As We See It

Further Future’s co-founder discusses improvements and additions to the festival

Further Future returns to the Moapa River Indian Reservation April 29-May 1.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

Experimental musicians you’d never dream of seeing in Southern Nevada, meals and booze purchased with a wave of a wristband, public discussions about human progress, and morning yoga sessions starting as the last DJs wound down.

Last May’s Further Future, held at the Moapa River Indian Reservation, represented a progressive oasis in the Southern Nevada desert. The cerebral music-and-more festival drew 2,000 attendees, who had to seek out invitation codes to buy passes, as the weekender’s organizers—known for their year-round Robot Heart events and mobile sound system at Burning Man—attempted to engineer an environment inhabited by like-minded folks not just coming to party and take selfies. For a newbie festival, it went smoothly, its music lineup and talks so compelling, and its overall experience so revelatory, this publication's staff awarded it Best Music Festival for last year's Best of Vegas awards.

That being said, it wasn't flawless, thanks to a few technical difficulties, half-finished displays and other logistical hitches. So the Further Future crew used attendee surveys to figure out what needed improvement for the next edition. They also planned for augmented offerings and expansion. Their year-long efforts promise a bigger and better event, which will take place on April 29-May 1, once again at the Moapa Reservation.

I recently spoke at length to Further Future creative director, content programmer and co-founder Jason Swamy via Skype about last year’s post mortem, this year’s beefed-up plans— including the music roster, which Swamy curates and books on his own—and what he hopes this year’s audience will take away from Southern Nevada’s most audacious and trailblazing event.

Further Future now boasts the subtitle: Beyond Vegas. I suspect it means something more than just its location just outside Las Vegas. I think we wanted it to be more poetic with it and have some mystery. The content we're providing is a niche-type event. Vegas tends to have the connotations for being very mass-market, [having] lots of bells and whistles [and] the Strip. You don't think of Vegas having this kind of forward-thinking content, though Tony Hsieh from Zappos is doing great job of trying to change that. We wanted to recognize we’re in Las Vegas, but also distance ourselves in a sense, both figuratively and literally.

What was the general take-away among you and your co-organizers after last year’s festival, and what encouraged you to produce a second edition? I think you have to do the first [festival] to do the second one, which is true of anything. That’s why it’s called a vision. In your mind, you have an idea of what the product should be, but budget constraints, capacity, resources and [such] things limit what you can do.

We had been talking about doing something as a collective for two years. … So we developed what we thought was a viable product, but also set the tone for the kind of impact we wanted to make—especially musically and on the speaker side—and we set the path for going about doing it. And despite the challenges and mishaps we had, we viewed year one as proof of concept. I think we accomplished that goal. I think people were thoroughly entertained. We hit a high note with that ... we got an award with year one. We were more than pleased.

It was the weekend of the [Mayweather-Pacquiao] fight, so a $100 room became a $1,000 room. A flight from Miami became $3,000. Those were key challenges. And then losing the [original festival] space literally two weeks before the event, that was very challenging. But nothing comes easy, and those things help you grow better.

We had rigorous and external feedback from our attendees and guests. Internally, we reviewed what we had done. We were happy with the results [but] we knew there were definitely shortcomings we had to address operationally and production-wise, which we have and then some. There are natural hiccups and growing pains for every year-one festival. I think for year two, this is a marked and exponential improvement on all fronts.

What will change? Who's coming on board? [With] the blueprint of the festival itself, there’s not a lot of change. It's optimizing and adding to what already exists and making it much better. There’s a complete overhaul of the logistics and making sure the flow of the event is better and adding content where there wasn’t. We’re focusing on the core, which is content, which is what we do best. We’ve outsourced to professionals who handle the production and operational side of things, that are non-core. We brought on new team members, who are very experienced in large-scale event production. There will be way more intricate stage design. We didn't finish [the stages] last year. This year, they’re art in and of themselves.

We’ve added … more shade structures, more activities during day, lockers, free chilled water, more of a sustainability angle—so this year our plating and utensils will be recyclable or made of starch-based products, and we’re working with water called Just Better water, where bottles are made of paper.

From one pop-up dinner last year, we now have five. We’ll bring in a myriad of different offerings that range from rare Japanese whiskeys to molecular gastronomy chef [Arthur Tsui] from Hong Kong to newly crowned bartenders from Velveteen Rabbit to Jason Neroni, a celebrated chef from LA. And besides the pop-up dinners, we heard people wanted more vegetarian/vegan options, so we have a lot of that, from juicing to farm-to-table options from Intuitive Forager from Vegas. So on the food front, we’ve expanded.

On the speaker front, we’ve just announced [Alphabet Inc/Google executive chairman] Eric Schmidt and [iHeartMedia chairman/CEO] Bob Pittman. We went from one speaker panel to four. … We’ll have the CEO of [Montreal-based] Moment Factory who have done lots of work in Vegas with Cirque du Soleil, Madonna, Muse, you name it ... they’ll be keynoting that. ... We’re introducing food talks as well, on sherry, Spanish wines, sake, vertical farming.

Technology-wise, we’ll have Yobie Benjamin and demoing the [Glyph] VR goggles. There will be a demonstration with Handsome Robotics, which has the most realistic humanoid faces. [Specular Theory CEO] Ryan Pulliam is showcasing and talking.

We've hired a highly trained logistics company for transportation, whereas last year, that was a pain point for some [guests]. [We’ll have] around-the-clock shuttle service that will be clearly and highly visible. We have hotel partners this year in local Las Vegas if they don’t want to stay onsite. We’ve outsourced the camping to G3 [Presents], one of most well-known festivals' providers for camping. We’re working with Entourage to run our high-end camping. We’re working with Luxe Guide to provide us with customized itineraries for customers with their recommended options. They’ve never done guides for festivals before, only cities. That’s kind of an honor. And a photographer can be booked to follow you around the festival.

The music lineup alone seems more eyeball-popping than last year’s. Was it easier luring artists for the second festival with the first in the books? Yeah. For sure. I’ve also been booking talent for 15 years for various projects of my own, beginning in New York and for the past eight years for Robot Heart. We have a lot of credibility on that front. A lot of these artists I’ve booked in the past. As curators, we owe it to the audience; it’s our job to be the custodian of good taste, to introduce people who may not have the resources to [experience] this amazing music. And it’s a privilege to work with such amazing artists who haven't been recognized yet and give them a platform.

Many of the acts you book wouldn’t otherwise play Las Vegas. Have the artists or the agents told you why they make the exception for Further Future? Fortunately, we haven't had any resistance because of Vegas. I have very deep relationships with agents and managers and they know where I’m coming from, and the kind of care that I have for these artists. We’re all about the music. They know I’m not booking the artists and taking them to Omnia, or sandwiching Tim Hecker with Steve Aoki and the Chainsmokers (laughs).

These artists are all adventurous, and by nature the music they make is adventurous. And when they saw who else was on the lineup, they were sold themselves. They were like, oh shit, we never get to play with these guys or see them. One of the coolest experiences for me [last year] was when I was walking around the festival and literally seeing all these artists watching other artists, which you never see that at festivals—they play and then pack up and leave. Here, they were in the crowd watching artists they never get to see, or hanging out and chatting with them.

The question [we often heard] was: Would we be able to fulfill backline requirements? We’re in the middle of nowhere. Leftfield has a very detailed production backline, [as does] Caribou. So there were concerns there. They wanted to make sure that we could pull that off. But we have people with really good experience on the production side to execute that.

The only resistance we saw, there were quite a few artists that couldn’t do it because their music isn’t meant for outdoors or they couldn't play in the heat. For example, Kid Koala is playing afternoon on Sunday. We want to make sure his records don’t warp while he’s cutting and doing his turntablism. … Those are some of the hesitations. It wasn’t, “Oh, no, not Vegas.”

Will there be around the same amount of live acts this year? You're looking at about 50/50 split—I would say more live than DJs. [Begins reading a list of all the live acts.] Voices From the Lake basically plays live. WhoMadeWho is a band, Still Corners is a band, Papercutz is a band … Low Leaf from LA is amazing, she plays electric harp … Rival Consoles is live, they're amazing. … When you look at it, most of it's live. On the Robot Heart bus, it’s predominantly DJs. Dixon and Lee Burridge [will each play] extended sets at sunrise, for 4 or 5 or more hours. And we’ll have secret sets which I can’t tell you about. Last year we had Tycho.

I see your name on the lineup as well. You’ll be DJing alongside John Dill? Yes. Dill and I went to college together, we’re very close friends and DJ partners. For us, this is special because we don’t get to play together often much. The DJ thing is on the backburner for me. But I’ll dust off the records for this event.

Is there a learning curve for the new hires like Jolene Mannina, who you hired to assist with the culinary program? There’s definitely a learning curve. Jolene’s been amazing to work with. Her learning curve was very short, and we get along really well. We’re both crazy about food. I take it as seriously if not more than the music. It’s a very symbiotic relationship. That makes it easier.

In terms of the curve, it’s hard because our [founding] team is born out of Robot Heart. We have eight years of working together, so we’re very close friends, and there’s a very idiosyncratic way we do things. We’re very particular about things; it's all about curation, the branding, the types of speakers and food … we think it’s very thought out. So when we on-board new members, there’s a lot of catching up [for them]. But you find a like minded person and they get it pretty quickly.

Last year there was the meditation, yoga, sound baths, virtual reality and the like available to all guests. What can we expect this year with regards to health and consciousness? We’re going to have much more robust wellness offerings. That was one of the big highlights for some people, [it was] very community-building because it was one of the only shade structures available. It was a congregation spot, and where people connected with each other. We’ve increased [its] footprint significantly and have programming around the clock. There are lots of surprises I can’t talk about yet.

Do you feel like the mission statement and intents of the festival resonated with and even enlightened festival-goers last year? Certainly. How do I know that? We aggressively surveyed our audience, and we even do that currently when we send out our newsletters. We had about 2,000 people on-site last year, with several hundred responses in the surveys. That’s a pretty high response rate. A lot of them felt there was some magic there. To be a little bit succinct about it, they felt it was more than a music festival.

[Regarding] the talks themselves, I think edutainment is the best way to get messaging through to people. I think the traditional model of name tags and business cards and sitting in a conference room, that sort of one-to-many learning, is dying. I think interactivity in a social setting where people are comfortable and in their natural state is a far more effective way of conveying what you’re trying to do. When people are enjoying music, they feel they’re in a safe, comfortable environment, and they’re more open to learning—[some] don’t even know that they are learning!

What is the festival’s capacity this year? Our goal is to grow the festival experience in a sensible way. You're running a business, you want to grow sales and attendees. Part of the charm of the first one was that it was intimate. We look to double that and we're on track to do that, if not more. But our intent is not to do more than that. Then it's a different feel. You need to iterate the experience or it’s a different project.

Did Further Future sign a long-term contract with the Moapa tribe? We have an agreement with the tribe to work with them to develop the land, but not a concrete contract, per se. Our goal is to work with the tribe long term and help them.

So, what does the future look like for Further Future? We didn’t do the event with the intention of doing one and seeing how it goes. The vision was in place for the lifetime of the company. The vision is to build upon the pillars of what we’re doing, grow the audience, develop the content year-round so we can build this community, and spread it to various geographic locations over time in various shapes and forms. In our minds, these are necessary stepping stones to our final goal: to achieve the vision. The event is a means to the end. It's reflected in feedback, social media and the ticket sales for this year. And it's obviously reflected in the [participants] and artists we have this year. You’re not going to get Eric Schmidt or Nicolas Jaar to participate in your event if you're not at the top of your game or if the vision doesn't resonate with them.

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