Review: Festival of Disruption

by Joey Dalla Betta

Photo by Jamie Coster

Photo by Jamie Coster

“David Lynch makes a world of love and you get to step in it, and it’s beautiful.” This is how Kimmy Robertson describes working with the living legend during her live Q&A, which also features Michael Horse, Scott Cameron and Sabrina Sutherland. (There’s something magical about hearing Lucy’s voice come through a microphone in real time.) Her statement holds equally true for this weekend—when Lynch’s Festival of Destruction returned to LA—with the exception of one neglected aspect: within Lynch’s world of love, there’s a palpable aura of absurdity only he could foster.

It emanates, like Twin Peaks sprung a leak. It highlights the absurdity we disregard from day to day: stepping into an elevator with strangers only to be lifted from the Ace Hotel’s lobby to the 8th floor, stalled, brought back to the lobby, stalled, then finally let off on the second floor (all while trying to get to the roof), for example. It’s the absurdity of following Hawk down 9th and ending up at Shake Shack. It’s the absurdity of someone smiling, holding vacant eye contact in spite of the fact they are socially obligated to provide the next piece of conversation. It’s the absurdity of miscommunications between people, differing perceptions of basic realities and otherwise, the absurdity of bliss, happiness and love.

I mention this because I think it speaks to something that should be spoken to in relation to his Festival of Disruption: David Lynch attracts people, assembles teams, inspires actors and affects crowds in very much the same way a cult leader does. His is a cult of bliss, happiness and love, of strangeness and authenticity. His prayers are TM sessions. His perception of the world is slightly different than most, or else he represents his perception more powerfully than arguably anyone. Sitting in a packed United Artists Theatre—listening to him discuss the unified field, transcendence, ideas and fish—feels like what I imagine church felt like in ancient Greece; the feelings and altered perceptions Lynch’s presence inspire refuse to be confined by the buildings housing his festival’s attractions.

Things feel most cult-y in Liminal, a live sound bath with Jónsi, Alex Somers, and Paul Corley. After walking through the long lobby of an office space and riding in an elevator I may’ve recognize from my doctor’s office building, I’m ushered into a dark room. It’s very large, or at least feels it thanks to the thick haze of smoke machines, incense, and deep red lights. Black yoga mats line the floor, neatly arranged in what loosely resembles a golden spiral. Looking at it all, I say something to Jamie like, “This is truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.” Then I notice the soundscape. Wind blows through the trees, or someone breathes rhythmically into a microphone or rubs it against their sweater or something.

This continues well past the scheduled start time of 6pm.

Lying here with my eyes closed, I am unsure if this is the sound bath.

Then, something like a song fades in.

This develops into a true mindfuck of an experience. At one point, I’m forced to accept the possibility of a seizure, forced to sink into the experience of lights and colors and sounds assaulting me in concert, to grapple with the limits of what humans are psychologically capable of experiencing. In the acceptance of failure’s plausibility, I feel insane. I leave a little early the first night, finding it difficult to speak.

Regardless—or maybe because of this—I feel compelled to participate again the second night (which sadly leaves me unable to participate in Showtime and Collider Games’ Twin Peaks VR). Knowing what is coming and having just left Lynch’s meditation-heavy Q&A, Liminal feels three times shorter and infinitely less assaulting; I leave feeling peaceful and renewed. There’s a metaphor here.

Photo by Jamie Coster

Photo by Jamie Coster

The art gallery is great. Photographs from Lynch’s Distorted Nudes series line one wall. Glass cases, reminiscent of the glass box in Twin Peaks (2017), fill three-quarters of the room; each one displays a different pair of stilettos or flats—absurd in their angles, materials, and anti-practicality—designed by David Lynch and Christian Louboutin. Lynch photographed naked women wearing these shoes. These photos are projected. It all looks very nice together.

The next room houses David Oreilly’s interactive video series, where participants affect the content using their phones; seeing people staring at their phone as a creative and participatory act feels startlingly Lynchian.

One of the best parts about the festival is its un-rigid, sort of improvisatory format, where surprises lie around every corner. Case in point: a little tent, easily missed, with a chair and headphones inside. This is a sound bath for one, courtesy audio tech brand SubPac—a nice contrast to the communal vibes of Jonsi’s extravaganza. The chair is designed with vibrating motors that correspond to the bass parts in the soundtrack you’re listening to, and it works—when the “bass drops,” the chair goes crazy, sending vibrations through your body. You feel like a struck tuning fork, like you’re inside the music. It adds a new dimension to music. Very immersive.

Photo by Jamie Coster

Photo by Jamie Coster

I have nothing bad to say about the festival; everything I saw was fantastic. I could write ten thousand more words, but I won’t. I would instead like to close by relaying a piece of advice proffered this weekend by both David Lynch and Francis Ford Coppola: you cannot be afraid to trust your instincts, especially as an artist. We are at the early stages of a digital age—or at least it seems like the beginning if you’re looking from far away. We cannot be afraid to push the limits of this technology simply because we’re collectively attached to the pre-established language of cinema. Keep in mind: this is coming from two people who were hugely influential in establishing this language. Incidentally, one of Coppola’s two regrets in life is that he is not handing cinema over to the younger generation in better shape than it currently stands; he mentions Godfather 2 was the first American film with a number after it before vaguely referring to the overabundance of franchises with numbers as high as there are players on a baseball team. There’s a touch of shame in his voice.

Try new things. Fail. Try again. Imagine if David Lynch quit after Dune. As Coppola said this weekend, “Risk is the sex of creativity.” That’s a damn fine metaphor, coming from the stage of Lynch’s Festival of Disruption.

On my way to the car, I hear someone with an all access pass say something about low ticket sales this year. Go next year, if for no other reason than to support the David Lynch Foundation, which aims to make people aware of transcendental mediation in an effort to spread peace and happiness to as many people as are willing to accept it. Very pure.

Flaunt also had the opportunity to speak with the festival’s producer, Erik Martin, one of the main men behind the curtain. See our conversation below:

How do you feel the festival has kind of changed year after year? Has there been a process of evolution, would you say?

At the heart, it’s still what its intention was. David always says, stay true to the idea, so that’s exactly what our North Star is. But I feel like we’re opening the umbrella wider and wider because TM is a universal process and we see creativity as a universal expression of humanity so the discipline is irrelevant, the genre is irrelevant. As David says, it has to have the ring of truth. We find artists with his guidance and blessing and conversation that have that ring of truth. At the end of the day, all of these artists of donated their time. This mission is charitable, so we’re trying to have everyone leave feeling something right and good by being here.

The proceeds go to the David Lynch Foundation which has a lot of different initiatives, bringing Transcendental Meditation to children, veterans, prisoners, etc. I was curious if you’ve seen the effects on the ground of the David Lynch Foundation at work. Could you share a story?

The one that broke my heart was that there was an Afghanistan veteran who was suicidal and struggling with post traumatic stress and had a loaded gun and was holding it to his head in front of his wife and daughter. They were able to stop him and we subsequently found him through our veterans program, our operation Warrior Wellness. When you hear him talk on video about this experience, it breaks you down on the inside out. It shatters you to the base of humanity that that could be happening. That this person was a victim of war and brought that war into his home. I just couldn’t take it and I said that I had to be a part of something to help. You talk to these people and they come to the concerts and they share with us and want to talk on film and tell other people, it just really helps you refine and get rid of all the B.S. of logistics and flights being cancelled, you know? We’re on to something way heavier and way more important here and we’re lucky to be doing it with David Lynch. It’s such a dream come true.

David Lynch has a notably idiosyncratic vision. How do you and the artists here make sure they’re aligning with that vision?

I think it’s an intuition thing. I do think meditation hones the intuition. I was probably already more of an expert in David Lynch filmography and nerd-ery than I was at anything, so I understood the language. I think he saw the sparkle in our eyes that we knew his world, we were true to his world and that we could be a voice and a vision to bring it out to more people. So there was a great amount of trust there, there was also a great amount of fun there. He had very clear directives; can’t be boring, have to leave with knowledge, it’s got to have the ring of truth. It’s easy to follow and it’s easy to call on behalf of David Lynch or send a letter from David Lynch—everyone says yes! The generosity is overflowing and it’s helping us grow and reach more people.

Why do people connect so strongly to the Lynch universe? In certain ways he’s a very experimental, outre artist, yet he has a certain amount of mass appeal. To what do you attribute that?

I think it’s because he speaks a truth we all understand. It’s inside all of us. Everyone has consciousness, and he’s speaking the language of consciousness, of dreams, of the subconscious, stuff that we all know and understand, whether we can name it or describe it. We all know suffering, we all know violence, we all know these things, but the way he shows it through his art hits people on a visceral level because he’s going for the real thing and I just think that translates for artists of all disciplines. You can see it in different dancers, you can see it in filmakers, you see it even in different designers. They’re cultivating a different garden, I think.

Thinking towards the future for the festival, obviously this year was the first expansion in Brooklyn, I believe? Is that sort of the hope to spread a little bit throughout the world and different cities?

Yeah, the idea is if we keep it intimate like this, very midsize venue, a venue with the right feeling, right cities, that there is a pent up demand. This whole weekend people have been coming up to me and saying, “You have to bring it to Chicago, you have to bring it to Detroit, you have to bring it to Nashville, you have to bring it to London, you have to bring it to Paris.” Our challenge, our struggle, is funding. We’re a non-profit charity. So, when we bring on partners and sponsors like Bang & Olufsen and Alex & Ani, it’s a double power. They’re helping us fund the mission and they’re trying to bring an artistic product to bear that has David’s design on it, so it’s not just slapping a logo on something or a brand pays for it. There’s this amazing exhange of creativity and funds that help us pull it off.

Last question. What would you recommend for someone, like yourself, found a very strong response to TM but maybe didn’t know where to pursue it or how to get started? Would you have a particular recommendation for that?

The TM organization that teaches Transcendental Meditation centers all over the world, all over the country and you can look it up by your zip code and go straight to a TM center to learn... It is the most powerful thing and the most antiquated thing at the same time, but I wouldn’t change that for the world. So, that’s my thing. I haven’t heard anybody try it that was just like, “meh.” It’s pretty transformative.

Interviewed by Sid Feddema

Photographed by Jamie Coster