According to their website, Intersect was “born out of the massive after party for AWS’s annual re:Invent conference, held in Vegas since 2012…now open to the public for the first time ever, the festival offers an inspiring two-day journey to culture and tech’s leading edge.” Held at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds just north of Circus Circus on the Strip, the festival offered inspiring musical performances, particularly by well-known musicians, as far as the leading edge of culture and tech, not so much.
The grounds contained two tents that presented music (Supernova and Infinity), a third filled with activities (Experience), and a dome (Dome) that contained a stage for performances but also served as a hotbox with smoke coming off the stage and out of numerous audience members. Inexplicably, security was tight for the dome as security was making sure all who entered had a wristband.
There was a centralized 60-ft tower, the Monolith, that displayed a variety of art on video screens, a dodgeball stadium that shot flames into the air and was book-ended by drummers, and a food court whose vendors served up a wide variety of styles, including one booth that served the best corn dog I’ve ever had. Due to “technology” being promoted as an important component of Intersect, I was surprised the bracelets that served as tickets, which attendees could register online, didn’t have an option to link to credit cards, like San Diego’s KAABOO festival, to make payment easier for food and drink.
Starting with the Experience tent, there were a number of free old-school video games and a massive button-smashing game for two that announced the winner with noise and streams of smoke. Inside one curtained enclosure, Nonotak, “the collaboration between the illustrator Noemi Schipfer and the architect musician Takami Nakamoto,” had a large cube that displayed various white-light patterns cycling through the structure while ambient music played. The patterns ran on a loop so attendees could come and go as they pleased. The other curtained enclosure was Lost and Photon, a time-event that featured rainbow-colored lights projecting patterns from the ceiling. There was also a “mega-sized ball pit with over 200,000 balls” but I bypassed it.
On Friday, Snail Mail kicked things off at the Supernova tent. I dug their dream-pop sound and the passion of Lindsey Jordan’s singing though I couldn’t understand the lyrics. They sold me enough to seek their music out. The set closed with Jordan solo doing a cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris.” Stumbling midway into the set of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a flurry of indie rock buffeted out of the speakers, led by a muted trumpet. The lead singer jumped into the crowd for part of the next song.
A quick pop into the Dome for Sudan Archives, who displayed a sultry voice singing over prepared tracks. That was the start of a block of female-led sets. Moving back and forth between Supernova and the Dome, I caught the synth pop of Chvrches, though all the songs I heard sounded the same to me; I loved and was so happy Intersect allowed me to discover the psychedelic rock of Weyes Blood; and enjoyed the R&B throwback of H.E.R. who played bass and keys. She and her band brought the grooves and the audience was feeling them.
I don’t know why, but Beck was the first singer on the Supernova stage whose vocals I could understand. Not just the hits I knew that had everyone around me singing along, but even the ones I didn’t know. He had the crowd energized with his setlist filled with upbeat tunes and his front-man skills don’t receive enough credit.
After a delay, the sky was filled with approximately 500 drones approaching the Festival Grounds for “Intel Presents UPLIFT: A Drone Light Show Celebrating Women in Tech in Collaboration with Kacey Musgraves.” Similar to the old Laserium shows, the drones presented visuals for “Oh, What A World” as it played out speakers. Providing creative input, Musgraves worked with an all-female that programmed and flew the drones. It looked pretty cool and I wish I could have learned more about the endeavor on site since they piqued my interest.
Musgraves played a slightly abbreviated set from the current tour. It was her last show of the year, and what she referred to as the end of this chapter of her career. There were some tech problems with the video screens, which Musgraves teased about, but it didn’t matter as the music and performance made up for it.
Thanks to my cousin, I was able to upgrade to a VIP wristband. Under the concert tents, VIP attendees had their own section next to the stage. There were also two VIP areas that included food trucks, bathrooms, and an enclosure with heaters, bars, and free pinball machines.
Led by Michelle Zauner, Japanese Breakfast played interesting synth dance music that I was hearing for the first time. She added a vocoder to vocals some songs, and played guitar and keyboards. The only song I knew was a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.” Nonotak was the first act on the Infinity stage, so it was hard to understand why they were late. After giving them 10 minutes, I split for other options.
I didn’t know of Willy Porter when I entered the Dome but I was pleasantly surprised to find this folk troubadour solo on acoustic guitar, an instrument he’s clearly skill at as a player. Currently on tour supporting their greatest-hits compilation, Everything Hits at Once. Spoon had the loudest and most intense light show up this point, and arguably for the entire fest. In the Infinity tent, they enveloped the audience with stimuli and made one not want to stand too close to take it all in. Back at the Dome, Shawn Mullins was another lone acoustic guitar player. He covered “House of the Rising Sun,” which got a cheer as some recognized the opening and played his big hit from 1998, “Lullaby.”
Leon Bridges’ soul revue is a wonderful throwback that feels modern. Thundercat played mind-bending acid jazz that is either ahead of its time or possibly out of time all together. He had a good size crowd, though the music seemed to weird for this festival’s audience. After a couple of songs, Brandi Carlile unfortunately revealed she was suffering from laryngitis, but rather than cancel she played a shortened five-song set. She left her partners Phil and Tim Hanseroth to sing Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” and then returned to sing harmony.
Similar to Day One, a drone show was held, but this time it was to announce December 13 was when the fourth season of The Expanse would drop on Amazon Prime. Similar to Ralphie from A Christmas Story learning the truth about his decoder ring, there was a collective groan from the crowd realizing this drone show was “a crummy commercial.”
Under the Infinity, Flying Lotus came out to spin some tunes. The 3D effects that played on the screen behind him looked fantastic when they could be seen. The the trouble, as with many a festival, was two fold: the viewing area is flat and people were constantly stepping in front and obstructing the view. The VIP wouldn’t help because they were so far off to the side, the visuals couldn’t be fully appreciated. I would definitely like to see this another time in a more suitable venue.
Foo Fighters brought their usual, high-energy rock show to close out the festival running through their hits and pleasing the crowd. After a few songs, the drum riser lifted Taylor Hawkins who got a solo and then sang lead on “Sunday Rain”. After band introductions, Hawking came to the forefront of the stage while Dave Grohl played drums as they duetted on Queen/David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” Embracing spontaneity and making the show unique, one young man wearing a Santa was brought on stage after inquiring whether Grohl wanted to shotgun a beer.
I am curious how successful Intersect was for those putting it on with the slashing of two-day ticket prices by $90 and the event never seeming over crowded. While I never felt they achieved “culture and tech’s leading edge,” the event was well run aside from some minor tech issues. I enjoyed myself and would definitely return for the right number of acts on the line-up.