Annual music festivals are often written or spoken about in terms of what wasn’t great about it or how it didn’t match up to some other event. Though it is important to push festival organizers to create an event that is both exciting and inspiring, I see no real need to be publicly critical in that regard. Some music fans will feel left out, others will feel unfulfilled; thus is the nature of an event that works to combine many scenes, sounds and ideas. In some ways, multi-day, urban festivals like SXSW and now, Together, have an easier task on their hands than ones held in a field on a piece of private land. Everyone gets to go home to shower (hopefully), sustenance is available commercially throughout the city, there’s no need to hire crews to handle days worth of human waste, massive stages do not necessarily need to be built and broken down, and no security is needed as attendees have to adhere to the usual civic laws involving public intoxication, vandalism and a slew of other quite heinous crimes. With that said, there are some struggles reserved exclusively for an event that takes place in various locations around an urban center.
After watching the Together team prepare for their fourth attempt at an eight day long music/arts/technology festival taking place on both sides of the Charles River, I have come to realize just how much trouble it can be to receive support and permission to do anything out of the ordinary in a city like Boston. You need a solid track record of being able to successfully produce safe and conscious live music events, a respectable production staff that doesn’t make you look like a bunch of starry-eyed amateurs, some sponsors with deep pockets, non-defamatory support in all of the local media outlets and enough passionate street teamers to spread the word all around the city about a hundred separate festival sponsored events. Based on this year’s events, Together festival seems to have acquired all of these components.
I’ve lived in Boston for seven years, during what some refer to as a dark age for live music in this city. Corporate juggernauts have moved in to own and operate nearly every music venue, arcane rules put in place after the raucous 80’s have become the norm, and this great city has been looking for some communal soul in its live music. Together Festival was established just as weekly electronic nights like Bassic and Music Ecology were started to develop a following, and nights like Elements and Make it New were consistently packing the dance floor. Since then, even more DIY promoters and event producers have taken it upon themselves to tap into the bars and smaller venues in the area to throw events where people of all backgrounds can come together to support acts ranging from local producers to international DJ’s.
As club culture and EDM has experienced its renaissance around the country, Boston (and Cambridge) with its constant flux of college students and young professionals, has gradually become the “dark horse” of the American electronic music scene. It’s not Las Vegas, not Los Angeles, not New York City, not Miami and not San Francisco. It’s not one of those areas that is highly saturated in its live music and club culture, so there is still much room to grow and create that buzz right now. It’s precisely its own imperfections and constraints that has helped the Charles River electronic music scene inch its way closer to global notoriety. There was a time when I was disheartened by the lack of legitimacy in Boston’s electronic music culture, but I see now that it has what it takes to represent all styles and not just be some city to go attend a massive EDM festival. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there will never be an Electric Daisy Carnival Boston, but I don’t care because I’d rather have Together.
As co-founder of LostinSound.org, I have always pushed my organization to cover and chase music and stories that are about what is going to be big, not that which is most popular and played out. This is precisely why you saw us snapping photos all week at Together Festival, but won’t spot us rocking neon green tutus and disco ball bras at Electric Zoo or some club in Vegas. “Our musical programming reflects the future,” David Day, co-founder of Together, said in an interview with Boston.com. “In year one, for example, we represented artists like DJ Rupture and Nico Jaar and Machinedrum, all of whom have gone on to further explore music’s future sound, and, in each case, has been awarded critical praise the world over.” I assure you that this publication and most likely Together festival will continue to bring you acts and ideas on the rise, not ones clouded by their desire to capitalize on hype, both un-original and momentary. Whether it’s established acts like Flying Lotus, Distance, Four Tet, and Soul Clap or ones on the verge like Voices of Black, eelko, John Barera and Supersillyus, Together 2013 was represented by artists blazing their own waveforms.
There are still a few issues in need of improvement at Together festival. I do believe that eight days is too long. Eight days is much more of a commitment for someone travelling to Boston to make than a four day event would be. Even I couldn’t make the second Sunday and final night of the festival, as it was time I returned to the day job. Additionally, Together should work to encourage the city’s promoters to plan out more bangers with multiple big names on one bill instead of having people run around to see three world class acts at separate venues around the city. I have learned from years of watching festivals from the operation stand point that it is a multi-faceted and imperfect endeavor. However, it is an admirable and important one. Something tells me that Together is growing to embody both of these traits.
I believe that Boston has always been a city full of fans-in-waiting, a place for musicians and artists to go to expand their reach in a way that is both valuable and lasting. For anyone looking to make waves as an electronic act in Boston and the Northeast, I say that Together has established itself as THE WEEK and THE EVENT to play. In the next few years, there will be more stages, more acts, more panels, more workshops and most importantly, more attendees. Will it grow to be as large as SXSW, an industry festival that represents all cultures and scenes? Thankfully, it will not. However, as long as producers are creating, VJ’s are mapping and new music programs and equipment are being developed – Together will be in the conversation.
Ranchsauce’s favorite sets of Together Festival 2013:
Sunday – Thundercat (LIVE)
Monday – Crystal Castles
Tuesday – eelko
Wednesday – Kilowatts
Thursday – Wobblesauce
Friday – Moldy
Saturday – Voices of Black (LIVE)