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The sprawling, epochal South by Southwest always comes up when people suggest Cambridge should have its own defining festival, but the local celebration of music and technology, Together, launches Monday with the discussion: “Why Cambridge/Boston Is Not Austin.”
Part of the answer: While SXSW draws bands by the beatload hoping to be discovered, Together is described by its founders as being more about connecting subcultures and communities already thriving in and around Cambridge, introducing them to more people and likely turning those neophytes into fans and practitioners. Participants get panels on “Beyond Ramen: Surviving as an Artist” as well as how-to’s such as a drum production master class with the Boston audio company iZotope.
Which is not to say there isn’t a stunning array of kick-ass, big-name electronic music to be had for the week starting Monday. Nero — as big a name as can be found in the genre these days — ensured his tour schedule included a Together gig, festival officials say, and Photek, a longtime and legendary drum and bass producer, has chosen the festival for the official unveiling for his contribution to the DJ-Kicks mix series.
In short, by making Cambridge its home, Together might be giving the city a claim to electronic music history similar to its reputation for folk music.
“The atmosphere here is pretty unbelievable,” said Charles Mazzola, press coordinator for the festival. “There’s a hardcore scene here, and for almost every niche. [The area] has what’s kind of like a network of promoters and artists that purely rely on each other, cross promote and show up at each other’s events. I’m from New York originally, and in cities like that this would never be possible. It’s too big, too foreboding.”
There have been two Togethers, but this is the first year the weeklong festival has a home base on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square for parties, panel discussions, workshops and people resting up from and for such acts as Feed Me, Dillon Francis, Mala and RJD2. The Together Center, at 579A Massachusetts Ave., will have a live stream of music for the week as well as cushioned areas set up as a “recharge center” between events taking place everywhere from Middlesex Lounge and Phoenix Landing to the Brattle Theatre and Think Tank, as well as plenty of places out of town, including Royale, The Paradise and Machine.
“Really in past years we were considered a Boston festival — it’s not like we hopped the water by any means, we’ve always had venues over here with our events, the Middle East and everything else — but this is our first time establishing a headquarters presence,” Mazzola said. “We love Cambridge. Half our events year-round are based here. It was just the right move for us.”
The city is already a nexus for music and technology, considering the critical mass of clubs, DJs, technological innovation shops such as Harmonix and schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Finding a home in Cambridge means that the festival, once simply events and shows spread out throughout the cities, becomes easier to promote and grow, Mazzola said.
He credited Robin Lapidus, executive director of the Central Square Business Association, with easing the way for a centralized festival, but also the city itself for making the festival welcome.
“The city has fully embraced us,” Mazzola said, and the event’s managing director, Alex Maniatis, said the festival will be back in the city next year in an even larger space. (The current site was previously another popup, for the PlayStation Vita, and before that was part of Pearl Art.) City officials are talking about upping attendance and possibly offering open-air venues, they said. And Toscanini’s ice cream, just a few blocks away down Main Street, has created a flavor called Sine Wave just for the festival. The flavor, concocted by chief ice cream maker Andy Dubyoski, has a green ripple like the Together logo, according to Toscanini’s founder Gus Rancatore.
In the meantime, Together events will continue throughout the year on an irregular basis, including a New Year’s event, Mazzola said, and Naga — the backroom club at the new Moksa restaurant and bar in Central — opened with Together support “like a partnership, more than anything. It truly is the purest form of partnership, because there’s a pure exchange of goods on the table instead of just buying out a venue like you’d see in other places.”
“We’ve been welcomed with open arms,” he said.
For information about Together and full guide to its related shows, panel discussions, workshops, films and other events, click here or visit the Together Center, 579A Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.
This post was updated March 31, 2012, to correct that Photek is taking part in the festival, but not in Cambridge, and to modify a potential offer by city officials. Also added: information about Sine Wave, the Toscanini’s ice cream flavor.