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Sunset over the Apse FORM Arcosanti

FORM Arcosanti 2019 | A Sublime Desert Festival Retreat for the Mind and Soul

by Speed Raver

About 70 miles north of Phoenix, AZ, in the Sonoran Desert landscape beyond the reach of society’s urban sprawl, the communal little development of Arcosanti stands outside of time. Like a beautiful, solitary island in the middle of the ocean, this majestic sanctum integrates with the environment while floating in an enchanting bubble of its own – nearer to utopian sci-fi design than the reality we all know.

Out of the 13 music festivals I’m attending this year, FORM Arcosanti ranks as the incomparable outlier, entirely in a category of its own. Perhaps something in the same ballpark exists in a different country, but in the U.S., you’d be hard-pressed to find anything even remotely close to FORM. No other festival combines as wide a range of musical diversity with such notable performers, additional programming as thoughtful and outside-the-box, such an intimate/limited capacity, and a location as architecturally astounding and otherworldly as Arcosanti into one cohesive experience.

Indie and alternative rock, neo-soul, hip-hop, indie pop, punk rock, R&B, spoken-word poetry, disco house, thumping techno, electro dubstep, hair-raising singing, heavenly harp, global jazz, traditional opera, experimental electronica, amazing ambient music and more smoothly flow from one set to the next across four stages. FORM really runs the gamut in terms of its performers, and the low amount of overlap between their set times adds to the relaxed atmosphere. I’d probably never see a lot of these musicians otherwise; the cultured curation crafts a festival appealing to millennial hipsters and an arthouse-inclined older audience alike, but the sense of discovery captivates anyone looking for something different from the norm.

Half a century ago, mad genius Italian architect Paolo Soleri developed the idea of arcology – a coalescence of more vertical architecture and ecology taking shape as (mostly) self-sustainable, close-quarters, shared-resource compact cities where cars wouldn’t be needed. His prototype (and life’s work), Arcosanti, houses about 70-80 residents living apart from civilization, connected to their natural environment. As a venue for a music festival, Arcosanti hosts 2000 attendees and about 500 staff, volunteers and residents, transporting them to a serene locale on a wavelength of soulfully stirring sound, disconnection from the sensationalism of everyday life (and typical festivals), and introspection into one’s self.

FORM Arcosanti sign view

Stress Melts Away, Awe Washes Over

It’s been less than two weeks since my bustling doubleheader of Coachella and Desert Hearts Festival, and a taxing workweek followed by the 12-hour cross-country drive has me exhausted and annoyed that I’m late by the time I’m passing through Phoenix. The sun sets over the desert valleys and mountains alongside the freeway, painting the horizon with an absolutely breathtaking palette of orange, pink, purple and blue for the last 30 minutes of my drive. All my worries and anxious energy suddenly evaporate, replaced with utter bliss.

After parking and checking in, I start talking with Alex and Rawya, a friendly Arizona couple, and Diana, a transplant from Romania with an affinity for long hiking adventures and the natural wonder of the desert. We form into a crew for the weekend and the shuttle arrives to take us to camp. Diana reveals herself to also be a veteran of the music festival scene with similarly refined house and techno tastes, as well as more familiarity with the mélange of artists on the lineup than me, so I know I’ve got a cool partner-in-crime for the weekend.

FORM Arcosanti Day 1 montage

The campgrounds in the valley below Arcosanti encircle Jim Denevan’s large-scale ground installation “Living Geometry”, spectrally lined with countless solar lanterns but still a visual mystery in the dark of the night. We set up our tents under the auspicious gleam of a moon with a wide, uncanny halo circumscribing it. The uphill walk to Arcosanti strains our calves as the haunting ambiance of Tim Hecker with the Gagaku Ensemble wavers between orchestral deliriousness and ghostly impermanence ahead of us, punctuated by kooky mating calls from the resident peacocks of this land, echoing somewhere behind us.

Watch Tim Hecker’s set

Yrsa Daley-Ward delivers 15 minutes of reflective poetry from the front of the elegant, open-air amphitheater as we walk about to find the house completely packed. So we grab some delicious grub from the food trucks and sit in the grass of the overflow/entrance area to the amphitheater, watching the camera feed projected onto the wall as Florence + the Machine takes the stage before the rapt audience. This is the first and smallest stop on their U.S. tour, and after the second song, Florence Welch speaks to what a magnificent place and special event this is to perform at. In a squeaky voice, she proceeds to explain her nervousness talking to crowds, despite holding them in the palm of her hand while passionately performing.

I saw Florence once before in the midst of the most-attended set of Lollapalooza 2012, but there’s a far more profound effect at play in this cozy atmosphere. For three songs she brings out Kelsey Lu to provide sonorous cello accompaniment, beginning with the live debut of her poignant ballad from the final season of “Game of Thrones”, “Jenny of Oldstones”. I sporadically cram into the amphitheater throughout the set, where the acoustics of Florence’s voice resonate so deeply as to impart a tingly feeling of weightlessness.

Watch Florence + the Machine’s set

The euphoric spell Florence casts with her performance becomes more literal from the close-up view on the screen, capturing her ebullient movements and outpouring of magical energy to clearly expose her nymph-like, faerie-of-the-forest spirit. Diana ponders about the idiosyncratic behaviors of artists correlating with difficulty expressing themselves normally but communicating powerfully through art, while I theorize what kind of mythological being Florence must have descended from. When “Dog Days Are Over” starts to swell, everyone jolts up to shake, stomp and spin around under the sway of Florence + the Machine’s ecstatic harmony.

Techno, Tectonic Echoes and Ziggy Stardust

The open space of the Vaults – a communal meeting area in Arcosanti of two 60 ft. arches painted with pleasing warm colors – provides enough room for everyone to dance to versatile Korean DJ Peggy Gou. She begins with the sort of funky nu-disco and tribal house I’m expecting from having listened to her BBC Radio 1 Residency mixes last season, but within 6 minutes she jumps gears to throw the audience into exhilarating loops. Tribal drums and rousing chanting transition into bassy, amped-up percussion and vigorous drum-machine beats that get me hollering and juiced up to rising primal techno. She whips the crowd into such an intoxicating frenzy that a chorus of “Peg-gy! Peg-gy! Peg-gy!” shouts at her fervently. GET IT, GIRL!

Watch Peggy Gou’s blistering techno set

Bonobo follows Peggy’s sizzling sounds with much chiller vibes to wind down the night, navigating calmer waves of trip-hop, worldly instrumentation and housey progression. Peggy so viscerally fulfilled my desire to groove that I stayed in the same spot dancing for 90 minutes straight. But now I need a little more stimulation, wandering forward to realize the incredible cliffside grove behind the stage offers the best place to hang out.

Several huge bean bags, benches and a hammock overlook Klip Collective’s jaw-dropping installation “Tectonic Echoes”. Vivid, immersive projection mapping across the adjacent mesa and valley brings this natural landscape to dazzling life with all sorts of impressive, constantly shifting visuals. A rolling range of colors ripple across like light reflections in a swimming pool, but it’s the subtle row of creepy, individual eyes that open along the mesa and gaze into the soul of Arcosanti for a long minute that burn an indelible image into my mind. Bonobo’s electronica suits the installation so dynamically that Diana and I spend the rest of his set near the overlook’s edge, staring in awe.

Alex and Rawya rejoin us and we take the zig-zagging backside path down the cliff, which makes the verticality of Arcosanti readily apparent. I’m drawn to the only source of music in the campgrounds, titillating tech house coming from the renegade setup of an RV group near my tent. As it turns out, they’re part of the Soul Palace theme camp I wish I’d found sooner at Desert Hearts Festival.

One of them strikes up a conversation with me, a true festival inspiration living the dream named Ziggy Ziegler (hands down the dopest name around). He’s commissioned to create installation art for all kinds of festivals, and I realize there’s a synchronistic current to FORM when he tells me next year’s Desert Hearts stage is among his projects. The unreal piece he pulls out amazes me: a 4’ x 4’, 12-sided wooden polygon with a beautiful mandala cut into the center, gloriously blooming outward with at least 12 levels of depth throughout it. Such an exquisite sight reminds me to appreciate the now-clear view of the night sky unperturbed by light pollution, and I point Ziggy up to the stardust-twinkling wonder before going to bed.

Mellow Music and Remembering How to Relax

Something strange is afoot at “Living Geometry” when I wake up, as I exit my tent to see a line of people – all carrying white chairs – slowly stepping inwards, in sync and forming a circle around the small, climbable, pyramid-like structure in the center. Is this part of a choreographed ritual, or related to transforming the space in new ways each day? I can’t tell, but I do get a more complete sense of the marvelous installation now that I can walk through its linings of symmetrical, triangular arrangements of clay, pebbles, grass and tree mulch spiraling outward like a massive mandala. From atop the pyramid and particularly the high-ground view of Arcosanti, the patterns impart a crop-circle sense of the extraordinary.

FORM Arcosanti Living Geometry
Standing atop “Living Geometry”

Engaging programming fills the morning and early afternoon hours, including yoga in the Vaults, discussions about social issues, an art workshop, festival endurance training and more. Having arrived after dark the night before, it’s like I’m seeing Arcosanti with brand new eyes in the daylight. I stop by a fascinating talk on cultivating magic mushrooms and a guided-movement sound bath before a shuttle trip to get the remaining stuff from my car.

This becomes a lengthy debacle, as only a few vans are running for attendees and no bus like the first day (at least until later). Despite promised shuttles every 30 minutes, some people have waited over an hour and the return van takes nearly as long. I hear about the technical difficulties and power outages that beleaguered some of the previous day’s sets, allowing me to make peace with having missed them. Such a small, independent production is bound to have some hiccups.

FORM Arcosanti pool party
Getting fresh at the pool party

I’m too late for Florence Welch’s book club discussion after all that waiting around in the sun, so I hit the cliffside pool party for a refreshing dip in the water while Louise Chen serves up some disco house. I go explore through the Mind’s Garden area of food trucks, vendors and mingling R&R/installation zones, entering the small tent with the Sigur Rós augmented reality experience “Tónandi”. Unfortunately, all the time slots have been reserved, but watching others interact with the empty space around them – where a sensory ecosystem of audiovisual delights grow via Magic Leap headsets – spurs my own imagination for the future of innovative VR/AR possibilities within music festivals.

Maypole FORM Arcosanti
The Maypole affair

On the other side of the path, I’m a bit bewildered yet charmed to discover a Maypole dance in full swing. Festivalgoers individually grasp ribbons connected to the top, giddily weaving in-between each other and around the pole in an activity that intertwines them all. Next to this, a variation on one of those metal dome jungle-gym structures dangles reflective, translucent streamers from its high bars, calmly fluttering in the wind above those attendees taking it easy on the benches and massive bean bags underneath.

FORM Arcosanti reflective relaxation dome
Diana under the relaxation dome

The Mind’s Garden culminates in the Envelop Octet, where eight columns of speakers circle around the most meditative cliffside landing. It overlooks the soothing desert valley vista while hosting truly ambient, intimate musical journeys, achieving outstanding immersion thanks to the 360, ambisonic sound setup. Trayer of the art rock/indie folk band Hundred Waters (who developed and curate the festival) culls together pensive tones like a disembodied hum rising into a gentle wail over resonant, acoustic guitar chords gliding down from the heavens. At least a third of those present lay down with eyes closed in a state of halcyon warmth.

Daydreaming to Trayer’s soothing ambient soundwaves

I’ve never experienced a festival so utterly mellow in its vibes, and boy, what a refreshing relief this is following the exalted yet exhausting partying of Coachella and Desert Hearts. The high-energy pace of those kinds of fests requires disciplined planning, thorough preparation, supreme stamina and committed devotion to one’s musical mission in order to become a righteous champion there. Here, it’s all about taking several steps back to slow down and be more conscientious.

Walking to the amphitheater, settling into hypnotic, sharp-edged harp melodies and plucky power-string reverberations from Mary Lattimore, I inhale slow, deep breaths to align my mind, body and spirit. I set intentions for staying present, putting my intensive Speed Raver persona away for one festival, and enjoying FORM as a retreat into a smattering of new music realms as well as a vacation from the mania usually symptomatic of my fest adventures. It’s hard work being the superhero of the dancefloor; this reprieve provides a grounding recharge.

FORM Arcosanti Day 2 montage

Hipster Tastes and the Empowered Feminine

Musician and poet George Watsky brings a rhythmic volley of acute, thought-provoking and humorously prickly poetry out for a smaller crowd under the Vaults, and it’s the kind of feisty, emotive performance that fully embodies defining perceptions of slam poetry. I walk right to the smaller Apse stage, a baroque half-dome where residents craft the intricate, famed Soleri windbells that make up about a third of Arcosanti’s revenue. An acoustic solo set from Destroyer leisurely pleases with Dan Bejar’s distinct voice echoing like iconic alt. rock oddballs of the ‘80s and ‘90s such as Robert Smith and Billy Corgan.

Back at Envelop, I enthusiastically tune into the daily program of Astrological Insights with Juliana McCarthy, today exploring the Astrology of the Empowered Feminine. The cosmic scales are finally balancing out after 2000+ years of patriarchy. Juliana illuminates the planetary connections behind the #MeToo Movement and related battles for gender equality that provide fascinating context and confidence for a progressive future as the fight continues.

Even though Arcosanti is in the middle of nowhere, phone service remains solid all weekend, so Diana and I easily reconvene for the subversive punk rock protest music of Russian agitators Pussy Riot. Four of the six band members wear neon police jackets that add high visibility to the government criticism underlying “Police State” and “Track About Good Cop”, as crudely animated visuals amusingly recall ‘90s computer programs. The band’s upbeat, wacky tunes and incisive sense of humor with hilarious lyrics in tracks like “Unicorn Freedom” and “Straight Outta Vagina” playfully entertain while memorably bolstering their political messaging as well.

Pussy Riot Russian punk rock FORM Arcosanti
Punk rock political protest from Pussy Riot

Miya Folick draws the crowd to pack in tight at the Apse as her band gets them keenly swaying and she soars above the desert valley behind us all, carried by the ethereal crests and robust lows of a voice on the same wavelength as Sharon Van Etten and the HAIM sisters. Relegated to a side view, Diana and I scope the hipster fashionability lining the stairs, crowning the trendy outfit with varying sizes of large, colored grommets embedded all over it as the obvious winner.

Our new friend Rachel, a Kundalini yogi, joins us in the Vaults for Vagabon’s assured, comforting mix of indie rock and soft ballads. I return to Envelop for some of Mark Slee’s daily hour of luscious ambient experimentation, mixing undulating waves of avant-garde electronica with measured doses of melodic spice. There’s a magnetizing confluence of unique artistry, natural wonder and raised vibrational frequency on this cliff (especially within the circle of the speakers) that flows into those inhabiting the space, making it my favorite zone of FORM. Most sit down or lay back in a euphonic reverie, though the advanced hippie in a trance of ecstatic dance and the younger woman blissed out in tai chi mode spark a hearty smile across my face.

Finding serenity in Mark Slee’s sonic spectrum

The drums, guitar and bass trio of Khruangbin initiate a nonchalant set of jams in the amphitheater that plays like the stripped-down, laidback grandchild of Santana. Brisk breezes begin disrupting the perfect weather, so I head back to camp to change and eat, chatting with Rachel and her friend on the trail after they appear right behind me. Crossing paths with the same people numerous times is such a gratifying element of tiny fests, boosting the sense of camaraderie greatly.

Watch Khruangbin’s set

Soaring Soul and Glowing Hip-Hop Grooves

Watch Kelsey Lu’s set

Night falls upon the desert and I find Diana saving me a seat in the amphitheater – we won’t be the chumps without a spot tonight! Power issues delay the start of Kelsey Lu’s set for a half hour, yet she exhibits such angelic grace as she enters wearing an extravagant outfit and serenades us all with the eerie “Rebel”. She sing-songs a message to the audience winsomely asking them not to talk or use their cell phones, then grips our hearts on the steep peaks of “Blood”. Despite having no idea who she was before, I’m already so endeared by her presence and mesmerized by her voice that I’m now a fan for life.

Kelsey removes pieces of her multi-layered outfit for several iconic looks as the performance continues, vocally sailing from one awe-inducing ballad to the transcendent next on the wings of her chamber ensemble’s exceptional strings and keys. One of them wishes her a happy birthday, which she gratefully acknowledges, then the crowd collectively overruns the next song’s opening notes to lovingly sing “Happy Birthday” to her in a unifying moment of appreciation. Chills tingle down my body during the rich harmonies of “Poor Fake”, and the atmosphere turns electric for Kelsey’s seductive conclusion “Foreign Car”, especially when she beckons a female fan onstage for a sensual dance with her.

Watch Anderson .Paak’s set

A surprise drag show performance at the Vaults from Cuntress expands the diversity of FORM’s offerings even further, though we wait it out in the amphitheater until thoughtful, immediate poetry from Aja Monet precedes the night’s headlining performance of Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals. The first two songs ease in hip-hop soul before “Come Down” galvanizes the vibe with energizing funk and James Brown dance moves for a string of winning hits, capping off with a luminous rendition of “Glowed Up” where everyone pulls out their phones to light up the amphitheater.

Glowed Up Anderson Paak FORM Arcosanti
Lights up for “Glowed Up”

The dynamic of Paak crooning AND drumming away on many of the tracks gives the performance another dimension of vitality, which helps to compensate for the lulls in less animated grooves about a third of the songs face. But the bangin’ one-two punch of “Bubblin’” then “Milk n’ Honey” drives the crowd wild for the enthralling finale, and Paak proves the strength of his hype game and showmanship during the extended encore. His exuberant swagger through “Am I Wrong” leads to a sweet drum solo finish that seamlessly jumps into “Lite Weight” and gets the audience bouncing in elation till the end.

Watch Kaytranada’s set

I miss the electronic-backed raps and impressive dance routines of Channel Tres‘ 30 minute set by erring on the side of caution to hold down my prime space for the smooth sounds of Kaytranada. The cool-as-a-cucumber producer/DJ lays down a sublime blend of neo-soul and lo-fi hip-hop impelling everyone into wavy, wonderful communion of satisfying movement, reflecting the soothing delight that watching the converted parachute breezing in the wind above the amphitheater imparts. Anderson .Paak returns to once again sing his collab with Kaytranada, “Glowed Up”, with a trumpet-backing and revived gusto this go-round to boost spirits into Kaytranada’s closing flow.

Look to the Stars Amidst Otherworldly Architecture

Sunday morning reminds me what a blessing hot, clean showers are at festivals as I exit one of the wooden shower boxes feeling supremely refreshed, like my chakra blocks have all cleared. I venture atop “Living Geometry” for an inspiring sense of natural accord and balance. I also find the installation’s creator there, who says the pyramid in the center will eventually become a badass DJ stage.

Watch Fred Armisen’s set

Fred Armisen opens the amphitheater at noon with a gleeful comedy set driven by idiosyncratic music genre commentary, full of clever jokes riffing on specific songs, sounds and musical styles such as a hilarious bit showcasing the historical evolution of punk rock drumming. The most entertaining moment comes near the end as he plays some of his own funny songs and Arcosanti’s regal, resident feline appears onstage, saunters around, then exits to a standing ovation.

Down at the pool I get a little deep-house dancing in to Durante and drink up the landscape view. I grab a zesty, invigorating can of watermelon-flavored, CBD-infused water, then Lonnie Holley’s bold stew of blues, jazz, raspy singing and experimental, instrumental noise mystifies me at the amphitheater. So I go to the Mind’s Garden, plop down under the dome chillax zone, drift along to the neighboring Envelop soundscapes and listen in awe to someone describing their craziest psychedelic trip through a kaleidoscopic vision toward a connection with the divine. A bohemian artist named Angel explains her crafting process to those admiring the huge, wire-wrapped crystal she carries, and she and I fawn over Kelsey Lu before I head to the arcology tour.

Soleri Windbells FORM Arcosanti
Soleri windbells made by Arcosanti residents

I inspect the ornate designs on the Soleri windbells and browse the sculptures and other pieces for sale from artists of Arcosanti in the workshop area outside of the Vaults. The small group waiting for the tour suddenly splits apart to make way for the exquisite radiance of Kelsey Lu herself (sporting another jaw-dropping look), an encounter that leaves us positively buzzing. Our tour guide, an Arcosanti resident in his 20s, arrives to eagerly give us a glimpse into what living in this urban laboratory is like while explaining the history of Arcosanti, challenges in its future, and highlighting the practical philosophies behind the remarkable design.

He clears up Arcosanti’s connection to the original “Star Wars” – that it was the leading contender for the filming location of Luke Skywalker’s desert home on Tatooine, but by George Lucas’ second trip there a year after his first, surrounding residence structures had cropped up. These didn’t fit in with Lucas’ vision for the Skywalker homestead, but Arcosanti certainly factored prominently in inspiring the aesthetic of Tatooine. Photos pinned to the workshop wall show early Arcosanti and the music festival that took place there 1976-78. It hosted 15,000 people in 1978, but a fire on the grassland ignited with one car and spread to damage or destroy approximately 180 cars, some of which could only be buried in the dirt, not removed.

Arcosanti Festival photos
Photos from the ill-fated 1978 Arcosanti Festival

Our guide points out fascinating details in the architecture, like the emphasis on natural heating absorption spread throughout and the giant stone steps behind the amphitheater constructed for people of different heights to tilt their heads back and view the stars. We go downwards on a path I haven’t seen yet to the Foundry Apse workspace, where silt pourings into sand molds are done for the Soleri bells, and then end the tour on a path going under notable living spaces with windows facing the valley. Considering the layout of Arcosanti from the flatter perspective opposite its cliffside, I’m struck by similarities to the Hyrule Temple and Palutena’s Temple levels in “Super Smash Bros” that provide heightened, amusing visual comparisons to the eco-city.

Trayer Apse stage FORM Arcosanti 2019
Trayer’s set at the Apse stage

Trayer’s soft rock and ambient noise emanate out of the Apse stage as I walk back up toward Envelop to get my kicks from the cosmos at the Astrological Insights talk. Today’s topic covers the South Node and North Node, which fall in opposite signs and reveal what you bring into this lifetime from past ones, and where you’re evolving karmically in this lifetime, respectively. I feel an enlightened clarity as Juliana McCarthy connects the dots of the transition into one’s North Node destiny with the arrival of the often-intimidating Saturn Return. Astrologically, adulthood isn’t reached until Saturn forces people to grow up in the last few years of their 20s, which pushes them into their North Node transformations.

Rapturous Ambient Journeys and the Wisdom of the Sunset

Watch SASAMI’s set

Diana and I meet under the Vaults for the unexpectedly punchy punk rock of SASAMI, who’s draped in all red alongside her female bassist and drummer, freewheeling with brash energy and goofy statements on the mic between tracks. An audacious, totally improvised song with Snail Mail lead Lindsey Jordan charges into battle fearlessly and crashes into an auditory pileup, yet the immediacy of the mess shines with punk catharsis.

SASAMI under the vaults FORM Arcosanti 2019
SASAMI rocks it under the Vaults

Some pizza for the stomach, a stroll along the art walk for the eyes and an interlude with Julie Byrne’s elysian voice to still the mind all prepare us for Mark Slee’s in-the-round expedition into unparalleled ambient electronica, wiring directly into the electromagnetic field of the spirit. Standing in the center of Envelop with 30 or so people encircling him on the ground, Slee initiates with a set of tones reminiscent of the THX sound effect, trilling like helicopter blades to achieve liftoff. He pilots around environmental noises of nature, ascends through cloudy basslines and rolls into technological frequencies in the stratosphere.

Twenty minutes in, he breaks out of the atmosphere and enters zero-gravity deep house rhythms, with the crowd floating to their feet in rapturous dance. A girl named Monet hypnotizes from the edge, swirling her silk ribbon fans across streaks of silhouetting sunlight in a sinuous flow akin to the surreal beauty of Claude Monet’s impressionist paintings. Mystically weaving through sensuous rhapsody, Slee eventually sets us back down within Envelop, then engages the roaring whir of his sonic engine and disappears with a reverberating boom.

The sun is crossing the horizon and turning up the saturation dials for golden hour, signaling an opportunity I’ve been waiting all weekend for. I head over to the Apse and join the others situated on the half-dome’s roof to behold a life-affirming sunset from a dynamic position, witnessing the skyline over the mesa valley, above the plains and backdropping Arcosanti’s architecture. Batry Powr (Hundred Waters’ Nicole Miglis) provides a soft, stirring and slightly off-kilter soundtrack below me, using all solar-powered equipment and uniquely covering Enya’s “Only Time as twilight approaches.

Talking to a fellow admirer of the vivid vistas, she tells me about the destination electronic festival Oasis, which she founded and directs, in sunkissed Marrakech, Morocco – adding a compelling new entry to my bucket list of experience festivals. She also serves as a highlight of what a fascinating crowd FORM draws out and the memorable interactions all these interesting individuals naturally forge between one another.

Watch Christopher Willits’ sunset set

I return to Envelop for Christopher Willits’ daily sunset ambiance – a dreamy cocktail of live, tranquil guitar, ethereal whines on the wind and soporific sounds subtly inducing inner peace and outer calm. Diana and a number of others have already slipped unconscious under Willits’ spell. I take a seat on the cliff and contemplatively stare out upon the visage of the valley, practicing intentional breathing and absorbing the energetic beauty of this moment into my spirit, letting restless compulsions dissolve with the fading color in the sky.

Sunset cliff FORM Arcosanti 2019

A Musical Melting Pot

I wake up Diana and we both feel a recharged flow through our essences during the nonchalant stroll to the amphitheater. Robert Glasper’s fusion of piano jazz, experimental hip-hop and his band’s abstractions doesn’t really grab us so we make ourselves comfortable at the “Tectonic Echoes” overlook. Projection mapping installations with continual movement stimulate the brain on a more complex level than most festival art pieces, and putting on my 3D glasses this time enhances the experience tenfold with unbelievably potent dimension thanks to the massive scale and pronounced colors.

Watch Lafawndah’s set

Iranian-Egyptian singer Lafawndah emanates a mysterious allure and projects a distinct, worldly sound right from the start, then takes captivating hold of the Vaults as the primal drums during “Parallel” march like an army behind her bewitching voice in mesmerizing harmony. She joins her drummer and bangs on the floor tom throughout the aggressively enthralling “Tan”, then sings the French “Vous et nous” with mystically chilling resonance. Her music skewers pop-elements with industrial tones, percussive rhythms and influences from across the globe, resulting in a singular style and one of the most outstanding sets of FORM.

Another genre surprise follows as Anna Vivette earnestly, impressively belts out 15 minutes of classical opera songs in the amphitheater, wearing a vintage, puffy, Victorian-like dress and providing context to the characters and lyrics between each number. Then Watsky performs his five new pieces from Saturday for a full audience this time, an ominous track laid under his crests and troughs of breathless run-on rhymes and staccato breaks, even more engrossing on second viewing. His is my favorite poetry of the weekend, pristinely darting between witty wordplay, idiosyncratic descriptions, poignant themes and rousing delivery – most notably in the destigmatizing acceptance, goofy comparisons and existential grappling of “My Church”.

Watch Vieux Farka Toure’s set

West African delight Vieux Farka Touré, an expressive singer and effervescent virtuoso on electric guitar, sweeps the amphitheater into a jubilant mood with worldly, smooth-rocking jams. Vieux rallies the audience into an enthusiastic chorus on a buoyant reggae tune then explains flying all the way from the Republic of Mali to here and back the next day just for this show – and how happy he is to perform for us, a sentiment reciprocated with cheers and applause. He rounds out his set with a blues track, shredding like Jimi Hendrix and gliding through chords with the finesse of a superb Spanish guitarist.

Watch Nicola Cruz’s set

The final hours of FORM play out with three DJs in the Vaults spinning savory grooves, beginning with Nicola Cruz. He dispenses entrancing tribal and tropical tech house fueled by world (and out-of-this-world) music sensibilities, accompanied by the trippiest application of the color-and-pattern-changing house lights all festival. In the interim between sets I’m thrilled to meet two true knights of the festival scene, clad in vibrant armor fashioned out of “Dance Dance Revolution” mats and wielding “Kingdom Hearts” key swords. Exaggerated, self-made characters like these two have been less pronounced on this adventure, so I welcome them as kindred spirits.

DJ Koze projects an uplifting, airy vibe prominently built upon disco soul and deep house – a relaxing denouement to an enriching, easy-going weekend, coming full-circle for me in an elated encounter with Ziggy Ziegler. Behind the stage, I discover Monet on the cliffside, now twirling about a space whip. I slow my camera’s shutter down and capture her essence in motion, traced in the mystifying lightform of the whip’s colorful fiber optics.

Space whip long exposure
Space whip fantasy

Skrilly Synchronicity

The closing act feels fairly out-of-place amongst the artisanal curation and hippie ethos of Arcosanti, like a frenzied wildcard that concludes an introspective guided meditation with bumps of cocaine. Yet Skrillex is actually one of the legacy acts of the fest, as founders Hundred Waters are signed to his label OWSLA. Out of six iterations, this is Sunny Moore’s fourth year playing FORM in a row. Any weary attendees who settled onto cloud nine during the simplicity and felicity of Koze’s old-school sounds get jolted off as Skrilly bursts in with the trap swerves of his “Sicko Mode” remix.

Skrillex Form Arcosanti Vaults 2019
Skrillex closes out FORM with a Bangarang

He unleashes a ballistic barrage of trap-house and electro-dub featuring some of the tracks from his new Dog Blood Turn Off the Lights” EP, injecting a wicked adrenaline shot into the presiding wavelength within the Vaults. Hyped-up classic melodies peppered amidst this new material, alongside a revamped musical bravura from Skrillex, rile up the crowd with audacious party energy. The feisty fantasia of this set – bangarangin’ between explosive drops, zooming variety and zesty mixing far bolder, more fluid and rhythmic than his dubstep-defining staples – satisfies on a much greater level beyond his standard big-event shows, like the one I witnessed at Decadence.

Skrillex crowd at FORM Arcosanti

He frequently climbs atop the DJ decks to dance around like a goofy-ass hooligan in the last 30 minutes, though it’s his last track where this turns into one of the quintessential moments of the whole festival. Having just remixed Kelsey Lu’s “Due West” on the drive to Arcosanti, Skrillex drops the cruising-with-the-top-down pleaser for the first time and brings Kelsey up to sing, sway and vibe on the table with him. She secures distinction as the true star of the weekend and an irresistible new favorite for many, while Skrilly successfully exemplifies the kind of sublime instances that make FORM such a unique festival experience.

Waiting in the shuttle line Monday morning, I hold onto the internal peace Arcosanti engenders deep within as long as I can. I’m worn out physically, but my mind and spirit have received inspiring fulfillment here. I live a hectic, fast-paced life of constant stimulation – much of it centered in and around music festivals. So coming to a slow, quiet fest and letting that chill mode of being guide me, I learn how to find more clarity, wisdom and growth in taking it easy. When Diana and I walk to our cars, we realize we’re parked right next to each other – one more reminder before we go of the synchronicity FORM Arcosanti brings into flow.

FORM Arcosanti Day 3 montage

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