“We really do think about this nonstop. All day. Wake up, go to sleep thinking about this,” says 30-year-old Matthew Kimmel, co-curator of Neon Marshmallow, the three-day experimental music orgy set to vibrate the mortar from the walls of Brooklyn’s Public Assembly this weekend. Assembling the 20-artist bill was a labor of love for scene-boosters Kimmel and 29-year-old Daniel Smith; Kimmel says the fest’s last incarnation in Chicago just “kind of broke even,” and the two are somehow booking and promoting its first New York installment from their home base in the Windy City.
Although New York has no shortage of experimental institutions—the noise-centric No Fun, the electronic-leaning Unsound, the scholarly Bang on a Can Marathon—Neon Marshmallow’s bill stands out for being a true feat of Mediafire-era-booking whimsy. There’s room for the airy meditations of minimalist legends (Phill Niblock, Rhys Chatham) and the abrasive contusions of nu-pigfuck (The Men). There’s harsh noise (Kevin Drumm) and somnambulant drifts (Tim Hecker); populist indie-wooze (Grouper) and academic electronics (Mark Fell); geektastic IDM (Phoenicia) and outsider blues (Loren Conners). Some of the artists performing at Neon Marshmallow haven’t played New York in years, or ever.
“They’re super enthusiastic and wide-eyed about it all,” David Daniell—Chicago-based guitarist, Fennesz collaborator, and Neon Marshmallow veteran—says of Smith and Kimmel. “And I tell you, that’s a refreshing thing to encounter.”
Only a team since October 2009, Kimmel and Smith are already minor legends in Chicago. The first Neon Marshmallow festival, held at Chicago’s Viaduct Theater in 2010, was comically ambitious; the pair booked a whopping 105 acts for the four-day blowout. Kimmel and Smith set up the venue, stage managed, picked bands up from the airport, chauffeured artists and gear from hotels, hosted people at their apartments, and swiftly repaired sound issues. With just a few breaks, Kimmel shot footage of every act for his website, Acid Marshmallow.
“I feel like I was home for maybe two hours, maybe to take a shower or to unload my camera,” Kimmel says of the experience. “It was truly grueling. . . . It took a while for me to want to go to a concert again. It took a long time for me to want to hold a camera again. And Dan and I didn’t talk. We weren’t mad at each other, but after so many weeks of talking on the phone every day constantly, we took a month off. We hid from music and from each other.”
Adds Smith, “After that one, I really did not plan on doing another one, to be honest.”
Luckily Chicago club The Empty Bottle called them back for a second installment in 2011, and this time, it was more manageable; before that one wrapped, Benjamin Sisto, booker for Public Assembly in Williamsburg, reached out. After a five-day break, they were back to work preparing for this weekend.
Despite the demanding hours (Smith also works as an MRI technician), the pair say the hardest part about booking this fest is long-distance dating New York City. Their ascent in Chicago was a grassroots affair, not an Internet sensation. Both men pounded the sticky floors of dive bars every single night and handed out flyers, chatted up strangers, and broke in the uninitiated.
“I remember we went to a big outdoor Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy show. We knew we’d be getting a lot of weird looks,” Kimmel says. “With this kind of music, there’s definitely a challenge. Trying to explain it is tough. There’s words you have to avoid. You don’t want to call it a ‘noise’ festival. You don’t want to call it an ‘experimental music’ festival. But what, really, can you call it? I just defaulted to ‘music.'”
Neon Marshmallow is at Public Assemblyon October 14, 15 and 16