By Travis Coltrain
Iowa City will experience an electrifying renaissance of art and history this weekend. Decades ago, when James Van Allen helped create one of the first analog synthesizers, he probably never imagined it in an electronic festival. Yet, more than a decade after his death, modern renditions of his synthesizer will boom throughout Iowa City.
The Middle of Nowhere Festival will open for the first time Friday. The festival is a celebration of electronic-music history, and it will host a variety of different genres such as house, techno, and experimental.
The festival will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and will continue through Saturday at several venues around downtown Iowa City, including the Blue Moose, Gabe’s, and the Mill.
The festival will also include visual art as well as other lighting-based productions, some of which will flow with syncopated electronic music. While the festival will feature some more well-known forms of electronic music, it will also include some avant garde as well.
Co-director of Middle of Nowhere Phil Rix believes the styles of performance are perfect for someone who is looking for something a little different.
“The Trumpet Blossom show is going to showcase some of the more off-the-beaten path style of electronic music,” Rix said. “It breaks the mold of what you call EDM but not the mold of what you expect to being able to dance to really good tunes.”
Rix said Iowa City has an unexpected connection to technological history of electronic music, because of one of the earliest analogue synthesizers was developed at the University of Iowa with the help of James Van Allen. A more modern rendition of the same synthesizer will be used by some of the artists at the Trumpet Blossom show.
The organizers want the community to recognize and remember not only Iowa City’s technological connection but also the cultural history behind electronic music.
History has played a large role in creating the festival, with many of the curators having a personal connection.
When Rix moved to Iowa City, he didn’t know a whole lot about electronic music. Iowa City at the time had a popular electronic scene, and it was through that he learned the ins and outs of not only being a DJ but what type of electronic music he liked.
Coincidentally, one of the festival’s featured DJs, DJ Espina, was the first DJ Rix saw perform in Iowa City.
“What I wanted to do was gather up all the elements of all these different aspects of electronic music I had seen in Iowa City over the years as a sort of paying-it-forward system,” he said. “For me, that’s also a large part of what DJ culture is about.”
Festival organizer Simeon Talley believes the event was built on top of that unexpected electronic culture. The festival is a good way for not only fans but also artists to network, he said. But it’s about more than just networking. It’s also a good way to introduce new fans to electronic music, and also help older fans reconnect with the aspects of the music they felt had been lost in the new age of EDM.
“It’s about the technology,” Talley said. “It’s about the early roots of electronic music and the advancements that have been made. It’d be cool if we could revive those things we lost, that led us down a path creating and bringing to life this festival.”
It is not just about showcasing what Iowa City once was, it is about trying to revive it. The organizers hope this is gearing up to be a renaissance of electronic music in Iowa City, and they want to put the city on the map of electronic music, and with the lineup they have, they could.
The festival was built on those hopeful feelings, a commonality all of the organizers and many of the performers share. After all, the Middle of Nowhere Festival is the first solely electronic music festival in Iowa City, something the organizers are glad they could bring to fruition.
SCOPE general manager Alex Tang, among those excited by the festival’s promise, anticipates the actual happening.
“We are looking forward to seeing how this goes; it’s gearing up to be really cool,” he said. “SCOPE wants to test this electronic market and see what the future of it is in Iowa City.”
The name itself almost tests that theory. Talley said the name is a joke based on the idea Iowa is in the middle of nowhere. No one would expect a music hub in the middle of nowhere, but Iowa City is exactly that.
The organizers want the audience to be open to new experiences, artists, ideas, ready to explore and immerse themselves in something they may not be immediately familiar with but would like to experience.
“I’d like to see the town come together and dance,” Rix said. “A large part of it is the community-building aspect. It’s also part of just keeping old connections alive but also introducing a whole new generation to this older style of electronic music.”