III Years and Going Strong
III Points Music Art & Tech Festival in Miami
By: Eytan Eilender • Photos by: Jason Koerner
Wynwood is without a doubt the most up and coming neighborhood in Miami. It has become akin to Williamsburg or Bushwick, as Wynwood has become a gentrification station of Hipsters. As a result, it has become the heart of art culture, with Wynwood Art District, which has over 70 galleries, museums, and art collections. In addition to the galleries, there is an endless amount of brilliant street art and graffiti murals around town, which has made it one of the biggest street art districts in the country. Wynwood Walls, a permanent outdoor mural exhibit featuring some of the world’s most renowned street artists, is at the heart of all that. For many years now, Art Basel in early December has become one of the world’s largest gatherings of artists & musical acts, drawing people from all over. Much of what goes down during Art Basel every year happens right in the thick of Wynwood.
With all of these exciting aspects comprising the Wynwood experience, it only makes perfect sense that ‘iii Points Music Art & Tech Festival’ would be birthed there. One couldn’t imagine a better fit. It’s almost as though Wynwood and its magic forced ‘iii Points’ into naturally happening, because it was being beckoned by the energy. Now, after its third straight year, it has become one of the more prominent and well known music festivals of its type in the country, joining the ranks of SxSW, CMJ, and others like it. The city of Miami, and the neighborhood of Wynwood is privileged to have a festival like ‘iii Points’ to look forward to every year, which really helps to cement the area as one of the hottest spots of innovative creativity in the country.
The ‘iii Points Music Art & Tech Festival’ has found its home at Mana Wynwood, which is a very unique raw art space that includes a massive warehouse type soundstage, and is definitely a perfect setting for a festival such as this. This year’s event had more than 20,000 attendees over the 3 day weekend. Everyone entered through what was also one of the 5 stages, called the ‘Bridge Portal’ and this style of entrance made it clear the crowd was in for a unique experience. It truly felt just like the title, a bridge portal into another dimension. Each attendee walked through this black tunnel, and scanned their bracelet which had a chip encased in plastic registered to the person wearing it. Upon walking through the entry tunnel, one of those distorting mirrors was awaiting us all at the other side. We then approached the vast playground of fun which would set the stage for the next three days.
The spacious indoor setting was utilized to the fullest. It contained the main stage, as well as a mind melting four room art installation called ‘Hai-leen’ which showed a glimpse of reality through the psychedelic vision of Aileen Quintana, along with a roller skating rink and a BMW driving track with brilliant visuals put together by TM Sisters. The indoor main stage was called the ‘Main Frame’ stage. The entrance to the main stage, named the ‘Main Frame Portal’, was also a brilliant art installation called ‘Theoretical Framework’ which was put together by AV8. This portal was enchanting, and straight out of a sci-fi fantasy. There were cylindrical beams filled with white light on each side spanning from the ground to the ceiling, angled to form a triangle shape that everyone walked through. At the end of the triangular portal was a glowing 3D pyramid with colorful art that people couldn’t help but be transfixed by. All of this of course was fully in synch with the whole ‘iii Points’ concept of triangular symmetry.
In addition to the indoor space, the festival made excellent use of the outdoor space. The other 4 stages were set up within this mammoth outdoor area, along with food trucks and art installations. Like the ‘Main Frame’, the other stages all had creative picturesque names. The big outdoor stage with an expansive asphalt jungle, was called the ‘Mind Melt’ stage. This stage also had large scale art installations including a teepee, painted pyramid, and more, from visionary Stephen Shaw of Muse Directive. The second outdoor stage on the opposite side of a barrier of white canvas drapes, which had retro benches and a school bus art installation, also courtesy of Shaw, was called the ‘Sector 3’ stage. Then there was another stage inside a big storage garage, called the ‘Black Hole’ stage, which had a vibrant visual art & TV installation put together by Veronica Gessa (MokiBaby).
Of course, all of this set the fantastic backdrop for what ended up being a weekend filled with musical brilliance and prowess for all to soak up. There was no shortage of quality music at ‘iii Points’ and with the 5 stages set up over three days, there is no doubt that everyone had their own unique experience in regards to the music they saw. However, there were without a doubt some performances more notable than others. Some of the top musical highlights of the weekend, in no particular order, are:
One of the more visceral sets of the weekend came from ‘Panda Bear’, which is Noah Benjamin Lennox, also a co-founder of ‘Animal Collective’. Panda Bear’s 2007 album ‘Person Pitch’ was named as Pitchfork Magazine’s 2007 Album of the Year, which definitely brought him more onto the radar. Musically, the sound ‘Panda Bear’ creates is almost like a twisted, glitchy, and yet dreamy psychedelic version of ‘The Beach Boys’. Visually, this was one of the more stunning performances of the weekend. There were images of bright red cherries, lips covered in shiny red lipstick and splattered with rainbow sprinkles, women in latex, and so much more, all cut and spliced up together to morph into each other to the precision of the music. The combination of sight and sound was a truly mind bending trip through the psyche of a wacky creative genius. It’s far more than just a set of music. ‘Panda Bear’ live is more of an art experiment, washing over everyone present. It was a brilliant way to set the stage for the weekend, coming Friday evening around 8:45pm at the ‘Main Frame’ stage. The fact that the AC generator blew out for the main stage also added to the disorienting feel of the set, and helped the transportation to another universe occur far smoother than usual.
Run The Jewels
One of the most highly anticipated sets of the weekend was ‘Run The Jewels’, and it in no way disappointed. ‘Run The Jewels’ is an American Hip-Hop group which was formed by New York City based rapper & music producer El-P (also known as El-Producto) along with Atlanta based rapper Killer Mike. They formed in 2013, releasing their debut album entitled ‘Run The Jewels’ and then followed that up with ‘Run The Jewels 2’ in 2014. El-P first arrived on the Hip-Hop scene in 1993 and Killer Mike began his career in 1999. These two are no novices to Hip-Hop and between the two of them, they have 38 years of experience in the industry. Veterans like these two know how to bring the heat, and they did just that. They put on one of the most high octane sets of Hip-Hop in quite some time. The energy was so pumping that even a naysayer of Hip-Hop would have no choice but to be impressed. At a point, the room got too crowded toward the stage & the photographers and press up front were in fear of being trampled. The security was about to get involved, but Killer Mike interjected. He pulled a move like Bob Weir of the ‘Grateful Dead’ used to. He asked if everyone could take a step back, and another step back, that the people in the front needed more room. The crowd complied, and Run the Jewels kept rocking their set. They said that they seldom make it down to Miami, but that they think it’s about time they start coming more. They clearly felt the vibe of the crowd welcoming them with open arms. This set was arguably one of the best of the weekend, and made believers out of us all.
One of the more admirable things about ‘iii Points’ is that about half of its lineup is comprised of local artists, with the rest being from around the world. Most festivals around the country with top notch world renowned artists wouldn’t put so much focus on local acts, but ‘iii Points’ is smart. Everything that became a widespread sensation was once local to its origin. The greatest example of this from the entire weekend was ‘Bedside’ on the Sector 3 Stage. One might wonder while perusing this review, why Ghostface Killah + MF Doom isn’t included as one of the highlights of the weekend. The reason is, their set was huge letdown, and ‘Bedside’ which played at the same time, absolutely stole the show. Rather than a collaboration between Ghostface + Doom as people expected, since the two of them are working together on an album for an upcoming project called ‘Doomsparks’, they appeared separately, with Doom not even appearing live. The first half hour was a pre-recorded video of MF Doom from afar, and everyone wondered where Ghostface Killah was, because he was nowhere to be found. Many people exited the stage, and migrated over to see ‘Bedside’ play their set. Later those people would find out that Ghostface did eventually come out, but on his own, with Doom gone from the screen, for the final 20 minutes. Though, it is doubtful that anyone who left that set for ‘Bedside’ felt any regrets, because what ‘Bedside’ did was something that will be cemented in the minds of people who both traveled from afar, and live in the area.
Usually, ‘Bedside’ is comprised of Travis Acker on turntables and Trace Barfield on Trumpet. However, for ‘iii Points’ they put together an eclectic full live band that was simply electric. In addition to the core 2 members was Robert Smiley on Saxophone, Sahara Smith on background vocals & dance party, Charles Gardner on keys, and Steve Kornicks on percussion. What resulted was a fusion of jazzy house, afrobeat, and disco-funk music that blew everyone away. So many people had left Ghostface + Doom to come check out what was going on at the Sector 3 Stage, and were treated to a set they will never forget. People were sitting on top of the schoolbus art installation because the stage was so packed with people getting down. ‘Bedside’ is without question one of the rising musical talents in Miami and the country. They should absolutely be on your list of acts to look out for. They will be performing at Bardot on November 28th for an album release party, and it will be the full live band this time as well. It would behoove of you to attend if you’re a local.
Bonobo 2 hour DJ Set
followed by Nicolas Jaar 3 Hour DJ Set
This combination must be told together. One, because two brilliant electronic production wizards doing a total of 5 hours of DJ Sets back to back is notable in itself, but in addition to that there was no air conditioning. The generator to power the air blew out, and as a result the next five hours inside the main stage warehouse space would have no ventilation and be stifling in heat and humidity. This only made the next 5 hours a more meaningful journey. Everyone who was there for this period of hot sticky music was rewarded brilliantly. Many left the stage and went outside to the other stages because they couldn’t bare the heat. However, those hardcore fans who wanted to see Bonobo or bust, and wanted to be present for Nicolas Jaar performing a 3 hour DJ set in honor of iii Points 3rd year, stuck it out (literally). Bonobo was in unique form. Most prefer the Bonobo Live Band to the DJ Set, for good reason. This DJ set was fun, okay it was really fun. The visuals on the giant screen encapsulated Bonobo and made him larger than life. It was absolute psychedelic magic. Musically, it was far more of a deep house music set, missing many of the components that make Bonobo so special. Occasionally he would drop in some of Bonobo’s original tracks, and people would react with enthusiasm. All in all, it was a great time, but not transcendent like Bonobo can be.
Next up to bat, Nico Jaar. He has been at Mana Wynwood once before. His project ‘Darkside’ with Dave Harrington graced the walls of this venue in 2013 during Art Basel. That was a short set, and was special. But, this was a 3 hour DJ Set, in 110 degrees, celebrating the 3rd year of iii Points. It was magical. Nicolas Jaar is seriously mystifying. He has such a cinematic artsy avant garde way about him. Unlike Bonobo, or many electronic musicians who have larger than life visual displays behind them, Nicolas Jaar is a man in the shadows. He allows the smoke and lights to encompass his silhouette as he plays haunting music purposefully slowed down for a powerful effect. One second there would be the sounds of a choir singing smooth ethereal melodies without any beat underneath, and then he would softly drop into a relaxed disco-funk groove which would take its time to build gracefully. From there, he’d bring in some urban inner city sounds of soulful drum beats with electric violin sexiness layered over it. At around 2am, the AIR KICKED ON!!! There was a cheer that emanated louder and more enthusiastically than anything that had come from the music all night thus far. That was the cheer of human beings feeling a cool draft of air for the first time in 6 hours, after they had been dancing their asses off that entire time. We knew the air was back, we knew our comfort could only increase from there, and because of that the last hour of Nicolas Jaar, and the rest of the entire festival was onwards and upwards from there. It really made everyone so grateful for the rest of the fest.
Wow, Warpaint, what a special band. Comprised of four women, who rock out in the most authentic of ways, they truly own the stage. The ‘Mind Melt’ stage was a welcome cool down from the ‘Main Frame’ stage, as this set occurred outside during Bonobo and Nicolas Jaar. It’s rare to say that going outside in Miami cools you down, but this was an exception. As a result, everyone felt free in the great wide open as ‘Warpaint’ took us all by storm with their tribal, psychedelic, dreamy musical prowess. These girls definitely came out to impress. It was also refreshing to splice in a fully live band of four wondrous women rocking the breezy outdoors, in the middle of 5 hours of DJ sets in the steamy indoors. If you see ‘Warpaint’ is coming to a town near you, don’t think about it, just go.
Toro y Moi
There is no question that ‘Toro y Moi’ was one of the more anticipated sets of the weekend. ‘Toro y Moi’ is the multilingual moniker which Chaz Bundwick from South Carolina took on, which means ‘The Bull and Me’ in a combination of Spanish and French. He is commonly identified with the rise of the Chillwave movement in 2010 and 2011. While performing live, he brings along four backing musicians with him to create his subdued space disco soundscape. The mix is a brilliant jammed out jazzy rock with smooth funk characteristics, all mostly done in the minor keys. The song ‘Quartz Love’ got the crowd slip sliding away into their happy place of groovy goodness. They closed out around 1:30am with the song ‘Empty Nesters’ and Chaz Bundick casually stated “We’re not playing an encore. That’s really it.” That hipster attitude is part of what makes iii Points the unique experience it is.
In essence, iii Points is the epitome of Wynwood, and Wynwood is the epitome of iii Points. It is a symbiosis of perfection. The combination of music, art, and technology in a gigantic raw sound and art space in Miami is something to be proud of. Miami has become a magnet of beautiful brilliance when it comes to art, music, food, and culture. It’s now definitely on the map, but this is only the beginning. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be experienced and documented. More events, galleries, street art, festivals, craft breweries, restaurants, and everything enjoyable will continue to bustle. We are in the midst of a period of enlightenment, and it’s only going to continue to flourish. The future of Miami is alive and well in the heart of Wynwood.