It is good to be a live music fan in Los Angeles. Just about every major music act has to make a stop in the Southern California area, but it can be hard to keep track of who’s rolling into town when, and where (out of a bevy of venues both storied and brand new) they’ll actually be. There are marked differences between the Observatory and the Forum; between the Bowl and the Belasco; between the baroque splendor of Downtown’s palaces (including the Palace) and the unique histories of venues like the Wiltern and the Troubadour.
Red Bull Sound Select sponsors shows around the world, but only in Los Angeles have they put together a program like 30 Days: A month of specially-curated shows featuring artists from all different genres, at all different levels of exposure. HAIM gets the same kind of billing as YG as White Lung as AlunaGeorge as Charli XCX; they and hand-picked openers converge upon the city for no other purpose than to literally play their part in the Red Bull slate.
The success of 30 Days (which is in its third year) is partly due to Red Bull’s increased investment into the music industry, but it also mirrors the expansion of Los Angeles’s venue options, particularly throughout the Downtown area. Clubs like Resident, Avalon, and Exchange get the same Red Bull infrastructure and publicity as the Roxy and the Wiltern, and in the process, the boundaries of the LA music scene expand outward beyond the small circle of established venues that one might normally know — to both audiences’ and artists’ benefits.
“I’ve never had a sound check that went as well before,” said dark-pop artist Nicole Dollanganger, in an interview before her opening set for White Lung’s show at Resident. Resident’s hosted musical acts before; previous performers include Jenny Hval and Kristin Kontrol. But to tag the Arts District restaurant/bar into the 30 Days lineup gives artists like Dollanganger a chance to interact with LA outside of the usual touring circuit areas. (Though she, and many 30 Days artists, made a special trip to the city just for their one show.)
The draw of the one-off show is both its exclusivity and also its mobility: Artists can bring all of their collaborators together into one special show, versus trying to time the moving target of multiple tours. This is how Charli XCX can split a full set with PC Music producer Sophie, or how Jhené Aiko can bring both Big Sean and Childish Gambino into her set, or how AlunaGeorge can book a New Orleans jazz band for their show.
For Dollanganger, who was on break between tours, 30 Days was a refreshing experience because as much as it was tailored to music consumers (who reaped the benefits of more intimate venues and giveaways of fan paraphernalia and food), it also tailored to artists. What do you need for your show? What do you need for your sound? How else can we support you and your work in a way that a traditional venue tour, which has to be flexible and oftentimes bare bones, can’t? In return, Red Bull receives recognition of its music industry initiatives and further strengthens its connections to LA’s Eastside-centric arts scene. (As most of the venues were located in central to downtown LA.)
There’s also the matter of selecting the best possible and perhaps otherwise improbable lineup for each night’s show. (The 30 Days events included traditional support-act shows, an Afropunk ball, and a night for the local music/party incubator Brownies and Lemonade.) Dollanganger, who’d previously played 30 Days last year in support of her friend and contemporary Grimes, is not a natural sonic fit for either first opener Dude York or White Lung, but as she explained, “We all have our own definitions of punk”—the unspoken but present tether—”and what’s really cool is that we can bring our own different audiences together.” It’s not as though all shows are booked like sound-to-like, but the pairings during 30 Days are particularly inspiring, and by design.
Live music is no longer a part of the music business; it’s the thing that keeps it going, but there’s already stagnation happening at the standard weekend festival level. Until technology for live shows begins to improve in leaps and bounds (beyond the occasional errant “hologram”), the biggest changes festivals can make are in location and length, or else diligent themes. (E.g. Desert Trip.) 30 Days takes the latter to an extreme; though it technically doesn’t fall under the formal definition of a festival, it’s a bold venture beyond it and perhaps a closest look at what will thrive in the future of live music. Festival culture is unlikely to reach its peak anytime soon — and until, or rather in spite of, that, innovators like Red Bull are going to keep giving us reasons to see our faves, together in new ways.