Slingshot 2015: Kai Riedl has grand plans for Athens

A Q&A with a co-founder of Athens' third annual Slingshot Fest.


  • Courtesy Slingshot Festival
  • James Murphy plays the Georgia Theatre. Midnight, Sat., March 28.

This weekend (March 26-28) Athens, Georgia opens its arms to the world once again for three days of forward-thinking art, music, technology, and film with the return of Slingshot Festival. When thinking of cities that are rich in music history it’s easy to ramble out locales such as New York City, London, or Nashville. But Athens comfortably holds a candle to any and all of the above cultural centers. The Classic City's livelihood has long been its unique creative scene, giving artists another stop on the road during Southeastern tour runs.

Slingshot's co-creator, Kai Riedl, has modestly built the festival's brand for several years, perpetually expanding on the idea that inventive music and art can co-exist in the Southeast as an answer to the more mainstream festivals in the area. Though the main attraction is music, Slingshot takes a multi-sensory approach to its programming. As the fest gets underway, Riedl took a few minutes to talk about all that he hopes to accomplish.

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Slingshot invades Athens for the third time this year. Tell me about the festival’s inception and its progress to date?

Over the last four decades, the city of Athens has been a place where creatives can connect with each other and perform for audiences with open minds and open ears! There’s no doubt that being off the beaten path has served it well at times, but I wanted to create an event that harmonized the international, national and local creative culture right here in Athens.

As a musician myself, I got tired of seeing Athens export its creativity and ability to host events. As things in Athens tend to do, Slingshot started mostly with a DIY mindset, asking "What if?" and a great community. We ran a small Kickstarter to see what the reception might be; it was a categorical "yes" from the community and many of the musicians in town. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and Slingshot is definitely the product of a community of wonderful folks here.

The first year was a day long event of 20 or so bands (some of them friends of mine), some projections and sound art sent to us from all over the world, and some brief tech talks on locative media. Even being completely unknown, creatives from around the globe wanted to participate in Slingshot and connect with Athens. Last year, we ramped things up along with some key sponsors and in its second year we had a four-day event with over 60 acts, dozens of electronic sound and visual artists, and two full days of tech demonstrations. Add to that a great comedy night and some key film screenings and you have a wonderfully well-rounded event.

Only in our third year, we’ve really found our stride and the line-up of artists reflects some of our early goals.

Does the Southeast identify with forward-thinking music or has it been a struggle to make headway?

Let’s be honest, the Southeast has to be taught a bit about what is happening in music in other parts of the globe and many new music movements. But it’s learning quickly. It’s an exciting time around here as other forms are really taking purchase. The wonderful thing is, the Southeast has been musically rich for so long, so the groundwork of deeply loving music is right here. It just has to be broadened a bit.

I approach Slingshot as somewhat an education process: Give folks just enough of the familiar with the foreign and those things will naturally intermingle and relax fixed conceptions of music/art/tech and push things forward. Throw a good dose of timeless fun in there and you have a recipe for new ideas about anything to take hold.

What made you go after large acts like Jamie XX, James Murphy, and smaller but widely revered acts like Awesome Tapes From Africa?

Bringing well-known performers of all kinds has always been part of the goal, as well as performers, artists, and technologists that are off many peoples’ radar. I want to re-put Athens on the map as a place where all walks of creative life come to mix once a year. Not to sound hokey, but we want to bring the world to Athens once a year and that includes some big players. Honestly, we have artists that have come out of Athens that are more widely known than anyone coming this year, so there’s a precedent of having high quality and well known musicians around here.

Also, many of these well known artists have been influenced by Athens music past and present. Asking James Murphy to come knowing he’s a big Pylon fan made a lot of sense. As a side note, I really love it that his night will be a triple bill with Michael Lachowski from Pylon and Win Butler DJing. I love the history in that bill.

As far as DJ culture in the Georgia area you're offering some much needed musical-relief. What inspired you to create Slingshot?

DJ culture represents the hybrid nature of music and technology, so it’s a natural fit for what we do. We wanted to offer a diverse line-up that leaned toward electronic music, though still embraced a variety of genres, and that’s where we landed. Slingshot is for music lovers of all walks, but we find a lot of inspiration in the variety of electronic music these days and our focus on electronic sound and visual artists makes it a natural fit.
I wanted Athens to have a dialogue with adventurous creators from all over the globe. I also want the city, and the South in general, to bump into as many good ideas as possible. For us over here at Slingshot, many of those ideas are bound up in music, art, and tech.

How will each leg of the festival function and complement each other?

For many of us across the globe, these three things are so intertwined that it made complete sense to incorporate them into one event. If you work in music these days, you are surely working with some degree of tech, and electronic visual and sound artists are always working with music and a range of technology. Whether we recognize it or not, we live in a hybridized creative ecology that has blurred the lines between these three mediums, and I wanted Slingshot to represent that world-view. We, the core organizers of Slingshot, work in all three of these realms (that we barely see as separate), and we wanted to invite creatives from any field to the festival.

What's the relations to Slingshot Athens, the Greece edition?

A couple years ago we had the idea of starting a simultaneous event in Athens, Greece. That idea came and went as we were just trying to get things in motion over here. This year, out of the blue the Greek artist Antonis Kourkoulus reached out to us with the same idea. We’ve never met, but he resonated with everything we’re doing over here and It turns out Athens, Greece has a kindred spirit as Athens, Georgia; there is a tight-knit scene of makers that are making due with what they have and love to take creative risks in what seems like the middle of nowhere! Also, technology today enables near real-time communication and the thought of translocally communicating with a sister city will surely kick up some interesting creative dust. It’s great that creative borders are starting to dissolve, and Athens, Georgia has always broadcasted what’s happening in one way or another.

What's the long term goal for Slingshot as it makes Athens its home base?

To totally rock it and magnetize a range of forward thinking expressions to Georgia and the South. It sounds simplistic, but to grow the creative culture of both Athens and the South while stimulating the creative economy is definitely part of the goal. Also, Athens is a small town, which enables folks to take creative risk around here with ease. I hope that a host of musicians, artists and technologists come to do the same once a year.

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