Meow Wolf, the Santa Fe-based experiential art corporation that’s opening a massive installation in Denver in 2021, has been immersed in drama lately. For months, there have been grumblings from early investors and legal cases filed by disgruntled workers. CEO Vince Kadlubek stepped down and was replaced by corporate heavyweights from Disney, LucasArts and Goldman Sachs. And through it all, the company keeps creating.
Its next effort in Denver, dubbed Dark Palace, is a three-day rave – what Meow Wolf calls a "dance obscura" – inspired by a memorization technique called a “memory palace.” This mnemonic device allows you to imprint long, complex ideas and lists into your brain by situating items into various rooms in an imagined space. Those hard-to-remember facts and ideas can be retrieved as you wander through the building in your mind.
When you go to Dark Palace, you’ll walk through a space inspired by a memory palace, where you can explore various types of music, sensory experiences and narratives that will shift over three nights.
Art director Sofie Cruse says the Meow Wolf team is working on creating multiple ways for people to enjoy and engage with music. One of these concepts is the “experimental chill zone.”
“If you’re not going to spend time on the dance floor but you’re there to see the show, how can we give you an experience that’s going to be comfortable, something that keeps you at the party?” she asks. “Because if there’s nothing else to do and it’s just a dance floor, you might leave.”
Cruse and Event Director Max B.K. are both enraptured by the gritty, dark atmosphere of underground warehouse raves, which influenced the planning of Dark Palace.
The location, the National Western Complex, comes with a host of challenges. Cruse had to find various ways for attendees to interact with the space when there’s so much of it; the massive, vaulted venue will house two stages and more than a dozen psychedelic art installations.
Cruse has brought in a host of Denver-based artists to create installations and live performances for the event. The list includes Chelsey Crandell, Collin Parson, Denver Digerati, Emma Balder, Ethnograph, Jon Medina, Laleh Mehran and Chris Coleman, Matt Barton, Moe Gram, Psychopomp, Rainbow Militia, Secret Love Collective, The Girls of Denver Kiki Sessions and Werk Out Palace.
Collaborating with so many people has been a struggle. “Thank goodness for FaceTime,” Cruse laughs. “The outside artists who we’re bringing in are doing things that are very tactile and tangible, where the rest of the venue will feel like this beautiful, immersively lit space that’s very sparse and bring back those old warehouse memories.”
While visual art is a huge component of the festival, it’s hardly the only focus. Creating a multisensory experience is what matters to the organizers.
“A party isn’t just meant to be looked at,” B.K. says. “Somehow, there’s been some kind of disconnect in this idea that art is something for your eyes, when art is also something to be touched and listened to — and that’s what we love so much about dance music in particular: It’s music that touches you literally with bass by shaking you, and you’re inspired to move your body because of the sound of the music.”
The electronic-heavy music lineup boasts Claude VonStroke, CharlestheFirst and Dirt Monkey.
Cruse says Dark Palace blurs the lines between a concert, a museum and a playground, showcasing what Meow Wolf does best.
“A party is a great tool for creating that interactivity and establishing what it is exactly that we do,” Cruse says. “I don’t think we could throw a non-immersive party, because we don’t know how to do it."
See the full schedule below:
Dark Palace runs Friday, November 22, through Sunday, November 24, at the National Western Complex. For tickets and more information, go to the Meow Wolf website.
Correction Thursday, November 21: Sofie Cruse's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. We regret the error.