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Further Future goes deep into the desert for a new kind of festival

Further Future was an attempt to carve out new space in America's oversaturated music festival market

Around 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, just as the light turned from black to blue above the mountains surrounding Lake Mead, the L.A. producer Nosaj Thing took the stage at the Further Future Festival atop a warren of carpeted platforms.

Beneath him, a few dozen ravers, Burning Man warriors and spaced-out club kids bobbed to his airy bass music. A guy in half of a dirt-streaked tiger suit swayed behind a girl with geometric patterns shaved into the left side of her head.

As the late-night chill faded with the sunrise, Nosaj kept his head down, nodding in time while the crowd nodded off to rhythms in their own heads. Each was lost in the mood of the coming desert morning.

This was the debut of Further Future, another attempt to carve out new space in America’s oversaturated music festival market. While mass dance music events like Electric Daisy Carnival have gone bigger, and Coachella is turning higher-end and aspirational, Further Future took many of its cues -- like the roving Robot Heart DJ/art car -- from Burning Man.

Held just less than an hour north of the Vegas strip on a flat desert patch of the Moapa River Indian Reservation, the organizers planned on a certain distance and curation, both in the acts and the crowd. Attendees could only buy general-admission tickets (starting at upward of $200) after earning a personal invitation from the fest, and fans submitted Facebook messages to the event pitching themselves for entry. Acts like the Orb, Yppah, Damian Lazarus & the Ancient Moons and more rock-oriented acts like Rhye and Warpaint veered far from the typical EDM fest fare.

There were some luxury perks, as could be expected at a contemporary music festival. Private tents started at $650, and Pattern Bar’s Eduardo Castillo hosted a gated campground called Habitas, where mint tea flowed from samovars and the buffet ran with roasted carrot medleys and chocolate tortes. If you wanted spa treatments or a catered dinner from Bottega Louie founder Sam Marvin, you could get them, and many did. But outside of that, there was no VIP area or wristbanded class structure. Wandering was the point.

For one, the music started much later (and continued much, much later) than anything at Coachella or HARD. Main Stage headliners routinely started around 2 a.m., which was the perfect time to get lost in the Orb’s tribal-trip-hop reveries, or to get down to Zhu’s spy-movie house music, or get your hands on a lover at Rhye’s soft-touch R&B. Robot Heart's stage would usually catch steam around 5 a.m. and continue through brunch time.

While the built environment was not quite Burning Man-intense or Coachella pristine, for a debut festival, Further Future was scrappy but astonishingly well-planned (among the nice touches: free water and a strong ban on Native American costumes, which would have been especially offensive here). They only sent out a few thousand invitations, and the crescent-moon-shaped main thoroughfare left plenty of room for finding friends or just splaying out and stargazing.

Even the loopy “wellness” and yoga seminars pulled early crowds unaffected by (or not quite yet into) their hangovers from the night before. Further Future founder Robert Scott obviously sees this event crossing over into Silicon Valley’s tech-utopian and body-hacking cultures.

Some were spacey and earnest -- the neurological benefits of hugging, or something on the community-building potential of getting blasted with ambient sound cannons. Talks by Zappos Chief Tony Hsieh and the team behind Soundcloud were important gets, especially right now (Hsieh’s massive downtown Las Vegas redevelopment plan is faltering, and Soundcloud’s new ads are irking longtime users). But amid 72 hours of hard clubbing on an even harder desert, those crucial topics didn't exactly find lasting solutions.

As longtime Burners grow disenchanted with the mainstream drift of their main event, and other festival veterans want something more revelatory and less corporate-behemoth-sized, expect to see more experimental mini-fests like Further Future laying camp around Southern California.

They’ll have to clear a high bar to top last weekend though. Around 6 a.m. on Saturday, a couple well-ensconced in their tent were making out and, it sounded, having a spirited go of it. Their adjacent tent mates left them alone, but their ardor did inspire that small crowd to go out for one last round of raving before the sun came up.

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