Perched atop an old rock wall overlooking the field at Page Farm in Croydon, New Hampshire, I sat with a new acquaintance, Tovia Ben Shapiro aka Terraphorm at the Psychedelic Sleepover. Tovia’s thickly dreadlocked, spindly personage could be seen strolling the about Page Farm all weekend, hanging with the sound guys and chatting with other party goers. Terraphorm spun an early afternoon dubstep set on Saturday at the Sleepover, but on Friday on the rocks in the shade it was another festival that dominated our conversation; Fractalfest 2018 <Art/ificial> coming up on July 12-15 in Stephentown, New York.
Tovia has been playing deep tunes under the Terraphorm moniker for years, and more recently he began throwing parties in Boston called C:\tadel. This series is dedicated to showcasing a wide spectrum of sound system music, and hosted N-Type, Biome and A Hundred Drums during its most recent iteration in May. Not unlike Fractalfest, C:\tadel offers a space for rare and often international talent to perform. Tovia seeks out weighty sound from all over the world for his DJ sets, and through C:\tadel he can showcase these sounds and their authors in a welcoming live setting.
In tandem with these hustles, Tovia is embedded within Fractaltribe, the crew behind Fractalfest and a whole lot more. Based in Worcester, Massachusetts, Fractaltribe eludes description in some ways. Tovia explains it be a community of DJs, producers, event promoters, visual artists and other various creatives and characters.
The group has been hosting highly curated and cultured parties in the Northeast US for years. Their 10 year anniversary party took place in Brooklyn in April, where Terraphorm offered a special DJ set. July will see the sixth iteration of Fractalfest, which began as a day party in Worcester but is now a full blown four-day festival in the woods of upstate New York. “What I would tell a lot of people is you’ll see certain things that you love about other festivals at Fractalfest,” Tovia says, “and you’ll also see things and experience things that are a little bit different.”
Fractalfest encourages participants to engage themselves intellectually through the party’s theme.
The theme for our party informs the deco and the ideas behind it as well as the bookings. The theme this year is Fractalfest <Art/ificial>. Essentially we’re exploring what technology means for humanity and art. You were seeing academics as early as the 1950s trying to figure out what artificial intelligence is and what it means. At what point is something intelligent? At what point does this intelligence mimic humanity perfectly, and after that, what are the things that distinguish us from it. Is it creativity, our emotions? These are some of the questions that have guided our theme for Fractalfest <Art/ificial>.
Tovia's lithe and linear face is wrapped in big black Oakley sunglasses as we continue our discussion. He speaks with the humble confidence of someone who's seen much in his time.
“These ideas are being explored very often today with the rapid developments in artificial intelligence in ways we didn’t imagine 10 to 20 years ago. You know, we had The Terminator, but today a lot of artificial intelligence is algorithms and things that feed into the information IV through social media and other things.” Social media is obviously an invaluable tool for promoting parties. While Fractraltribe utilizes this medium well, the group is unique in today’s environment because its reach manifests mostly through personal associations and word of mouth. “We’re also exploring the deeper question of what it means to not be artificial. We invite people to come out to Fractalfest and explore this in the party environment.”
Fractaltribe is known to emphasize psytrance in their musical curation. Their lineup features Grouch and other members of the cream of the psytrance crop. This focus by no means excludes other forms of electronic music, though. The lineup also features the North American debut of the Grouch in Dub Live Band, for example. Tasteful bass producers and DJs including Dela Moontribe, Dreamwalker, Saltus, Shanti, Somatoast and Spacegeisha will be spinning in the Fractal Forest, not to mention Terraphorm himself, who treads through the deep and mystic realms of 140 bpm. Fractalfest offers a taste of almost everything in electronic music. For those rooted in bass, it can be an opportunity to experience something new. “Sometimes we, including myself, can get stuck in a pattern of liking what we like and not really going to explore and check out new music,” Tovia remarks with great insight. “There’s so much amazing music going on just within the world of electronic music. It’s almost a disservice to centralize so much and not check out the new stuff.”
Fractalfest separates its bookings into two camps; live sets and DJ sets. Terraphorm will spin two DJ sets at the festival. Although he's produced a tremendous amount of music throughout his eight or nine years of performance, Terraphorm prefers to remain on the selector’s side of the fence. “What I found is that you can end up offering a better product as essentially a human jukebox curator on stage.” By selecting and remixing other people’s sounds, Tovia can focus on creating a special, consistent vibe, “an experience that is more than the sum of its parts,” as he puts it. “One thing I enjoy about DJing especially in front of a crowd is the spontaneity and the interaction with the crowd.” There’s advantages to some pre-planning, he says, but spontaneity and moving with the moment is really where it’s at. “Sometimes you want that ability to read and interact and change with the crowd. I enjoy that spontaneity, and I think it’s resulted in a lot of my favorite moments as a DJ.”
Administratively, Fractaltribe is a fluid organization. Like most members of the group, Tovia wears many hats. In addition to being a resident DJ and promoter, Tovia performs administrative work and helps to build the group's art projects and stages. “I also spent a number of years doing landscaping,” he adds, “so we do really cool landscaping to create a special vibe in the Fractal Forest." What is the result of all this multifaceted work? A festival experience which, for its size, is apparently unrivaled in terms of attention to detail, visual presentation, and the ability to create a holistic atmosphere. “Our music is carefully chosen and curated, but there’s also a more physical, visual vibe from our custom projection-mapped stages, which we build more of every year, to our art galleries. We’ve had both a fine art gallery and, to use a loaded term, a visionary art gallery.” Take a peek at the photo gallery on Fractaltribe’s website (linked below) to glimpse the immersive atmosphere of the Fractal Forest.
Beyond the music and theme-driven installations, though, even deeper threads run through Fractalfest that Tovia is quick to highlight. “We want to create a place where music can be enjoyed in a fun, safe, healthy and community-oriented manner. That intention is reflected behind a lot of our art and the setup that happens out there.” Indeed, Fractalfest promotes health, safety and self-awareness more aggressively than any other festival in the region. When in this context the festival was unfortunately interrupted by New York State Police last year, the raid appeared quite out of place. Members of Fractaltribe defended the event and the culture unabashedly at a news conference organized afterwards by law enforcement. "We don't sell alcohol. We don't condone people being intoxicated. We actively promote sobriety, health and wellness," declared Fractalfest co-organizer Kyle Rober.
For his part, Kyle explained aspects of Fractalfest to me at Disc Jam Music Festival in early June. Fractalfest shares the same property as Disc Jam, although the Tribe utilizes the land differently, establishing most of their stages and installations within the woods. “Those two people,” Kyle said, gesturing at a young couple with whom he was just speaking, “would not only have an amazing time at Fractalfest, they would excel as human beings.”
The organizers strive to make the festival as accessible as possible. “All these things take money to happen," Tovia says. “For Fractalfest, we’ve always worked to keep our production value high and our tickets affordable and accessible. It’s really important that all this music and art doesn’t get closed off from people and become this luxury that’s only enjoyed by a few.”
Fractalfest is far from the largest or most well-known festival in the region, but it may be the most thoughtfully curated one. “These festivals are celebrations of art and celebrations of people. I think if you go back to the earliest festivals, before there were music festivals like this,” Tovia says, sweeping his arm in front of us to capture the flurry of activity in the field at Page Farm, “I think what they all share is a celebration of the human need for social contact.”
By mining the intersection of art, humanity and technology, Fractalfest <Art/ificial> will indulge and at the same time examine this undeniable need for social contact. Terraphorm will use his shamanic dubstep selections not once but twice throughout the weekend to speak to this idea. If you’d like to experience something a little different this festival season, join him in the Fractal Forest. Visit Fractaltribe's website (below) for day schedules, maps, and more.