Art as a Means to Inspire Others: An Interview with the Creatives Behind HOIST Fest


By Colin Smith

Chicago art collective HOIST has taken many forms since they started in 2016: DIY shows, resource packs for producers and designers, and an online music journal, to name a few. But at the heart of HOIST is an emphasis on serving the local arts and music community.

Likewise, their all-day HOIST festival this Sunday (5/26) at the Subterranean features a lineup of local music artists who place community to the front of their work, including Rich Jones, Brasstax, Jordanna, Family Reunion, White Ppl, Uma Bloo, and more. HOIST Fest, as Mylo Reyes and Alex Wen said below, is as much of a celebration of local artists and music in Chicago as the people involved — even, or especially, the attendees and supporters.

Tickets cost $15 online or $20 during the day of. Read the interview below.

HOOLIGAN: Where did you draw inspiration for this festival?

Mylo Reyes: As far as putting on shows, a lot of it came from my experience in the DIY scene. I remember going to house shows in Humboldt, like seeing Nnamdi [Ogbonnaya]. I also got inspired a lot by like graphic design events too, like Fire Belly. They're phenomenal. They're able to bring people together in a cool way. Which is nice too because I'm a designer, so seeing designers branch out into things that weren't just advertising was really awesome to see. And I really enjoy events that focus on the community, especially if it's a marginalized community.

Alex Wen: One example off the top of my head, though it's not music specific, is the Filipinx activism group Anakbayan. They basically did this talent show to reflect that activism has intersections with the arts — as a healing process, as a way to motivate people, as a way to communicate to an audience. And for me, I really, really enjoy, seeing this intersection and seeing people find alternative ways to showcase their work outside of kind of more traditional venues and avenues.

HOOLIGAN: HOIST has done a lot, from blogging to events to this fest. Could you tell me about the work HOIST has done over the past few years?

Mylo: HOIST changed so many times. We want the fest to be a day of celebration. We've done so many things from starting out as just DIY events to a literary magazine publishing poetry for a while. Then we slipped into a web zine. And we even made resource packs — like when we had more like producers onboard, we would make drum packs that producers could use in their own music for free. We pivoted a lot mainly because we're asking what people need without doing something other people are already servicing.

Mylo: When we have shows, it's purely all the resources we could provide and you make whatever you want with it. Or when we were doing the resource packs, like that was our way of collaborating with people so that they can feel empowered to make their own art. HOIST is a vehicle — we run with it and you can take it further.

HOOLIGAN: What about the DIY music community in Chicago strikes you?

Mylo: When I went out to the Bay Area recently and tried finding like DIY groups and posting out there, it took me forever. There were no facilities for that. Like DIY Chicago, you search it once and, boom, I'm ready to go. And it's nice to know that like on any given day I can go find a show in Chicago and I don't think that that's true of any other city. It can also be both affordable and accessible, too, I could see an amazing concert on a Saturday at Cole's for free.

Alex: Chicago is just kind of this nice balance between where people are definitely always doing things, but, like when I visited LA, I felt things were too relaxed. What I like about Chicago is there's an energy or excitement to work on stuff, but it's not in a way where it's too competitive, like in New York. I think there's this acknowledgement that in Chicago that people are just willing to be more collaborative. At least that's what I've seen.

Mylo: Like if I see a good show here I'm like, "damn that guitars kicks ass, I want to pick it up." It's like that person inspired me and showed me that like I can feel empowered to do that as well.

HOOLIGAN: And how did you go about curating this lineup? What did you look for?

Mylo: We were growing individually as artists and as a collective and like to see these people grow it as well. Like Jordanna for example, used to be in a punk band called Glamour Hotline and they played the very first HOIST show and we got to see them grow. And people who facilitate the community in deep ways like Jovan Landry making that all femme hip-hop mixtape. Rich Jones having done the All Smiles [a monthly live hip-hop series] — that was actually the first hip-hop show I ever played.

Mylo: You know, if you satisfy your own itch, other people will be like, "wow, that is also a good scratch to me as well." And if someone is sticking out in the community, it's like that person is either doing something so different or so unique to them that it's inspiring and will probably make other people feel empowered to pursue their own art. Lamon Manuel doing this visceral poetry and industrial art-rap. Or Uma Bloo with her burlesque background. Or they're also people who have served the community, and we were asking ourselves how can we pay it forward.

HOOLIGAN: What's something that has gone better than expected with planning and organizing this festival and what's something that's been a challenge that you weren't expecting to be a challenge?

Mylo: The actual like day-of mindset. You go into an event and you're like "oh my god, this is going to be hectic." But I think we have had no shortage of ideas, like "wow, what if we did like a claw machine to echo the "hoist" — the mindset of lifting up people. Fun stuff like that that people can interact with throughout the day. I was initially worried, like "hmm, like what the hell are we going to have people do?" I didn't want people to expect it to be just a very long show.

Mylo: A definite challenge, I think, with any venue or any event is getting people to commit in advanced. We've learned a lot about how do we incentivize people to support artists they might even see regularly. We want to let people know that this is a standout event in the way. It's not just a show but it's a celebration of everybody involved. And it's a celebration for those people that are coming to the event. The people that are like-minded enough and find music to be important.

HOOLIGAN: Last question for you guys: What's on the horizon for HOIST?

Mylo: After this, I know we'll continue to service the community as best we can. No matter what we do, as long as we service the art we have within ourselves and the community that supports the art.

Alex: For me, it's always less important what the specific goals, projects, or initiatives are. It's always been this fluid thing where it kind of just morphs depending on kind of the needs and wants in the community as well as like the interest and passions of the people involved. I feel like planning this festival has reaffirmed the importance as well as the value of creating something like this. I definitely know more of things in this direction is definitely interesting for a lot of the folks that are in HOIST. And so I know that's going to be the direction, but like in terms specifics, you know, it can be anything and I think that's part of the excitement is that there's kind of this limitless potential and you never know like what collaborations on the horizon or like what the next project or initiative might look like.

HOOLIGAN: I can see that you guys are focused on community and that's the mission that drives you. HOIST come in different forms, right? It's serving the community, in whatever form that helps artists in the community.

Alex: For sure. The reason we're so community-oriented is because we understand how important it is because, you know, we're all creatives, we all have projects or different bands. And so just from that interaction, there's this mutual understanding of just how vital it is to work as a community. I think that pragmatic understanding goes a long way as well in terms of why we operate this way.