Porter Robinson to Change Multiverse Festival Name After Oakland Organizers' Protests

Shawna Shante Scroggins (left) and Jade Ariana Fair envisioned The Multivrs is Illuminated as a way to celebrate black and brown punk and experimental musicians. (Jeffie Freeman)

Update: After KQED's report Thursday, on March 8, Porter Robinson announced on Facebook that he changed the name of Multiverse Festival to Second Sky Festival after becoming aware of the Multivrs is Illuminated. "i feel like the right thing to do is change the name of our festival," he wrote, announcing the name change. He continued, "(to my fans, please respect my decision here & respect the other event)."

On March 4, Grammy-nominated electronic music producer Porter Robinson announced a partnership with live music promoter Goldenvoice to bring a new festival to Oakland's Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in June: Multiverse Festival.

Robinson quickly encountered backlash, however, as Oakland is already home to a volunteer-run, donation-based music festival called the Multivrs is Illuminated. The Multivrs is Illuminated, which debuted in 2017 as the Universe is Lit and changed its name in 2018, centers black and brown LGBTQ artists working in punk and experimental music, and features local and national underground artists.

Jade Ariana Fair and Shawna Shanté Scroggins, organizers of the Multivrs is Illuminated, aired their grievances on March 6 in an open letter addressed to Robinson and Goldenvoice on Instagram.

After KQED inquired about the festival's name, a representative for Multiverse Festival wrote in an email on March 7: "We have been made aware of the Multivrs is Illuminated and are currently in the process of changing the name." (At press time, the name remains the same on the Multiverse Festival's promotional materials and social media accounts. Goldenvoice did not return KQED's request for comment for this story.)

In contrast to the grassroots approach of the Multivrs is Illuminated, the Multiverse Festival is presented by Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of promotions giant AEG, which puts on Coachella, Stagecoach, FYF Fest and other large-scale music festivals across the country. Tickets cost $75-$95, and the lineup stars dubstep producer G Jones and electropop band Kero Kero Bonito.

Scroggins and Fair say Goldenvoice's Multiverse marketing push has eclipsed their event's online presence, and is emblematic of a larger trend of moneyed out-of-towners coming to the Bay Area and displacing local culture. The two also accuse Robinson and Goldenvoice of failing to do their due diligence to research Oakland's existing festivals: a Google search would have yielded media coverage for their festival in the San Francisco Chronicle, the East Bay Express, KQED Arts, MaximumRockNRoll, AJ+ and elsewhere.

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"One of our frustrations is that the entity Porter Robinson is working with is a multimillion dollar corporation. It's a subsidiary of the second-largest producer of live music events in the world," says Fair, referring to AEG. "They somehow didn't have the market research, or didn't think it was necessary, to see if anyone in Oakland was operating under a similar name doing a similar thing. That negligence is part the reason we're so upset."

"Just because people don't have a lot of money doesn't mean their creative ideas can be trampled on, reimagined or taken away," says Scroggins.

Scroggins explains that she, Fair and their co-founders Sharmi Basu and Titania Kumeh originally conceptualized the Multivrs is Illuminated as a way to uplift artists from marginalized communities in the face of gentrification. Scroggins says Multivrs "was our love letter, our way of giving back to a city [where] so many people come to take what they can and not think about who they're displacing, what was there before. We wanted to pay homage to the long line of radical and revolutionary music, events, organizing that has taken place [in Oakland]." The fest is due to return in the summer of 2020.

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Scroggins and Fair point out that Robinson's Multiverse Festival is the latest development in a shifting live music landscape in the Bay Area—one where local artists are losing out on opportunities to corporate-backed acts. The City of Oakland shuttered several underground venues after the 2016 Ghost Ship fire. And as independent venues such as the Hemlock Tavern and Elbo Room San Francisco closed in 2018, Goldenvoice took control of talent buying at the previously locally booked Slim's and Great American Music Hall, a move Bay Area musicians and promoters say means fewer local opportunities.

"In my eyes, [it's part of] a whole chain of events taking away opportunities from people who don't have major funding or major resources to create cultural spaces," says Scroggins.

"I think it would be cool if Goldenvoice would give the means and backing to the amazing art collectives and party collectives that already exist [in Oakland]," she continues.

Dalish Da Goddess performs at Oakland festival the Multivrs is Illuminated in August 2018.
Dalish Da Goddess performs at Oakland festival the Multivrs is Illuminated in August 2018. (Guerrilla Davis)

In their open letter, Fair and Scroggins requested that Robinson and Goldenvoice publicly apologize and donate to the Multivrs is Illuminated to support their next festival, in addition to the name change. When they and their supporters commented on Robinson's Multiverse Festival Instagram page to voice concerns about the name, hundreds of Robinson's fans fired back. Some of them used racist and sexist language, and accused Fair and Scroggins of "making it about race." "This is why no one takes LGBTQ shit seriously," one user wrote.

"Literally his fan base has called us a bunch of bums; they've called our festival a swap meet of a festival," says Fair. "To see the reaction of people being dismissive on the basis of race, class and gender—that's why we created [our] event: to uplift the people who are constantly dismissed and disenfranchised based on race, class and gender."

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