Off the top of his head, David Day is able to throw out a laundry list of artists he believes will unite Boston's often disparate music listenership.
“If I called him the Drake of grime, I’d probably get into trouble,” Day says about U.K. producer/MC Mr. Mitch. Then “Mumdance is truly post-genre. His sound is practically alien.”
Day proudly notes that Mr. Mitch’s upcoming appearance in Cambridge will be his first in the U.S., but it’s certainly not Day's first time shepherding international artists to the States. While it may be unsurprising coming from the co-creator and creative director of a festival named Together, Day has pooled artists internationally for the better part of a decade to further legitimize and empower his neighborhood.
Together began in 2010 as a week-long enclave for electronic, experimental art and technology in a city not often credited for its offerings outside of rock music. Nevertheless, the Together team cultivates lineups that has included Grammy-nominated producer Flying Lotus, venerated rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), and New Orleans bounce pioneer Big Freedia in the heart of Cambridge’s Central Square. This year’s lineup brings hyped New York rapper/producer Princess Nokia, funk-influenced hometown heroes Soul Clap and venerated DJ Kerri Chandler, who, in some circles, “was the man that put the soul in house” according to Day. (The fest starts Sunday, May 14 and ends the following Sunday, May 21.)
“We're simply looking to promote musicians that live on the cutting edge of technology,” Day offers as a summation on the festival’s eclecticism. “In my opinion, this year has truly been [our] masterpiece. Every night, there is something special going on.”
Day has been the creative director for Together since its inception, but a better title might be “festival mascot.” Whether he’s bounding around the festival’s annual Record Fair, slinging records from his own stacks while delivering a mini history lesson on each pick, or helping Mayor Walsh drop the ceremonial “first beat” of the festival in 2014, Day built Together into a week-long juggernaut partially because of his unstoppable enthusiasm and the festival team’s unquenchable thirst for what’s next in sound and technology.
“Every year is different, almost by necessity,” he adds. “This year, we've put a specific emphasis on production.” Specifically, this year’s iteration boasts three individually installed stages among the festival’s eight venues, assembling a team of underground visual artists, creative coders and video jockeys to produce immersive visual experiences that, Day assures, “will blow your mind.”
That being said, “mind-blowing” is an adjective thrown around liberally in terms of Together’s technological offerings. From local laser-cutting organization Danger!Awesome offering 10-foot tall Lite Brites and functioning plastic robots as table-mates last year to venerated music software companies Ableton and Roland rolling out their latest products, Day and his team simply seek to engage curious minds, not just electronic heads.
“In year five, we hosted the Data Garden, which uses Ableton to make music from a plant's biorhythmic life processes, which we then hooked up to the Subpac wearable subwoofer. You essentially became the plant… that was pretty mind-blowing.”
Day’s enthusiasm is undoubtedly contagious and the Together team have ensured a consistent formula for festival greatness, but depending on who you ask, Boston's outlook on the electronic scene still threatens to be an elephant in the room.
Weeks before Together’s takeover of Central Square last May, local TV station WCVB ran a controversial investigation into Boston’s underground electronic scene using Northeastern students as undercover reporters. Unveiling the scene’s unsanctioned basement venues, $25 door covers for nationally (and internationally) touring DJs, and illegal drug and alcohol use, the story not only served as a call to arms for local authorities to further curb unsanctioned shows, but as a conversation starter for a music scene frustrated by the city’s shuttering venues and early-closing nightlife.
Together firmly operates within sanctioned venues, but the festival’s involvement with the local scene through Day’s music production school MMMMAVEN and yearly booking of rising local talent means that, more than ever, Together is a regional bastion of electronic music in uncertain cultural times. When asked if Boston remains a hospitable city for Together, Day has a more than positive outlook.
“Boston has always, always been simply a music town going back hundreds of years. It's great to be in a city that loves music the way it does.”
Day’s faith ultimately rests in the power of the artist and technology to inspire unity and change. “As artists embrace new technology to make music, music is greater than it ever has been,” Day concludes.