The summer is flying by, our political consciousness is ablaze, and we have reached peak music festival. Okay, correction: we reached peak music festival a while ago. We are well overdue for something different. Thankfully, FORM: Arcosanti is part of a new generation of events redefining the music festival as a summit for community, dialogue, and creativity. A mere 1500 people are granted access to attend the three-day event each year and, in May, I was lucky enough to experience FORM for myself. Watch the episode of See Here Now below to see how it actually went.
As a concept, the music festival dates back hundreds of years, but our modern frame of reference recalls the Newport Jazz Festival and the Reading Festival, founded in 1954 and 1961, respectively. Though music was the centerpiece, festival culture emerged holistically around it to encompass unique fashion, overnight camping, lively crowds, and a healthy cross-pollination of ideas.
Clearly that culture is still intact, but a lot has changed since then, i.e. the internet. With peer-to-peer file sharing and streaming services, the internet fundamentally unsettled the music industry and shifted its business model away from selling records and toward ticket sales for concerts and live events. It’s no wonder that music festivals are so prevalent. But what began as an opportunity for community and music IRL has become a big and impersonal business: get the best artists, sell the most tickets, get the most press, invite the most celebs, sell lots of alcohol, get the most social media engagement. The experience of attending, it seems, is secondary to achieving an impressive and profitable scale. Does the world really need more music festivals like that?
Enter FORM, an annual festival hosted in Arcosanti, AZ, an eco-urban experiment of a town designed in the 1970s by architect Paolo Soleri. FORM was originally founded in 2014 by the band members of LA-based trio Hundred Waters as a way to debut their second album, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, to a small community of friends.
Now, in its more public incarnation, FORM invites the public to apply for admission by responding to the question “What inspires you?” More than simply providing an impressively eclectic mix of entertainment (peep the 2017 lineup for reference), FORM’s programming encourages engagement amongst all in attendance with documentary screenings and panel discussions on issues like identity and reproductive justice. The social atmosphere is designed to be fluid, inclusive, and humble. With 8 a.m. rooftop yoga, camping, and long nights of immersive ambient music, community is kind of a given. Even though my camera separated me from having a typical experience, I had conversations with strangers that flowed quite organically. Once, upon seeing me struggle to rub in sunscreen on my back, a bystander offered to lend a hand, and we ended up becoming friends on Facebook. (I got a sunburn anyway though, thanks for asking.)
FORM blurs the boundaries between spectacle and spectator. This past May, fashion-inflected performance art wove its way through the crowds and Arcosanti architecture, and musical artists commingled with event attendees. High profile performances on stage were similar: though security staff were present, there were no barricades. The vibe at Solange’s set was as intimate and celebratory as a friend’s wedding reception. It was a far cry from the vast majority of summer festival experiences, which submit patrons to the sun-baking, humanity-negating boredom of waiting for a headliner while getting drunk in a muddy, fenced-in field. Don’t we deserve better? I think so.