Mykki Blanco cranked it up in one of the most high-energy, punk performance of the weekend.

go behind the scenes at day for night, featuring travis scott, blood orange, and mykki blanco

Last weekend, pioneering musicians across virtually every genre — from enigmatic electronic master Aphex Twin to hip-hop phenom Travis Scott — and 15 next-generation light artists took over a former post office in Houston, Texas at Day for Night. i-D...

by Emily Manning
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Dec 22 2016, 4:00pm

Mykki Blanco cranked it up in one of the most high-energy, punk performance of the weekend.

We knew this weekend at Day for Night was going to be a special one long before we crossed the Mason-Dixon line. Only in its second year, the Houston-based music and art event created one of the most diverse, exciting, and unreal lineup of any major fest. It featured Aphex Twin's first US performance in eight years, a headlining slot for hometown hip-hop hero Travis Scott, a synth show by horror maestro John Carpenter, sets by Butthole Surfers, Blood Orange, Banks, Mykki Blanco, SOPHIE, The Jesus and Mary Chain — people who have made and are making some of today's most unique sounds. And it's not like they were playing in a field, either. This year, the event took over a 1.5 million-square-foot former post office in downtown Houston, and invited 15 different visual artists to install immersive works inside the dystopian concrete complex. Björk brought her blockbuster VR exhibition Björk Digital, while 20-year-old NYU sophomore Ezra Miller installed a video piece on the opposite side of the grounds.

Watching Dev Hynes dance and positively shred the "Bad Girls" guitar solo on a humid Saturday night in Houston is something we'll remember for a long time.  

Unlike other fests that combine art and music (think Coachella or Burning Man), Day for Night uses space not to create an ethereal dreamscape of flowering, trippy visual splendor, but to aggressively collide ideas and sounds in a way that hasn't been done before. As buzzing crowds dispersed after sets, they'd wander inside the sprawling post office to experience installation pieces like a technicolor cave full of synthetic hair by Icelandic artist Shoplifter, or series of neon glyphs and alphabet codes by Damien Echols (one of the West Memphis Three, who sat on death row for 18 years in Arkansas for a crime he did not commit). Cross-pollination of new ideas and technologies permeated every element of the event.

Aphex Twin's Richard D. James graced his first United States stage in eight years. The excitement was palpable all day, and his two-hour explosion of sound didn't disappoint. 

One example: just a few hundred feet away from Travis Scott's show — where the Houston native performed for a mega-enthusiastic hometown crowd — was the door to Arca's stage, located on the post office's palatial ground floor. At the very same moment Scott was thrashing in a purple Noah hoodie to keep warm, the Venezuelan producer was leading a sweaty, ecstatic queer dance party in a sheer nude bodysuit and four-inch, thigh-high stiletto boots. Scott had his crew grooving to summer smash "Pick Up the Phone," while Arca was twisting Brandy's classic "Sittin Up in My Room" into a plasticy, apocalyptic anthem. These artists have little in common, aside from the fact that they are of a new generation reshaping what music can sound like (and their connections to Kanye West, of course). But the fact that showgoers could very literally stumble from one world into another without realizing it was the essence of Day for Night's ethos.

The only person rowdier than Travis Scott's fans was the man himself, who thrashed across his stage as if he were a punk frontman. On the right: Travis catches his breath quickly backstage before running out for a final song. 

Another Houston-born artist, Blood Orange's Dev Hynes, returned to his Southern stomping ground to give one of the festival's best performances. Hynes performed favorites like "Augustine" and "Best to You" from his recently released Freetown Sound, situating cuts from 2013's Cupid Deluxe in between them. Though the albums are distinct bodies of music, Hynes demonstrated just how fantastic they sound together, anchored by his funk-charged electric guitar licks. The following day, Mykki Blanco lead a riotous rave, soundtracked by beats that bubbled with energy and aggression. The transgressive punk pioneer made the crowd open up a giant circle before scaling one of the post office's enormous concrete columns. Most kids we met that afternoon were stoked to see Ariel Pink, Little Dragon, and Kendrick favorite Kasami Washington. Others were cheerfully waiting to enter United Visual Artists's large-scale light room, and to see what beautifully distorted visuals Jesse Kanda might bring to his longtime collaborator Arca's closing performance later that evening.

Damien Echols sat on death row for 18 years before gaining his freedom in 2011. His artwork considers ceremonial Magick (which he has practiced for two decades) and his own unique codes and glyphs. 

Icelandic avant-pop queen Björk had her feet in both the music and art worlds. Though Aphex Twin's long-awaited return drew thousands — who endured a 40 degree temperature drop and a rainstorm to catch the entire two-hour set — the blockbuster Björk Digital exhibition was easily the most attended and feverishly anticipated offering. Every single appointment slot to see the traveling VR show's three-day run sold out in 10 minutes; rumor had it that people were waiting for eight hours in the sprawling standby line just for the chance to enter Björk's digital fantasy land. The human Björk performed a just-as-anticipated DJ set, for which she surrounded herself with a wall of greenery on stage (as roadies were erecting the fortress of plants, I made a joke — "all is full of shrub" — but no one laughed). When her collaborator and friend Arca claimed her spot on the indoor stage hours later, we spotted Björk in the wings swaying to his Rihanna remix, clad in an iridescent pink face mask.

Flipping the script on traditionally sparse DJ stages, Björk surrounded herself with plants and shrubs for her set behind the decks. In addition to smelling great, the plants helped audience members fully experience the sounds that Björk was creating. It reminded us of her work with embroidery artist James Merry. 

Day for Night's wide-spanning range of offerings drew a just-as-diverse crowd. Galleristas in monochromatic, architectural shapes came for art-spotting, rubbing shoulders with patched-up, studded punk kids in awe of fellow Texans Butthole Surfers. And while Day for Night drew attendees from across the world, many of the coolest kids we met at the fest were Texans, too. Some drove in from Austin, San Antonio, or El Paso, but most lived just a few minutes away from the venue, a testament to the Lone Star state's thriving creative community. 

Check out the rest of i-D's Day for Night diary below while planning your trip for next year! 

Related: Meet the coolest kids at Houston's Day for Night, straight up!

The only thing more insane than the rainstorm that struck in the middle of Aphex Twin's two hour set was the light projections that accompanied the performance. Smiley faces, military-style surveillance maps, and of course the Aphex Twin symbol all collapsed into one jarring visual projection that made the experience all the more surreal. James performed behind walls of illuminated screens, so that his signature red ponytail was barely visible. But every so often, the stream would break from Aphex graphics to prove the man himself was really there.  

Violet and Zach dancing backstage at Aphex Twin in a windy rainstorm. 

This incredible chamber of lights was installed by Michael Fullman of VT Pro. A grid of spotlights moved in tandem, like synchronized swimmers, creating new patterns and clusters of bright light. 

More from Mykki Blanco's thrilling live performance — which featured newer tracks from the recently released album Mykki, as well as Blanco's classic cuts like "Haze.Boogie.Life." We shot two rolls of film in 45 minutes!

Another from the excellent Blood Orange show. I think this was during "Chamakay," one of Hynes's most gripping, sublime songs.

Björk's plants hanging out backstage. 

This public sculpture is in downtown Houston, right by the electric tram.

This memorial to Orlando is around the corner from Numbers, in a median on Montrose Ave. We saw a fair amount of Trump stickers while driving around, so this message of inclusivity made us feel hopeful. 

Credits


Text Emily Manning
Photography Zachary Chick and Emily Manning