Sea of Dreams: A Word With The Ones Who Dreamt It Up

Dyaphonoyze interviews Sea of Dreams creators Robbie aka Motion Potion and Joegh Bullock.  Special thanks to Kelley Edwards with Sunset Promotions for lining up the interview and getting us access and all others who work so hard all year for the one magic night.  It is an amazing and inspiring tale of the evolution of a now unstoppable crew of promoters, artists and professional ragers, and their plans for the future.

Check the Doctor of Rage’s coverage of the mindblowing event HERE.

Can you recall the process/main reasons that made you and the co-founders think up this epic event?  What was the main inspiration or theme for the first event, and what is the significance of the name?

JOEGH: The first Sea of Dreams was created in 2001 following a very successful event in the shaken days of the millenium called SUPER NOVA. The  first namesake came from the first SEA being held at PIER 35 which was right on the SF bay waterfront. It was created by Joegh Bullock while looking out at the sea and day dreaming. Later at a brainstorming session with co creators Mark Petrakis ( Cobra Lounge), Marcia Crosby (Burning Man)  and Mark Bava ( Blue Bongo) the  name was chosen to replace the ‘NYE resolution’ with a dream to be manifested by the attendees – thus when standing on stage and doing a midnight countdown you were literally facing a ” Sea of Dreamers and Doers”.  Since then it has come to mean a highly creative, participatory, community based, off the hook celebration of the bay area creative culture.

What is the biggest challenge each year in putting on such a massive event in such a busy time of the year?

ROBBIE: The main challenge is the time pressure. It’s the only show of the year with an artificial “deadline” called “Midnight”. Its not just that you have to get everyone IN before midnight, and do so in a calm and happy manner. It’s also that everyone shows up 30 minutes before doors and they EXPECT to get right in. That said, we consider this a challenge, not a burden, and the past 2 years, the gate has been flawless and everyone has been inside to celebrate together.

Over the years it seems that SOD keeps getting better. Do you find it a challenge to keep out doing your selves?  What ways does it get better? When will it reach an apex? Has it?

ROBBIE: Bruce Springsteen once said “Never write a song that you wouldn’t be proud to perform” and I think this sums up the ethos here. We want to make a party that blows our minds. This IS a challenge because WE see so much stuff throughout the year… brilliant spectacles by creative people, that at this point, we work very hard to stay ahead of an ever-widening curve. When Sea of Dreams started there was really nothing like it. Now there’s a LOT of imitation and complementary events out there. We welcome this. If anything, I think Joegh, Spoon and Anon Events’ legacy and contribution is that they showed people what was POSSIBLE if you make a firm hard commitment to SPECTACLE and not just ROCK CONCERT.

Sum up the most significant factors how Sea of Dreams has changed over the years. (music, people, size, etc.)

JOEGH: Well everything has escalated into mega event proportions!  What was once a headliner would now be an opening act! What was  considered decor would now be used in a back hallway. More and more other tribes and production families have been invited to co-create the event, like Sunset, An ten nae, Oppulent Temple, the Do Lab,  HookahDome and many artists from the Burning Man world to name a few regulars. New art and technology-based worlds have been created by groups like On Shanti Tea house, the Fractal Forest and Will Chase Arts. The quality of experience has been heightened to include the best production houses in the bay area in the areas of sound, lights, staging and video. Circus performance has run rampant at Sea of Dreams from the stages to the air to the stilters greeting the ticket lines and trading photo ops with the over the top costumes and dreamscapes created by the people who come to Sea of Dreams from as far as the east coast and europe!

Yes it has change for the magnificent! It is an event we are ALL very proud of!

Are there any Dreamers that you see every year at SOD, and only at SOD?

ROBBIE: What I love is seeing all of these NEW crews from all over the country that consider this a pilgrimage now. They come to SF for ALL of the great NYE stuff, Sea of Dreams, Breakfast of Champions, Breakfast in Bed etc. Then a lot of them want to go see Burning Man or MOVE here or something. They get infected and inspired.

JOEGH: Yes, there are the true fans and the ones that they inspired to come the next year. It is an event full of chaotic wonder. ITs the kind of event that you can trust will always be the same scale of  spectacle yet always unique to the theme and reinvention of the space. We are seeing more LA and Boulder and Seattle folks make the scene and a lot of that has to do with San Francisco being the home base of our beloved Burning Man as well. lots of family around here!

Talk about how moving locations has effected SOD.  What were the main factors in choosing locations and why did you decide on the current venue?

JOEGH: Well we have moved 3 times. The first Pier 35 immediately became too small, and after 9/11 also became unusable because it was also a port on entry and with laws tightening was no longer viable. The Regency Center indeed was special for about 5 years, with 2 years in LA in conjunction. At one point we had 4 ballrooms in 2 venues in SF and another 4 ballrooms in LA.. We moved the the Concourse about 4 years ago now and it has the look of a giant warehouse which is where our roots are. It also is a massive canvas for the kind of total takeover we enjoy and it also allows us to bring in most of the community so our fans do not have to decide which party to go to, they can come to Sea of Dreams and have about 5 events in one and adventure around the 2 block long former railway station. Its a lot like an indoor street fair or being back on the playa with a ton of fun to check out.

Are there any logistical nightmares from years past that stick out in memory?

ROBBIE: Yeah, MY first year, 2008/9 where I was running the entry/box office and we had a catastrophic failure. We were using an old system that couldn’t cope with increased #s. We weren’t prepared. Not enough staff, security, barricades, etc. Some people waited for over an hour. Some got frustrated and went home. And because expectations are so high, many people were just despondent, or enraged. There were only 90 or so out of a crowd of 6800, but that was 90 too many by far because we actually give a huge damn. It was really heartbreaking for me personally. I took the failure very much to heart and spent the next month answering angry emails personally.

However, the good part was that our community is made of such fine people that when I made them understand that I was taking full, complete and personal responsibility for their unhappiness, and that I would do what was necessary to make it right, THEY LET ME. Many of those people have given us another chance and come back and been very impressed. It also forced me to drastically redesign this aspect of the production to where I think it’s actually kind of beautifully efficient now.

Who are your favorite and least favorite acts who have graced the SOD stage?  What makes them special/ irritating?

ROBBIE: Well, my favorite single performances have to have been Mutaytor in 2009. They went head-to-head with Thievery and just exploded on the stage. Pure joy and energy unleashed. That countdown is one I will NEVER forget. Also, Beats Antique had a similar experience this year. I don’t have any performers I don’t like. If we had disappointments, that have usually been because WE let the performers down in one way or another. This is something we strive not to do, but with 5 stages and so many moving parts, sometimes things break.

JOEGH: Wow, from the very beginning Lost at Last caused quite a wave at the first few SEAS. Then Sound Tribe Sector Nine was so popular we had to board the windows up in the bath room of the Regency  to hold folks back! Hamsalila always brought a lot of tribal energy to the house and of course a little known DJ by the name of BASSNECTAR has never failed to blow our collective minds!

Personally I loved Brazillain Girls and Kinky but a lot of folks would argue that String Cheese Incident was the most memorable NYE moment with the insane processions and guest stars.

Recently I always love the circus sexy shows of Vau de Vire Society and Lucent Dossier who we where happy to have as a SF debut this year

Speaking honestly, there are a few people out there I’ve spoken with who say that SOD is too crowded.  From a directional viewpoint, what factors other than fire code’s go into deciding capacity?

ROBBIE: Fire capacity is SO FAR BELOW what most people would consider comfortable, and we have yet to exceed even this. We know for a fact that other events have put almost twice as many people into the event. We watch this very carefully and I can safely respectfully disagree, especially when compared to so many concerts I have attended. The thing we have to keep an eye on though is crowding in specific places, like VIP areas, bathrooms, stairs and entryways. That’s stuff we watch very carefully. I personally think we could expand the VIP areas and offerings quite a bit.

What would you tell someone who was on the fence about going to SOD because of the crowdedness or ticket price for next years event?

ROBBIE: Someone sent me an email this year that said “Hey man, you probably won’t read this but…. I was bored at work and me and my girl have the money to do literally ANYTHING on New Years. We always go to SOD, but this year I wanted to see what else was out there. I looked at over 300 concerts and events around the country and NONE of them were this good, even from a LINEUP….[perspective].”

And I think that says it all. Here’s someone who CAN do anything who CHOOSES us, again and again.

As far as cost, well when you consider that people got earlybird tickets for $75 which was only a few bucks more than Thievery/Massive Attack concert at the Greek last summer, and dozens of other concerts NOT on NYE, it’s a serious bargain. How many NYE events out there are $100 for a champagne toast and a DJ. When we consider how much we put into it, we think it’s the deal of the century. That said, $75 bucks is $75 bucks so we do our best to provide volunteer opportunities for folks who simply can’t float it. Many of these folks work our “Strike Crew”. They buy their ticket, come to the party, have the time of their lives, then show up and work at breakdown and we refund their ticket. It’s a great way to contribute something else than cash.

What is your favorite part of SOD in general, and which was your favorite year? Why?

ROBBIE: For me it’s the challenge of successfully orchestrating and integrating so many different brilliant events and companies into one big explosion. It’s not just Anon and their wonderful team, or Sunset’s or AnTenNae’s but we also have Hookahdome, Opulent Temple, and the Do Lab, all of whom are event SAMURAI in their own right. This was my favorite year for that reason. EVERYONE stepped up and worked so well together. It was a thing of beauty.

Do you think the dynamics of the crowd this year were different without the uber popular Bassnectar playing?

ROBBIE: I miss him personally. Lorin is a good friend and such a powerful person to have in your midst and we miss his great sense of humor, his creative energy and attention to detail. He really demands the best of himself and everyone around him and he makes whatever show he’s a part of a better one. That said, there are hundreds of great artists out there that fit Sea of Dreams that we have never had the chance to work with. Finding those folks, deciding on them and convincing them is the most fun part of booking this thing.

Top 5 past SOD performers.

ROBBIE: Mutaytor (2008), Beats Antique (2010), BLVD (2008), Bassnectar (2009), Ghostland Observatory (2009)

Are there any acts you can think of that have not yet played at SOD you would love to have?  Why would they be a good fit?

David Byrne – Just a multi-faceted entertainment trailblazer. I think he’d LOVE it. Ditto the Flaming Lips, Underworld, Hot Chip.

Where do you see SOD going in the future?

ROBBIE: Hopefully NOWHERE. Joegh and I proabbly disagree on this as he wants to brand this and take it other places. I think there’s something really uniquely SAN FRANCISCO about this event and I like bringing the “pilgrims”.

Why is SOD better than any other NYE celebration?

ROBBIE: Because we make it our 365-day a year personal mission to make it so. Other theatres, promoters, events start thinking about NYE in July or August. I sent my first talent email on January 1st (a tradition by the way).

Any shout outs/thanks to people that have helped in the evolution of SOD?

ROBBIE: I think the Anon team: Joegh/Spoon/Marcia/Anon/Jones etc deserve so much love and respect. Not only have they been doing Sea of Dreams, redefining the New Years experience for 11 years, but have been throwing events for more than 25 years. There’s have never really been the biggest events but have always had such an attention to spectacle, audience alchemy and empathy. The Anon Salon space was the one true meeting spot of ALL of the San Francisco scenes and its closing last year deserves a raise of the glass. Those guys have really taught all of us so much about “party science” that when it’s all said and done, they belong in the San Francisco “Rushmore” with Chet Helms and Bill Graham. would like to thank Joegh, Robbie, Kelly and the rest of the amazing and motivated individuals who combine to form the collective of talented professional ragers who work year round so we can party our asses off.   I would like to thank them personally as well for the perfect highlight to a weeklong holiday ragefest that took me from New York to San Francisco and headfirst into the cosmos.  Thank you all.

Upcoming San Francisco AnonEvents… ideas in motion:

Sea of Dreams NYE SF 2012 / How Weird! Street Fair  May 1st / South Park Tempo d’Arte Fair May / Harmony Festival  June 11,12,13th /  Viva Valencia Street Fiesta July / Super Hero Fest Of All!  Sept / Burning Man  Events/Decompression Oct. 9t / 1st annual MasquErotica Ball, Oct 22

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