Red Bull has February in Los Angeles on lock. The brand, which seems as focused on events and sponsorships as on its energy drink, is bringing the Red Bull Music Festival back to L.A. Feb. 7-23. During the course of the festival, Red Bull is curating 20-plus eclectic happenings.
Red Bull Music Festival is unlike Red Bull Sound Select from a few years back, which took over the city for “30 Days in L.A.” and aligned itself solely with music performances around town. RBMF Los Angeles brings a cross-section of gaming, skating, photography and, more than anything, film, intersecting these worlds with that of music. After its first L.A. incarnation in October 2017, RBMF made stops in São Paulo; Moscow; Oslo, Norway; Santiago, Chile; Los Angeles; New York; Chicago; Tokyo, Zurich; Berlin; Paris; Johannesburg; Istanbul; Vienna; Montreal; and Toronto. In 2018, RBMF brings particular focus to each city's signature and cutting-edge qualities.
Kristen McElwain, Red Bull Music's creative director, says, “Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world, and a place where you see surprising creative disciplines crossing over with music in a way that is truly unique to the city. We wanted to lean into this fusion with this year's festival while still keeping music at the festival's core.”
Red Bull's film selections are spearheaded by Center Channel, which explores the impact of sound on image. Making its headquarters at the Ukrainian Cultural Center, Center Channel kicks off its series on Friday, Feb. 8, with “Beyond and Back: A Punk Rock Homecoming,” celebrating the Ukrainian Cultural Center's history as one of Los Angeles' original punk-rock venues. Among the films shown on this day will be X: The Unheard Music, The Slog Movie, Surf Punks L.A., Urban Struggle and Underground USA 1&2. Center Channel's series continues daily with a wide range of material including classics such as Decline of Western Civilization, Wigstock, Grateful Dead Movie and Selena, to mention just a few.
“We really wanted to make the space a cinema for music fans,” McElwain says. “The programming is representative of the L.A. music landscape, featuring punk films, hip-hop and experimental. L.A. stories and filmmakers were also prioritized, as well as multidisciplinary musicians that can be at a loss for spaces where they can showcase their work that doesn't fit in the concert model. We're very excited to see how this new space fits into the city's framework.”
The Ukrainian Cultural Center also hosts a producers roundtable on Tuesday, Feb. 12. At this roundtable are three of the not-so-secret weapons behind some of the strongest sounds in hip-hop: Sounwave (Kendrick Lamar, Black Panther) plus MixedbyAli (SZA) and Tae Beast (ScHoolboy Q), in- house producers for rap label Top Dawg Entertainment.
Hip-hop has a noticeable presence at Red Bull Music Festival Los Angeles. Illegal Civilization, the streetwear and skating brand that has gone far beyond those two assets to a 360-degree lifestyle experience, including music and film, comes to Sun Valley's kitschy Pink Motel on Feb. 16. Illegal Civilization figurehead Mikey Alfred brings radical rappers Tierra Whack, Tommy Genesis and Show Me the Body plus his skate crew to take over the Pink Motel's empty pool, the perfect place to flex their skills. The brand's latest skate film, IC3, will be screening during the day, and in the evening, Alfred will show his favorite film, A Bronx Tale, drive-in style.
“If you've seen the Fyre Festival documentary, it's a Grade A lesson in knowing what you're good at and what you're not good at,” says Alfred, who worked with Red Bull on the hugely successful premiere of IC3 at the Palace Theatre in DTLA October 2018. “We wanted to do an event like this where we can have performers, show a movie, have skating, but that takes a lot of work and infrastructure we don't have. This event is like the best version of all the events we've done in the past. My team and I conceptualize it and Red Bull is able to make it happen. We're definitely holding hands the entire time.”
The Ukrainian Cultural Center and the Pink Motel aren't the only unique locations of Red Bull Music Festival Los Angeles' events. There are a number of historic locations. Vibiana, the stunning Catholic cathedral turned wedding/performing arts venue in DTLA, hosts San Cha on Thursday, Feb. 7. The breathtaking Majestic Downtown at the Reserve is taken over on Valentine's Day for Heartbeats, a cross-generational party of boundary-pushing artists: Trina and Cupcakke, with support from Junglepussy. Hot-shot hip-hop photographer Gunner Stahl will be DJing at a raw space in Koreatown that is being built out for the event on Friday, Feb. 21. Promised to appear are some of his notable subjects, which to date have included Offset, Lil Uzi Vert, Gucci Mane and The Weeknd. Not to be forgotten is Robyn, a Red Bull staple, who will be performing at the Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 22 and 23.
“The venue selection is crucial and a process that takes months,” McElwain expolains. “In a city so incredibly vast and architecturally stunning, the ideal is to find an existing venue and give new life to the design that already exists versus building new spaces and structures. This poses an extra challenge to enriching the story we are presenting within our shows.”
Perhaps the most enigmatic of Red Bull Music Festival Los Angeles' programs is the presentation of the award-winning score of Rockstar Games' recently released blockbuster Red Dead Redemption 2. Taking place at Goya Studios, a multifunctional Hollywood sound stage, this is a special and extremely rare opportunity to have the mastermind behind the score, Woody Jackson of Vox Recording Studios, leading a superstar collection of musicians in performing the score. In addition to Gabe Witcher (True Detective), Jon Theodore (Queens of the Stone Age), Petra Haden, Mario Batkovic, Colin Stetson, Amir Yaghmai, Jackson himself and fellow guitarists Lexii Lynn Frazier and Ben Peeler will be joined by a 30-piece ensemble.
“This will be the first ever performance of the score of any of the Red Dead Redemption series,” says Jackson, who has composed the music for RDR and RDR2. “We will be using many of the instruments of Emil Richards, Bob Bain, Dennis Budimir and Tommy Tedesco, all members of the Wrecking Crew. These instruments were used on everything from classic Westerns such as Cool Hand Luke and Bite the Bullett as well as M.A.S.H. and the Godfather trilogy.
“Red Bull had a lot of ideas visually,” he continues. “My opinion was, if it was not as good or better than playing the game, then I was not interested, and they definitely exceeded my expectations.”
McElwain says, “From the start, both Rockstar Games and Red Bull Music wanted to create an experience that was a new kind of performance for video game music. They created an incredibly diverse and well-considered score, and with this event, we want to make space to focus on that. While there will be imagery from the game incorporated, this is only a part of the whole. You'll have to come and see.”
The Red Bull Music Festival takes place Feb. 7-24. See redbull.com for more info.