Come together: Kevin KoChen of Symbiosis Gathering talks communion, spirituality, electronic jams
The eighth annual Symbiosis Gathering -- part outdoor music festival, part rave on a lake, part yoga retreat, part art project, part green conference, all pretty amazing -- happens this weekend. I wrote about it in last week's paper (especially about my enthusiasm for the music lineup, including Mount Kimbie, Polica, Hudson Mohawke, Matias Aguayo, STS9, Thugfucker, and a ton more).It's a creative explosion!
I caught up with Symbiosis producer Kevin KoChen to get a little more interdimensional with the fest's vibe.
SFBG Hi Kevin! Getting my bells on for the fest. Can you tell me a little bit of your history with Symbiosis?
KEVIN KOCHEN I'd met two of the founders separately when I was living at 'the Fulton House' at Fulton and Divisidero and enrolled at the California Institute for Integral Studies. In '05 they asked me to give a workshop at the first Symbiosis. When I arrived I was amazed at the different crews of people all comingling. There's all types of festival people and usually people hangout with people they already know. But at Symbiosis it seemed that peoples guard was down, new relationships were made, and there was a real sense of community that was created that went beyond groups of friends. It was also the loudest I'd ever heard trance. I couldn't believe that the louder it was, the better it sounded. I was into jambands for years and was looking for something new. Symbiosis was colorful, full of workshops, and the crowd was fantastic. When the time came for the next year, I was invited to stir the cauldron.
SFBG This year's music lineup is killer -- what kind of philosophy did you have when booking this year's fest?
KK Our lineups are like a fine wine; better with age. We love the edge or what's next. We've had quite a few artists play Symbiosis and go on to tour nationally. You could get as excited by artists you haven't heard of as much as the ones that got you to buy a ticket. This year, IAMAMIWHOAMI has never performed in the US and they're incredibly unique, talented and interesting. We've been friends with people in and around STS9 for years and this was the first year where the timing worked out. We're excited to have these innovators of the live electronic jam. The Coup from Oakland is something to be excited about as well as Mount Kimbie post-dubstep (hooray for post-dubstep!) and Chet Faker's crooning will have everyone in the mood. From top to bottom, each artist is really special. Be sure not to miss Sunday. We usually put some of our favorite music on Sunday because its when we are done working and can enjoy the ride like everyone else.
SFBG I noticed the Edwardian Ball Roadshow is premiering -- can you tell me a little bit about that, and what other new things can we expect this year?
KK We've been working with Vau de Vire Society -- who along with musical group Rosin Coven put on the Edwardian Ball Roadshow -- since 2009 and have been working on ways to get them more involved. Their energy, their crowd, their appearance... everything about them is so LIVELY! We love the opportunity to work with them. This was our chance to have their team pull together an event within an event. People will be costumed and hilarious, and you may seriously question if you had just popped into another dimension where Jules Verne actually existed when cowboys and aliens might bust through the door at a moment's notice. Their musical taste is also fantastic. They have a healthy dose of gypsy swing which is immediately appealing, fun, and danceable.
SFBG It seems there's another music festival sprouting up everytime I turn around. What are some of the things you think really define Symbiosis as different, and what do you think is the key to the festival's longevity?
KK Symbiosis is an art project. We have no sponsors, incredible workshops, art, yoga, dance, organic food, ceremony, healers, and masseuses. We are a full spectrum experience. The event is not defined solely by musical lineup. Out workshop lineups are like a sustainability conference in a festival. Plus, Saul Williams will be performing a spoken word session, we have improv troupes from Chicago's legendary Second City, and our stage designs are epic themed art projects rather than a skeleton of truss. We pay meticulous attention to detail and really love the project like an art piece. We hope it shines through. Our crowd seems to return the favor and are another big part of our success. Our crowd is vibrant and creative and fun and enjoyable to be around. They surprise us with random acts of beauty and senseless acts of expression.
SFBG As far as the connection between music and spirituality goes, can you tell me some of your thoughts on that? How does Symbiosis bring together those elements?
KK Music is transcendent and the universal language. It passes through language, color, creed. Our team has travelled overseas for Eclipse Festivals, Boom Festivals, Rainbow Serpent, Universo Parallelo, and dancing to music with people who don't speak your language can be a beautiful experience. Music is a bridge that can be crossed by a smile and connection, and community is something in this world that is missing. While we have more Facebook friends but less real world relationships, we may have more timesavers but we may have less peak experiences with the people we love. Symbiosis is our attempt to facilitate a peak experience.