Photo by Nuvany David
How to Build Your Own Music Festival According to MIKE
MIKE has transformed his Young World music festival into an accessible and community-focused event that celebrates left-of-center rap. Here's how he did it.
When MIKE started Young World in 2019, it was a change of pace to what New York City is used to with rap-focused festivals. The event, born out of wanting to do something for 2018’s War In My Pen album, was made between friends, with MIKE connecting with Ali Rosa-Salas, the VP of Visual and Performing Arts at Abrons Art Center, to create the first iteration of Young World. The end result was an intentionally communal and accessible experience, the three-day event in early December featuring performances from Navy Blue, Quelle Chris, Sporting Life, and B. Cool-Aid (along with a surprise cameo from Earl Sweatshirt via FaceTime), along with food and clothing vendors — all for $5 to $20 courtesy of a sliding scale admission.
Now with its third edition happening Saturday, July 15, Young World III is another progressive step in the community-focused work MIKE is doing through the event, bringing together Noname, Jay Critch, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and others to Bed Stuy's Herbert Von King Park for a free concert.
Noname will be one of the performers at MIKE's Young World IIIPhoto by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella
New York City is home to a handful of large scale music festivals, with Governors Ball and Rolling Loud being the most notable. Out of the two, it’s the latter that primarily caters to rap fans, with the event bringing mainstream rap stars and budding up-and-comers to Queens’ Citi Field arena parking lot for 60,000 to 150,000 thousand people to see.
But with big festivals come big problems. Rolling Loud NYC has had an assortment of controversies attached to it, from canceled performances to production issues and, more recently, its unexpected cancellation this year due to “logistical factors.” (Although the festival has said it will be back in NYC “when the time is right.”) Add on the price of attendance, and the lack of personal space that comes with being at such a large event, it’s nice to have something that feels more insular and intimate with Young World.
Three years after the first one at Abrons Art Center, MIKE decided to revive Young World in an even bigger capacity. With accessibility being one of his main priorities for the event, MIKE approached Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage, which produces up to 80 free events every year around New York City. With the partnership came a new home for Young World, Herbert Von King Park, one of the first parks established in Brooklyn.
"I love collaborating with artists like MIKE who are also creative visionaries," Erika Elliott, SummerStage’s executive artistic director, said. "It's been so fun to support his Young World festival and be able to present it as part of SummerStage. So many of the artists on the bill are ones we have wanted to have at the festival as well, so there is great synergy on that.
"What's even more amazing is that we always want to connect artists with parks in their community, and Von King Park is MIKE's neighborhood Park,” she added. “So, that's another reason it's a perfect fit for SummerStage."
Rather than taking a fee and performing a headline show, MIKE instead uses the fee to pay other performers for a lineup he curates. Through this, he’s been able to spotlight his peers in the NYC rap scene, as well as past and present rap figures who’ve greatly influenced him. Last year, he secured Slick Rick, a rapper who, like MIKE, similarly moved from the UK to the East Coast before starting his music career. This year, he got Brooklyn’s own Jay Critch.
"He was our JAY-Z," MIKE joked over Zoom. "I'm a little nervous, too…I feel like I'm nervous because Noname is playing. There are a few rappers that I'm still lowkey starstruck about and she's definitely one of them."
Along with Noname and Jay Critch, the rest of the bill is filled with heavy-hitters of the underground: Georgia Anne Muldrow, MAVI, AKAI SOLO, 454, and DJ Elise.
The performers are just as much attendees as they are the talent people are coming to see, with both AKAI SOLO and MAVI speaking of their excitement for the event.
"I appreciate a reprieve from my depression for some raps and sunlight,” AKAI said.
"I’m super proud to be on the lineup," MAVI said. "I’ve been wanting to perform at Young World since the first time MIKE had one. I love everyone at 10k [MIKE’s own label] and I’m really happy to see everyone. It’s a great lineup this year. I’m excited to see Georgia Anne Muldrow, I’m excited to see Noname, I’m excited to see MIKE, I’m excited to see 454. I get to see these artists perform and I get to perform? This is gonna be the best day ever. This show also means a lot to me because Herbert Von King Park is my sister’s hometown park. She’s from Brooklyn, so it’s gonna be a real full circle moment performing there."
As Elliott explained, because parks are public spaces, they can be used by any group for events. Whether it's a family gathering or a cultural performance, all someone needs to do is get a permit from the Parks Department for the space. However, if there are live performances, a sound permit is needed from the Police Department.
Children cool off in water fountains at Herbert Von King Park on July 20, 2019 in Brooklyn borough of New York City.Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images
In MIKE’s case, he had to apply for a Special Events Permit, which is needed “to hold any event with more than 20 people in a park or on a beach, including barbecues and parties,” according to NYC’s official website, with the statement continuing on to read: “You will be advised if you need any additional permits for your event once you submit the application."
To apply for the Special Events Permit, you need $25 and 21 to 30 days advance for approval. To get a sound permit, one must fill out a one-page application and pay a $45 fee once approved. However, there aren't any additional costs once all the permits are in place.
For MIKE, holding Young World at Herbert Von King Park adds to its authenticity. "It's really supposed to be like a rap festival," he said. "I don't want it to be Rolling Loud. Ever. I want it to be a festival that actually honors rap music."
"Sometimes you see shit [like Rolling Loud] and it's cool, but I feel like there's a way we could get closer to it," he added. "Our music scene and our community — the whole thing has always been about trying to bring people from the different sides of it together, and show them what it's all about. Like-minded people could come together and be doing this."
As the future unfolds for MIKE and Young World, he would like to continue hosting the event at Herbert Von King Park.
"I just want to find a way to utilize the full space,” he said, adding that he envisions more artists and multiple stages for the years to come.
"Now more than ever, it's important that New Yorkers advocate for funding and support parks as key spaces and centers of communities that reflect that,” Elliott said. MIKE’s Young World is a testament to this, showing how one can build their own festival in a way that’s intentional about accessibility, community, and unity.
Arielle Lana LeJarde is a freelance music writer and reporter based in Brooklyn, NY. She's been published in Rolling Stone, Billboard, MTV News, The FADER, and more. Follow her on Twitter @ariellenyc
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