s a gorgeous vintage lushness to their recording, as demonstrated by the retro record header used in their artwork. But “Here Be Dragons” also feels distinctly of the now – a feat difficult for an indie rock song to achieve in 2017. The drums are all R&B shuffle, and but the rhythm is really pushed by the flow of the bass and the synth swells that gently lean you forward like a dance partner who knows how to lead. Angelic piano and the choruses’ backing choir may set your mind heavenward, but lyrics like “I’ve been livin’ with the sinners” and “I’ve been searchin’ for grace” make the song aimed at the impious. “Here Be Dragons” may not save your soul, but it will fill it to the brim.

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[PREMIERE] Fred Page – “Saw It Off”

 

“Saw It Off” is about letting go of the things holding you back from where you want to go, and every aspect of the song commits to that feeling. From the jaunty guitar line that’s practically jumping out of the speakers, to the way the beat seems to get shut off for a second at the end of the choruses, Fred Page makes each element contribute to themes of his lyrics. “I turned away from all the bridges I burned on the way” is a rallying cry to move forward while also acknowledging the speaker’s own role in holding himself back – something stated even more directly in the repeated question “What am I waiting for? It’s only gonna weigh me down”.  The result is reminiscent of Ben Howard, but much livelier and easier to envision in an arena. “Saw It Off” might just be your next big hands-in-the-air anthem.

Saw It Off

The Burning Ear’s October 2017 Spotify Playlist

Fall is in the air – the nights are getting longer, the air is getting cooler, and holiday parties are officially underway. Which means you’re in dire need of great playlists to wow your friends and family with the newest & best music around. We’re happy to take some of that stress away by collecting our favorite tracks from the month and putting them in one handy Spotify playlist.

As always, don’t forget to follow The Burning Ear on Spotify to stay current with our picks from this month and months past. Bundle up and enjoy!

PREMIERE – Dr. Doctor – “Seventeen (Say The Words)”

This may only be Dr. Doctor’s second single, but they’re already proving themselves as masters of the musical bait-and-switch. Everything about “Seventeen” is silky – the guitars, the gentle splash of the cymbals, and especially Ralph Torrefranca’s vocals. All those plush vibes make the heavy grooves of the instrumental bridge that much more powerful, like the not-unpelasant rush of someone nudging you just as you start to drift off. Paired with lyrics that bear repeat listens and contemplation, Dr. Doctor is primed to be your newest on-repeat band.

“Seventeen (Say The Words)” is available on iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp on October 17th. If you’re in Los Angeles, come out to Dr. Doctor’s single release show at The Hi Hat that night, presented by the mighty KROQ. Also playing are Royaljag, Sleeplust, and Young Creatures. Tickets available HERE.

 

PREMIERE – Shiffley – “Up & Down”

It can be hard for bands without massive budgets to properly capture their live energy into recorded works. But this doesn’t seem to be a problem for Shiffley, whose single “Up & Down” is bursting with intensity. Shaune Killough’s toothy bass is a mechanical bull barely in your control as Alex Ganes’ vocal lines gallop along with indie-rock bluster, and Bryan Contreras locks it all together with tight, peppy drumming. Which is great, because it gives the synths (by Alex Jenks) a chance to get truly galactic, particularly in the final chorus before a well-deserved jam-out instrumental break. Be sure to finish your drink before this one comes on – you’ll want both hands free as you jump around like a maniac.

Some words from the band about the song:

“For us, “Up & Down” is about tension and release. It’s a song with patience that, at times, goes sinister. It came very naturally from a place of false indifference. The lyrics innocently inform themselves ultimately arriving at the conclusion, “I’m better off alone.” The instrumental build up at the end serves as a meditation on that thought.”