Music, Film and All Things Tech at the Northside Festival in New York

By Silicon Allee |

By Don Oparah and Roy Malkin

To a soundtrack of more than 400 bands including luminaries such as Chvrches, The War on Drugs and Animal Collective, some 80,000 people in total are expected to attend the Northside Festival. The annual event, a multi-faceted showcase of all things film, entrepreneurial, innovative and tech, is into its sixth year, and takes place in the creative heart of America – Brooklyn, New York.

Billed as the SXSW of the East Coast, Northside 2014 is on from June 12-19, and highlights so far include a film by Alex Winter of Bill and Ted fame which he said is “about the music and the bands, the fans and the moguls, and the brilliant young minds that ignited the biggest youth revolt since Alan Freed hit the radio.”

Downloaded: The Story of Napster was insightful and provided a poignant look at a near-legendary revolution in the tech and music industries. Things have never been the same since, for better or worse, and it was fascinating to see an in depth dissection of the events.

Those with an entrepreneurial spirit were enticed by a bevy of important speakers and talks on the first two days. First up on Thursday morning at the Brooklyn Brewery was an engaging chat between Christine Lagorio-Chafkin of Inc, Ray Velez of Razorfish and Peter Wang of Refinery29 on the topic of ‘Letting Technology Create the Brand Story’. In a brief 45 minute talk they covered a lot of ground, providing insight into how their companies have flipped the concept of the brand driven market to maximise the creative potential of their businesses.


The Northside Interactive closing party.

Later that afternoon over at Kinfolk Studios, Rameet Chawla of Fueled, Michael Constantiner of Cameo and Peter Hananel, app developer of Beautified, discussed failure. Not an easy topic, but the consensus achieved was a simple message – failure happens to everyone, it’s basically unavoidable at some point in your entrepreneurial life; it’s how you manage, build on and turn failures to your advantage that is the key between ultimate success and going home to rethink your life choices.

Friday brought Piers Fawkes and Scott Lachut of PSFK together to discuss a topic that’s very much pertinent right now – the future of wearable tech. The discussion could have gone on all night as they considered privacy, practicality and what wearable tech actually means.

It has actually been with us for over a century with the invention of the wristwatch, but as the tech gets smarter, we need developers to consider more. The perfection of the wristwatch is the ability to monitor the passage of time without affecting social interactions – will devices such as Google Glass and the new generation of smartwatches become so common place that they are no longer a novelty that distracts from human interaction and instead truly augments how we shape our reality? The other option is that, as science fiction writers have posited for some time, the technology will in fact wear us.

There was also time to check out some of the exhibitors stands, particularly the now massively famous Uber stand and the Robophone presence. These guys are developing an educational toy to get kids into writing code; no easy task, but I was impressed with how intuitive and fun they have made practical app development.

Another impressive booth which was also kid-related was from a company called Tiggly which creates unique toys that interact with learning apps on iPad.

In truth, there is far too much talent on display at Northside to do it all justice in a short article like this, but the juxtaposition of innovative talks, music and film is certainly a cool way to go. Tech expos can make tiring work when you’re just focused on speakers and new ideas, but with Northside the main difficulty is deciding which amazing live act to see after the day is done.

For example, here’s a personal pick of the bands playing at the event – Titus Andronicus from New Jersey.