David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption 2017: The 10 Best Moments

Bon Iver, Sheryl Lee, Bill Hader, and Sharon Van Etten cut loose in Los Angeles

Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Photography by Heather Kaplan

    “I believe in a family-type atmosphere, where people are free to experiment,” a boyish David Lynch says toward the end of Guy Girard’s fascinating 1989 TV documentary, Don’t Look at Me. Decades later, that belief hasn’t changed: Tinkering, thinking, prodding, and pulling at the seams all bring a smile to the auteur’s face. It’s a practice that’s informed his work since the very beginning; the idea of searching, of finding something, and walking away with a new perspective. But you have to remember, that perspective belongs to you, and no one else, and that’s a vital element of any search, because if it were the other way, and things were black or white, well then life would get very dull very fast.

    That sense of experimentation is something that’s been sorely missing from music festivals across the board, which is why Lynch’s Festival of Disruption is such an exciting prospect for the festival industry. It’s an experience that says as much about the mind of the curator as it says about the world at large. Reason being, society is constantly starving for some form of discovery, the problem is that it’s often spoon-fed these revelations, namely through technological means. But as Lynch told everyone on Sunday afternoon during his talk, “New technology are just beautiful things to make life better for us,” and that’s why it’s up to us to keep finding new challenges over leaning upon the niceties.

    With the Festival of Disruption, Lynch wants everyone to walk away with something, to ask questions long after they’ve left, to feel like they’ve been involved with an event that has a meaning — a purpose. That’s the conceit behind his two-day soiree, which has now taken over the Ace Hotel and Theater in Downtown Los Angeles for two consecutive Octobers. Granted, much of that purpose involves his Foundation and their inspiring, charitable efforts to bring Transcendental Meditation across the world, from living rooms to school yards to Capitol Hill, but as with anything Lynch does, there are multiple layers to parse through, and this year’s festivities were no exception.


    Once again, the festival offered signature musical performances, star-studded conversations, left-of-the-dial screenings, Lynch-related clips, and a number of exciting activations. This time around, though, they upgraded the amenities, adding an ideal food truck area, which came fully stocked with an eclectic roundup of offerings (from Yeastie Boys’ inventive Cooper bagel sandwiches to Pico House’s healthy grain bowls), and a more intuitive collection of galleries. Those looking for a tranquil reprieve could now take in reflective works by William Eggleston, Brian Eno, and Lynch himself at the Ace as opposed to down the street. A minor touch, sure, but a wise move nonetheless that allowed for a stronger unified vision, seeing how the hotel, with its industrial tapestries and Parisian-style restaurant, looks like something straight out of Lynch’s mind.

    The only time anyone had to venture outside the Ace was across the street at the Bold gallery, where Polaroid resurrected the infamous Red Room for a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. With the exception of the R&R Diner, the Red Room is the most iconic set from Twin Peaks, which is why this activation proved to be such a win-win for the fans — and they really went the extra mile. Not only did they rebuild the famed location, but they also used the same props from the show, which meant that everyone got to sit on the same two chairs as Sheryl Lee, Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Ray Wise, and the list goes on. Coming face to face with on-screen magic is always a joy for fans, but interacting with that magic is a rarity unto itself, and the combination of the two proved to be far more integral than anything the pop-up shop was selling.

    In some respects, the Red Room also fell in line with one of the themes being discussed at the festival, particularly that of anti-mimesis, or rather the philosophy that life imitates art. Two of the films screened — Thom Andersen’s 2003 video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself and the aforementioned Don’t Look at Me — comment on this marriage in subtle and not-so-subtle gestures. Andersen’s nearly three-hour breakdown condemns Hollywood filmmaking for marginalizing an entire city, while Girard’s fly-on-the-wall documentary uses footage of Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, and Eraserhead in an attempt to crack into the inner psyche of our noted auteur. Not everyone was on the same page, as artist Ed Ruscha, when pressed by host Kristine McKenna on his thoughts about the arguments being made in Andersen’s film, shrugged it off, saying: “Movies are movies.”


    Maybe, maybe not, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that anyone’s even having that debate — at a music festival, no less — only proves how removed Festival of Disruption is from the homogenized fluff that turned the industry stale long ago. “Something got created here this weekend,” said Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, on Sunday night. “This is what life is — differences and epiphanies.” That’s not to say everyone was sitting around like a bunch of pretentious scholars, tapping pencils on their chins like they were in a graduate course. No, not at all; in fact, those who did the whole enchilada, as Gordon Cole would probably say, woke up at dawn and partied until dawn, thanks to the swanky DJ sets that kept the festivities going late into the night atop the Ace. These ranged from Dean Hurley to Yacht to a last-minute addition like Flying Lotus.

    It’s just further evidence that people of all different callings — and not just those who spent every Sunday night this past summer categorizing notes on the number “315” and names like “Richard” or “Linda” — want something more from a festival. They want to explore, they want to discover, they want to grapple with something they may or may not already understand. The good news is that they will, according to Roth, who announced that the Foundation has plans to expand the festival into more markets. Soon enough, there’ll be a whole lotta shakin’ going on in New York, and possibly Nashville, and maybe, if things really go to plan, in South America. Until then, Lynch will focus on one experiment at a time, but he’ll never stop dreaming — and neither should we.

    Click ahead for the 10 best moments from this year’s Festival of Disruption.

    Island Empress 

    Laura Marling

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    “I hope we meet again,” Laura Marling sang alone on Saturday night, sending shivers down the necks of those who finished Twin Peaks: The Return. Without spoiling too much, that line is the last thing Special Agent Dale Cooper says to his friends near the end of “Part 17”. Of course, it’s just a mere coincidence, seeing how Marling wrote the as-yet-titled composition for Robert Icke’s play, Mary Stuart. But hey, coincidences are a beautiful thing, and this was one gem out of many in the career-spanning set the English singer-songwriter unpacked. After swimming through three tracks off this year’s Semper Femina — specifically, “Wild Fire”, “The Valley”, and “Next Time” — Marling dialed back the clock with favorites from 2013’s Once I Was an Eagle and 2010’s I Speak Because I Can. All were quite emotional, but “Breathe” was something special, especially the way Marling stretched the song way past its five-minute mark. Even so, the reception was rapturous, to which Marling appeared grateful of: “Thank you. It’s a long song.” Fortunately for her she was surrounded by Lynch scholars, who all know a thing or two about patience.

    Revisiting The Return

    Twin Peaks Collaborators

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    At last year’s inaugural festivities, everyone was chomping at the bit for information surrounding Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival. And while there were a couple of vague teasers, all of which you could find online, Lynch kept the mystery up in the air. That’s where he likes it to be, though, so nobody was too surprised when they shuffled out of the Ace at the end of that weekend without the faintest clue how things would turn up in 2017. (Hell, at the time, we still didn’t even know when the series would drop.) This year, however, was a total 180, as the cat was out of the proverbial bag, which is why host Kristine McKenna was able to pluck the many strings that made this puppet show a reality, speaking to producer Sabrina S. Sutherland, special effects supervisor Gary D’Amico, cinematographer Peter Deming, editor Duwayne Dunham, and sound mixer and music supervisor Dean Hurley. Sadly, casting director Johanna Ray had to back out last minute, but it’s hard to imagine they would have had much time to talk to her anyhow.

    Like a pro, McKenna came prepared with a litany of questions to warrant resourceful dialogue. Sutherland went over the complicated scripting process behind The Return and how it confused Showtime, who were expecting episodic television. “We didn’t know how long it’d be,” she admitted, explaining that once it came time to actually roll, the production went on for 140 nonstop days, which broke down to six workdays with one left for planning the following week. She also extrapolated on Lynch’s process, and how some things were left ambiguous on paper until it came time to execute, referencing the atomic bomb sequence of “Part 8”, which went back and forth from being 16 or eight minutes. “He wants to experiment,” she added, “If an idea comes, he wants to be able to shoot it.” Sutherland also reminisced about her time on-screen as Brett Gelman’s Las Vegas assistant, insisting that “David was kind of getting back at me,” for not wanting to play a role by constantly changing the total sum of Mr. Jackpot’s winnings.

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    Both D’Amico and Deming, longtime collaborators of Lynch’s, had some fun going over the technical aspects of the filmmaker’s work, dissecting a few of the more complicated shots and sequences from over the years. You know, stuff like destroying that cabin at the end of Lost Highway or demolishing that car at the beginning of Mulholland Drive, to which McKenna humorously asked, “Why do you guys like to blow things up?” One fun fact was learning how the latter crash actually cut a hole in the road near Griffith Park, which surprised even D’Amico. With regards to The Return, a couple of the more arduous tasks for the two were trying to visualize the Fireman’s “house by the sea,” as it was described on the script, to which Deming added, “of course, it’s not a house and it’s not by the sea,” and all the driving sequences of “Part 18” with Cooper and Laura, all of which weren’t through towing but strictly free-hand. Still, they would do it again in a heartbeat, as Deming said what every fan has been thinking, “Nobody really wanted it to end.”

    McKenna really had some fun with the final two collaborators, Hurley and Dunham, who waxed nostalgic on their long, winding road with Lynch. Hurley, who’s been his go-to music guy since the days leading up to 2006’s Inland Empire, shared a number of fascinating anecdotes. One such revelation was how Lynch instantly knew to slow down the Muddy Magnolias’ cover of “American Woman”, to which Hurley added, “It’s all about twisting it to get he wants it to do.” He also brushed on his time in the studio with Lynch and how it really boils down to “two guys jammin and dicking around” with an “ecosystem of possibilities.” You can tell his mind is just as mathematical as Lynch’s. On the other hand, Dunham has been working with Lynch since 1986’s Blue Velvet, a project he was initially hesitant about upon reading the script (“I’m kind of a Disney guy”), but one he clearly appreciates. He went into the specifics of everything from this past season’s complicated opening credits to his days on the original pilot, which he calls “liquid gold.”

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    As Major Briggs once said, “Achievement is its own reward, pride obscures it.” Rest assured, each and every one of Lynch’s collaborators has a right to be prideful.

    Let’s Rock!

    The Kills

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    It’s kind of crazy how much The Kills sound like they belong on the Lost Highway soundtrack. We know, we know, singer Alison Mosshart and guitarist Jamie Hince didn’t actually meet and form the rock outfit until four years after Bill Pullman turned into Balthazar Getty. But seriously, there was no mistaking the parallels on Sunday night as the two tore down the Ace’s stage. Christ, even titles of the songs they played look like they were written by Lynch around that era: “Heart of a Dog”, “Kissy Kissy”, “Black Balloon”, “Doing It to Death”, “Baby Says”, and “Tape Song”. Whatever the case, the Kills were in good company for over an hour, as their legion of fans, many of them wearing their limited edition shirts being sold in the lobby, stood up and shouted fore more, more, and more. Mosshart, like a claustrophobic cheetah in a public zoo, prowled about the stage, going around in manic circles as if she were scoping out her prey. It was intimidating, but it was also pretty wicked, and that spooky demeanor gave them quite an edge. By the time she started beating the shit out of the percussion on “Pots and Pans”, she looked ready to rip someone’s head off, proving that mechanical excellence and one-thousand four-hundred horsepower pays off. Then again, I like to remember things my own way.

    Laura is the One

    Sheryl Lee

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    When it comes to Twin Peaks, there will always be Laura Palmer. She’s the raison d’être of the iconic series, which says a lot given how expansive Lynch and Mark Frost’s world is following this past summer’s The Return. Even though the Showtime revival was promoted with Kyle MacLachlan’s dashing mug plastered across billboards and online ads, it was Sheryl Lee you saw in the beginning of the 18-episode rollercoaster and it was Sheryl Lee you heard at the very end of the ride. So, it only seemed natural that she would be a part of this year’s festivities, seeing how her journey as Laura has ostensibly come to a close, and, like one might have written at the end of Laura’s yearbook, what a long and strange trip it’s been. That feeling, as everyone learned on Sunday afternoon, isn’t lost on Lee, who has lived with the role for decades and had some sobering sentiments to share.

    Following the special viewing of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, which swapped in for Lost Highway after Bill Pullman’s last-minute cancellation, host Kristine McKenna asked Lee what she had been feeling back in the early ’90s once work had come to a finish on the movie. After all, it’s a very dark and tough role to play, one that requires Lee to be brutally abused, both mentally and physically, on-screen. “I was so immersed in Laura’s world,” she recalled. “I remember a few weeks after we wrapped, standing in a grocery store, and I had thought — and then I realized … I actually had that thought, that was my thoughts again. I had so been in Laura’s thoughts and Laura’s world and Laura’s energy that it was two weeks before I went, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s space for me again.'” McKenna then detailed the ungodly physicality of the role, something that immediately struck Lee.

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    “The hardest part about playing that character is that this happens to our youngsters everywhere all over the world in real life all the time,” Lee said without pause. “That character is a character in a story in a film in a TV show, but knowing that this goes on every day, everywhere, at such alarming statistics … that’s the hardest part.” From there, the conversation shifted to several nuances of the show (yes, that was her scream in “Part 18”) and her relationship with Lynch (she has fond memories of his smile), only to come full circle again when McKenna revisited the same question with regards to her performance on The Return. “The part, again, that’s hard is now, as a 50-year-old woman going, ‘Wow, here we are, this is still Laura’s story, and the real-life statistics are still as high if not higher than they were for victims of sexual abuse,” she digressed. “That’s the hard part for me. I still see Laura’s story, now as a 50-year-old woman and mother, and think, ‘Wow, all these decades have gone by … what do we need to do to heal this? What can we do?”

    That question wasn’t exactly rhetorical as McKenna asked her if she had any ideas herself. “I think talking about it is the beginning,” Lee added, “and it starts everywhere.” Again, it was a very sobering moment of the weekend, and a bold reminder that, yes, this series does have its roots in a very real and very terrifying situation that has sadly become a crisis in our society. Hearing Lee talk about this was somewhat of a revelation, adding weight to a role that’s often relegated to simple iconography, that familiar prom photo that smiles now from posters, shirts, canteens, and FunkoPop figures. Ironically enough, Lee would immediately appear next to those very things following this interview, signing merchandise and speaking to fans at the pop-up shop outside the theater. Watching her interactions, you could see how she clearly touched so many people who came to listen (wouldn’t be the first time in her career), and in a weekend filled with leaders and influencers and teachers, it was nice seeing another one stand up.

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    Perhaps this isn’t the end of Laura Palmer, after all.

    I’ll See You in One Year

    Rebekah Del Rio

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    It’s hard to say goodbye. But when the person who’s waving farewell sounds like Rebekah Del Rio, eh, walking away doesn’t hurt as much. Or, maybe it does, depending on how spiritually tied you are to Twin Peaks. For this writer, The Return was nothing short of life-changing, a welcome escape from reality and a reaffirmation that pop culture can aspire to be great and actually be great. When we heard Laura Palmer scream and shatter that world on the evening of September 3rd, it was riveting and yet overwhelming, too, not only because it was so moving but because it was so emotionally draining.

    Just like that, it was all gone, as if the proverbial doors to that escape had simply vanished, no different than the entrance at Glastonbury Grove, those curtains fading into oblivion. But, the lead up to Festival of Disruption had maintained that lack of presence, creating this illusion that the escape wasn’t gone and that the energy surrounding Twin Peaks was still alive. So, when Del Rio emerged shortly after The Kills to perform her all-too-fitting Roadhouse ballad “No Stars” — in front of red curtains, no less — it truly felt like we were slowly being awakened, as she sang, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid.”

    In this world, who can’t be?

    Keep going, there’s plenty more to see…

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