David Lynch's festival of disruption review – not quite reaching its peak

The Ace Hotel, Los Angeles

This two-day multidisciplinary event felt thin in places, particularly the film portion, but offered an interesting glimpse into artists influenced by the auteur

David Lynch’s festival of disruption has been one of Los Angeles’s most anticipated cultural events this year. Ahead of Twin Peaks’ return in 2017, it served as a mini multi-disciplinary retrospective for Lynch and a two-day music festival curated by the director. At an event similar in feel to All Tomorrow’s Parties’ now defunct events or the Southbank Centre’s Meltdown festivals in London, Lynch’s own work – in music, photography and, of course, film – sat alongside talks by the likes of Frank Gehry, music by St Vincent and interviews with muses Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern.

The film portion of the festival was, perhaps surprisingly, the thinnest element. Serving as a starter course for the entree of musical guests later in the day, a 35mm screening of Lynch’s Oscar-nominated film about the life of John Merrick, The Elephant Man, began the festival. Lynch fans were offered a chance to sample new film work as well, of a sort. On Saturday, Psychogenic Fugue, a collaboration between Squarespace and director Sandro Miller, saw John Malkovich play some of Lynch’s best-known characters. He appeared as seven Lynchian figures, including Robert Blake’s terrifying Mystery Man from 1997’s Lost Highway, as well as detective Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks and Dennis Hopper’s sociopathic villain from Blue Velvet, Frank Booth.

There were musical collaborations too: Zola Jesus performed Lynch’s composition In Heaven from Eraserhead (which was previously covered by the Pixies), while Malkovich performed as the Lady in the Radiator, and the Flaming Lips played music from The Elephant Man. In between the vignettes came Malkovich as Lynch himself with tone-perfect mannerisms (trembling fingers), clothes (buttoned-up white shirt, two-piece suit) and hair (vertical), interspersed with maxims about transcendental meditation and suitably esoteric allegories about fishing and catching big ideas. (The event’s name was inspired by a quote from the man credited with creating Lynch’s beloved transcendental meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and all the proceeds from the festival go to Lynch’s own not-for-profit organisation, the David Lynch Foundation.) The director’s short films, adverts and music videos were also shown in between live performances, with his unsettling promo spot for Playstation 2 and his video for Nine Inch Nails, Came Back Haunted, retaining their shock value.

david lynch disruption festival
The event served as a mini multi-disciplinary retrospective for Lynch and a two-day music festival. Photograph: Justin Staple

On Sunday the main draw for film was Blue Velvet Revisited, Peter Braatz’s documentary about the making of Lynch’s landmark movie about small-town ennui, sexual violence and voyeurism. Part essay film, part meditation on Blue Velvet itself, Braatz’s documentary – which came about after he wrote a letter to Lynch at age 24 asking if he could film him – was a bit too meandering. There were some rare moments captured on his Super 8 camera: Lynch handcrafting a Lumberton sign for a bus, the director talking about his vision of floating film cameras in the future, Dern and MacLachlan running through early dialogue. But these were interspersed with others which were too mundane to warrant mention. The lack of depth in the film programming was one of the festival’s weaknesses, as was its failure to address an elephant in the room (or should that be lodge?). Lynch has been characteristically tight-lipped about any details concerning the forthcoming Twin Peaks reboot, but with a loyal audience of diehard fans eager for anything, to offer nothing – other than a well-stocked merch stand – did feel odd.

Alongside the film came a talk with stars Dern and MacLachlan, moderated by KCRW host Elvis Mitchell. The actors recalled their first meetings with Lynch and both shared stories about his uncustomary approach to auditioning. “We talked about meditation,” said Dern. “He was the only director to this day that I ever met who said to me: ‘I don’t need to see your work – I’m looking for a feeling.’” Dern added that making movies with Lynch felt like being at “home”. Before the Blue Velvet reunion, architect Frank Gehry – whose Walt Disney concert hall sits blocks away from the theater at the Ace Hotel – shared that he was eager to design his first cathedral. “One of the reasons I’m here, David doesn’t know, is that I want to do something incredibly meditative,” Gehry said. “Who knows what it would look like?” Asked how fame has changed him over the years, Gehry shrugged. “I don’t believe in it a lot. I know some of it’s there ... People are taking a lot of selfies with me.” Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein used their talk to tout the band’s forthcoming album, their first since 2014’s Ghosts of Download. “It would be nice to put out a record every year – or every six months, the way Drake does,” deadpanned Stein.

The musical offering produced techno (Jon Hopkins), R&B (Rhye) and new age (Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith), as well as a headlining set from Robert Plant. Hopkins’ atmospheric ambient and solo piano work slowly turned into a churning set of techno, which filled the theater but also clashed with the setting – the all-seating setup didn’t exactly encourage dancing. St Vincent’s set saw her transform her theatric live show into something more intimate. The stage looked like the room from the Black Lodge, with mid-century furniture, a pianist and two dancers accompanying St Vincent. The minimal, Lynch-inspired setting worked well with her set, which contained only a few of her rockier tracks, such as Digital Witness, and instead saw her often opt for her acoustic guitar. Marry Me was turned into a kind of Brechtian cabaret, with a dancer dressed as a nun presenting St Vincent with a series of gifts: a towel, a ruler, a cocktail. Prince Johnny’s performance referenced Blue Velvet with an interaction with an oxygen mask, and Huey Newton featured strobe lighting that was a nod to a certain lodge in Twin Peaks.

St Vincent: evoking the Black Lodge with her stage set.
St Vincent: evoking the Black Lodge with her stage set. Photograph: Justin Staple

Robert Plant made no attempt to mould his performance to the surroundings, instead opting for a classic rock approach that rivalled the ones happening three hours away at Desert Trip. Tracks were rearranged to a slightly slow tempo, but the Led Zeppelin favourites such as Black Dog; Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You; and Dazed and Confused finally brought a slightly reluctant crowd to its feet. As well as the hits there was room for impressive newer songs, such as Little Maggie and a cover of delta blues man Bukka White’s Fixin’ to Die, which showed how Plant has managed to comfortably move into life as an elder statesman of rock whose new material is often interesting.

On Sunday, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, whose album with Suzanne Ciani and her solo record Ears have made her one of the most interesting new underground artists of the year, delivered her new age sounds. As she stood at a desk covered in wires and equipment, Smith’s compositions and vocal manipulation were possibly the most warmly received music of the weekend. Tracks such as Existence in the Unfurling and First Flight showcased her style, which is somewhere between the delivery of Björk and the experimentation of Animal Collective. Rhye followed her with a set of R&B, which failed to ignite. Stalking the stage while talking to his band and occasionally hitting the drum kit, the lack of theatrics or audience engagement meant the performance felt flat.

The showcase musical event of the festival was The Music of Twin Peaks, as performed by avant-garde agitator Xiu Xiu, Sky Ferreira, Chrysta Bell and Angelo Badalamenti. Before the performance, Lynch appeared to thank the crowd and tease new information about Twin Peaks, before pretending to be called offstage because he’d ran out of time, which was a funny moment but also frustrated some. Xiu Xiu then performed first with an abrasive rockabilly run-through of tracks including Freshly Squeezed. Chrysta Bell, whose new record featured production and songwriting from Lynch, sang James and Donna’s love song Just You, as well as the Lynch-penned Night Ride from her new album. Another of Lynch’s recent muses, Sky Ferreira also appeared, singing The Nightingale, Falling and a slightly strained cover of Over the Rainbow (the singer complained about nerves and the venue’s bright stage lighting). Angelo Badalamenti also struggled his way through the Twin Peaks theme before things settled down as he moved on to music from the Straight Story and Fire Walk With Me.

For the hardcore Lynch fans, this was an interesting if lightweight glimpse into the artists who are influenced by and who have piqued the interest of Lynch. But for those looking for true rarities or something more from the man himself, the festival of disruption didn’t quite reach its hoped-for peak.


Lanre Bakare and Nigel M Smith in Los Angeles

The GuardianTramp

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