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Dawn Richard & Julia Holter Talk Sensations, VR, and Visual Artwork

At FORM Arcosanti music festival, we spoke to the talents behind 'Blackheart' and 'Have You In My Wilderness.'

Local Natives perform at FORM Arcosanti. Credit: Jasmine Safaeian

As both audience and performer, Hundred Waters adds several rare elements to the festival experience, FORM Arcosanti. Can you name another festival in which audiences may climb up the curved main amphitheater roof and gaze down at their favorite band performing below, or seek out a micro city’s resident cat wandering around for a brief pet before the next set?


Over three days in the Arizona desert, camping out and listening to a diverse lineup of artists, architecture and setting played into performers’ sets unlike any festival I’ve seen. The lack of conflicting set times—each day had an hour-to-hour focus on just one band or performer—lent proceedings an unhurried, shared pace: there were few missed connections, since you were largely all going to the same spot.

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Skrillex performs at FORM Arcosanti. Photo Credit: Jasmine Safaeian

On Friday, headliner Skrillex played a storming nighttime DJ set, the beginnings of what would grow into an epic 36-hour sonic journey across the city. The next day, Bing & Ruth provided a serene place on the Arcosanti canyon cliffside, as pianist David Moore progressed through beautiful arrangements to a crowd sitting around his baby grand piano. Dan Deacon, already known for interactivity in his live shows, then made the amphitheater crowd his party putty the same night—he divided them up and started a dance competition, and later organized a human tunnel around the edge of the venue.

“Other festivals tend to have a base, this is all the base. It's the stage, it’s where you hang out, it’s everything.” Dawn Richard, a.k.a., D∆WN mentioned from backstage before her set, as her choreographer Anthony Jackson and back up dancers all prepared for the performance.

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Dawn performs at FORM Arcosanti. Photo courtesy of the author That afternoon, she delivered the first real jolt of energy to FORM, drawing from her acclaimed solo albums Goldenheart and Blackheart to deliver a skillful, physical set that filled the space.


Richard has recently cultivated a holistic approach to her output. That’s meant creating striking music videos like “Titans,” which featured her and her dancers turning into obsidian shapes, and “Calypso,” which tapped GIF artist Kyttenjanae to put a utopian spin on the titular myth. It’s also meant branching out into virtual reality—she just performed the first 360° VR concert for YouTube—and speaking with her during FORM, a similar path seems brewing for solo LP number four, RED*emp*tion, in the form of a VR video for every song on the album. “The huge idea with RED*emp*tion is a focus on VR, and a focus on really touching digital design—how you can blend sound the same way you do visually,” she said. “The album is done, but now I gotta create the world around it. That's where the nerd in me comes out, the gamer, the kid that wants to figure out, ‘How do we make the video? How do we make render times shorter? If there's a deadline, how do we make this more efficient?’“

Last year Richard traveled to Sundance’s New Frontier section for research into virtual reality, and was excited by how her questions to filmmakers returned few concrete answers.

“Everything in VR is new, very new, and the reason why the new album’s taking so long is because we’re curating something that hasn't been done before,” she explained. “It's untouched; it's trial and error. But I think once we get there it's something that'll be quite amazing. It's gonna get fun. We’re really getting to play with form and the body, and I'm lucky to have a team that lets me do that.”

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Julia Holter performs at FORM Arcosanti. Photo Credit: Jasmine Safaeian

On Sunday, Julia Holter landed at Arcosanti for her FORM set, playing cuts off her most recent record, Have You In My Wilderness, with regular collaborators Andrew Tholl (Violin), Chris Votek (Cello), Corey Fogel (Drums), Devin Hoff (Bass), and Dina Maccabee (viola and vocals).

Speaking about her process, Holter said she’s into the first few months where’s she able to write new material, but it’s going to take a lot more “messing around” before hitting that point.

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Julia Holter performs at FORM Arcosanti. Photo courtesy of the author

“I guess at a point with every record I've done there's a point where it feels like ‘something.’ I always think Tragedy [Holter’s first LP] is a good example of that. With that I was making drawings, and trying to evoke this overall shadowy feeling. I was reading these different Greek tragedies all at once for some reason, and when I was reading this one tragedy, Hippolytus, I was like, 'Oh, I want to make this into a record.' It just made sense to me.”

For her visual work, Holter says she mostly turns to collaborators’ ideas for how they interpret her music. However, one recent deviation from that was the oddly heartwarming video for “Feel You,” which depicts Holter’s affection with her boyfriend’s canine companion, Frances.

“For that one, it was my idea to have Frances in it. Jose [Wolff, the video’s director] had already made this beautiful piece for the song that was really nice, but it was all me, and I didn’t understand the emotion of it,” she said. “I did take control a little, saying ‘Let's have something emotional in here.’ Frances has this melancholy, and a beautiful soul that I love so much. He's such an incredible creature, and I just wanted to document him in that way. Jose did a great job capturing that. The video feels so light and free and casual at the same time.”


More information on FORM Arcosanti can be found here.


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