The winter season meant a steady stream of festival announcements, including the one in our own backyard, Neon Reverb, which kicks off tonight at various venues Downtown. This year, Neon Reverb teamed up with Desert Daze’s caravan tour, a rolling extension of the psych and garage music festival, with bands Temples, Froth, Night Beats, and JJUUJJUU, all playing Friday night at Backstage Bar & Billards.
Born as a free block party for friends, Desert Daze morphed into the beloved niche festival it is today and celebrated, arguably its best year, at Joshua Tree in October. Creator Phil Pirrone, who is also the shaggy man behind JJUUJJUU (keep an eye out for their first LP Zionic Mud coming soon), talked to us about what it’s like playing and producing music festivals, and what he predicts their future will be.
Did you come up with the touring festival caravan idea?
I tried to do it a couple years ago unsuccessfully … It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a little while and it just worked out this year where there was enough interest from other bands to get the ball rollin’ … It’s unorthodox for an entity like Desert Daze to approach bands and say, “We want to do this caravan tour. Are you interested in being a part of it?” Then they’re like, “Yeah … in theory.” It’s taken a lot of heavy lifting to get it up off the ground.
Desert Daze is pretty relaxed. There isn’t much hassle.
We’re slowly but surely growing up as a festival, but we want to maintain certain aspects of it that give it that free feeling while tightening up the loose ends. There’s a weird balance between maintaining its wild and free feeling, but also making it safer and more professional. It’s a weird balancing act because you don’t want to go too heavy on the improvements—the safety stuff. You don’t want it to become plastic and have no more soul, but you do want it to get better.
A music festival that’s done correctly could be the most cathartic, healing, explorative, mind-blowing, character-building experience you could have with your best friends. If it’s done wrong it can completely deplete you.
How will festivals change in the future?
I think we’re gonna see some innovative moves here in the next few years. It’s becoming oversaturated so that’s gonna breed innovation … We’re gonna see niche, cohesive lineups like Desert Daze. There’s a lot of catch ’em all festivals, as I call them, where there’s a hip-hop act and a pop act and a rock act and an indie act. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s not really for me.
A music festival that’s done correctly could be the most cathartic, healing, explorative, mind-blowing, character-building experience you could have with your best friends. If it’s done wrong it can completely deplete you—financially, emotionally, spiritually, everything. What’s the point in that? … We’re gonna hit the wall with boring music festivals. There’s no difference between major festivals on the East Coast and major festivals on the West Coast, or a major festival in the South. They all have Chance the Rapper. They all have whatever five acts. LCD Soundsystem is headlining every goddamn festival in the fucking universe. I’m bored.
You’re in a unique position where you play in a band and you put on festivals, so you have a different perspective on how they function. How has being on both sides been an advantage or disadvantage?
I’d say the biggest advantage is you have empathy and understanding for what it is to be a musician on tour. A festival’s hard work for a band … you’re all exhausted. You have an early load in and you get there and you encounter people [producing festivals] who have never been on tour. They’ve never been in a band. They have good intentions, but they’re sorta burnt out. They’re overwhelmed and the experience you have just isn’t that great. You’re just kinda like, “Damn, that kinda sucked. It kinda felt like being in a refugee camp.”
The bottom line for us, for the back of the house, is to make sure the bands have the best time ever, the best experience ever, the most comfortable situation they can … If the bands are comfortable and the audience is comfortable ’cause there’s not 80,000 people there, and the audience can get close to the band, then they’re going to start ping-ponging this amazing energy back to each other.
Is it challenging to find new bands? Are there enough out there to have a fresh, diverse lineup each year?
There was an article recently about the sustainability of big festivals and the limited amount of headliners. I disagree. I think that there are a million bands and every day there’s new bands breaking. Every day there’s openers becoming headliners. As long as we’re creative, it can exist.