Music and visual art are two things that, when utilized correctly, can unite in perfect harmony to create a truly immersive visceral experience. This belief is the cornerstone of music/art festival mashup Day for Night, which hosted its sophomore iteration this weekend in a million square foot defunct post office space in downtown Houston. While the concept of billing art installations as highly as musical acts of the likes of Björk and Aphex Twin is lofty and commendable, the execution of this event left much to be desired, and many fans have taken to social media to voice their disappointment.
Logistical failure began even before the gates opened, as the "reservation times" for the Björk Digital five-room virtual reality experience sold out immediately. Many ticket holders, myself included, scratched their heads at why a second level of ticketing would be required to enjoy one of the highest billed headliners of the event. Despite increasing availability hours for the installation, the standby line reached upwards of 8 hours at times, forcing attendees to sacrifice an entire day of live music for the 80-minute experience. Some reported being turned away at the door by a fire marshal even after the wait.
The forecast for the weekend slated a 30 degree plummet and high chance of rain overnight Saturday. With multiple layers and poncho in tow, I descended upon the Barbara Jordan Post Office not knowing quite what to expect. The site had a sprawling, industrial 90's warehouse rave vibe which I appreciated, despite getting turned around a few times in the maze-like space. I enjoyed my first lap through the art installations, my favorites being the Get Him To The Greek furry wall-esque "Ghostbeast" by Shoplifter and United Visual Artists's "Musica Universalis" ode to the solar system. However, I felt as though there was somewhat too much similarity in medium and style overall. Even light beams in dark rooms can grow tiresome after a while.
Saturday provided some of the most memorable sets of the festival, with live electronic act ODESZA premiering a slew of new music and enigmatic IDM god Aphex Twin making his first official American performance in close to a decade. The latter of which was the unquestionable pinnacle of my festival experience. Standing shoulder to shoulder with my fellow dance music snobs, the crowd was utterly transfixed. We fell silent, unmoving for the first 20 minutes of deeply erratic and complex un-danceable sounds. An icy chill at once shot through the air, plummeting below 40 as promised. And then came the rain. Lasers sliced through the droplets scattering the crowd in a sea of emerald glitter. I'm always one to appreciate the drama of Mother Nature, and I feel truly humbled to have experienced such an iconic performance.
I was lucky enough to snag an appointment time for Björk Digital Sunday evening, but was remiss to learn I would be missing the beginning of the artist's actual set in order to complete all 80 minutes. This VR was my first, and the intimacy of viewing Björk's art in such a setting was unparalleled. The experiences increased in intensity, gradually pulling us further and further away from our reality and into hers. First we dipped our toes into the ocean with an ethereal Björk surrounding us on the beach in 360 view ("Stonemiker"), all the way to interacting with a giant neon vagina using a VR wand which mimicked the motion of your hand, veins and all ("Family").
I hustled to Björk's performance on the indoor Blue Stage, feeling as though my VR journey would be the perfect primer. What I beheld was a platform entirely absconded by fake plastic trees with the artist herself barely seen and never heard for the entire uninspired set. It was the kind of boring bass music you'd expect to hear between sets at a festival as background music. At once the rumor mill kicked into high gear, with already disgruntled fans feeling like this was the final slap in the face. Some argued that the set was pre-recorded, even going as far as to say that Björk wasn't present as the figure on stage wore a full body obscuring costume. Further research after the festival proved that VIP and VIP+ ticket holders had some of the loudest gripes, many of them centering around the Icelandic pop star.
The Houston Chronicle spoke with a marketing representative for the festival who addressed several of the above complaints. "He said that the meet-and-greet was canceled because, Björk, who is from Iceland, had jetlag and was 'very tired.' Because of this, he said they decided to cancel the event and to just have Björk perform. Because the performance required additional registration, some VIP ticket holders weren't able to attend."
In festival land, it's common to see these types of growing pains with newer, boutique events. What the organizers were attempting to do was create an environment so immersive for the senses, walking between sets became part of the show. However, the delicacy of many art installations necessitated too small of groups to serve the size of the crowd, resulting in human log jam that added to the overall confusion of the space. The vision behind Day for Night is undoubtedly there, and I am optimistic at how this unique concept will be polished in coming years.