When the Creators Project, Vice and Intel’s showcase of art, music and film, touched down on the windy piers of San Francisco’s Fort Mason this weekend, the collective reaction could best be described as a cheery, "What took you so long?" San Francisco needs more cultural events of this size, and the weekend’s crowd was eager to get that point across.
The three-year-old Creators Project, as a concept, benefits from an elevator pitch, which San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee was happy to provide during a brief speech Saturday: "Art, music and technology!" (This got some eyerolls.) Typically housed indoors, the Creators Project is something like going to a huge museum with the goal of seeing every exhibit on show. Unlike bigger festivals like South By Southwest and CMJ, it’s easy to be immersed in a Creators Project event, appreciate the common themes on display, and come out the other side inspired, rather than dehydrated and counting down the layovers til you’re home. This weekend, which kicked off the Creators Project’s 2012 tour, one could conceivably see ten musical acts in a row, check out some interactive art pieces between sets, and come back the next day to hit up a screening of David Bowie’s remastered and remixed "Life on Mars" video, a talk on Bjork’s Biophilia iPad app, and a documentary on Karen O’s rock opera Stop the Virgens.
The biggest draw, judging from how he transformed a quiet crowd into an elated one, was LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, who DJed the last two hours of the night with help from bandmates Nancy Whang and Pat Mahoney. Being able to bring this hugely popular figure back from "retirement" (let’s hope the quotes stick) lent legitimacy to the event to anyone doing a quick scan of the lineup. But the organizers deserve credit for nabbing a delightfully disparate group of up-and-comers to precede the big guns. Murphy and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the necessary crowd-pleasers, but the other bands, particularly Shabazz Palaces and Zola Jesus, made at least as big a splash.
Nika Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, is a trained opera singer raised in rural Wisconsin, now living in L.A., whose goth-pop is evocative of her childhood landscape. It’s also fun. Saturday night she essentially performed 2011’s Conatus, her impressive third full-length, in its entirety, stomping around the stage in a white minidress and at one point launching herself into the crowd. Her band consisted of a laptop guy, a drummer, and a woman playing an electric violin, and like preceding act, Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces, it was all about the drums: big, booming bass drums, glitchy beats, and a general relentlessness. For Shabazz Palaces, rhythm is melody – especially inside the nearly 200-foot-long building that housed the weekend’s music, where vocals indecipherably fly down the structure so that all that was really left was a beat.
The event’s largely 20-something crowd didn’t let loose until Karen O took the stage for a brief set of Yeah Yeah Yeahs singles old and new-ish, clad in a zebra-print shirt, sparkly red blazer with fringed sleeves, and matching red pants. There was a detectable swell for influential British electronic maestro Squarepusher, who hasn’t performed in the U.S. for years, but his impact was lost on some of the crowd. One person remarked that he "expected more from an electronic DJ from 1996." (Someone should tell him that Squarepusher was doing LED lightshows with a helmet over his head when Deadmau5 was still a kid.) But another guy just as dramatically decided, "This is the best electronic show I’ve ever seen!"
Those who came back for Day Two got some food for thought to go with Saturday’s revelry. The interactive art, which included a few video games, was fun and visually entertaining, but the panels and films offered deeper rumination on making art in the 21st century. The accessibility of art-enabling technology was a powerful theme, as was privacy, fame, and fandom. The schedule showcased creative teams that try to shirk broad categorizations in music, theater and technology. Bjork’s revolutionary iPad app for her album Biophilia is a great example of this, bringing "experiences that aren’t meant for a digital platform to a digital platform" as one of the app’s creators, Max Weisel, put it. Similarly, the director of Karen O’s Stop the Virgens described the work as musical theater for people who don’t necessarily like musical theater.
Intel and Vice did a fine job of catering the event specifically to San Francisco without getting heavy-handed about it. Internet Rising, a cerebral documentary about the future of the Internet, fit comfortably alongside On My Way Back Home, a short film of a Band of Horses concert in Big Sur, California. The end result: a free, diverse, art-and-tech geek-out.