Last weekend, Sunshine Sachs was presented with a nightmare. The New York-based PR firm was tasked with saving face for an already dying company that was being held responsible for one of the most talked about music debacles this year.
Well, in my world it’s one of the most talked about music debacles this year, but that might have something to do with Facebook algorithms. Let’s back up: on the final day of TomorrowWorld, a three-day, three-year-old music festival in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, thousands of attendees were told they would not be allowed entry due to rainfall limiting “capacity of the parking lots, entrance roads and drop off locations.” The night before, tons of people were essentially stranded in the forest after shuttles that were supposed to take them back to their cars, almost 10 or so miles away, were cancelled for the same weather-related reasons.
Due to the beautifully mystical workings of the universe, I actually got to camp and attend the festival every day, and, let me tell you, it was wacky in all the best ways. I’m talking fire-breathing fish, trippy tapestries that pulsed under the influence of color changing light and maybe some other things (shoutout to BLVisuals — they’re based in Michigan! Go go go! ), and a huge rainbow marking the entrance to the campground that really made me feel as though I was walking into the best dream ever. I didn’t even care about having to slosh and ooze my way through mud for 10 minutes every time I wanted to leave my tent to pee.
I arrived on Friday morning and was immediately assisted by some very friendly staff in carrying my stuff to an open spot. The campground known as Dreamville was buzzing with energy; people walked around blowing bubbles and getting to know each other and doling out high fives just because. In fact, a bridge that connected the campground to one area of stages often turned into a long line of comers and goers extending their hands seeking to give and receive validation of whatever they were wearing, saying, or feeling. If that sounds adorable to you, you’re so right.
All nine stages were perfectly arranged so that the sound stayed concentrated exactly where it was supposed to be, though several stages could be seen from many vantage points. You could always figure out what was going on across the way pretty easily, and it made the lineup of over 200 artists feel very manageable. The decor was outstanding: the main stage in particular was so smiley and massive it felt like it was hugging 160,000+ people at once. The ground’s lakes were converted into light-up fountains that gave off a magic castle vibe, and the random figures that could have come from a children’s storybook were arranged in various locations so that you’d always have something sweet to look at. I probably wasn’t supposed to get right up close, but one particular spot of larger-than-life mushrooms tucked behind a white picket fence made for a great spot to sit and let my thoughts swirl while watching everyone empty out at the end of the day. It was all very irresistible.
Unfortunately, not everyone left TomorrowWorld feeling as warm and fuzzy as I did. Not everyone gleefully welcomed the sleep deprivation that comes with raging for 3-to-5 days, because a lot of people were sleep deprived after having spent Saturday night on a long trek back to their respective cars. My TomorrowWorld experience left me with nothing to desire but more of the perfect same, yet I can’t just leave out the not-so-perfect parts and pretend like everything was great for everyone. Before getting into the nitty gritty, I’d like to praise the members of the Sunshine Sachs team I was in contact with both leading up to and during the festival. It’s obvious you gals and guys work crazy hard and I’m sure I can’t even begin to comprehend how many hours you put into this weekend. Thank you to tomorrow and beyond for working everything out for me.
To give you a little background, TomorrowWorld is a brand owned by SFX Entertainment. SFX was worth $1 billion in October 2013 at $13 a share. Near the end of this August, the value of the company dropped to $88 million at 91 cents a share. When the market closed on Sept. 24, the day before TomorrowWorld, SFX shares were only worth 43 cents each.
Early Saturday evening, I and every other press attendee received a very proper e-mail from Sunshine Sachs, optimistically letting us know that guest safety was priority, that they were working to address the challenges the weather presented and that they felt lucky the festival site had such a “strong infrastructure.” I think sending that e-mail was a mistake. If the infrastructure was so strong, neither shuttles nor Sunday entry should have been so drastically affected. But the market has spoken, and it tells me that cancelling was probably the easiest, cheapest, and safest thing for SFX to do. The value of the company is so low it couldn’t really get much lower anyway, and this eliminated the risk (however small or large is a different question I’m not capable of answering) of them getting even more bad flack if something worse than a really long, cold, fucked up walk were to happen to anyone.
Right now, SFX is doing so badly it’s on sale to the highest bidder. It would have been so great for organizers to have made the people whose weekend they ruined feel respected instead of neglected. But considering that the company had already been on a steady path to doom, I can’t help but think they just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.
I think that if capitalism had told SFX that making that long, cold, fucked-up walk less fucked-up would have been worth it, they would have cared, and they would have actually done something. I certainly felt cared for when I arrived on Friday, but various accounts tell me there was hardly a staff member in sight when shuttles no-showed on Saturday night. Help was even harder to find for campers making their way off the grounds on Monday; all the assistance attendees had been offered on the way in what was entirely lacking on the way out. Suffice it to say that SFX dropped the ball on multiple accounts, and leaving people with a pathetic apology dripping in stone cold PR professionalism just doesn’t cut it.
As someone who has learned a whole lot more about music and the music industry in the past few days than pretty much ever before, a quote I read from SFX founder and CEO Robert Sillerman in this Forbes article from the end of August seriously freaked me out: “I know nothing about EDM … I meet the people whose places we’re buying. And I haven’t a fucking clue what they do or what they’re talking about. Not a clue. And I love it. I just love it.” Good for you, Bob, good for you. I’m glad you love EDM. So do I. But you have to know you sound like a douche. I realize I’m doing that thing that people hate journalists to do in taking your quote out of context, but how many different interpretations of that statement are there? Are you actually the guy who buys and sells and tries to manipulate the fate of music because you think you know how much it’s worth? I’m sure you’re not a douche, but I think it’s safe to say you have more to learn about your own business. That’s awfully disappointing, and I won’t be surprised if future TomorrowWorlds are run by anyone else. At least we can take comfort in the fact that even if SFX goes kaboom, and on the off chance TomorrowWorld ceases to exist, the spirit of music will never die. How many of you just rolled your eyes at me? You were supposed to. Don’t worry, now we can talk about the fun stuff.
My first day lineup included the likes of Dotcom slaying the It’s A Trap! stage (highlight: something about giving a fuck. “Nope.” BASS DROP AAAAH), a crash course in hardstyle at the Q-dance stage, and making the ridiculously surprising discovery that — brace yourselves — Shaq is a DJ now. No, it’s not some dude who tried to be clever and call himself Shaq (I was wrong), and he might have had the best set of the day. Mainstage headliners that night included Showtek, Steve Angello, Kaskade and Tiësto, and after roughly a week of processing what I heard during my time stopping in at the main stage between everything else that was going on, I think I finally get it … that was “big room house”, right?
Anyway, it wasn’t actually that interesting. I mean yeah, it’s great and energetic and fun and we were all was dancing our asses off, but one set didn’t really make me feel that much different than the other. And I don’t know, I could have used a little more “je ne sais quoi” with that one hand gesture everyone makes when they say that, instead of coming away not really knowing how to describe it because it didn’t really stick with me. That said, Tiësto (and the rest of you), I still want to hug you and your smiley Dutch self forever. Please be my fairy godmother, I feel like we would have so much fun together.
So many amazing people played on Saturday (you don’t need the list, just look here if you wanna be insanely jealous of me) but the Mythical Frames stage at the end of the day stole my heart. Gramatik you sexy motherfucker, what even was that? On Saturday night (during his officially scheduled set), he spun out all these crazy breakdowns that literally had my brain going 100 miles a second. I don’t really remember if I moved along or if I tried; mostly I just remember thinking, “Holy shit.” He was jazzy and funky and innovative and did I mention sexy? SO SEXY.
Speaking of sexy, let’s talk about the beatboxer who came on between Gramatik and Bassnectar and gave everyone the most surprising five minutes of the weekend. Seriously, it was filthy. Go watch the video — start halfway through if you’re really only trying to procrastinate a little you good student you–and try telling me you don’t want to know what else Reeps One can do with his mouth. Bless.
While some people’s nights unfortunately turned to muck (ha ha), others who rightfully decided they weren’t going anywhere got treated to a late-night dance party after the rest of the music had stopped for the night, courtesy of none other than Gramatik. Dude, I don’t know why you did it (although I’m actively trying to reach him to get the scoop), but I would personally like to thank you and/or whoever got you to go back up there. You rock, we love you. SFX, take a hint from this guy please.
Sunday was so bittersweet. The only bad thing about (my) Sunday was that I knew it would all be over in about 16 hours, when my thankfully-not-dead-by-then iPhone alarm would strike 4:45 a.m. and I would have to grab my bag and get on a bus back to the airport and ultimately, back to real life. Fortunately I saw a guy running around with a flag that said “Fuck Real Life” several times that day, so that made me feel a little better.
The musical talent was of course out of this world. Appropriately, my day started with a phenomenal set by Space Jesus. I got to spend some time at the ironically named Grand Theatre later in the day, a tiny little outcrop of a stage that served as an experimental stomping ground for lesser known but very snazzy artists like Kink, Faul & Wad Ad and many more. Milo & Otis were the perfect amount of naughty, Martin Garrix has done some growing up (mostly just physically, but he’s getting there), David Guetta was very impassioned, Flux was hilarious and crazy, Excision killed, and Armin was predictably loveable. Oh, and there were fireworks both in the sky and in my head. It was great.
I got to ask Jasha Tull (Space Jesus) to describe his music via an e-mail interview. Although his answer is specific to his style, it’s totally excellent, and I think it speaks to the overall spirit of TomorrowWorld: extremely talented, outrageously creative, entirely wacked out, and full of heart.
“I would describe my music as channeling of inexplicable brain tickles to create sounds for robots and humans to play basketball to. When I write music I try to explore the confusion of alien sounds with innate musical nostalgia that exists within us all. In terms of a specific feeling I’m looking to evoke through my music, it would be the feeling of conceptualizing the universe, accept infinity, anything is possible. So my message would be to meditate on what i just said while you snap your neck back and forth to a ice-cold hip hop beat.”
For everyone who’s read other stories about the insanity, or for anyone who lived it, I hope this is a nice reminder that even though CEOs can suck, somehow a bunch of artists with tons of passion got together and made something amazing. They’re the kinds of artists who think about what kind of music basketball-playing robots would listen to, the kinds who care so much about their audiences that they take a problem that isn’t theirs to solve into their own hands. I saw and felt a lot of unforgettable things that weekend, so to the people I met, you know who you are. To the music I heard, know that I’ll never stop listening. To TomorrowWorld, rock the fuck on.