4 Ways the Meow Wolf Vortex Festival Illuminated Denver’s Creative Spirit

It’s been almost one year since Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station — the interactive psychedelic art exhibit — opened in Denver. However, it seems that Meow Wolf has always been a part of Denver. The creative spirit of the exhibit, which was beautifully manifested at last weekend’s Vortex Music Festival, is a living, breathing embodiment of Denver’s artistic community. The Vortex Festival was exactly what it sounds like: a vortex into moments of maximalism; a container of artistic intention, untraditional production and of course, great music. Here are four ways the Meow Wolf Vortex festival represented the Mile High City’s creative community.

Atriā stage. All photography by Kori Hazel
Read: Highlights of the Convergence Brings the Psychedelic Art of Meow Wolf To Blind Travelers

The Junkyard Venue

Walking into the new “Junkyard” venue, where Vortex took place, it’s hard to believe the space used to be an actual junkyard. The repurposed concert grounds were wholly transformed into a colorful demonstration of crystal statues, confetti ceilings and psychedelic jungle gyms. This was the Vortex’s first year in Denver, but you wouldn’t be able to tell walking around the newly-renovated space. 

Although this is the third official Vortex music festival (which previously took place in Taus, New Mexico), the challenges of uprooting the experience to a new space cannot be understated. However, the traditional shortcomings of new festival spaces were nowhere to be found. Everything functioned like a well-oiled machine, fed by creative impulses, careful planning and plenty of colorful art and people connecting with their surroundings. There was plenty of space and great sound production. Thankfully, the visual art never competed with the music. They existed in tandem, complementing each other with mutual respect.

An Immersive Experience

Characters from the Meow Wolf world wondering around

Meow Wolf exists at the intersection of visual arts and music. It always has. Years ago, before Meow Wolf became the multi-million dollar creative powerhouse it is today, the Meow Wolf experience was much simpler — warehouse dance parties.

Meow Wolf sees the dance floor as an immersive experience in itself. This abstract idea, which laid the foundation of the Vortex Festival, became the cornerstone of creativity all weekend long. Music festivals, no matter how big or small, often act as containers — a time capsule of sorts. Vortex was an invitation to look at music and visual art through a new lens. The monumental, yet strangely simple, nature of the experience shifted the perceived potential of urban festival spaces. With 10-foot-tall Meow Wolf characters dancing their way through the crowd, colorful crystal columns and a fully-fleshed out “living room” art space designed by Kyle Singer that acted as a lounging area somewhere between an interstellar supermarket and a play space for a mystical youth, the entire space really felt like a comprehensive art exhibit.

The Stages

Channel Tres performing on the Arā stage

If the dancefloor was its own artistic experience, then the Vortex stages were the lively canvas. Designed by Jon Medina, who also contributed to Beacon’s modern creative atmosphere, both the Atriā and Arā stages transformed into dynamic, vertical centerpieces for artists to dance, celebrate and let their creative spirit fly.

Inspired by the eerie, natural potency of overgrown greenhouses, the Atriā stage resembled an industrial jungle gym lost in space. Covered in reflective stained glass with orange and green hues, strobe lights reflected off each colorful piece of glass with dazzling grace — a perfect home for the deep house music that coarse through the audience all weekend long.

The Arā stage, on the other hand, took a simpler approach. Designed to question the verticality of traditional stages, floating colored projection orbs hung from the roof, resembling a lantern festival — except the lanterns flashed all sorts of different colors while acts like Channel Tres and 100 Gegs got weird and danced under the spectacle.

The Music

Pabllo Vittar performing on the Arā stage

From a mile away the thumping beats from DJs could be heard, daring festival goers to enter the Vortex. Meow Wolf did not shy away from its warehouse roots. Yet, they were able to elevate the classic warehouse experience into a three-day festival, selecting a diverse array of DJs and performers to carry out the original energy of those late-night dance parties. On Friday night, Pabllo Vittar, a drag queen and singer from Brazil dazzled the crowd with their colorful stage presence. Channel Tres and Toro y Moi turned the crowd into a dance frenzy with slick grooves for the audience to lose themselves to. Every song was more addicting than the last. 

In a complete tonal shift, the Vortex pushed fans to check their old selves at the door on Saturday. Rain poured down as fans jumped with joy to the jittery hip-hop beats of Bladee, creating lifelong memories of pure ecstasy while dancing in the rain. While Denver was soaking wet, 100gecs struck the crowd with a burst of energy. Mosh pits were literally pushing one another into a new reality of space and time. The liveliness didn’t end on Sunday, although the day did bring a certain retrospective energy. BoyHarsher’s ’80s-inspired drum patterns and hazy stage created space for dance, nostalgia and reflection on the weekend. To close the festival, Bob Moses gave one last hoorah to the dance party. Organic drums, guitar riffs and euphoric drops left Denver’s creative community feeling inspired, rejuvenated and anxious to create their own world. 

Just a block away, a whole new world was rotating in orbit at the Atriā Stage where DJs spun a diverse range of dance music from house, dubstep and drum & bass. Here, fans could truly lose themselves while connecting with others where the dancefloor was body to body. Duke Dumont stole the show with an impressive set of house music, reminiscent of ’90s crossover house. The relentless energy could be felt throughout — pounding beats fluttered chests in between sets all the way to the Arā Stage. The dancefloor blended perfectly with the visual arts, music, dynamic stages, psychedelic light shows and 10-feet tall Meow Wolf characters parading around. In all, every detail was accounted for in creating a totally unique sensory experience.

All photography by Kori Hazel

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