Aurora Halal (of Mutual Dreaming) and Zara Wladawsky took their underground parties upstate this past weekend as they launched the Sustain-Release electronic music festival. With over 20 performances by DJs from Brooklyn (Bossa Nova Civic Club curated a stage with acts like their resident DJ Analog Soul) and beyond (XOSAR from Berlin, MGUN from Detroit), the inaugural two-day event must have been an intense one.
Yesterday at Halal’s Bushwick apartment, she and Wladawsky shared photos and spoke excitedly about what went down at Camp Lakota, a picturesque lake-front summer camp in the Catskills.
Zara: There wasn’t one thing that it was based on, but I think for sure, there’s a festival called Free Rotation in the UK that I’ve been going to for years, that’s roughly the same size and members-only.
Aurora: We definitely had our own inspiration. Hers is more about the apex of sophisticated dance music happening in Europe. I personally don’t like festivals, I don’t really go to festivals. I don’t like crowds, I don’t like cheesy dance music at all.
Zara: There are a few things that actually buck that trend and they’re the most amazing things ever.
Aurora: From my perspective, dance music wasn’t popular on the East Coast in the U.S. when I was growing up at all, but I had several friends who were very early on this collecting records thing, and they had all this rare, beautiful music. And the way I heard most of this music for the first time was when a friend of mine threw a party in the woods where his dad lived, like this hand-built house in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with orchards. We would invite all of our friends from the East Coast. It was probably only 100 people but it was this super intense gathering of emotion and friendship, and the music would go all night. And it was the first time I heard Italo Disco and stuff, and amazing classics.
But it had absolutely nothing to do with official culture. Everything I’ve always done here has been super DIY, because I don’t like clubs, really. I’m not that interested in formal settings for things. I’m very into emotional, intimate settings.
Aurora: We realized we’re both DIY, but we knew this had to be totally legal in every way since there was going to be this much money on the line, so we found a place that could be legit. Camp Lakota had enough beds to sleep 500 people in cabins. The venue was really up for it, but as it got closer there was all this fear around the idea of what we were doing. And we had insurance companies try and jack up our price because they thought it was EDM [Electronic Dance Music].
Zara: They lumped us into that category– which we totally aren’t. They were like, ‘It’s just like Electric Zoo.’ And we were like, “Nooooo!”
Aurora: And all these EMTs were getting really dramatic about it, like “I don’t want people dying in my arms!” We were a little nervous, too, because out of 500 people attending, I probably knew 100 names. But all these people had such amazing energy.
Zara: And they were cheap, for what it was.
Aurora: They were $98.
Zara: We wanted a lot of the best people. And if you put the price too high up, then you’d get a lot of people you didn’t want. And we wanted our friends who are super creative types who don’t make that much money to come.
Aurora: But it ended up being the most unseasonably cold day ever.
Zara: Yeah, it was like 40 degrees and raining. But everyone still had the best time. We just moved the pool party to the main stage, and Jus-Ed made it feel tropical and warm.
Aurora: We intentionally wanted to choose artists that were fun to be around and had a positive attitude, because the idea of the event is it’s like a community gathering. Where there’s a lot of friendship…
Zara: And making new friends…
Aurora: Yeah and cooperation and stuff like that. So that was one of our first guidelines. And then we went through and thought of all our favorite artists. Because there’s this really powerful community– especially in Brooklyn. So we teamed up with Bossa Nova. In general our guideline was “badass and forward-thinking,” so nothing commercial at all. Because we don’t like commercial music in general… We also had a lot of female musicians, which I think was special, and we had Rrose, who is transgender. And the label boss from Underground Quality.
Zara: We’re trying to negotiate 700 for next time. But we’re not going to go above that. We want to keep the intimate vibe that’s really important to us. It would lose the family feel if it goes above it. I think a lot of the best festival are at the level.
Aurora: We’re also thinking of not using the word festival now. We’re using it now because it’s easier. But I don’t like that word. It’s also a gigantic culture machine.
Zara: It’s usually corporate and money-making.
Aurora: We were thinking family reunion.
Zara: Or experience, it’s just an experience.