The branding for Further Future's inaugural outing on the Moapa Indian Reservation, 45 minutes north of Las Vegas, May 1-3, featured slick designs and svelte female models in avant-garde, futurist regalia posing in barren wastelands. Born from the same minds behind Burning Man's storied Robot Heart camp and art car, the Further Future festival carried high expectations, a stacked lineup of left field artists, and the option of uniquely luxurious amenities in the desert, including pop-up dinners, a full spa, a gong bath, talks from CEOs of world-beating tech companies, and helicopter rides in and out of the grounds. Think Burning Man, just without those pesky commoners. It was an ambitious task for the first-time festival and the results were an erratic mix of triumphant, promising, and underwhelming.
Before the event even began, there were issues. Tensions arose in the run-up between Further Future organizers and higher-ups at Burning Man due to an unspoken agreement that nothing that happens on the playa is to be used for profit elsewhere. Therefore, the Robot Heart organization was strongly discouraged from associating their name with Further Future itself. This left them in the awkward situation of not being able to publicly use the best-known aspect of their event to promote it.
That wasn't the extent of their pre-event issues. Just two weeks prior to launch, the Bureau of Land Management (a federal agency) denied organizers a commercial use permit for the roads leading towards the intended location, an abandoned mine in Lake Mead, NV. Organizers rushed to find another site to build and settled on land owned by the Moapa band of Paiute Indians. The last-minute scramble of the situation meant Further Future were behind on their set-up schedule and were left playing catch up from the jump.
Upon arrival on Friday evening, construction vehicles were still building the final production aspects while some musical acts were already performing. Although "apocalyptic-industrial" was intended to be the overall aesthetic, watching cranes drive around setting up stages while notable smart-dance acts like Martyn and Actress brought down the sun to an empty dancefloor at the sizable Mothership Stage was not the kind of surreal the organizers had in mind.
That said, once in place, aspects of the production were top-notch. The Mothership was on par with stages at any premiere festival in the world, the Robot Heart stage brought Playa vibes to the desert expanse in droves, and the multi-leveled, whitewashed Booba Cosmica stage off in the distance was one of the most unique stage designs I've ever seen—and the sound at all three stages was pristine. Further, the lineup was an intrepid array of DJs and live acts that reached from FaltyDL to Bob Moses to The Orb, Com Truise, and Taylor McFerrin.
Further Future's daybed swag was on point. Countless plush resting spots dotted the landscape upon which you could gaze out upon the hypnotic pattern of desolate plant life that stretched beyond the horizon. In the stifling spring heat, they were a useful comfort from which to while away the steamier hours of the day.
The Speaker Series at the Booba Cosmica was the exercise in thought-leading moon-shooting you'd hope it would be. Evernote CEO Phil Libin gave a lecture on the meaning of life (Cliff's note: It's do things), while inventor-extraordinaire Saul Griffith's topics of conversation veered from government dark programs, to the singularity, to aliens, to the real-life concept of an Iron Man within the space of 20 minutes. SoundCloud CEO Alex Ljung, Zappos guru Tony Hsieh and other technorati-hippie luminaries populated the lineup with equally ambitious thought sermons.
When Damian Lazarus and his Ancient Moons took the Mothership stage on Saturday night, the sparsely populated dancefloor was awash in yellow light. Lazarus, who likely hasn't performed to such a small crowd in years, proved he's a true performer by maintaining the intensity levels of his stage presence and arresting the audience's attentions through sheer will and cult of personality alone. By the end of the set, the dancefloor was more crowded than it had been all weekend.
Flanking Lazarus's set in the schedule were notable performances from OWSLA's dark-psych band Hundred Waters and current electro-R&B heroes Rhye pushed the live-leaning Mothership stage towards a pensive, progressive aesthetic that could develop in future years as dance music's trend towards live elements continues to grow.
The Robot Heart stage, on the other hand, pushed a genre that could be dubbed "Playa house" all night long. Acts like Bedouin and Thugfucker, who brought up the sun on Sunday morning, are so swathed in Burner culture that their grasp on the aesthetic—weird, deep, and dark—is perfect. The wee hours of the morning at that stage were the most effortless in its vibe. This is the kind of party this crowd is used to.
Further Future presents an interesting case study, especially when contrasted with renegade party squad Desert Hearts. Both are West Coast, Playa-inspired, newer festivals on the rise, but the latter scaled gradually. Desert Hearts's first iteration, just over two years ago, was a near-disastrous affair with a picnic table stage, rain, and police interference halting affairs on numerous occasions. What they had, though, was an ethos of inclusivity, a committed audience, and the social capital to grow at a steady, organic pace.
Further Future, on the other hand, came out swinging for the fences with a budget to support substantial production, positioning themselves amongst the upper crust of Burners, but found their audience lacking. Burner culture has been moving more towards the mainstream over the past few years—some would say those behind Robot Heart are part of this trend with Diplo and Skrillex appearing at their Black Rock City stage last year. Still, Further Future's push for exclusivity is against the grain. That's all well and good, but when your party is so exclusive that the dancefloor is empty, you've probably gone a little too far.
All in all, Further Future seemed an expensive dress rehearsal for a festival that could very well grow into something of a powerhouse in the, uh, future. First-time events are always a crapshoot, and without a megalithic enterprise like Live Nation or Goldenvoice to hold their hands (and file the appropriate paperwork), Robot Heart threw themselves into the deep end and, despite their tribulations, pulled off a festival with many impressive elements. With a bit of momentum, the fest will occupy a unique and powerful space in festival culture: Burner inspired, mainstream-facing and with oodles of style. The future of the Future is something to keep an eye on, despite the teething pains of its first endeavor.
Jemayel Khawaja is Managing Editor of THUMP.