Having triumphed in 2018 as a major cultural event with a focus on non-commercial work at the intersection of music and technology, MUTEK.SF took a look around San Francisco and realized there was untapped potential on the food side of the city, too. Other iterations of MUTEK, in cities such as Tokyo, Barcelona, Montreal, and Mexico City, had previously incorporated the cuisines of their respective nations into the fest, so why not S.F.?
The four-day fest, which opens this evening and runs through Sunday, May 5, has three components that are largely siloed from one another, with individual events throughout the weekend — Digi Lab, A/Visions, and Nocturne — plus a closing party called Experience where each strand comes together. But beyond that, there’s a culinary dimension helmed by Chef Anthony Myint (originally of Mission Chinese Food and The Perennial, and now of sustainability nonprofit ZeroFoodPint). Organizer Miroslav Wiesner spoke with SF Weekly about what festival-goers can expect. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
First, can you give us a quick overview of MUTEK.SF’s aims for 2019?
Our goal is to be a bridge between the commercial and the conceptual. To be a little more accessible, but also make people think when they go to experience performance art or digital art. We’re trying to find that balance between ‘How can we support the local community, and make it affordable for the local community and truly show what our core mission is?’ If ultimately that means engaging with brands to get there, we’re happy to do that. We just need to be sensitive about agendas
So you’re not doing a Dorito Loco activation like they did at South by Southwest.
Exactly! Although that’s a pretty impressive stage. They had that 100-foot high chip bag that’s floating in the wind. That’s pretty damn impressive, from a production standpoint.
It’s still divided into four programs, right?
Yes but I would put more emphasis on the culinary program. Anthony Myint is our culinary ambassador this year, what Chef Preeti Mistry was last year. He was the inspiration for our internal theme for this year’s festival. Last year was to launch everyone into the idea that MUTEK doesn’t stand for “music and technology.” It stands for mutation. This year, with Anthony’s huge focus on sustainability with ZeroFoodPoint, he’s really trying to get us out of this bubble where only 1 percent of farmers are organic — but also in terms of the wage gap and housing markets and artist and creators being able to sustain themselves in a fast-growing mono-industry economy. We’ve got some amazing pop-ups that we’re doing at Bite Unite.
The culinary side is mostly separate from the music and art, except for the closing night, Experience, right?
The way we like to look at it is that it’s an amenity, currently. The mandate for for the festival is to activate — and I hate that word — different parts of the city and bring people to different parts of the city. If you said to me, ‘Bring MUTEK to North Beach!’ I would have laughed. But guess what: It’s in North Beach. The entire Saturday programming is in North Beach and I couldn’t be more excited. We’re using Broadway Studios and Fame — which was the C.B.G.B. of San Francisco back in its day — and then upstairs the Broadway Studios is where Dave Chapelle recorded his first HBO special. Is it weird? Yes. Did it used to be an Italian and then Filipino social club, then it turned into a bar? Yes. But I don’t care that there’s fake palms and wood panelling. I think that for me right now, this is a perfect venue. We’re hoping core San Franciscans appreciate the uniqueness.
We really try and rub out this idea that it’s just a music festival, because that semantic comes with weight. We’re a cultural event whose focuses happen to be art, music, technology, and food. As important as escapism is, this is more than an escapist effort. This is bringing communities together to experience something thought-provoking — although we’re bound to the nightlife community.
I’m Czech, and 20 years ago when then-President Vaclav Havel saw these Marlboro signs and ads going up in Prague’s squares, he pulled them down. There was a period where there were two cultural economies, so if I walked into a baroque concert in a church in Wenceslas Square or something, if I had a Czech ID, I would get one price and if I had an American or Canadian ID I would pay another price. That was 20 years ago, and that stuck with me so hard, that’s what I’m looking at: Pay what you can, but with structure. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s about getting people to care. Music festivals right now — it’s a dangerous territory, it’s become so commercialized, so saturated.