Desert Daze Founder Phil Pirrone Talks New Location, Programming, Future Plans, and More
Anyone who follows Weirdo Music Forever’s posts and interviews is most likely aware that the annual Desert Daze (held October of each year in Southern California) has become a highlight of our year. With performances in recent years by some of our all-time favorite artists like Ariel Pink, John Maus, Gary Wilson, Part Time, Weyes Blood, Connan Mockasin, and Sloppy Jane, how could it not be? Combine that kind of musical artistry with stunning interactive art in the inspiring laid-back desert landscape, and Desert Daze arguably emerges as one of the world’s most significant recurring music and art experiences.
Confirmed bookings for Desert Daze 2018 include Tame Impala, Connan Mockasin, and Ty Segall, and tickets for the event on sale now. With all this in mind, WMF welcomed the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Desert Daze founder Phil Pirrone about the event’s new location, the thought behind its music and art programming, and much more.
Bobby Weirdo: I wanted to start by talking about Desert Daze location change. My understanding is that as of 2017, Desert Daze had expressed the desire to stay at the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, but now the event is going to be in Moreno Valley at Lake Perris. What are your thoughts on the new location?
Phil Pirrone: I’ve been familiar with the new location for a few years now, and I’ve been there many times scouting it out. I always knew I wanted to do something there, and the opportunity presented itself to do Desert Daze there. We love Joshua Tree and plan to do more events there, so we’re hoping it can be the best of both worlds.
For the kind event we want to present, this layout [at the new location] will create a different kind of experience. The water adds an interesting element for us, and the fact that it’s so vast is something that’s interesting. Once you go over the hill, the park reveals itself – the lake and the mountains surrounding it. It’s pretty grand, and once you’re in the park, it’s detached from any sense of being in a city, or Southern California, or anywhere, really. There’s a 360-degree horizon of mountains, which is amazing. There are a lot of rock formations and energetically speaking, it’s an interesting landscape. So we’re really excited to have all the people that make up Desert Daze there, because that’s the active ingredient.
BW: When you say “all the people that make up Desert Daze,” to whom are you referring?
PP: The people who come to it, and the people who produce it. There’s a real sense of community there, because a lot of people have been coming to it since the beginning. There are groups of families and friends that attend the event, and it’s become a yearly ritual [for them] like it has for us. It’s cool to experience that with these groups of people. There are people in the audience we recognize and know by first names, and that’s a big part of what makes the event what it is.
BW: Is there going to be a similar stage setup in the new location to what there has been in years past? The Block and Moon stages, for instance, have been the bigger, more “main” stages, and then there’s been the Wright Tent, which I want to speak about specifically. Will there be new names and formats for the stages in the new location?
PP: It’s pretty much the same format, and we’ve expanded upon it. Moon and Block will still be there, and the tent stage is now called The Theater. There are going to be films, talks, and other programming in The Theater, as well as music. Circular Dimensions is coming back, doing their immersive projection/music 4-D environment, which mixes visual projections and physical installs in the space.
New this year, there is going to be late-night after-hours programming on a stage in the campgrounds. The Mystic Bazaar is coming back, and that will also be in the campgrounds with metaphysical programming.
BW: Is there someone particular who programs the tent? I’ve seen so many great acts there like John Maus, Gary Wilson, Connan Mockasin, Sloppy Jane, Cellars, Drab Majesty, and Mild High Club, just to name a few…the whole festival is striking in its curation, but that stage especially feels really well thought-through.
PP: Thank you. A small team and I curate the lineup and scheduling. The one downside for me as someone who is tasked with programming the event, is that – in my opinion - everything in the lineup is so good and I’m such a fan of everything in the lineup. I think most of the people who come to this event are like me in the sense that they like a bunch of the stuff, so there are a lot of scheduling conflicts we try to avoid. There are certain bands that just can’t play at the same time; it’s really difficult.
But it’s worked out, and the Tent has its own strange identity somehow. That’s all we’re thinking about: what kind of show – in what order – would we want to see. Also, we think about what bands we would want to see in which environment, like outdoors versus the tent setting. It’s all very intentional. Obviously there are other factors at play, like you need to make sure the bands are happy with their slot, and you have to make sure the other people involved with the process are happy. But that aside, you try to tell a cohesive story, and not have the scheduling get in the way. Nobody, for instance, wants Ariel Pink and John Maus to play [on different stages] at the same time.
BW: Do you think you can keep Desert Daze in the sweet spot with its great programing and feel as it continues to evolve, but not get too corporate and big?
PP: Right now, it’s fortunately in that beautiful zone. We’re not striving to be a big festival; that’s not the aim. We’re still growing, and it’s not necessarily something we have to combat right now. We’re still trying to get the people – the people this would mean something to – to come out to it.
The aim and top priority is the impact this kind of event could have on people. We’re also kind of a niche thing. We’re not going to do our booking in a catch-em-all kind of way; it’s going to be tailored. It’ll be eclectic, but curated. I don’t know if we’ll ever have that issue [of getting too big]. Part of the reason we’re excited about Moreno Beach and the new location is that if a few more people came to it, it would still remain comfortable, intimate, and spacious in all the right ways.
BW: You mention making an impact. I know there’s a Desert Daze mission statement, and in the past you’ve also talked about the lineup telling a story. Are these all the same thing? What is the elevator pitch for the story that Desert Daze tells?
PP: There are multiple layers to that. The mission statement speaks for itself, but we really put a lot of love into this event. We want that to be what people get out of it, and we want them to be fulfilled and nourished. That may sound lofty, but we have a scientific approach to it in a way. We want to design and engineer the event that is going to facilitate growth. So that’s always the mission we’re on.
As far as telling a story with the lineup…like last year when we had Iggy Pop and John Cale. Having those two artists together was so fun, and such a treat for us to put that together for people. We want little fun things that tie the lineup together.
BW: Is Mason Rothschild still the art director, and what can we except with the art at this year’s Desert Daze?
PP: Mason is hard at work with his team. We are bringing back most of the familiar faces of the past installs and experiences. Every year we try to expand as much as we can with the immersive, experiential stuff. We want Desert Daze to be about more than just music; we want it to be about a lot of different things. So a big priority for us going forward is to expand on that programming as much as we can with each event.
BW: I’ve noticed a few Desert Daze art artifacts have made their way to Nonplus Ultra in recent years. Is there a connection there?
PP: They’ve got to go somewhere, and they’re buds of ours, so it makes sense to put them to good use there.
BW: What’s the timeline for putting a Desert Daze event together? Are you already, for instance, working on 2019 in some way?
PP: We’re working on 2019. This will be the first year in the new location, so we’ll be learning a lot that we don’t know about the location, and putting that into action after the event. But right now we’re working on booking 2019 and other logistical things.
BW: Is there an elusive, “holy grail” Desert Daze booking that you’re working on?
PP: Yes, there is. And we have one of them this year.
BW: I’m assuming it’s a secret?
PP: We have to keep a lid on it for now.
BW: When will the Stage 3 Transmission be?
PP: Sometime this summer.
BW: Your band JJUUJJUU will soon be touring with Primus and Mastodon. How does it work being in a busy band like that, and also working on Desert Daze?
PP: I have a Wi-Fi thingy so I have Wi-Fi everywhere I go, and that’s pretty much how we get it done. It’s easier and easier these days; there are a lot of tools to help you stay in the loop and on top of things. It’s harder on the road, and I’ve just got my laptop on my lap pretty much the entire time I’m not on stage. Mason is in JJJUUJJUU, and that’s really rad that we’re in a band [together]. We’re constantly saying back and forth, “Hey, what about this?” So it’s kind of better [in that way] than when we’re home, because when we’re home we might [only] see each other a few hours a week.
BW: So Mason is still in JJUUJJUU, but Andrew [Clinco, Drab Majesty] is not, correct?
PP: Yeah. It’s been a few years. He’s very busy with his own stuff, but he played on a couple tunes on the record, and I think he’ll play on at least a couple tunes on the next record.
BW: Well, WMF will be at the entire 2018 Desert Daze event in October, and we’re really looking forward to it.
PP: Awesome – thanks for spreading the word.
You can purchase Desert Daze tickets here.