Megapolis Festival Special Edition, The Art of Podcasting No. 19

In celebration of this weekend’s Megapolis Festival in Oakland, California, we’re breaking from our traditional interview format to bring you a special Art of Podcasting edition with Megapolis founders Justin Grotelueschen and Nick van der Kolk.

Megapolis is a multi-day audio festival for people to create and celebrate sound. Big name participants include Roman Mars, The Kitchen Sisters, Matmos, Kevin Blechdom, Fantastic Negrito, Glynn Washington, and many more. While there will be plenty of podcasters present, the festival includes a wide array of other artists, including documentarians, technologists, musicians, educators, urban planners, and scientists.

During these three days, creators and fans alike will come together to celebrate audio and encourage each other to push the boundaries of sound, art, and thought.

You can buy passes here.

THE TIMBRE

What should they expect at Megapolis?

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

Do you want me to start at the beginning?

THE TIMBRE

Yeah, I do. I’d love that.

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

This festival was created to inhabit its own space. It was the brainchild–or offshoot–of several other events that were either happening in the public radio world or the experimental music and audio world. The psychogeography world.

We cobbled together this idea that there are a bunch of artists who work in this same headspace, but that doesn’t mean that they work in the same profession. There’s something that interlinks them. There’s a possibility to unite these people together to talk about the things they’re most interested in, which is really the art of what they’re doing. The craft of what they’re doing. We let people share secrets and trade stories and to receive inspiration from other artists performing and to energize people who haven’t thought of themselves as artists. 

THE TIMBRE

When did you develop the idea for Megapolis?

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

It came about in 2009. Actually, after the market crashed. There were a lot of people who were out of work. I, myself, was out of work. <Laughs>

The idea of the festival became let’s find something that will bring people together that’s positive and experimental and cost-friendlyin a way where people can inspire each other and learn from each other. And actually be together because so much is getting pushed online. I don’t know if you can really create the kind of energy you get from having a few hundred people in the same space sharing the things they love. You know? Not just experiencing it in a performance–like being in the audience–but being a part of something. It’s more tactile.

THE TIMBRE

That’s a unique experience separate from listening or watching on your own.

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

Exactly. Nick and I started the festival with that in mind. And, even though times have changed since we started in 2008, it’s still there. It’s still relevant. It seems that way.

THE TIMBRE

What kind of people attend? And how do they hear about the festival?

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

We get new people who hear about us in all kinds of different ways. The kind of people that don’t fit into the types of professions and disciplines that we typically find. Part of it is public radio and experimental medias. Installation art. Academia is big. People who are into documentary and geography and history and all sorts of things. All sorts of disciplines like that. Sometimes you just get people from left field who are just like, “Wow, this is a thing that’s applicable to me.”

The concept is simple: People who work with sound. It’s one of those things that won’t go away with the internet. It adapts and it’s there.

THE TIMBRE

I love this idea of it being interdisciplinary and affecting people, even someone in academia. Someone not necessarily working in audio. Do you have any examples of a person–even anecdotally–who’s come to the festival and really injected their energy who wasn’t audio based?

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

Hmm. That’s a really good question. I can’t think of a specific example. We often find that people come who work just a little bit in audio, but they typically work in some other type of medium. They come and doors just blow open because they realize that there’s this whole new way of approaching what they do. It’s like, “Oh, well, I work within this particular discipline and sound is just one component of that.” But it can be its own world.

To be honest, we have a lot of people who come in who end up working for well known podcasts or public radio shows or whatever. And they didn’t have that experience when they came in. Some of that it’s a professional aspect, of course, and what we provide. But also, the idea is that people realize they can see things in a new way. 

THE TIMBRE

You mentioned psychogeography. I’ve never heard the term. I’d like for you to explain what that is.

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

There’s a festival called Conflux that’s no longer in existence that was in New York for a number of years. The idea is that it’s all about interacting in your physical environment, particularly in an urban environment that’s emphasizing being playful, experimenting, drifting around, seeing it in a new way. What we really grabbed on to was the sonic element of that, especially if you’re in an urban environment. There’s so much going on. You can focus on any number of different things, whether they’re mechanical, human, or environmental. They become part of this environment that has such an impact on us that we might not even be thinking about it.

So, it’s getting people to realize the impact your auditory environment has on how you think. So this is, I guess, maybe a little more of an in-your-face way of doing that.

THE TIMBRE

I really like what you’re saying about the immersive nature of what you’re doing at the festival. And I’m wondering what’s an example of what someone attending might expect from just one of the events. I know there are so many different ones. What might they be doing? 

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

There’s really two different elements of our festival. We have our events divided up into categories. There’s two sides of it. What’s interactive and what’s experiential.

Everything is experiential, but we really try to stress to all of our artists who are not performing in a venue to have some kind of interactive element in their event. It doesn’t really matter what that is, if it’s building something, if it’s getting artists to create a feedback loop, or the attendees are actually creating something that will make the workshop what it is. We always try to stress that the attendees are just as influential to the process as the artists are. Really, we’re trying to stress the interactive nature of what this festival is. Without interaction, by being a passive audience, people aren’t going to be impacted as much. You have to get in some way, shape, or form.

THE TIMBRE

Let’s talk about some of the people that are going to be running these events.

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

Sure.

THE TIMBRE

Where are you finding these folks? Are they friends of yours?

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

We curate a number of things. Our major artists are all curated, meaning we reach out to people directly. Any of the big shows we have: Friday night, Matmos and Kevin Blechdom, Saturday night, Doseone, and Sunday afternoon, Roman Mars and Song Exploder. That’s all curated.

A lot of the other events came through our call for proposals or people who were friends of ours. Mostly through calls for proposals. It’s a mix between curation and a general call. If we curated everything, we would make something very specific. We’d probably not reach the same amount of people because we can’t think of all these ideas. Amazing ideas come out of this stuff. Just, wow. 

THE TIMBRE

What’s something fun that people will experience but won’t know from reading the lineup?

JUSTIN GROTELUESCHEN

You’re not going to know everyone who’s there. It’s loose. It’s people who know each other. It’s putting people on each other’s radar. It’s putting people in touch with entire communities that didn’t know existed, either artistic disciplines or people in different parts of the world that do the same thing that they do.

We’re trying to create an opportunity for people to hang out and meet each other and to pull each other out of our shells to expose the little bits that we are. And to create this inspiring group environment. We talk about community, but creating community in a very interactive and ethereal sense.


THE TIMBRE

This is my first time attending Megapolis. As someone who’s never gone, what’s something I can expect? What’s one thing you could single out and say, “this is going to be great.” 

NICK VAN DER KOLK

I’m definitely looking forward to the Here Be Monsters live show. The Song Exploder with Matmos. I’ve been a fan of Matmos for a long time. They’re performing as well. They’re always really fun to see perform. I think it will be really fascinating to see them do a live Song Exploder. It’s on Sunday. If I were to single one out, I would say that one. 

THE TIMBRE

In years past, what’s the group been like? 

NICK VAN DER KOLK

It’s real mix. I’m sure Justin talked about this a little bit, but we wanted to cast a pretty wide net in terms of the different sides of audio that we would touch upon. The reason we felt like it made sense to make this festival is that it felt like there wasn’t anything that was unifying this sonic experimental side of things with the kind of nonfiction radio and podcasting that you get at say, Third Coast. It’s a real mix. There’s definitely a lot of radio people there. A lot of artists. A lot of people who make stuff. I’m not sure how many fans will be there, but there’s always a bunch. 

THE TIMBRE

When you say ‘people who make stuff,’ do you mean creative people? Or do you mean specifically radio people?

NICK VAN DER KOLK

No. Musicians, audio artists, radio documentary people. Yeah. Makers.

THE TIMBRE

How many times have you put the festival on?

NICK VAN DER KOLK

This is the fourth one. The first one we did in Boston. We did one in Baltimore. The last one was in New York. We wanted to switch it up and bring that to the west coast. 

THE TIMBRE

Is this going to be an every year thing?

NICK VAN DER KOLK

It’s a real labor of love and both Justin and I have other things we’re working on. We try to make it biannually, but it’s kind of whenever we have an opportunity to put things together. So, definitely not yearly. 

THE TIMBRE

What does everyone do when the events are over? Do they go get a beer together?

NICK VAN DER KOLK

The events go on until four in the morning. 

THE TIMBRE

Oh, wow.

NICK VAN DER KOLK

<Laughs> At least Saturday night, anyway. It’s a big, fun art party basically. There’s a really heavy emphasis on people. Even though there are a lot of makers, it isn’t designed to be a professional conference or anything like that. I really just want people to have a good time and see some thought-provoking shows and good workshops.

THE TIMBRE

Oh, that’s awesome. <Laughs> I did see that things start late Sunday morning and thought maybe you were wisely allotting time for people to get a little sleep. 

NICK VAN DER KOLK

<Laughs> Right. Exactly.

THE TIMBRE

Well, we’re looking forward to seeing you there.

Megapolis begins Friday, June 5 in Oakland, California, and run through Sunday, June 7. To learn more about how you can attending, visit the website.

~

Author Description

The Timbre brings thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis to podcasts and the larger culture of podcasting.

Loading...