This weekend, student radio station KXSC will host the sixth annual KXSC Fest in Founders Park. The festival will feature live visual art installations, vintage clothes for sale, street art vendors, food trucks and, of course, the performing artists.
“This year we are bringing it back outside, after we had it down in the ballroom,” Concerts Director Mikayla Cowley said. “If it’s outside, it’s the best. Our headliners are featuring DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn — they’re hyped up and really awesome and rooted in the footwork scene … It’s just really great dancing music. And we have a special guest who I so wish we could announce, but we can’t because we have to wait to day of show.”
Despite the fact that 2,000 festivalgoers are expected to attend, Cowley said that the event had more humble beginnings just a few years ago.
“[In 2011], it was the first year where we brought in a huge crowd because we added Flying Lotus as the headliner of the fest,” Cowley said. “I was a freshman and totally jaded by the whole, ‘We’re having a music festival’ thing. The people before were like, ‘We kind of just put it on the lawn and picnic,’ but then it totally exploded. It really changed the scene and set the standard … It was a really great introduction to what the station does — seeing it grow from a few hundred people to a thousand in a matter of two hours that night was absolutely insane.”
Cowley said that one of the major differences between KXSC Fest and other music festivals is the emphasis placed on up-and-coming acts.
“We really want to bring out emerging artists because that’s what we’re interested in,” Cowley said. “We love scoping out what’s coming up next, who’s going to be big … We got STRFKR before they exploded via Facebook. I think to put a social media estimate on it, they had about 70,000 likes on their Facebook when we had them, and then we noticed that a bunch of other venues around L.A. were also booking STRFKR in the months after. Now STRFKR has 139,000 likes on Facebook … We like being able to show the world that these are good people you should be listening to because they are great artists.”
Though undiscovered talent does mean being the first to dig up undiscovered gems, Cowley said the process of booking acts is a long and tumultuous one, beginning with a mass email that she sends out to the KXSC staff and DJs, asking for the names of artists who they would be interested in seeing.
“I get several names in, and I also work in conjunction with our music director,” Cowley said. “We sit down and click around on blogs and websites. He’s seeing new music everyday — whether it’s good or bad — and he just throws names at me. I’ll sit there and think, ‘Will this person pair well with this person?’ It’s something that has to have a musical flow — you don’t want to interrupt it, you don’t want to have a jolting noise between two artists.”
Cowley said that it’s always important to take risks when it comes to networking and connecting with artists.
“I’m always of the belief of just try asking anyone — stay within budget, but why not ask this higher profile person because maybe they’ll do something,” she said. “We’re said ‘no’ to just as much as we’re said ‘yes’ to.”
Despite all of the excitement and good-natured fun surrounding the event, KXSC Fest encountered some challenges this past year when it came to funding.
“We are independent from the university, so all of our funding is via donations, sponsors we reach out to, or applying for funding, but there is never a set budget for Fest from USC or from the benefactor,” Cowley said. “Fest is something we begin planning in September. It’s really a yearlong venture, even though it’s just seemingly a spring event. It’s a money hunt — we’re reaching out to people who we want to work with but who are also interested in supporting the station.”
On top of that, the station’s costs increased this year due to increased security regulations, which arose last year when USC became a closed campus as a result of an on-campus shooting.
“When it was outside in previous years, we didn’t have to pay for fencing and we didn’t have to pay for a select number of DPS officers,” Cowley said. “Now we also have to pay for the fencing and even more DPS officers because of the new security additions that were added when USC became a closed campus. It definitely puts more of a financial strain because that cost falls on the student organizations — it’s not covered by the university.”
KXSC General Manager Anya Lehr said that, after reaching out to more than 200 sponsors, the station was only able to partner with three.
Cowley said that in addition to funding from sponsors, Fest received donations from alumni. KXSC’s family-like quality proved helpful in both fundraising and scouting for artists.
“Kirin J. Callinan was someone who we saw at the College Music Journal Fest in New York, and that was someone who we were like, ‘We want to bring him to Fest,’” Cowley said. “It’s totally a station-connected fest. Past years have also been the same, but this year it was really like reaching out to friends or people who are interested, and people came to us, too. It’s really cool when someone says, ‘Can we play Fest?’ especially in past years, when we needed to find someone. Our profile has risen.”
Despite the initial difficulty, the festival is bound to be a good time for all.
“We love bringing people together,” Cowley said. “What I think really is the core of the KXSC Fest is just bringing the community together through music — that’s what we do … I encourage everyone to come. We’re a big fan of people who dance, so you should be in the crowd dancing.”