What’s being billed as a “16 hour fully immersive, internationally inspired” music and visual art event is coming to a yet-to-be disclosed location near the Jefferson stop, joining Northside and Out in the Streets on the growing list of festivals happening in and around Bushwick this summer. Variance, however, is situated somewhere between Brooklyn’s answer to SXSW and the super-local chill fest known for bringing DIY regulars out of their usual dank, cavernous confines and onto the grassy grounds of Onderdonk House.
So far, a small assortment of mostly electronic and indie pop artists grace the bill, as well as a mix of up-and-coming and established acts. These include Junior Boys (the Canadian electro pop group that manage to sound like a cross between a Xanax party and the soundtrack playing in every bright, airy Brooklyn boutique with minimal clothing displays and an ironic assortment of ’80s drugstore beauty products), Oberhofer (fronted by bb Brandon Flowers), Yaeji (a young buck producer, part of the Godmode collective), and a DJ set from the guy behind Awesome Tapes From Africa (the blog that focuses on deep cuts from across the African continent).
However, as seems to be the MO of many festivals these days, Variance hasn’t announced their exact location or their full lineup yet. But Christopher Whitman, one third of the founding team (including Ryan Ho and Andreas Zettlmeissl), described the event as a “global eclectic mix based on our tastes in sound and what we think is cool.” And the partners were willing to hint that the festival site is located in a beautiful, natural setting just a short walk from the Jefferson L train stop (though they promised that they do indeed have a site locked down).
For hints as to what the rest of the lineup will sound like, note that Christopher and Ryan are involved in another ongoing party-promoting collaborative effort called (rather hilariously) We in Cloudz, which has been known to throw “deep house journeys.” The party organizers usually sign off their efforts with the mantra, “To be in cloudz as one.” It used to be that you could just say “PLUR,” but now even the EDM kids are denying any association with EDM, so I guess you gotta start somewhere.
If Resident Advisor is your primary news source, then you’re probably familiar with the We in Cloudz rooftop parties, electro booze cruises, and rave-y events at venues like Verboten. While Andreas, a music manager, has helped run Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival and calls himself an “experience architect“; Ryan Ho is an actual architect. Christopher is more on the video side of things, and together the three partners’ most recent project was a live/DJ’d audio/visual installation described as a celebration “of the eternal circle of Birth, Life, Decay and Afterlife,” held at National Sawdust.
According to the team, you can expect Variance to be on the same, uh, lofty level. Andreas said that capping the fest at 1,000 guests will keep it “a little more boutique” for an event “that’s very, very polished.” That’s why they’ve recruited a catering service (Bamboo Bites) to create a custom menu inspired by the music, something they claim will help push Variance beyond the festival norm of overpriced airport food. “What we’re going to do is create food that draws on the main artist’s cultural backgrounds,” Andreas explained. “Something like Junior Boys– as a group coming out of Montreal– a Montreal-based food stand.”
“A lot of the names of the food stands will tie into the acts, so for Awesome Tapes From Africa there will be an African-inspired stand,” Ryan chimed in. “We’re toying with the idea of using a name, ‘Awesome Bites From Africa.’ We’re working with chefs to create festival-friendly food, nothing that’s too high-brow that would require you to sit down and make a huge mess.”
Christopher added that the goal was to “make it special as opposed to relocating Smorgasburg.”
In every way, it seems, Variance is aiming to make what during our conversation the organizers repeatedly called a “customized experience,” right down to the site-specific art installation created by Gilbane Peck, a multimedia artist who makes found-art sculptures and takes photographs of abandoned spaces. According to the promoters, Peck will be sculpting a work in real time.
“He creates sustainable art through locally sourced objects and trash, even, as well as these really intricate collages that he locates throughout the city,” Ryan explained. “[At Variance], he’s going to be sourcing and using the waste that’s created by the festival.” As the partygoers enter the festival grounds, Peck will photograph them and by night’s end will choose images of “selected guests” and create a mural using more than 100 faces in the crowd to be displayed by closing time.
But the festival does’t end there, actually– it simply moves over at House of Yes from 10 pm until 4 am. Just try not to imagine what all those sunburnt, worn-out party people are gonna look like on that twisted parade from venue to venue (i.e. freakin’ awful).
“We’re creating a deeper, darker eclectic vibe that will take people into the night as well,” Christopher explained. “There will be a massive visual element with that, too, just from a projection-mapping perspective. And most of the acts are local, so it’ll definitely have a local vibe.” As long as you don’t turn into a synapse-zapped, completely motionless board after the noon to 10 pm outdoor session, then that rather steep $45 to $65 price tag for passes might not seem so terrible. But somehow I’m OK saying that all those displaced Brooklyn Mirage people can feel slightly safer about spending their cash here (toxic Halloween rave, anyone?).
As for why they chose the Bushwick area as their festival stomping grounds, all three partners said they’ve lived in Brooklyn for a number of years and see themselves as actively involved in their particular “scene.” “It’s a place that’s becoming very interesting in terms of music and the arts in general, which are moving away from Williamsburg,” Andreas added. “We all spend a lot of time there and appreciate this area a lot. Sometimes spaces find you and they’re inspiring and you see them and it just makes you do something with it.”
Variance will be held August 6 in Brooklyn, noon to 4 am. Location TBA. See the full lineup here. ($45 – $65)