Kate Lesta and Matthew Krall are crazy-busy trying to juggle their day jobs while ensuring that their labor of love, the Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts, goes off without a hitch.
"It's a challenge to continue doing something you love so much on a volunteer level," says Krall, the festival's publicist and project manager, who grew up in Texas and relocated to Boulder after college, where he works in marketing for a construction management firm. "I'm in this for the long haul, but it would be awesome to do it every day, all day."
Now in its fourth year, the Boulder-based DIY electronic music and arts showcase, aka CMKY, has grown steadily in both size and stature by at least 60 percent each year. This year's festival is expected to draw around 6,000 people. Communikey began as a small collective founded by Lesta, Marshall Demeranville and Alala Wakelin to promote one-off dance music events around the middle part of the last decade before Lesta and some other friends, Joshua Smith of Time for Trees and Thomas Kamholz of Attentat, launched the like-named festival in 2008.
Lesta, the festival's creative director, currently makes her living as an assistant talent buyer at the Fox Theatre and the Boulder Theater; she grew up in Boulder and has been active in Colorado's electronic-music scene since she started throwing raves in the late '90s.
"When I first said, 'Hey, we can do a festival,' most people said, 'You're crazy,'" Lesta recalls. "Boulder's a small town, but because of the festival, it's on the global map. It's a great festival city. It's small, you can get everywhere on foot or bike, the sun shines 300 days a year, and it's naturally beautiful. Colorado is a hotbed for the national music scene, so a festival focused on cutting-edge arts and music rather than just entertainment was called for."
Say, a festival similar to Montreal's MUTEK, for instance, which provided the inspiration for Communikey. "They're a beacon for North America, and for technology, arts and culture," Lesta points out. "It's not just about the dance parties."
Likewise, Communikey is no mere dance party. "We've really grown the non-music side of our programming this year," says Lesta, who was also inspired by political thinker Hakim Bey, whose concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone was central to the early rave movement, and by "independent, underground organizers and community leaders around the world who do what they do for people, not for profit."
People are clearly at the core of Communikey's focus. For those who haven't been, the festival is made up of a series of installations, workshops, panel discussions and film screenings that highlight the event's overall theme of social, cultural and ecological innovation as it intersects with technology and the creative process.
Among the more intriguing installations is the Gamelatron, a robotic gamelan orchestra, the brainchild of composer/musician/media artist Taylor Kuffner, also known as Zemi17. Performing traditional Balinese and Javanese gamelan music, the Gamelatron plays Saturday at the Naropa Performing Events Center and will also be on display at the University of Colorado's ATLAS Institute for the duration of the festival.
Sustainability is of paramount concern at Communikey, and the organizers have taken numerous steps to minimize the event's environmental impact. Attendees can purchase an optional "green pass" for five dollars in addition to their festival tickets; the proceeds from the passes help pay to offset carbon emissions. Communikey also provides a bike program and bus passes for out-of-town artists.
And Communikey isn't just catering to the talent. "All our events this year are all-ages," Lesta points out. "Half of our programming is free. It's very accessible." Not to mention intuitive: The festival is set up with a "narrative format," meaning that none of the activities overlap, so attendees aren't forced to pick between different events happening at the same time (an idea borrowed from MUTEK). "We want people to experience it together, from start to finish."
And then there's the music. Communikey has become known for its diverse lineup of underground acts. This year's roster features more than fifty artists, some more well-known than others, including festival headliners like experimental German techno legends Monolake and Atom TM.
"A lot of people don't know the names we're bringing," Lesta admits, "but they trust Communikey's identity and know we'll put on a good show. We've been able to reach people who never would have found us, appeal to new demographics and expand our market, I think in part because it's not just a party or series of club events."
Because of its approach, Communikey attracts attendees from all over the country, and the festival has even generated international attention, with Communikey-produced events taking place in Berlin, Paris and Belgrade over the past few years. As popular as it's becoming outside of its home town, though, organizers make sure that there are a good number of homegrown acts represented on the lineup each year. "By pairing local artists with established international acts," Lesta explains, "we're able to give the locals more exposure and a better response than by doing a show with locals only."
The festival's socially conscious agenda and diverse programming also bring together broad cross-sections of music fans from the academic world, the underground, the overground and the party scene — disparate groups that Lesta believes "are ultimately trying to do the same thing" in terms of effecting positive social change and fostering a renewed sense of community. With this festival, community is key, as it were.
And Lesta and Krall are clearly big parts of that community, having forged a unique partnership with the city, the university and local businesses and inspired a small army of volunteers to help make the event possible. Speaking with them, you get the all-too-rare sense that you are in the company of people who care deeply about their community and what they believe in: "respect and support for electronic music as a vital part of our culture," as Lesta puts it.
"We're different," she concludes, "but we're the same people. We should know each other."