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FORM Arcosanti is a music festival that takes place in an alternate universe. Picture a futuristic hub of low-rise, dome-shaped buildings and arched walkways situated in middle-of-nowhere Arizona—70 miles north of Phoenix.
Hundreds gather for a weekend of artistic collaboration in the micro city of Arcosanti, where the brainchild of indie electronic band Hundred Waters takes place every May.
“We were talking out loud about the fact that we have to do something here,” Zach Tetreault, Hundred Waters percussionist and festival co-founder, told the Daily Dot. “This is it. We’ve found the place.”
“That whole experience, while incredibly exciting and prosperous for us in growing as a band, became very monotonous we found, and sort of draining of creative inspiration.”
The place for what, exactly? An immersive artistic experience for both performer and music fan; a weekend dedicated to all things creative and collaborative, ranging from improvisational sets between headliners to cliff-side piano concerts to hanging out and painting Louisiana driftwood provided by an art collective. Hundred Waters has even prepared scripts and filmed fictional shorts starring the event’s talent.
Now in year three, FORM Arcosanti was born as a direct response to the fast-paced touring cycle Hundred Waters went through when the band rose to prominence four years ago. After putting on 250 shows in a year and a half, they collectively felt they were missing something.
“That whole experience, while incredibly exciting and prosperous for us in growing as a band, became very monotonous we found, and sort of draining of creative inspiration,” Tetreault said.
Tetreault and former bandmate and multi-instrumentalist Paul Giese broke their creative block as they moved the group’s gear across the country from Gainesville, Florida, to Los Angeles. They made sure to stop by a hypnotic “urban laboratory” Giese had heard about as an architecture student in college. This random spot in the Arizona desert enchanted them.
That’s when Hundred Waters dreamt this little idea of creating a music experience serving both the participant and the performer; something synergistic and personal. Thanks to a whole lot of driving and a stroke of dumb luck, it worked out.
Tetreault and Giese first stopped by Arcosanti, coincidentally, on the only night of the month the city’s community council meets. Former public relations representative Kate Bemesderfer encouraged them to drop by and share their idea. After pitching and playing a few of Hundred Waters’ YouTube videos for the council, the band’s dream began to take form.
“It was like three or four months of emails back and forth until we finally started to realize we had a mini-festival emerging,” Tetreault said.
The pair presented the band to the board as a collection of people who share the environmental mindfulness of Arcosanti, a city built in 1970 by Paolo Soleri. The Italian architect sought to marry his trade with ecology to advance sustainability; a practice he dubbed “arcology.”
Live music venues and festivals have been reported to churn out 400,000 tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions, but Hundred Waters and Arcosanti work to ensure FORM isn’t your typical mass invasion of stoners who trash a condensed piece of land over a weekend.
“The truly exceptional thing about FORM Arcosanti, what sets it apart from every other music festival on the planet, and what gives it its air of ecological sanity, is that it takes place within and around the prototype buildings of Arcosanti,” City Co-President Jeff Stein said via email.
On top of using sustainable auxiliary components, recyclable plates and cups, and a solar-powered trailer, Tetreault and Stein argue that the structure of Arcosanti itself addresses a lot of the environmental concerns major music festivals struggle with. The building is designed to absorb Arizona’s blistering heat during the day to save energy at night. Tetreault described Arcosanti as a testing ground and prototype for a new kind of city and sustainable alternative to urban sprawl.
“Just by being there and having that be the venue for [FORM], there’s all these built-in features that it make it easy for us in a lot of ways because we don’t even have to think about a lot of these things,” Tetreault said.
It helps that the festival is picky. The weekend-long event is free-of-charge on a first-come, first-serve basis—to those who fill out open-ended questions in an online application, provoking potential attendees to open up about their creative inspirations. The FORM team goes through each application, flagging the creative or thoughtful responses that grab their attention. This process trims the attendee number to a lean amount of 1,200 festival-goers.
This year’s showcase—set to take place May 13-15—boasts a diverse set of artists including Bonobo, Tortoise, and Thundercat with festival-repeat Skrillex and, of course, Hundred Waters.
FORM Arcosanti has not gone unnoticed. Big names have come out to support Hundred Waters and their festival mission. Skrillex made his directorial debut with a music video for Hundred Waters’ latest single “Show Me Love,” available on the band’s new site where fans are encouraged to donate any amount to support the festival.
The video can also be downloaded via Loveback, a new media platform that allows people to directly support creators, who can then give back rewards. By “lovebacking” any amount, a fan receives a download of the remix and is entered to win one of several spots to attend FORM Arcosanti this year. They’re also entered for a chance to win a VIP experience in Patron Village, a package deal that FORM introduced for the first time this year. Other components premiering at this year’s festival include a speaker series and a dance artist.
“We’re expanding on the program being a little outside of just music,” Tetreault said. “I’m really excited about finding a happy medium to explore everyone’s palette.”
Tetreault strives to preserve the “homemade DIY nature” of the experience while advancing the production, programming, and execution of the weekend each year. But no matter how involved the festival gets, the magic is in the atmosphere.
“Curved forms that catch sunlight, and views, and allow audience and musicians alike a sense of themselves mirrored by each other; a cultural setting on the one hand, a natural habitat on the other—architecture and ecology—all come together at Arcosanti in a way that they do nowhere else,” Stein said.
Correction: The 2016 edition of FORM Arcosanti will harbor 1,200 concert-goers.
Molly Stier is the Real-Time Social Editor at the Daily Dot, where she previously covered politics, lifestyle, entertainment, and technology. Her work has also appeared in The Nation magazine.