This past weekend marked the return of David Lynch's Festival of Disruption. Sponsored by the David Lynch Foundation, the two-day lineup of movies, music, talks and exhibits was curated by Lynch and reflected not only his love for the arts, but also promoted the practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM), which is the focus of his foundation.
Held at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the somewhat pricey event stands apart from many other festivals because “artists are donating their time,” according to Jessica Harris, executive producer of DLF Live. Most festival participants are TM practitioners and are more than happy to help the Lynch Foundation raise money for its cause, which is to provide a means for those in the most vulnerable communities to live a less toxic, stress-free life by attaining supreme enlightenment through TM. Harris says the festival will be expanding next year, going to New York and Nashville.
During Saturday's screening of Thom Andersen's essay-like documentary, Los Angeles Plays Itself, the filmmaker/narrator noted that Hollywood is a verb. The same could be said for the way David Lynch uses music in his work and for this festival. Lynch's mastery of time and space in his storylines is just as evident in the musical acts he curates for this festival as it in Mulholland Drive or Twin Peaks: The Return. From the order of the line-ups to the messages they conveyed, music during the festival was used to bring one to the past, present and future. Music is not stagnant for Lynch, but ever-evolving action leading to enlightenment.
A primary theme that runs through Lynch's films and television work is that of dreams versus reality. The musicians that he handpicked to perform on both days fit into this ideological wheelhouse. The end-of-the-day concerts in the Theatre at the Ace Hotel were a mixture of haunting, dreamlike music and hard-hitting, face-melting rock.
Saturday night's musical offerings kicked off with ethereal British folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling, whose still presence, glowing visage and effortlessly clean voice made it seem almost as if an erstwhile angel had landed on stage to grace attendees with an earthly visit. Most notable in her 45-minute set was “Daisy,” which had a Joan Baez feel and lyrics of female empowerment. Her music was simmering, a sublime, warm concoction footnoting a day of in-the-moment art.
Following her was Brooklyn-based TV on the Radio, who were akin to holding one's hand directly over a red hot flame; they jolted the crowd awake with their hour-long set of raw rock & roll. Headed by mercurial lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, this primarily African-American band rocked the house's socks off, starting with the effervescent “Young Liars” and ending with catchy “DLZ.” Even the too-cool-for-school audience couldn't sit still and got up on their feet with “Wolf Like Me,” which was the fifth song in the set, and stayed standing for the remainder of the hour-long set and their modernistic take on '80s new wave with a dash of funk.
Bon Iver closed the night and brought the energy of the theatre back to a trancelike state with his meditative, even-keeled songs. He said that TV on the Radio was a hard act to follow and that comment seemed to haunt him during his act, as he fumbled a few times with his voice-altering Messina instrument and, in general, seemed a bit out of sorts during his performance. However, despite being awkward, Justin Vernon, sans band, delivered every song with the sureness of someone who not only sings his music, but inhabits it. Two of his most potent tunes were covers, Johnny Cash's “Unchained” and Leon Russell's “A Song for You.” Vernon has a rich, soulful voice, but seemed content in containing it. The phrasing of his arrangements were meditative and pensive as opposed to soulful and liberating. Considering the Transcendental Meditation core of the festival, his style was the ideal closer for the first night.
On the festival's second evening, self-proclaimed “disinformationist” Reggie Watts started off the night's proceedings with his eclectic mix of sound poetry and humor. He was followed by the much more somber Sharon Van Etten, who had performed the searing “Love More” duet with Justin Vernon the night before. Her stint at the Roadhouse on Twin Peaks: The Return (where she was one of several artists featured throughout the series) prepared her well for the evening, as she brought a similarly otherworldly quality with her to this performance.
Van Etten's music was like fine smoke that quickly dissipated once The Kills hit the stage. This British-American indie group not only anchored the night, but threw gasoline on the gently brewing, introspective musings of the night. Lead singer Alison Mosshart entered the stage like a prowling panther, tossing her platinum hair like a curtain in a strong breeze. They sang a litany of their hits, including “Heart of a Dog” and “Doing it to Death.” Buoyed by guitarist Jamie Hince, Mosshart spit out their tunes with unapologetic rock & roll attitude.
Rebekah Del Rio, another Roadhouse performer, closed the curtain on the night with “No Stars,” a dream-pop ballad co-written and produced by Lynch and John Neff. This song exemplifies Lynch's dream-within-a dream motif. Lyrics “My dream is to go/To that place/You know the one/Where it all began,” not only point to Twin Peaks: The Return, but the inward journey one must take to be successful with Transcendental Meditation.
During music supervisor Dean Hurley's talk on Saturday with moderator Kristine McKenna, he said that for Lynch, music has to be “a dance and marriage with the image on the screen.” If this year's musical acts are any indication on what's to come in future Festival of Disruption selections, audiences can be assured of more marital bliss in Lynch's work, both as a filmmaker and festival curator.