The phrase "music festival" conjures images of pulsing lights, teeth-gnashing bass, and mobs of substance-fueled revelers. But Greg Alvarez, co-founder of Miami's multi-use art space Vidium, wants to turn this perception on its head with his new ambient- and drone-music focused festival. Named Sustain/Decay, the 48-hour festival will make its debut at the 777 International Mall in Downtown Miami this weekend.
"Sustain/Decay is a meditative experience," says Alvarez. "I was hanging out at III Points [Music Festival] and felt I needed to go somewhere and meditate for a second because of all the sensory input I was getting," he remembers. "Then, in my head, I started thinking, Why isn't there an ambient music festival in Miami?"
For fans of drone music, the closest analog to Sustain/Decay available in Miami is the annual International Noise Conference, but that festival could hardly be described as "meditative." Alvarez says the music that will be played at Sustain/Decay takes its time to take hold of the listener. "It's the kind of music you can't appreciate unless it's over a long duration," Alvarez explains.
He knows even the most dedicated live music fans in Miami might be unfamiliar with the kind of music they'll hear at the festival. Ambient music doesn't get much airtime or popular attention. "Ambient music usually doesn't have a rhythm. That's why we called it 'Sustain/Decay,' because there's no attack to the music," he says. "Instead, you live within the notes, within the ambiance. It plays with the room. Ambient music is very prominent in different cultures. It's something you can meditate with to zone out and experience music in a different form. It can be thought of, generally, as music without structure."
Sustain/Decay will focus on ambient's more stimulating qualities. "Drone [music] is a subset of ambient [music]," explains Alvarez. "Drone can be more noise, or performance-driven, or something very repetitive. A band like [Sustain/Decay performers] Holly Hunt, [which] repeats a riff for a very long time so you can settle into it, can be called 'drone.' It still has the mechanization of music, though, so it isn't truly subdued or backgrounded enough to be ambient."
In this spirit, Alvarez is keeping Sustain/Decay's lineup musically diverse. "The festival will have ambient sound, drone, noise, guitars, singing, performance art... There are 48 artists, each playing for an hour, so there's a very wide sample of people and their interpretations of ambient music."
To ramp up the festival's meditative aspects, Alvarez decided to test attendees' endurance with 48 consecutive hours of music and art. "I originally wanted to make a 24-hour music experience, but I ended up wanting to showcase a lot more variety," he says. "24 hours didn't feel right. I needed it to feel like an endurance fest, to challenge the people who attend. We shaped an experience with things for people to hear, see, and do. We'll have visuals by Ammy Juliet, KC Toimil will be installing a piece about mental illness, Monica from the TM Sisters will be doing a video piece... so you can experience both the music and art simultaneously."
The location — a three-story, abandoned Payless Shoes store adjacent to Mana Contemporary at the 777 Mall in Downtown Miami — was sourced with equal care. "The first floor will be the vendors welcoming you, the second floor will have the artists and projections, and the third floor will be a camping experience with art installations," Alvarez details excitedly. "I want people to experience the space as much as they experience the music."
The ambitious festival is the latest extension of Alvarez's work with Vidium, which has been pushing boundaries in the local art scene for the past two years. "We want people to be sucked in," he says. "We want to do this every year and have it be more engaging and challenging each time. Nobody is doing this in Florida. There's a 24-hour drone festival in New York, but nothing quite this lengthy, so it's unique. We have a roster of people from all over the world coming to play — from New York, Texas, Italy — which is exciting."
Sustain/Decay. Friday, October 18 through Sunday, October 20 at 777 International Mall, 141 E. Flagler St., Miami; 305-379-7814. Tickets cost $10 via eventbrite.com.