Creator of the Portola Festival talks about an event that has been going on for six years – Billboard

The debut of this weekend’s Portola festival in San Francisco was six years in the making.

Launching tomorrow (September 24) at the city’s Pier 80, the two-day event was conceived by Danny Bell, VP Talent Buyer of AEG Presents in San Francisco, who came up with the concept after a music-driven journey in 2016 through the electronic centers of Europe. .

Bell had just left his job as a Talent Buyer for HARD Events in Los Angeles, where he had previously worked after graduating from USC. (“I graduated on a Friday and was full time [at HARD] on a Monday,” he says.) With eight months to spare before starting his new job at AEG, he wanted to take the kind of extended euro trip that many embark on after university.


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“Luckily for me, I was 27 years old and had some money in the bank. So I was actually able to have fun instead of lying on the couches.”

He started in London, watching Four Tet and James Blake headline the city’s Field Day Festival, made it to Paris, then went to Barcelona for Sónar, where he was struck by “electronic music presented in a very adult way”. A plan to spend three days in Ibiza turned into a 12-day marathon with highlights including a set from legend Sven Väth. “He was wearing flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt waiting to get through 15 minutes,” recalls Bell. “Next thing I know, it’s 6:30 in the morning.”

After a tour of Berlin, Bell returned to work in San Francisco with the inspiration for what would eventually become Portola. He envisioned a festival that would present electronic music in that grown-up way: a radical twist on the neon kandi raver style that was then experiencing mass appeal among the kids fueling the US EDM boom and is still popular today in most of the megafestivals. She envisioned an event that was cooler, more rock than rave, and something that focused on artists playing mostly their own music instead of playing the same old standards.

“That’s what I really wanted,” says Bell, “a festival where you don’t listen to songs on repeat all day.”

He toyed with the idea for years, and even had his friends make mock lineup posters to keep the concept top of mind. After Bell successfully launched the hip-hop and R&B-focused Day N Vegas in 2021, Goldenvoice and its parent company, AEG, greenlit the idea it had been conceptualizing since that flip-flop club night in Ibiza. .

“That’s one of the things I learned from [Goldenvoice CEO and Coachella Co-Founder] Pablo [Tollett]how personal can you make these lineups and see how people are more interested in a festival with personality and a concept behind it rather than just a collection of artists that on paper look like they could sell a certain number of tickets at a certain Ticket price.”

The result of this singular vision is easily one of the best American electronic festival lineups of the year, with the bill merging some of the scene’s most credible veterans (The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, DJ Shadow), a group one of the best and most outstanding of this generation. brightest (Arca, Jamie xx, Kaytranada, James Blake, Flume, Four Tet, Caribou, Charlie XCX) and rising acts like HAAi, Fred Again…, DJ_Dave and more.

While it took six years to make it happen, Bell says the timing for an artist collection like this “wouldn’t have worked a few years ago, given the way a lot of these acts have become headliners in recent years.” and how American audiences have become extremely modern with the kind of “esoteric electronic music” (as Bell calls it), played by much of the lineup.

Danny Bell Misha Vladimirsky

It is also the right time for this festival to take place in San Francisco. While the city has a long history as a hub for electronic music, it hasn’t had a stand-alone electronic festival within city limits since Treasure Island ended a seven-year run in 2018. (The Breakaway traveling electronic festival will make its debut.) in California in October with an event in Oakland, while Porter Robinson’s Second Sky festival, also produced by Goldenvoice, will return to Oakland for its third year in late October).

Portola is happening at Pier 80, a million-square-foot sea dock owned by the Port of San Francisco. Amid ongoing supply chain issues that have impacted the global shipping schedule, the facility had a weekend available in 2022 for such an event. It was taken by Portola’s team, a group of 27 divided between Los Angeles and San Francisco. They expect 30,000 attendees per day.

Portola marks a moment not only for the city as an e-destination, but for San Francisco itself, particularly amid headlines that focus largely on the city’s pandemic exodus (and subsequent population return), the homeless crisis, the existential dilemma of the technological boom and the extreme cost of living. Bell, a native New Yorker, offers an alternative view, citing the “new guard” moving into the city, the great restaurants, upscale bars, and the general rise of culture in the post-pandemic era.

In fact, the festival is named after San Francisco’s Portola Parade of October 1909, organized by the city to show the world that it was open after the devastating earthquake and subsequent fires of 1906.

As Bell sees it, this Portola serves a similar function.

“I feel like the city is on the mend, and I bet it’s going to keep going in a big way, and I really hope Portola helps be a part of that.”