Interview: Danny Rogers of St. Jerome's Laneway Festival

Summer has nearly ended, but festival season has not. On Saturday, September 14th, Australia's St. Jerome's Laneway Festival will hold its inaugural celebration of all things beautiful and noisy in Detroit. The festival joins Orion and the newly-rechristened Movement festival in what has become a summer of renewed contemporary musical activity in the Motor City. The festival is packing a class-act lineup, sporting headliners The National, as well as Swedish pop divas Icona Pop, critically acclaimed goth-punkers Savages, and my personal act of the summer: Run the Jewels. Current hopped on the blower with festival organizer Danny Rogers to chit-chat about why he's printing his pacific-rim festival to Detroit, and how he chose such a masterful lineup.

This is the St. Jerome's Laneway Festival's first year in Detroit, correct?
Yes. The event originated in Australia eleven years ago, and is now in five cities in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, but this is now our inaugural launch into America.

Why spread into America now?
It wasn't always a huge ambition of ours to take the festival into America, but we've been working with some people on various projects, and someone approached us about taking the festival to Detroit. There are some interesting people there who were looking to take a contemporary music festival from outside of America to Detroit. I went over, spent some time in Detroit, met those people and decided that it could be a really interesting thing to do. Detroit was not the most obvious choice in terms of cities, seeing as what's been happening there over the past few years, but the culture there was the reason we decided on Detroit. We'll see how it goes!

Were you looking at any other US cities?
Not really. We had been approached by a lot of different markets, but when it comes to LA, or Seattle, or San Francisco or New York, we felt there was already a ton of stuff happening there. We would have been another number, whereas Detroit only has a few great festivals: the Jazz festival, Movement (previously DEMF), but that's sort of it. We felt there was a gap in the market. We started small and humble, have grown from there, and figured we could be part of the rejuvenation of the city, hopefully.

It seems like Detroit is very anxious to re-brand itself as a city for "the creative class."
I don't live in Michigan so I don't want to profess to be an expert on what's going on there, but over the years, my experience has been that a cities like Detroit, having a rougher time of it, often become cities with lower costs of living, which is a big draw card for artists who want to focus on what they're doing creatively. We were quite blown away by the amount of people we met from outside of Detroit who had moved there. They were sort of an inspiration. It's very very early but it feels like the beginnings of some change. I think michiganders are very proud people, very down-to-earth people, who are genuine in their intentions and that drew us to there.  

So talk to me about the Festival's lineup—it's very diverse and eclectic!
Yes well, the bands were picked by myself, like they are every year. Every year I try to take a look at myself and see what I'm really interested in at the moment, stuff that's either new or coming up that's really new and fresh. I try to meld that interesting new stuff with staple acts, in this case The National and Sigur Rós. It's not a genre-specific event. I figured I would give these guys a real wide sample of exciting talent that's out at the moment. Every act on the bill is hand-picked and had something interesting going on in their own rights. the lineup is from all over the globe and has a really nice feel to it, definitely very eclectic. Maybe too much so on one level, because it's so diverse. But that's the charm of it, it's a courageous lineup. It's looking to discerning music fans that have an eclectic palate. I'm super excited about it. From doors to the end of the night it will be a music extravaganza—really something special.

What are your hopes for the Laneway Festival's future in Detroit?
This year is about establishing the name and what kind of festival it is. It's going to be very much a fan-driven show. We want to showcase a lot of Detroit-and-Michigan products and knickknacks. We expect somewhere between eight and ten thousand attendees and we want to blow those people away. We know the first year is crucial to getting our name out there. 

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