After being held captive inside our homes for over a year, it feels good to finally relive live music. With the wave of music festivals at the peak of summer, came a new glimmer of hope, a glimmer of anticipation and the chance to (finally!) Quench our thirst for human interaction. While the pandemic robbed us of the My Chemical Romance reunion tour we deserve and Frank Ocean’s adorned Coachella lineup, it hasn’t stopped music lovers and thrill seekers from traveling the country for a delicious respite. With security protocols in place – mask warrants, proof of vaccination and / or negative COVID test results, etc. – even larger-scale and longer-lasting festivals have returned to the world.
This coming weekend, Elements Music and Art Festival joins the ranks of resuscitated and rescheduled multi-day festivals. Its “exhausted” status is a testament to people’s impatience for this beloved event to punctuate their summers.
Imagine a world where idyllic natural backdrops, whimsical artwork and fiery bass meet the music festival fantasy of your dreams. Where a wide variety of electronic music genres are mixed – all segmented by which natural element with which the music presented harmonizes best (earth, wind, fire, water, air). The idea itself is less that of a classic festival than that of what festival co-founder Brett Herman describes as “meaningful and magical events”.
Sounds like an epic Labor Day weekend, right?
To delve deeper into the story of Elements, the community it hopes to create, and the challenges of creating a safe festival environment during a pandemic, I spoke with co-founders Brett Herman and Timothy Monkiewicz. Check out our convo below!
How many years has the festival existed? Tell me a bit about what inspired you to start this festival.
Brett: Elements debuted in 2013 as a New York waterfront festival. Then, in 2017, we reinvented Elements as a three-day camping festival. So there has been an evolution. I think the inspiration came from doing these big warehouse parties, which were starting to get bigger and bigger to the point of capacity – and that the festival format, with multiple music stages, would give us a lot more. wide range of expression and space to create; and even more so once the festival has evolved into a three-day camping festival. You now have a 72 hour canvas. And the possibilities are much greater.
Timothy: I would also like to note that I think we’ve always wanted to do festivals from the start. It has always been a dream. None of us came in with the money or brought in a bunch of investors or anything. So, it’s really about preparing for it. We went from underground parties to warehouse parties with 5,000 people, and we started hosting outdoor events in New York City that grew to 10,000. Then we moved to the campsite patio. It’s really about saving and gaining experience you need to know to run outdoor events which is way more than I imagined, especially the camping festival. It’s been a long road, but finally, here we are.
Seems like the first year is a bit more of a real festival, you know, with over 5,000 people, which is really cool.
Brett: I think the only constant thing has been pushing the boundaries year after year. Each year must be crazier, more interesting, more spectacular than the last. We’ve put pretty much everything that comes out of Elements back into Elements. So you see its growth year over year, especially this year. Now that it’s the fourth year at this location, I think people are going to be blown away by the arts and energy that has been built up.
Coming back to all this underground and warehouse component, do you have the impression that it’s still the atmosphere of the festival?
Timothy: We’re from the underground scene in Brooklyn – it can be scorching, it can be fun, it can be self-explanatory, it can be a lot of different things. I think that’s something we bring to the festival, in terms of a little more outside and a little more risky. Where some of the other festivals are more in the middle, we come from that kind of underground world where we have drag queens running around with people getting tattoos. It’s not that crazy, but it’s just a little more of the New York flavor than a more in-between festival. We’ve got a lot of nooks and crannies for you to explore and if you dig deeper there’s the main stages with big names like Diplo, but when you dig deeper there’s a really cool flavor of the Brooklyn Subway. Everything is really special.
What does the process look like to determine who the artists will be with the artistic programming?
Timothy: I guess the lineup is definitely eclectic. We really try to tackle a lot of different genres and put some really tasteful stuff into it – from Bonobo to CloZee – really a mix, not trying to please every last person in the world, but we like to have our different genres so that people can come and find cool stuff. And to be honest, a lot of the festivals outside, just make a genre that makes more sense because you can spend all the money on a huge headliner. But for us, we are based on our community meeting people. There are a few big headliners, but many of these artists are local or regional and are booming. So we would like to promote them and give them good fixed times. Some people who only played for 50 play for 3,000, which is really a really cool thing.
Brett: Art is also one of the areas that gives us the most joy. It’s more than a music festival – it’s a higher immersive experience. Everywhere you look, the area is transformed. We try to be maximum. Regardless of the remaining budget, we tend to say yes in art departments. As it’s the same weekend as Burning Man, we’ve had a lot of amazing submissions and honorary artists who couldn’t showcase their art at Burning Man this year. So we are extremely grateful to be able to present and provide a platform for so many artists who have had pent-up creative energy throughout the pandemic.
To go further, how do you find these visual artists? Do they send out proposals, or do you have an open call?
Timothy: There are a lot. I mean, it’s all over the place, we make open calls. Some people come our way, some people we follow on Instagram. We’ll see some drug stuff and we’re like, “Hey, you wanna try this? It’s certainly a big process. It’s just a lot of work. A lot of artists are brilliant, but can also have weird hangups. So you have to be very patient and very grateful for what they are doing. The end result is awesome.
Brett: If anyone has a crazy idea that they want to see for real, don’t hesitate to contact us. Ultimately, it’s about having a dream and turning it into a tangible experience. We’ve had some great trips with unexpected people along the way.
What do you admire and love both about Elements and what you bring to the festival circuit?
Timothy: I think one of my favorite things about the festival is the fact that we bring together communities that don’t normally party or hang out. Often there are different scenes in electronic music. There is bass music and they all go to these venues, then the house people who go to Tulum or Burning Man. Then there are the tech-house people who go to different places. With us, I think the coolest thing we’ve done is we’ve got different areas; each stage has its own atmosphere. We create these beautiful pathways to each step and the beautiful things that draw people to them. So many people are like, “Wow, I met these great people that I never would have met! I ran across the Earth stage and I really love this artist and I didn’t realize I liked this music because I was so locked in with my one genre.
So many people at festivals meet new lifelong friends. And I think we’re one of the best at it. We are very open minded. We love all kinds of music and stuff. We just give people a really cool place to meet other people surrounded by cool art and stuff.
Brett: Where to start? My favorite things at the festival were often the little experiences that you find along the way. It is not always the destination. This is the journey. It’s the eerie performance you saw between two cabins or a solo piece of art in the woods. I find that sometimes the little, simple things can really speak to you more. I hope that as we grow older we can continue to create more of these magical and meaningful events throughout. What brings me the most joy at this and other festivals is the discovery. So, I hope people will discover new musicians, new artists, and really come away with a bigger palate.
Burning Man and so many “transformational festivals” inspired by it have been accused of being stratified by wealth or fame. How do you create community at a festival and make guests feel together?
We believe that every way we can invite people to be a part of the creation process is the way to do it. We want customers to feel like they are part of the experience, and we invite them to create art, create themed camps, do more than just attend, invent a costume and be the best of you. -same. We were inspired by New York where we founded the company; and one thing that makes New York incredibly special is the diversity of people you find interacting in the nightlife – from the folks on Wall Street to drag queens to artists to any name. It’s diverse across cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and artistic tastes, in general, which really makes for a great mix. You have to have all the elements, so to speak.
“All the elements” – I love it. What were the COVID challenges with the restart of the festival?
With our small events in 2020, we feel like we have a head start in preparing for the challenges of ’21 – dealing with ever-changing regulations, new scientific data and new recommendations from scientific professionals and medical. In some ways, being in the pandemic longer made it easier, as several best practices have evolved since then. But we are always glued to the news, glued to the latest updates from the health and scientific communities because the safety of our customers is always paramount.
Excellent. What do you encourage newcomers to the festival to do to prepare? What attitudes and energy do you hope they have?
We want newcomers to feel the same crazy zeal and electric energy that we felt going to underground and quirky parties when we first arrived in New York. We want every aspect of the festival experience to be like this; like you can spark anywhere, in any direction, and every person you talk to is going to explore an amazing new world.