Phil Pirrone Talks Desert Daze & The State of Rock 'n' Roll
We’re in an era in which commercialization has saturated music. The number of music festivals seems to grow exponentially each year. And while this is great for artists, sometimes, as a consumer of music, it’s hard not to feel like just another statistic in the great algorithmic spectrum into which the industry has evolved. Enter Desert Daze: an annual weekend trip to the southern California desert, with an ethos aimed at healing, rather than sucking its attendees dry.
What began as something small and inclusive in 2012 has quickly grown into something much larger. The festival’s lineup has attracted many of rock’s up-and-comers and blue-chip artists alike (last year’s headliners were Iggy Pop, Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, and Spiritualized), and it somehow continues to improve each year. This year’s iteration includes Tame Impala, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, My Bloody Valentine, Warpaint and Ty Segall & White Fence among many others.
All this growth and improvement might signal the looming inevitability of a decrease in this festival’s connective experience, but Phil Pirrone, the founder of Desert Daze, is as conscientious as ever about the influence of his creation. Psychedelia, which Phil defines as “anything that makes your brain turn on,” may be a central theme in the festival, but it is evident that Desert Daze is much more than an adherence to the aspirational and clichéd ideal of tripping in the desert. In the weeks leading up to the festival, Phil was kind enough to speak with us about the state of contemporary rock, the success of Desert Daze, and balancing it all with having the most triumphant year yet with his band JJUUJJUU.
Would you discuss how Desert Daze came to its current form, and made you consider expanding it from a single-day festival to a weekend?
Desert Daze started as a free 11 day festival. Then we condensed it to 1 day with camping. Then we expanded to 3 days in 2016. I’m not sure what I was thinking doing 11 days. It was incredible though. Like psychedelic boot camp.
What has changed the most since its inception?
I mean, things have changed but they really haven’t changed that much. Still the same spirit. Still the same team putting it on, for the most part. It always was and always will be a community effort to facilitate the ever-expanding growth of the human spirit.
Despite all its growth, how do you maintain the organic feeling and sense of intimacy that has become this festival’s specialty?
We come from the heart. We’re the genuine article. The real deal. There’s no venture capitalists or restaurateurs on this team. It was built by the same musicians and artists that currently look after it like it’s a child, not a business.
How does Desert Daze bring people together differently than other music festivals do, and what kind of festival experience do you seek to improve upon?
[Desert Daze] is curated like a mix tape and features immersive art experiences that impact your cellular make up. I guess one way to put it would be that festivals have become a big business, where Desert Daze remains a ritualistic retreat. Its purpose is to heal you, not drain you at all costs.
With so artistic diversity in the lineup, how do you bring coherence to this mix tape?
It’s all truth.
How does Desert Daze act as a healing force?
For me, it’s the camaraderie of assembling this massive project with the team and making it happen. We put a lot of love into it, and I think that’s part of why people are able to extract so much love from it.
What senses, other than auditory, does the festival seek to invoke?
We want all of them to be bouncing around in a big ball of bubbles by the time you leave.
Do you ever romanticize iconic get-togethers and festivals of the past?
Some people say, or have said that rock is dead. Do you try to prove these people wrong? Why do you think that saying exists in the first place?
The rock genre as we know it is a parody of its former self, with the exception of a few truth tellers. It’s a sad state of affairs, not unlike the Glam Metal or Disco phases of yesterday. So people have every right to say it’s dead. It always comes back though. Or always has. We’ll see where it goes. It needs to evolve and women are leading the charge, as it should be. Because men pretty much turned it into a joke – with some exceptions, of course.
Which female artists would you say are progressing rock, and how do you think the genre has benefitted culturally and musically from this feminine influence?
Rock’s reinvention is ongoing. But, L.A. Witch, Deap Vally, and Death Valley Girls are all part of an exciting thing that’s going on in Los Angeles at the moment, and there are many others. There’s a lot of awesome ladies and dudes playing music in LA right now and they’re inspiring each other, which is definitely progress.
Your band, JJUUJJUU is engrained within Desert Daze’s culture, having played the festival several times. As both a performer and event organizer, I’d imagine you might feel spread thin. Is there a positive energy that you gain from doing both?
Yes, it definitely results in something positive. I thrive under pressure, so being spread thin and stressed to the bone is sort of my speed, whether I like it or not.
Do you find yourself compartmentalizing creativity/artistry versus business affairs? How do you find balance?
It’s all one in the same for me. I’ve always been the business minded/admin person in the band. The festival is 3 parts art project and 1 part business, not the other way around. Very similar to the recipe of being in a band. Desert Daze isn’t a business venture as much as it’s a lifestyle choice. So as long as we’re true to that, and stay in service to what that is and what that means to other people as well as ourselves, we’ll be ok.
After having to find a new location for the festival this year, do the new surroundings make the process more exciting for you, or do you find yourself wishing for a bit more stability?
A little of column A and a little of column B. Next year will be pretty sweet; going into the 8th year of the event with the logistics more dialed than ever, and getting to do it all on the same property without months of wondering if that will be possible. Going to be a real treat, that stability.
Why the desert? What do you think makes people resonate with the desert? What aspects of music, and rock specifically, does it strengthen?
The desert is. That’s all I can say. The desert is primal. It’s so quiet you can hear it’s vibration, unlike the city. I think anything that goes there gets stronger. Or dies. And that’s probably the point, I think.
How do you exist harmoniously within the delicate desert?
We do our best to leave no trace, to work with the landscape, not against it. We partner with Zero Hero and Global Inheritance to offer trash and recycling programs on site. Our campers are a huge help and without their compassion and responsibility, the clean up job would be much harder.
Other bands like Warpaint, DIIV, L.A. Witch and Deap Vally have made multiple appearances through the years. What do you think keeps these artists coming back to perform at Desert Daze?
I think it’s because of the entire spirit of the event. It’s not a stand alone thing. It’s a community that exists in all of us, including Warpaint. You don’t just come to Desert Daze or play it, you become part of it. The community only gets bigger and stronger with each year. It’s bonafide magic. You can’t buy what we’ve built and you can’t master plan it. It has to happen naturally. It just is because it needs to be and always was. Short answer: real recognize real.
Images courtesy of Phil Pirrone
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