Category - Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes is a set of feature articles that dives into the festival scene, interviewing producers, builders, visual artists, and more to give a look behind the festival curtain.

Okeechobee & the Future of Music Festivals

Okeechobee Music Festival Pavilion Palace

Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival concluded its second year earlier in the month, which also happened to be its second sell-out year. This is an admirable achievement for a young festival, especially given the current competitive festival atmosphere, where many festivals are struggling to retain the attendance numbers they enjoyed just a few years ago. Okeechobee’s success should come as no surprise to anyone who has attended the event, but to get the details on the role that Okeechobee plays in being a leader of a movement that is changing the face of music festivals across the world, we spoke to Tyler Hanson, owner and founder of Kulturehaus.

In 2017, Kulturehaus was responsible for the curation of 40 acres of land, which included Chobeewobee Village and Aquachobee, with a total of eight stages that hosted workshops, yoga, music, and performances. Kulturehaus worked with multiple large-scale visual artists and their crews plus an eclectic assortment of performers, musicians, builders, volunteers, and production staff. The crew of about 500 worked to create a 24-hour experience spanning the start of the festival on Thursday, to its conclusion on Monday morning. Included in the 500 people are Kulturehaus’ staff of six, who spent six months onsite preparing for the festival. As Tyler explains, “Kulturehaus is a modern day guild for modern day artists.” He takes pride in the fact that they didn’t build a single normal stage: “we created environments for performers and people to come and participate in.” The success of the project is evident. Take GRiZ for example, who played six sets (is that the final tally?) at Okeechobee, including a sunset performance at the Be Stage, and a collaborative PoWoW! performance at the Here Stage (two of the main stages). But the performance that seemed to get everyone talking the most was his late-night back-to-back set with 12th Planet and SNAILS at the Incendia Stage, one of the hallmark creations of Kulturehaus at Okeechobee.

Griz Performing at OMF Incendia Stage 2017

Griz at the Incendia Stage, photo by DV Photo Video

The reason for success is that Kulturehaus puts the artists first and the music second. Kulturehaus first employed the idea through the creation of Art Outside, a festival that Tyler founded in Texas in 2005, which served as a proof of concept. As Tyler notes, they “split the paradigm.” He asks: “What would that environment look like” when art is the main attraction and music is secondary? Tyler saw that a lot of festivals looked the same. The market has become so saturated that Bonnaroo’s sales are down 40% and Austin City Limits is hovering around non-growth. “We are at peak festival,” Tyler says. “What do you do when everyone else is doing the same thing?” For Tyler, the answer was clear. He notes that he was fortunate to have the producers of Okeechobee reach out to him and give him the funds to “create a festival inside of a festival.” This has been the product that he has been working towards for the last twenty years. “Okeechobee is very unique in that it sees the vision of the future of music festivals, which is not music, it is art and they are supporting that.” Tyler’s goal was to reinvent festivals, to “put art and music in front of people in a new way that is meaningful and registers and does something.”

Okeechobee 2017 The Living Tree

The Living Tree, photo by Jorgensen Photography

He expands, noting that at the festivals of the future, DJs and bands will take a backseat, to make room for an immersive experience.

“They’re interactive, they’re fun, they’re participatory, they’re unique, they are something else. Being able to go to Okeechobee is a blessing because Soundslinger LLC, the producers of Okeechobee, are so supportive of creating an environment where they really let us run wild.” The point of which, is to get people excited and involved, to “wake people up” with immersive worlds that go beyond just a stacked lineup.

The larger goal of Kulturehaus is “creating equal basic rights for artists and supporting their business.” Of the fee that Kulturehaus collects for their part in Okeechobee, two-thirds went directly to artists, while the remainder went to materials and other costs. Kulturehaus aims to close the gap with headlining musicians, noting that a single headlining act that performs for 1.5 hours on the main stage will charge 3-4 times that amount. Compare that to Kulturehaus’ 500 artists and builders working 24 hours a day for 4 days straight (not including setup and tear-down). The mission is to get festivals to divert their attention from headlining acts towards “creative visual and interactive art that runs for the duration of the festival.” His vision is that five years from now, Kulturehaus is a “multi-million-dollar job, where we’re getting paid as much as a headliner is, to make things that are far more memorable and amazing.”

Tyler argues that artists are the next rockstars: “Headline acts of festivals get paid upwards of one million dollars to play a set. That’s not sustainable. That’s not art. That’s just a shit-ton of money going to a bunch of management and agencies.” That’s less of a criticism of the music and more a criticism of the business model. Tyler recognizes the importance of music: “you go to a music festival for music, but actually you’re there for the art. And music is art. The point is to make art democratically applicable. Democratize the art and give it equal value.” Democratizing the art will change the dynamics of festivals, so that the future of festivals is not about stacked lineups, pyrotechnics, lasers, and lights. All of those features will still play a role in music festivals, but they will take a backseat so that hundreds of artists can build interactive artistic musical playgrounds for adults to participate in.

If you are interested in being radical, creating or changing the culture of your festival so that you are not like all the rest: now you know Kulturehaus exists. Principals Kevin KoChen and Tyler Hanson have been at the forefront of the independent festival movement, being intimately involved in the West Coast scene by working on Symbiosis Gathering and Lightning in a Bottle from their inception. In addition, their exploits have led them to working with public and private entities from NASA to Google and all sorts of entities in between, looking to make a scene. But it is their massive artisanal network of doers, makers, dreamers, and imagineers that they have cultivated over the past 20 years that truly make Kulturehaus unique.

Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival Photos

Meet the Founders of Imagine Music Festival

Imagine Music Festival 2015

(pictured above, The Glitch Mob perform at Imagine Music Festival 2015)

Summer is in full swing and for music fans that also means Imagine Music Festival is just around the corner. Imagine Music Festival will be taking over the Atlanta Motor Way in Atlanta, GA August 26-28. The final lineup has been released and includes some big names like Adventure Club, Benny Benassi, Borgore, Dillon Francis, Excision, Steve Angello, Zeds Dead, The Disco Biscuits, Gramatik, Caspa B2B Rusko, The Bloody Beetroots, and many more artists. If you haven’t purchased tickets yet, a range of options are available with General Admission tickets starting at $199 (plus taxes & fees).

Leading up to the festival, Dancebreak had the opportunity to talk to the founders of Iris Presents, Inc. and Imagine Music Festival, Glenn and Madeleine Goodhand. Continue reading below to get a look into what goes into planning Imagine Music Festival and what to expect at this year’s event. For clarity, Dancebreak comments are italicized, while responses from the founders are not.

You folks have been putting on events long before Imagine. How did you come to decide to create Imagine Music Festival?

We have been putting on events for over 20 years. The impetus behind creating Imagine started from a void of authenticity felt at other festivals. We felt that the experience was lacking and people were not being treated right.  For all of our events, our motto has always been “treat others as you would like them to treat you.” With this core value in mind, we sought to create a festival that was 100% customer-centric, maintained its integrity and had the thickest vibe possible.

Have either of you been involved with writing or creating music, or have you primarily been focused on putting on events?

Our primary focus is putting on events, however we also are passionate about helping develop local up and coming artists. By providing the highest quality production – our stage creates a platform like none other for local acts to practice and grow their fan base. We believe Atlanta has some of the best talent in the land and we are blessed to be able to showcase it.

What goes into creating something like Imagine? For patrons, it can seem like new festivals pop up rather quickly and without warning. What kind of work goes on behind the scenes leading up to a festival? How long was Imagine in the works before its debut?

A lot of blood, sweat, tears and more work than you can “imagine.”

What sets Imagine apart? Objectively speaking, it seems like you have gained quite a bit of recognition. But, at the ground level, what makes Imagine different? If you were to teleport someone to Imagine without telling them where they were, what sights and sounds would that person see that are unique to Imagine?

The biggest difference that you will feel is that we are one of the few remaining independent festivals. At Imagine you will experience a spectacle of aquatic themed performers; circus acts; transformational village; a colorful lineup with many gems to discover; and an incredibly positive vibe from both festival-goers and our staff.

Is IRIS primarily an Atlanta-based initiative? Are you involved with other events outside of the Atlanta area? If not, do you have aspirations to grow outside of the Atlanta area?

IRIS is currently based out of Atlanta, with most of our events happening in the area. We have been involved with almost every major EDM event to come through the city, since the nineties. It’s our home and therefore has been a great place for us to start. We are always looking for opportunities to expand and eventually would like to be an internationally recognized brand.

Are you primarily focused on dance music, or do you have other ventures unrelated to dance music that you’re involved in that you would like to share?

Our roots are in electronic music – it’s where we got our start and is what we know best. Music is always evolving however, and we will evolve with the music. That being said we have some other projects in the works that would open us up to experimenting with other genres and new experiences.

Dance music used to be more of a counterculture idea; the artists, patrons, and enthusiasts tended to be more on the fringe of what society considered “normal.” Yet these days, it’s everywhere. In your opinion, what caused that change? Did dance music become more “normal” or did society become more “weird?”

At its core, the scene was always about the music and gathering together for the music, the love, the party, and the knowledge. Dance music makes you feel good and creates an environment free of judgment where you could express yourself. I wouldn’t say that the participants were not normal, some were perhaps the most ordinary of people looking for an escape from their everyday lives. It’s hard not to like electronic music as it can be very uplifting. It was only a matter of time for the mass-market to catch on – we believe the internet and social media perhaps played the biggest role in lifting the music out of the underground. It simply became easier for more people to connect and share a common love for the music.

Has this changed the way you plan, promote, and throw events at all?

To keep some of our old school flavor, we still employ some traditional promotional methods, but Social Media sure has made getting the word out much easier.

What challenges has the commercialization of dance music presented for you guys? How have you benefited?

Most promoters will agree that skyrocketing DJ rates has created the biggest challenge for festivals. Now there is a larger market out there opening our events up to more people, but there is still a great deal of risk involved.

To wrap things up, can you comment on what patrons can expect for this year’s Imagine? What’s something that a returning Imagine fan can look forward to? What about someone who is coming to Imagine for the first time?

At the end of last year’s show, we took to the stage and promised everyone that things would only get bigger and better – and that still holds true. From a bigger lineup, more performers, more days, bigger venue with camping – there is a lot to look forward to this year. For someone coming to Imagine for the first time, we hope they feel the same energy and love that was felt by every first-timer before them.

Thank you for your time, we look forward to seeing you all at Imagine Music Festival this August!