Two enthusiastic food fans at the Great GoogaMooga food and music festival in Brooklyn this weekend
Food is the new indie rock.
That phrase has been bandied about in enough trend pieces over the last couple of years that it almost seems self-evident, but this past weekend the concept was put to the test—and it didn’t hold up well.
On Saturday and Sunday in Prospect Park in Brooklyn (where else?), the organizers of popular mega music festivals Bonnaroo and Outside Lands tried their hands at appealing to the new generation of twenty-somethings that worship at the alter of David Chang, Masaharu Morimoto and seafood charcuterie: The Great GoogaMooga, a food and music festival, in that order. Though it boasted boldfaced musical acts like The Roots and Hall & Oates, the “true” headliners (at least in how it was fed to the media) were the celebrity chefs and their horse bologna, pork belly sliders and foie gras doughnuts.
Obnoxious though it might be, the festival seemed to fit the inherited wisdom instilled by zeitgeist-definers like New York Magazine, The Guardian, and the New York Times, whose equally celebrated and reviled trend pieces sometimes solidify the “moment,” but more often embody the shark for it to jump.
“It can’t be an accident that many of these places and personalities resonate with fresh-out-of-college food hunters who seek transcendence through a Korean taco just as their Generation X forebears once sought it through the Smiths, Run-D.M.C. or Fugazi,” they wrote last week, and the internet jumped all over it.
But instead of this a great utopia where Run DMC equals Lavender-infused bone marrow souffle and the spirit of Fugazi is re-instilled into free-range pig-face charcuterie, the Great GoogaMooga ushered in sardine-packed beer tents, impossibly long food lines, and insufficient amounts of toilet paper (which, at a festival whose prime offering is food, can be a quite literal shit show. This, of course, induced epic amounts of self-satisfied punning from a blogosphere that fuels itself on mocking hipsters (Gawker had a fucking field day) and schaden-food (sorry) from those who couldn’t get their hands on a free ticket. Even the organizers acknowledged the disaster, offering full refunds to everyone who shelled out $250 for “Extra Mooga” passes.
As silly as it may once have seen, there are many reasons to compare food to indie rock as a cultural touchstone in 2012. Young fans who may have once defined their worth on concert attendance are jumping on food fads and into no-reservation queues with the zeal they may have once saved for festival tents, while live-documenting them on Foursquare, Yelp and Instagram. Tattooed chefs, meanwhile, have “rock star” personas, while their adventurous dishes have been made accessible to the masses via food trucks and “underground” market stalls. Peruse some of the critical discourse and you’ll see even see similar debates in both disciplines: authenticity, originality, cultural appropriation, and DIY “punk rock” ethics.
There’s nothing wrong with spotlighting and elevating festival food—it’s hard to argue with a craft brew over warm Budweiser or homemade eats over hastily warmed hot dogs. And, in fact, festivals have been doing so for awhile now. Lollapalooza has its own “culinary curator,” while closer to home Toronto’s semi-annual island and Downsview Park concerts have replaced Pizza Pizza with independent, local offerings from outlets like Caplansky’s and Urban Herbivore.
Canada’s marquee indie festival, Osheaga, offers its ultra-VIPs top-notch eats from celebrity chefs, while the regular joes subsist on corn dogs and pizza cones, but its not hard to foresee the food-obsessed Toronto putting on something like the Great GoogaMooga (generally, if something happens in New York, it’ll make its way to Toronto eventually). Louis CK was just announced as the headliner of the Just For Laughs offshoot JFL42, which is already selling tickets on the promise of 41 other unnamed “things,” and it wouldn’t be such a stretch to guess that food is one of them.
GoogaMooga isn’t even the only food-and-music (again in that order) festival. Chipotle has its own, Sweetlife has been testing the concept, and the Bon Appetite Grub Crawl will soon make its way across Brooklyn, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. Smaller scale in Toronto, the DIY-focused Feast In The East series has been pairing music with food ever since it launched.
But resemblances don’t make exact equations, and, as the GoogaMooga disaster shows, trying to literally turn food into indie rock just doesn’t work. Lining up for the mere possibility of eating a $15 morsel of gourmet comfort food doesn’t have the same transformative, communal effect as catching your favourite band play an amazing festival set. Each sphere offers its own challenges, advantages, and requirements for enjoyment, and ignoring that doesn’t serve either well.
Besides, everyone knows TV is the new indie rock.