Meet Imagine Nation, The Creative Crew Blowing Minds at FestivalsArticle by: Laura Mason|@masonlazarus
Mon March 02, 2015 | 00:00 AM
Every festival you go to is born out of the wild imagination of dreamers who dare to make their fantasy worlds a reality. One of the most inspiring creative collectives in the festival scene today is The Imagine Nation , and the crew who runs it has the covetable task of thinking of the craziest, coolest immersive zones and festival experiences and building them – always completely from reclaimed materials! – from the ground up.
Through their whimsical work at Electric Forest, Lightning in a Bottle, Beyond Wonderland, EDC Orlando and more (they do about 10 a year) Imagine Nation's mission is to always make sure you walk away with your mind blown, feeling free to be yourself and wanting more year after year.
Here, we introduce you to two of the guys behind Imagine Nation, Kirill Simenchik and Prescott McCarthy, who tell us how they got started and how they continue to change the festival game. If you've ever lamented your 9-5 desk job, be prepared for an even more intense bout of job envy than usual.
Was there a specific festival experience that sparked your interest in the festival experience game?
Prescott: I never actually went to a festival before the first one I ever worked, which was Desert Rocks in Utah in 2009. That was the beginning. We brought a geodome and a solar DJ booth called the Solar Saucer. We just kept doing more. From then, I knew wanted to be part of it, the whole thing, making art and traveling.
Kirill: There are six of us on the LLC that we started, and we have a very interesting history of how we all came together via different festivals. We met up in Utah coincidentally, and that's how we started working together. I joined the crew in 2012.
Prescott: In 2009 I met Scotty Soltronic who is an awesome artist. He'd been an instrumental part of the original burner scenes in Utah. He had a warehouse and had recently built the Solar Saucer. It was about that time that I was branching out into life and ready to make art and do weird stuff.
We were super excited to create sustainable awareness through the festival scene. Many great people were involved. It was the new seed of a collective called Jenkstars, and we kept building awesome stuff. Desert Rocks brought us back and it just kept progressing. By word of mouth, we started going to more festivals and growing. Electric Forest called, and when we went they were terrified because we built everything out of trash. But we crushed it there and went back for year two and year three. We were proving ourselves on a bigger scale.
Where do you get your ideas for art installations and immersive zones?
Prescott: Depending on the event, it usually starts with a general theme that either the festival is asking for or it's just us having an idea of what we want to do. It could be anything from vaudeville, to Western-themed, to Alice in Wonderland. This year we'll be getting funky fresh. It's a keyword and once we start thinking of all the elements that come with it, we come up with the style and visuals, the performance, the costumes, the characters, the accents. When it comes to creating a space, we have a drawing we sketch up based on how we can have it flow through the area, where people can go in one way and out the other, like a loop. Sometimes there's a secret room and they'll tell their friends. There's always an element of surprise there. We'll always have something that if you find it, you'll be really stoked.
Kirill: Once one person sees it, word travels around the festival. At Lightning in a Bottle, we had a secret speakeasy behind a bookshelf doorway. By night four there was a line out of the door to get into it. It became like a renegade bar.
What is your favorite you've done?
Prescott: Last year doing the Globe Theater at Electric Forest was definitely one of the best we've done. Each time its so different.
Kirill: I'd say that and Nocturnal Wonderland. Insomniac had a stage called the "Upside-Down Room." We asked if they had ever built an upside-down room, which they hadn't, so we went with it and built this whole castle-themed stage and one of the rooms was an upside-down room. It blew peoples' minds. If you took a picture and you flipped it upside-down it literally looked like a living room, no matter which way you looked at it.
Whose idea was it to use only upcycled materials? Where do you source it all?
Prescott: It came from literally having no money and wanting to build awesome stuff. It was the only way. Now that there is more money it's about sticking to those roots, making no new new. There's so much crap on the planet and so much being wasted. It's always a statement that we can find all this stuff every single time from discarded materials. At this point it's making people more aware. We call it trash magic.
Kirill: I think it's a good motivator for people who wish they could do it but think they don't have enough money. You just need willpower and motivation – it's just thinking and creativity.
What's your fantasy installation at a festival?
Prescott: It's hard to say because we basically live in a fantasy world. Pretty much from one month to the next, we come with an idea and we live in that idea, in that world, for a while – then it's onto the next. A fantasy for us would be to be outside the fantasy world and create an actual town. Like take a ghost town and turn it into a thriving city center, just like real life. That would be my fantasy.
Kirill: A utopian art world.
Prescott: It would be taking the festival culture and making it into a permanent reality. Making it not just about the party, but about the togetherness and creativity and the art.
Kirill: A few years ago, people were like, what are these kids doing? But last year, people kept coming full force, all dressed up because they knew the deal. It's cool to think about them in their normal lives thinking about what they're going to do or dress like, and it's fun to see them come and act it out and then take it home with them.
Prescott: Being on the back end of the festival world, we have a family of creators who are building at festivals and we go from event to event and we hang out with this same family, creating awesome stuff the whole time. It's us by ourselves for a week creating these worlds and hanging out and then the mayhem rolls in and the weekend starts. Then after a few days everyone's gone and it's about our family again. Then we get to do it all over.
I would recommend any festival attendee to volunteer and be a part of the event they're going to, to feel that vibe of creating it and feel the community. Go get your hands dirty.
What has been the craziest reaction someone has had towards one of your works?
Kirill: We've made some people cry.
Prescott: We've gotten emails that are like, "We don't even go to festivals anymore to see the acts. We go for you guys."
Kirill: There was a wedding at Electric Forest and the couple asked us to host the reception and teach everyone to flash mob. where there was a flash mob. We accepted, and after everyone learned the moves, we brought them outside and had over 100 people dancing in the forest. Seeing the bride’s face glowing with happiness was priceless, and she sent us a beautiful thank you note after the festival.
Prescott: The next year, the couple came back and found me. We had drinks together and reminisced. We had their one-year anniversary together! Another person recently hit me up to have their wedding in one of our zones.
How do your works contribute to festival communities as a whole?
Kirill: There are different aspects of it but what we want to bring is that community to people. So much of the festival experience is going to see your favorite act, but it's also about all these people gathered in one place because they have similar ideas and passions, and we want to bring that out of them and make them feel comfortable enough to not feel weird about being judged. It's a free zone for you to express yourself and have fun.
Prescott: It's always very one-on-one. We have characters and performers who will talk with you and interact with you.
Kirill: Essentially if everyone did what they felt compassionate about, the world would be a more passionate place. We are tying to pull that out of you. We want to see your ideas and your abilities. We want everyone to express themselves. No one has to feel like they're hiding.
You can see more of Imagine Nation's work on their website.
All photos courtesy of Imagine Nation