The Creators Project
Better than: A representative of the Intel Corporation laboriously explaining to me the superiority of their microprocessors.
If you’re suspicious that The Creators Project is all just a way for the Vice Empire to class up its image beyond rape jokes and Intel to accrue precious youth-culture points… you’re probably right. But it’s worth pointing out that a lot of these light installations, video art projects and interactive whatchamallites the Project hosts online and off are legitimately mind-bending, and the increased exposure events like these afford has no doubt helped a few MFA holders justify some life decisions to their parents. Plus, they helped The Arcade Fire drop “interactive balloons” on people during their headlining set at Coachella, and that made for a delightful YouTube moment.
So we find ourselves at The Creators Project 2011, a gratis collection of technology-addled art, music, film and panels that took place around a few streets in Dumbo over the weekend. Corporately underwritten free shows can overcome their inherent, annoying overbranding if the music is worthwhile; anyone who doesn’t believe this needs to put down No Logo for a minute. The weekend generally succeeded in that regard, even if it times largely felt like the work of a talent booker opening their PollstarPro account and saying “so who’s available that weekend, anyway?” and then looking up the number for Florence + The Machine’s people.
Performances happened on one stage under The Manhattan Bridge and one in the nearby Tobacco Warehouse, with handful of installations scattered between. Said exhibits included “Soil,” which was basically a series of undulating mirrors that when walked on would contract in such a way as to feel like a post-grad bouncy house; “DisKinect,” in which sensors allowed one to guide the arm and head motions of a sad-looking puppet that had seemingly been rescued from a Tool video; “Meditation,” a self-explanatory series of brightly hued, rotating, interlocking circles; Jumbletron, a dayglo visual splat that Black Dice created as a backdrop for Animal Collective’s most recent tour; and “Life On Mars Revisited,” a short film featuring reshaped outtakes and raw footage from David Bowie’s classic clip. “Mars” was seemingly one of the most popular attractions of the weekend; after waiting in line to ride an elevator to a second line that was seemingly expanded into infinity, I decided that I’d rather not miss Four Tet.
The Creators Project weekend felt like it was expanding brand awareness for The Creators Project first and foremost. But a haphazardly organized free show is still a free show, and if the music often seemed positioned as an afterthought, there were plenty of strong performances to be had. DJ sets from the aforementioned Four Tet and the French electronic duo Justice demonstrated the dual sides of dance music culture. Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden focused on quavering waves of sound, contracting and expanding in concert with his minimalist light show, while Justice were relentlessly crowd-pleasing, offering up one wonderfully stupid beat after another, clearly happy to occupy their station as the hesher Daft Punk. (Justice’s live, non-DJ live shows have been widely derided for being played off an iPod. They recently admitted as such to Spin. For what it’s worth, I saw hands touch turntables several times during their set.)
Taking the stage with an acoustic guitar, looping pedal and a spectacular rockabilly Flock Of Seagulls haircut, Bradford Cox offered up a set that served as a remix of his recorded work, turning straightforward hazy pop gems like “Sheila” into distorted mirror images of themselves, all drawn-out melody and amped up guitar squall; the spectacularly psychedelic set was only marred by the foolish decision to not pair Cox with one of the light shows as a backdrop. Elsewhere Chairlift capped of a confident early-afternoon performance with a song that found singer Caroline Polachek literally wearing a turtleneck and snapping her fingers like she was spending Halloween as a beatnik. (The song had a nice ’60s pop groove to it, but I couldn’t determine the level of irony involved.) Then there was John Maus, who gave one of the most excruciating performances I have ever seen. Over generic glitchy-glitchy laptop beats Maus, who is allegedly a 31-year-old man working towards a Ph.D. in political philosophy, warbled off-key, made “rawr sexy cat” and “peekaboo” gestures and put his face in his palm and writhed in agony like he was fronting an early-aught screamo band. It was the type of set that made you feel embarrassed for him, for yourself, and for an internet hype machine that seemingly has no ability to say, “On second thought, maybe not.”
Headlining the weekend were breakthrough alt-pop stars Florence + The Machine and reunited underground rap-legends Company Flow. Florence got the bigger, under the bridge stage, which quickly filled to capacity as she started her set. Songs both new and old were heavy on Arcade Fire-style multiple drummer epics, and Florence Welch had no trouble making herself heard atop the bombast; I was truly bummed that I had to leave before they played the Eat Pray Love song. At the end of Company Flow’s set El-P, no stranger to bombast himself, dedicated “Patriotism” (which Flow’s DJ Mr. Len augmented with Queens’ “We Will Rock You” and Bowie’s “I’m Afraid Of Americans”) to the Occupy Wall Street movement; the line “occupy now/ ask questions later” got one of the best crowd reactions I saw all weekend. That the line was cheered at an event underwritten by a computer company was perhaps the most genuinely strange moment in a weekend dedicated to the avant-garde.
Critical bias: If you ever get a chance to ask the guy from Titus Andronicus about playing a free Vice event, do so. Frankly, the bar to clear for this being a personal success was to not get assaulted and thrown out. (To be fair, all the security people I encountered at this event were perfectly fine.)
Overheard: “Do you think that line is for the Black Dice/Animal Collective light show or for Grimaldi’s Pizza?”
Random notebook dump: I’m not one of those people to debate what is or isn’t art, but I do think Super Pong played on top of a horizontal flat-screen TV stretches even the most open-minded definition. Not that it didn’t look fun.