The Future of the Festival?

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Something feels extremely afoul with Further Future (FF002), a self-proclaimed Music and Lifestyle Festival taking place about 40 miles from the Las Vegas strip the last weekend of April.

Perhaps anticipating the potential confusion a phrase like ‘lifestyle festival’ might create in a potential goer, FF002’s website offers clarification.

“Close your eyes. Imagine yourself surrounded by the people who inspire you the most: great friends, artists both new and established, musicians and performers, futurists and technologists; esteemed entrepreneurs, visionaries and thought leaders, all of you awash with new ideas and insights. You are dancing together deep in a remote desert; you are on the sands of a distant and untouched beach; you are on a mountain top looking across endless snow-capped peaks…We aspire to help seed the discovery of new knowledge and technologies to protect and heal our planet, our societies and one another, and to help us reach the next stage in our collective evolution. To constantly strive to improve; to become leaders in sustainability and resource efficiency, and in all that we do. We aspire to inspire…You… are the hero.”

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If the description continues to puzzle, there are plenty of images to help better visualize what it means to be surrounded by the people who inspire you the most and, as it turns out, they are all white people! Not only that, they are slim, trendy, smiling, cheering, hugging, and doing yoga on several occasions. At Further Future, the future is so bright, (not a pasty-pink white bright but rather a nicely tanned, glowing bright) I definitely gotta wear shades. And they should cost at least $400 dollars.

Assuming you are white, or at least multi-culti, own a few pairs of Oliver Peoples, have the means to spend $350 on the event ticket, $150 a night on a gastro experience of your choice, $7,500 to sleep in a ‘Lunar Palace’ (or at least $750 for an Alpha), a plane ticket to Vegas etc. is not assurance that the mass of uninhibited, gyrating entrepreneurs, visionaries, and thought leaders will embrace you into this tribe of collective, feel good, evolution. Maybe that’s why the organizers have created a Pinterest page with suggested FF002 attire (“We’ve put together a Pinterest board for our inspiration on what we think a Further Futurist might wear“). Because if we are to go off the website’s aesthetic, the only way to aspire to inspire, is to know how to be sexy in the desert. In fact, that the Pinterest page is framed as a question (“Are you a Further Futurest?”) suggests that any truly conscientious festival goer will undergo a rigorous, in-depth, self-evaluation to determine whether or not he or she is aesthetically fit to attend.

But why does this matter? From Coachella to SXSW, festivals seem increasingly preoccupied on festival fashion (e.g. who’s wearing what?), sponsors, and venders (is it a Vitamin Water or Budweiser kind of affair?), often to the detriment of the music itself. In an age where otherwise uneasy bedfellows such as Snoop Dogg and Rand Paul are notable speakers alongside a robust line up of CEO bros, where the festival’s founding vision is regurgitated on social media in a guru-like fashion, the contemporary festival increasingly resembles a highly programmed, carefully packaged experience to be consumed by festival and non-festival goes alike.

But FF02 has the potential to take the insidiousness of American festival culture one step further in two ways. First, although the Festival is billed as an experience of “collective evolution” nothing about its orchestration suggests collective collaboration. Anyone passionate about techno, EDM and the like will find the musical line up drool worthy. Yet their individual and collective creativity appears forfeited to the Festival entity itself. This isn’t a question of selling out but rather a questioning of a format in which musicians are hired in the classic capitalist/ worker sense to perform (as cogs) in the production of a visionary ‘lifestyle’ that is mostly the product of Rob Scott, a member of the Robot Heart Burning Man camp, lawyer, and venture capitalist aficionado.

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Second is the conflation of lifestyle and ideology. Of course lifestyle has been a part of American popular culture for decades (first coined in 1976) and as its roots are firmly grounded in marketing, American consumerism, and ultimately economics, one might say that lifestyle has always been an ideology. Certainly there is evidence of this when the festival founder proudly states “We aspire to be a lifestyle brand, a way to exist not just via music experiences or speakers.” But this is a serious problem when such a Festival proposes to heal not only our society, but the entire planet while charging people up to $7,500 for two days of accommodation in the desert, accommodations that include air conditioning, “clothing rack and full-length mirror are also provided, to ensure you look your best,” and 24-hour concierge service. This lifestyle ideology is far closer to anarcho capitalism than sustainability.

Furthermore, this carefully crafted lifestyle ideology has the power to resonate. I imagine this crowd awashing themselves in FF mantras such as the “The world of limitations is far away, judgments irrelevant and anything is possible” as they eat a curated oyster meal and decide they are doing the right thing by not judging the slightly overweight girl for not signing up for Kayla Itsine’s Bikini Body Guide prior to the event. That by doing an Ashtanga class in the morning and MDMA at night, by listening to lectures on technology, eating organic, and abandoning the Burning Man propensity for headdresses and nudity in respect for the Paiute Indians (whose reservation the festival is taking place on) they are somehow “heal[ing] our planet, our societies and one another.”

Fun, friendship, networking, relaxation will happen and maybe FF002 is correct, maybe this is the future format for developing leaders in sustainability and resource efficiency. But if it is, you should assume the future is Trump, maybe Clinton, but definitely not Sanders.

As the summer festival season approaches I’m left wondering what the further future of American festival culture might be. (Though many of us of original DEMFers have been wondering that for over a decade now.) It is probably safe to conclude that the general progression seems toward extreme exclusivity, seen most obviously in the ever-rising cost of tickets and wars over festival acquisition. But no matter how future forward these festivals seem to be, many continue to thrive off a Woodstock imaginary, be it through neo-hippy, urban boho fashion, the elimination of cash transactions (replaced of course by RFID wristbands) or feel good slogans of inclusivity and inspiration. Although a good number of free and open to the public festivals still exist, they are increasingly replaced by festivals that focus on a pre-meditated experience as opposed to an opportunity to experience. If FF002 is any indication, it seems the further future will continue to be pretty damn neoliberal after all.

 

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