Hair, Lasers, And Aphex Twin: How Houston’s Day For Night Festival Brings Visual Art And Music Together

“… exploring the deep connections between light, technology, sound and space.”

When was the last time you went to a festival with a deeper purpose in mind? Yes, music festivals have been commodified beyond the point of no return, that’s just a fact in 2016, but if late capitalism has taught us anything, it’s that money really isn’t everything, and innovation and passion can still combine to bring joy to people who are searching for experiences that go above and beyond the bottom line. That’s where Houston’s Day For Night really shines.

While most of the music industry shuts down during the looming approach of the holidays, this innovative Texas festival, which takes place at the Barbara Jordan Post Office complex in Houston, has done exactly the opposite. This weekend the festival, which was founded just last year, will kick off their stacked lineup featuring Aphex Twin’s first US performance in eight years (and first Texas one ins twenty years), hip-hop darling Travis Scott, beloved fierce-as-f*ck OG rap duo Run The Jewels, R&B mastermind Blood Orange, synth-ghost-whisperer Arca, the legendary John Carpenter, and many more.

Given that stacked lineup, it’s clear that though this is only the festival’s second year, it’s already become one of the best destination festivals in the country. Houston is one of those cities that is a hotbed for music and plenty of other art, but gets sadly overlooked, and the event is setting out to change that. But music isn’t even their only realm.

Day For Night seeks to build those connections between light, technology, sound and space by incorporating some of the most innovative digital artists and cutting edge interactive elements into the event. One of the most high-profile digital artists involved is Björk, whose immersive VR Björk Digital experience has been traveling the country, and will be on display in Houston all weekend. But curator and Day For Night co-founder Alex Czetwertynski enlisted many other artists to be involved with the festival’s second-ever iteration.

His picks include St. Petersburg based collaborative artistic collective Tundra, Damien Echols (of the West Memphis 3 who was wrongly convicted and has turned to visual art since his release), along with 20-year-old Chicago code artist Ezra Miller, and Icelandic avant-garde hair-sculpter Shoplifter. All of these artists will be exhibiting new works this weekend, along with others, for a total of fifteen immersive visual/digital experiences.

Members of Tundra said they were drawn to perform at the festival because the visual element drives people to pursue more than one form of art over the course of the weekend.

“Incorporating visual art is a good thing for both the audience and the festival,” they said. “It drives way more people to visit the festival, and visual art fans are able to hear and discover new bands, while music lovers can experience something new in digital art and audiovisual installations.”

After their invitation to showcase a large scale installment in Houston, the collective decided it was the ideal place to premiere a new project using hundreds of lasers. Entitled OUTLINES, the piece will incorporate 400 lasers into a 200 foot environment.

“We were just waiting for right moment to try lasers,” Tundra said. “Previously we’ve worked with moving heads beam lights and lasers are just our latest experiment. The goal is to achieve a moment and feeling when visitors are experiencing something very new and personal. A moment when they could escape their emotional space and dive inside themselves with understanding that they haven’t felt something like this before.”

Damien Echols is another artist who is concerned with the way visual elements of creation impact mood and emotional state.

“Visual art gives the opportunity to make the experience completely immersive,” Echols said. “It engages the power of the intellect, the power of sight, the power of sound and the power of community. It engages more of our senses and makes the visual process equally important to the auditory.”

Echols, who spent over fifteen years wrongly imprisoned for a crime he did not commit said that after his release, he turned to art because he understood that true power is only present in creation. Now, he mainly works with “magick” sigils, and for the festival, Czetwertynski has created a light room to display the symbols.

“When people think of power, they think of destruction; armies, or acts of violence, but there’s no real power in those things,” Echols said. “Everyone is capable of violence. True power comes from creating. In order to create, you have to be motivated to rise above the mediocrity of the everyday world. That is what appealed to me.”

For Ezra Miller, the youngest artist to participate in the event, Day For Night stood out because they treated visual artists with the same respect as their musical headliners.

“I’ve actually never even heard of another festival that puts visuals artists on the same bill as the musical performers,” he said. “When I saw my name next to Aphex Twin, Björk, Arca, OPN, Jesse Kanda, et. al I almost had a heart attack because I couldn’t believe I ended up on the same lineup as so many of my favorite artists, so I feel super humbled to have the opportunity to show my work this year.”

Miller’s work is code-based and he cites his fascination with the internet as more of a necessity, as it has always been in his life, than a choice.

“The Internet mediates my life and has done so for as long as I can remember,” Miller said. “It only makes sense that I choose to operate on the Internet as my primary medium. What I attempt to do is explore the parallels between my digital and physical existence, especially from an aesthetic perspective. In what ways can I create visual effects that mirror those found in the real world, using only code? That question is what really fascinates me.”

Over the weekend he will construct an installation called Warp Transmission that translates a live video feed of the main stage with real time generative animation and mediated visual mashups.

As far as digital and technology-based mediums, those parameters presented the opportunity for Shoplifter to expand her normally analogue usage of human hair and yarn in sculpture. She said she is drawn to the medium because of how it relates to the wilder side of human existence.

“Hair has a lot of meaning to everyone, it’s the remnant of the beast in us, and it’s both creepy and beautiful,” she said. “The audience can expect to feel opposing feelings of disgust and awe and it´s in that moment of contradiction that you have to decide wether you;ll engage in the piece or not. But visually it will be quite trippy.”

She created a piece specifically for the festival called Ghostbeast that stayed true to her enormous technicolor hair installments, while incorporating a moving element.

“The space that I was allocated set the tone and informed my choices greatly,” she said. “It´s a large cage and I wanted to create a ‘presence’ of energy. My piece at Day For Night [in collaboration with The Endless Collective] is called Ghostbeast and is made using my signature medium hair, but the way I install it is a great challenge. I didn’t want to just create a solid blob sculpture but a more abstraction of a beast or an idea that the viewer can add their own imagination onto. The projections and the sound I create will suggest a life force, but as in the title it’s a ghost and something you can´t be really sure of.”

For all the artists involved, it seems like the way that Day For Night has supported their work as visual artists has elevated the way they view festivals, and the opportunity for future collaborations.

“It’s definitely a good trend to mix best from both worlds at one event,” Tundra noted. “If for some reason you become bored standing in a crowd listening to your favorite band, you can always go out and dive into unknown world of digital art and immersive installations — and vice versa.”

Day For Night festival takes place this weekend in Houston, Texas. For more information visit the event website.