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A Woman-Centric Day for Night Festival

Houston’s innovative music and art festival event is expanding, and it’s putting women at the forefront.

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Texas’s hottest new music festival may also be its most woman-centric. Day for Night, the Houston-based multimedia festival now entering its third year, announced its lineup last week. Among the headliners are Texas musicians Solange and St. Vincent, who took their place at the top of the bill next to Nine Inch Nails and Thom Yorke.

The festival, which will run from December 15 to 17, will kick off with a new element—a summit about “the intersection of art, technology, and activism” featuring talks by LBGTQ activist Chelsea Manning, performer Laurie Anderson, activist and singer Nadya Toloknnikova of Pussy Riot, and artist/programmer Lauren McCarthy.

Festival founder Omar Afra takes pride in the number of female headliners and speakers featured this year, saying it was the result of a conscious decision to diversify the traditional music festival lineup. “The overwhelming majority of agents and managers are white men, but if you look at the biggest record- and ticket-selling artists in the world, who is it? Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift. People want more female voices,” Afra says. “I don’t know that the world needs more white dudes singing that their girl’s sex is on fire. That is not where the planet is right now.”

Day for Night was founded in Houston in 2015 by some of the same people behind Free Press Summer Fest, the Bayou City’s version of the Austin City Limits Festival. Rather than being a winter version of Free Press, though, Day for Night’s goal from the beginning was to push the boundaries of the music festival by incorporating experimental, immersive art installations.

“Day for Night was largely born out of frustration at all the things I couldn’t do at FPSF, all the things where our partners were like, nah, we’re not willing to try that,” recalls Afra, who is also the publisher of alternative newspaper Free Press Houston.

Afra had grown frustrated will the staleness of conventional, “big box” music festivals that seemed to feature the same artists and same format year after year. “The festival model hasn’t really changed much since Woodstock,” he says. “You take a stage, you put it in an empty field, and you sell light beer, right? Despite all the new technology we have now, the festival hasn’t really changed.”

Day for Night’s inaugural festival was staged in a six-block area around Houston’s Silver Street Studios and featured performances by the Philip Glass Ensemble alongside more traditional names like Kendrick Lamar and Janelle Monáe. It also featured light installations by a half dozen or so artists from around the world. Last year’s festival was held at an abandoned downtown post office and was headlined by Björk (performing as a DJ rather than a singer), Aphex Twin, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Despite the chilly weather, it attracted about 25,000 people per day over its weekend run, two-thirds of whom came from outside of Houston.

Afra described the newly added summit as part of a five-year plan to expand Day for Night across more days and more locations around Houston, as well as to include more political and cultural discussion. “You can be inspired at the event, you can party at the event, you can learn at the event,” he says. “We just see so much potential for using the city.”

But he resists the comparison to the sprawling South by Southwest, preferring to model the festival on multimedia spectacles like Sónar Barcelona or the Manchester International Festival. “I love SXSW, and it does so many great things, but we’re looking for a more condensed scene. SXSW is everything to everybody, and that’s not us. Day for Night might not be the place to see famous chefs do an activation.”

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  • brianjrobinson

    By my quick count, 21 of 64 musical acts have at least 1 woman. My unscientific method was to use the press photos on Day for Night. 33% is not really woman-centric, is it. And that is being generous. Some of the acts with women have men as well, which means the music stage is still ~75% men. It may be better than some other festivals (Sound on Sound @ ~90% men), but this is still a man-centric music lineup.

    • Watcho

      That’s a lot of energy you put into overlooking the status of headliners and featured panel guests.

      • brianjrobinson

        That’s a lot of energy you put into responding to comments on Disqus without actually offering any counter arguments.

        • Watcho

          I guess I feel like, for someone trying to let data speak for the fest, you’re misleadingly selective with it. The fest isn’t just the bands, it has to include the visual artists and the panel speakers because that’s what the event is. And conceptually, giving a selection of female music performers the opportunity to *also* speak their minds on a panel is significant. Laurie Anderson’s talk doesn’t have to compete with a Thom Yorke panel on Israel or analog doodads, she gets to speak in a place of prominence and also perform. And yeah, we’re at a place where 40% (or 33%, or 25%) representation is enough to get noticed as a standout. If that’s something you think is bad, I don’t know what to tell you. If you think it’s good, I don’t know why you choose to unscientifically belittle the effort.

          Also, it’s a fun event. Go check it out and have some fun.

          • brianjrobinson

            I don’t see how I’m being misleadingly selective. I clearly stated I was talking about the music lineup.

            Since you brought it up, and in the interest of being less selective, the visual artists are 2/3 (14-7) men. Again highly biased towards men. There are also 4 large groups of visual artists. 3 don’t list their members on their site, but one does. I have to go through a list of 19 men before they list their first woman member/employee. It gets better after that. 3 of the next 20 are women.

            The Friday lineup is 6-4 in favor of women. I’ll acknowledge that. But Friday isn’t on the same tier as the other days, as it requires separate ticket. Which means that many fewer people will be there. They gave women prominence on a stage, but they made it smaller than the other stage.

            All told, D4N has 90 men and 37 women scheduled (plus backing musicians and large visual collectives, both of which are likely to be overwhelmingly male-dominated). Woo hoo. We’ve almost reached 30% women. This is much better than other festivals. But it doesn’t qualify as Woman-centric.

            I think it is appalling that 30% representation by women is enough be considered a standout. We should be criticizing festivals that give men twice the representation of women. If we allow the bar to be set this low, the festivals will continue on course. If we don’t demand that women get equal representation, they won’t give it.

          • Watcho

            Well you could be a “this is a good start, but let’s hope it continues to increase” type person, or “we should be criticizing the festival for not meeting my ambiguous standards” guy. You disagree with the headline. Ok.

  • Pinky Escada

    Why does Afra get to decide what the world needs right now?

    • Watcho

      He gets to decide what he wants to contribute to it, ace.

      • Pinky Escada

        Thanks for playing but I asked why he gets to decide.

  • Robert Feria

    …except the supposedly important discussion Friday which is the political part of the festival, is made prohibitive in its expense. Instead D4N, which has been their M.O., is merely trying to capitalize on that dialogue. Just look at how the festival is run — it’s a bleak dystopian capitalist future. Horrible smelly and disgusting blacktop, nowhere to rest or lay your head except on the cold hard ground unless you shell out big bucks for VIP status, chaos and confusion around events (Bjork last year? Good god). Things need to change. Making money off seeing great artists like St. Vincent or Solange do not “woke” a person or festival corporation make.

    • Watcho

      That’s interesting feedback. How would you improve the experience? How should St.Vincent and Solange be presented?

  • Tasha Gremillon

    Why the diss on Kings of Leon though Afra? I am clearly triggered, I love that band ha

  • AliCPA

    Whatever you do, DON’T BUY THE VIP PASS. I forked over the $760 last year and got nearly nothing for it. As advertised, there would be a “swag bag.” Nope. Never saw that, and no one I talked with knew anything about it. “Premium viewing areas” did not exist, even though they were highlighted on the map/program. The poor security guards were being bombarded with upset “VIP” fans looking for where to go.