Sometimes, music just isn’t enough. Day for Night is an oddity in the festival world in that the visual artists and their installations share top billing along with the musical performers. Alongside a music head’s paradise of a lineup consisting of rarities across the musical spectrum were stunning displays of art and light illuminating the spooky caverns and corridors of the abandoned Barbara Jordan Post Office.
“Outlines” by Tundra
Due to the extreme weather of the weekend, the massive sorting facility and its visual treats served as a popular refuge from the elements. Saturday began as a typical festival day: oppressively hot and humid and ended with an apocalyptic storm of wind and rain that sent the soaked, chilled and underdressed masses scrambling for refuge or escape half an hour into Aphex Twin’s headlining set.
“Shiro” by Nonotak
During the sub-freezing temperatures on Sunday, however, attendees marveled at the likes of the “Entrapment” style laser grid “Outlines” by Tundra or queued over an hour in line for the limited capacity “Musica Universalis” by United Visual Artists, which featured a series of eclipses set to an eerie, droning ambience. Others opted to spend the entire day in an endless line for Björk’s virtual reality installation. These hours of watching artful light displays mesmerized the high, the drunk and the sober alike with an experience akin to mixing urban exploration with spaceship raves. Surprisingly, no Texas twisters ensued, but perhaps next year? In any case, the art of Day for Night had to deliver because it was often too cold to watch any sets outside. Mission accomplished.
“Musica Universalis” by United Visual Artists
Only in its second year, Day for Night had more than its share of logistical woes. For starters, three-day passes including the Friday kick-off party cost more than double the admission for just Saturday and Sunday. Considering how promised perks such as free food, artist meet and greets, speaking panels and hosting duties by Killer Mike were not delivered, some attendees felt ripped off. Equally infuriated were VIP ticket holders, whose front-of-stage access consisted of fenced-in pens off to the side and far away from the action.
“Highline” by Nonotak
Fans that couldn’t secure one of the limited tickets for an appointment to Björk Digital waited for hours in a winding, hopeless standby queue that snaked through the entire complex. While waiting, they raged with fury at Day for Night and the world at large over social media.
Several rooms of stools and headsets offered thrills such as multiple Björks intimately performing “Stonemilker” all around you while on a windswept beach and a nightmarish tour of the inside of her mouth. Yet it was the flashback-inducing grand finale—featuring a virtual interaction with Björk’s apparent true fifth-dimensional form—that stole the show for those fortunate enough to make the surreal voyage.
The American debut of Björk Digital proved that VR is the future, and the Icelandic innovator has set the proper path for the next stage for music as an escape from the horrors of physical reality. Will Björk Digital become available in homes? What’s next…a Radiohead Oculus Rift app? A St. Vincent virtual visual album? Björk has opened the door to a multiverse of possibility, and it’s now up to everyone else to run with it.
Due to weather, scheduling conflicts and two days of cancelled flights that left Blonde Redhead grounded at home, it was impossible to catch everything. But if there ever was a festival where urgency should be left at the gates in favor of surrendering to the flow, it’s this one. Here’s our recap of every set witnessed at Day for Night.
Björk (DJ set)
The one question escaping people’s lips before Björk’s DJ set was some variation of “what is that?” After all, Björk is, well, Björk, so there’s always the air of unpredictability. Also, the sets are a more recent phenomenon, and a rare one at that. What we got was a disconcerting mix of beats, wails, otherworldly sounds and familiar but warped numbers before closing with Jeremih’s “F You All the Time.”
Kam Franklin (DJ set)
You know those moments where you just have to fire off a text or two of not-so-humble bragging because you’re just so glad to be there? Sometimes it’s the obvious ones, such as “Hey! Grace Jones has been hula hooping for 10 minutes,” but at Day for Night, it was as simple and unexpected as twerking by one’s soulie to Destiny’s Child. Moments such as this came courtesy of The Suffers’ frontwoman Kam Franklin, whose mix was pure party.
DJ Windows 98
The last time I caught Arcade Fire’s Win Butler playing under the DJ Windows 98 moniker, he spun in a dark booth in the back of the club while a body double wearing a head-to-toe- “Reflektor” suit stood onstage and pretended to DJ. Most of the audience didn’t seem to ever notice. At Day for Night, however, Butler dropped the shenanigans and DJed front and center. A live percussionist backed Butler, and his frenetic style amped the crowd’s response to an eclectic mix ranging from Mr. Ghetto to Queen.
Something about seeing Chelsea Wolfe outdoors and during the light of day, rather than in the darkness of night, walls or even a tent just feels wrong. Of course, that didn’t stop us from arriving early enough to start our day on the rail for an all-to-brief 40 minute set. Wolfe stormed through the fiercest tracks of 2015’s “Abyss” and “Pain is Beauty” standouts “Feral Love” and “House of Metal” with a fury that seemingly demanded the sun to hide its unwelcome glare behind any available clouds. At the end of finale “Survive,” Wolfe knelt at the edge of the stage and curled blood with the unholiest of screams straight into her guitar. Hashtag current mood? Definitely.
Judging by the massive crowd around the festival’s main stage and adoring yelps that followed every move and intonation, alt-R&B star Banks could very well have been a headliner. She inevitably will be, and it’s easy to see why after witnessing her live. Flanked by a pair of writhing, veiled dancers, Banks rendered the Houston humidity extra steamy with dark beats, sensual lyrics and delivery and artsy stage show that enraptured what felt like the entire festival for 40 minutes.
The Jesus and Mary Chain
It’s so easy for a legacy act to merely dial it in, especially when one hasn’t released an album in decades. It’s understandable to some extent, thanks to indifferent audiences that don’t want to hear any new songs and are often attending just to check a name off a bucket list. The Jesus and Mary Chain, however, delivered their brand of noise pop with an assured urgency that made every second of fuzz a comforting sonic blanket. What will their long-awaited, upcoming new album sound like? Sadly, we didn’t get a sneak peek, but consider our outlook optimistic.
“Prince died so he could be reincarnated as Blood Orange.” Some variation of this sentiment spread around Day for Night following his set. They’re onto something. As someone that’s been following Dev Hynes since his days playing with Emmy the Great, his versatility has always struck me as slightly unfair. How can someone be so good at so much?
Between his fancy footwork and constant instrument swapping, Hynes could have been a one-man show, but on the Green Stage, a full-band offered support, and backup singers fleshed out the lush harmonies of 2016’s genre-hopping “Freetown Sound.” All in all, the effect was forward-thinking make out music. In a world without Prince, Blood Orange’s feminist funk is exactly what we need.
The last time Richard D. James performed in the U.S., it was at Coachella 2008. Aside from the enthusiastic elite of the festival’s messageboard, the masses didn’t seem to know or care that much about Aphex Twin. Although the Sahara Tent mostly filled for his performance, I was easily able to secure a spot a few rows back after Diplo’s preceding set concluded.
Eight years and eight months later, people suddenly realized they had to see Aphex Twin. This time, he was the main attraction, and a rumored 20,000+ turnout from across the globe swarmed around the parking lot’s Red Stage for the headlining set. The production also increased dramatically, featuring bomb-dropping visuals similar to those in November’s teaser video, lasers and weirdness. If people were mad about not being able to “see” Björk, then they must have been bewildered by Aphex Twin. Initially, only the top of James’ head appeared behind the stage’s massive screen on occasion, but later in the set, the sidestage screens revealed his face superimposed over those of audience members.
Musically, James hosted a game of “which track is this?” Rather than the requisite “drops” and corny crowdpleasing anthems played by more mainstream DJs, this creative, eclectic mix featured the likes of Jlin, Andy Stott, Cannibal Cooking Club and Aphex Twin’s own newer material. Lamentably, no demented live update on “Come to Daddy” ever surfaced, but that’s okay since the evening’s closer was all about exploration.
James’s long-awaited turn was more than a revelation into the deepest, darkest corners of electronic music styles. It also served as a throwback to when raves were about the experience of creative mixing and not the artist onstage, before Jesus-posing cheeseballs ruined everything. Attendees gave each other space to dance, nap or stand awkwardly rather than clusterfuck around the front in hopes of seeing their idol wave his arms. All in all, Aphex Twin was the anti-Calvin Harris.
Following a pummeling, frenzied storm of cacophony from masked singing drummer Brian Chippendale and shredding bassist Brian Gibson, the moshing acolytes demanded more. Rumor has it Flying Lotus himself was with them, too. And the crowd got what they wished for, as they jumped around despite the bitter, freezing air. They could have actually gone on later, since it was soon revealed that Blonde Redhead was grounded after two days of flight cancellations. Festivals in December, am I right?
RZA feat. Stone Mecca
How did RZA’s set begin? An old school Wu-Tang Clan jam? Something new? Nah, he dropped a rocking cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Between the impeccable musicianship of backing band Stone Mecca, champagne-spraying and crowd-pleasing bangers like “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta Fuck Wit,” RZA’s set was another standout “we were there” moment.
Back in October, Little Dragon wowed during their headlining set at the inaugural edition of the Stockholm, CA festival. At Day for Night, their moody electro-soul was served extra chilled. “We’re from Sweden, but this is COLD,” exclaimed frontwoman Yukimi Nagano.
Their set almost didn’t happen, though. The Swedish quartet arrived just minutes before their scheduled start time, and without their gear. Nagano lamented the lack of her tambourine, intimating “I feel like I have a ghost in my hand.” Despite the miserable weather and lack of their own gear, the group carried on, storming through an abbreviated set and tweaking some of their dreamiest numbers with irresistibly extended jams.
Words and photos by Frank Mojica, with assistance by Ira Lau