At this point in its young history, 35 Denton is having something of an identity crisis. The booking remains excellent, and that’s been consistent since former house show promoter Natalie Davila entered the picture over two years ago. The tightly controlled list of acts tends to be daring and progressive, in a way that few other music events in North Texas are gutsy enough to attempt.
It even seems to have served as an inspiration to others. Last Fall’s Index Fest was a far more diverse event than we’re used to from Spune, and by year’s end, it felt like the area was getting festivals that actually served a need for heightened artistic awareness, as opposed to lowest common denominator showcases which preach to various but limited choirs.
But a presentation of intelligent aesthetic choices should be matched with equally smart marketing. Festivals are not cheap, either to the organizers or the music consumer, and the relationship should be one of respect. It’s safe to say that 35 Denton naturally tends to skew towards a younger, college-aged demographic, but should that mean that said demographic are therefore treated like young, dumb, sex objects or mindless party addicts? Some of the marketing coming out of 35D seems to characterize its audience as one with a propensity for food fights, shot gunning beers, and pants-ing. The creative team seems to think that college kids are so brain-dead, they even need a meme referencing violent Hollywood films to understand MLK Day. If you’re at UNT or TWU, it’s time to ask: Just how stupid do these people think we are?
I hardly blink at hyper-sexualized marketing, but the amount of obviously gratuitous promotional tools that have been shoved in our collective face in the name of this event since early 2012 have made it hard not to notice. The entire repressed and frustrated spirit does not in any match the genius of having everyone from Silver Apples to Solange share the same roster of acts.
But it’s not the sex. It’s the overall way that 35 Denton filters everything through a lens that comes out as skinny, young, and white when its projected onto a screen. Why does a rap or RnB act have to have a punk pop version of its song in order for people from North Texas to understand it?
If this were an isolated incident, that would be one thing, but consider the following: When it came to promoting the appearance of rapper Bun B, the festival’s creative team enlisted the pop punk duo Legsweeper to cover one of his songs. To promote popular local rap group, A.Dd+, they had “wicked-ass fuzzbabes,” (as they put it), Fungi Girls transform one of their rap songs into a garage rock track. New Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia was handled by local singer-songwriter Ryan Thomas Becker. At least one of these covers was quite novel, and just one instance of this phenomenon would have been fine. Others were baffling in their ability to strip the original tracks of their power.
Finally, Sarah Jaffe did an almost straight-ahead karaoke version of Solange’s “Losing You.” In all of these promos, you hardly see anyone of color, save for perhaps the random extra, or the little kid who is dancing with Jaffe in her video, which was also almost an exact remake of her own “Glorified High.”
I can’t link to that last video; it was mysteriously pulled within a day of being posted. I attempted to contact Solange’s PR, but was only met with an, “…honestly have no idea.” Kyle La Valley, 35 Denton’s creative director, had this to say about the pulled video: “It was too beautiful for this world. It’s down for the time being while we reconfigure some things on our end. The announcement is still live an [sic] intact. Thanks!”
And that’s the problem. A festival this good is too beautiful for a presentation this poor.