When Matte, the experiential agency and creative firm created by three friends, started hosting their annual event, Black, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to where it would go and how it would grow. Now, in its fifth year, its become a sought-after experience — mixing visual installations with DJ sets and live acts in largely unmarked venues dotted around New York — as well as a touchstone for what Matte, as an agency, believes in.

It’s not unheard of for agencies to throw events as a signpost of their creative ability, but Black has prided itself on its personal touch and experiential ambitions. After two hectic weeks that saw the core creative team flying around the globe, we spoke to founders Max Pollack and Brett Kincaid about this year’s event and how Matte has evolved, creatively.

Matte Black 2017

How and when did you start Matte?

Max Pollack: We started Matte six years ago as a concert production and promotions entity. So we always had a background of putting together shows, curating and booking artists, and trying to figure out ways to make people interested in that. It’s partly how we define ourselves.

What’s this year like?

Brett Kincaid: This year it’s all kind of inspired by what “Black” means and for us it’s a whole aesthetic, but how do we do that. For the music we wanted to start the night with hip hop and grime then we have this intermission, which is basically a light install, that acts as the main lighting rig but there’s a particular installation – a whole light and sound thing that resets the night. And then it transitions from techno and house to something a lot darker, heavier, kind of progressing the night to ultimately something like a party.

And Black fits into Matte’s creative vision?

MP: I think we have different takes on it. I think it’s a unique way to have a connection to people and to live as a consumer and community brand. I think it also allows us to try different stuff. We also work as an experiential agency for brands so it allows us to fucking try this artist or do this thing and then brands can see there’s a real authenticity there. It tells more about who we are than anything we do, I think.

How core is it to Matte, as a brand?

BK: Matte started as a consumer brand, that was the vision. It’s super important for attracting people who want to work here and also it’s probably the biggest alarm to clients. I also think its interesting as a cultural monitor. I look back five years ago at the bands that were playing our shows and its very different. The people were different, who we were hanging out with was different. It’s the same type of person, just the culture has changed, music has changed. That dancey, poppy, Australian rock music that we were booking then has changed. Now it’s Kelela, Vic Mensa, and Isaiah Rashad. It’s a way of keeping tabs on what’s what.

Other then who you’re booking, how has it changed?

BK: Well we had no idea what we were doing in the beginning, so that was one huge thing. We also had no money, that was another huge thing.

MP: It got better.

BK: It’s gotten better every year. Even at the very beginning of the agency the concerts were really the inspiration. We used to toil over making a flyer for a concert. The way that we found an illustrator five years ago, it was like “Yo Luke, I have three hundred dollars, can you do this now?” And now we’re going through a reputable agency with an established illustrator which does work with brutal brands, and you can see a difference.

MP: And we were also twenty-two years old and that was what was cool to us then. Now our taste is just different and we want to push it because we have this agency, we have more bandwidth with the amount of people we have here and with the size of the events that we can play around with.

Matte Black 2017

With scale and bandwidth, do you guys worry about getting too big or it just turning into another agency event?

MP: We were talking about that. We’re not trying to make these events super mainstream. There’s no desire to become Governors Ball or Time Warp. We want to keep it tight and interesting and ultimately it is very personal to us. So it’s maybe not the brightest business decision but that’s not necessarily the point of these things. People are coming for the event and not because they’re getting mass-marketed to and not because we’re booking mainstream artists, they’re coming for the sense of discovery and a sense of the spirit of it.

Do you feel like there’s a new graduating class of these events you belong to?

BK: I think there’s a lot of more niche festivals coming up that are more about the vibe and the experience.

MP: I think we just do what we want to do and we hope that people love it too.

BK: There’s definitely not a huge calibration of what will work the most. If there was a one hundred points of whether or not you’re calibrating exclusively on business or based on taste – it’s more so where Matte is as a brand, which is our interests.

The aesthetic of the event, how much does that permeate your other projects?

MP: It’s definitely something we reserve for Black, I think that Full Moon is the first thing we had. It was very like summer, and poppy, and it’s evolved, it’s become more interesting but with Black, we wanted to do something that was very much our brand. At first, the Matte brand was minimal and a little bit edgy and not so formal and that was embodied by Black. It took a couple iterations for us to get it to where it felt like something unique. Last year we wanted to embrace art more and pair visual art with music, so that evolved as we evolved the concept. There’s still a lot of room to go there.

It’s getting more ambitious, but is that something you can scale?

BK: You definitely can.

MP: But that takes a little extra money. That takes a lot of extra money.

Is that a consideration when you’re picking a space?

MP: Space is super important, the space needs to lend itself to making the installation but that’s always how we’ve chosen our events versus going to venues.

BK: Which makes it more difficult.

You recently transported Black to Mexico, yeah?

MP: With Mexico it was a cool opportunity, we’ve always wanted to experience other places. The artists were local artists and the crowd was a different crowd but you still have 2,500 people in this immersive event with different art installations. It was Black, but New York is our home base and we can do a lot more with it here but that was a pretty tremendous experience.

Matte Black 2017

Has the creative process changed much?

MP: The music is a collaboration between me, Brett, Oliver, and Eugene and also getting input from the office on what would be interesting this year. For the art, we worked with this woman Anna, who has a gallery in Mexico called Peana Projects. She also helped curate all the visual artists. It is this collective effort, ultimately that’s why it’s not “me” presenting it, it’s Matte.

Balancing that effort against the needs of an agency can pose problems.

BK: We’re still very involved in the business, the creative and the actual operations, but the creative is what drives the whole thing.

MP: It’s a tough balance right now. How do you take time away from the agency to spend time to work on this? But ultimately we think it is the pulse of the business it does drives other things within the agency, I think it’s important to always be involved or at least have really good people that you trust on it.

It’s been a big part of Matte’s growth then.

BK: Black didn’t really have a specific identity for the first couple of years, it more fell inline with a personal aesthetic or interest and a general mood or aesthetic. There was a sensibility that was specific but it wasn’t really a concept, it was just an egg of a thing that grew. But we needed to do it like that for it to turn into what it is now.

How so?

BK: If you look at what our brand guidelines were from the very beginning, like way back at the very beginning, it kind of was a contrasting aesthetic approach. We’ve been super into black and white and contrast and a little bit more of a sinister look and feel. We weren’t really putting on any events like that at all so at first it was a super simple decision to say, “Look, lets just do ‘black’ because it’s going to be easy for us to design and book things that makes sense to this visual,” and I don’t think that aesthetic has changed,

MP: I think we’ve become more colorful as a brand too.

BK: We have.

MP: When we started it was literally just black and white photography very simple, minimal font.

BK: So designing Black and finding directors and finding photographers and finding artists was just simplified. Black was just a party, basically, and it did well and it was interesting. It also made sense, it was in the winter and people wear all black and it appealed to the people we wanted to appeal to and it was a fun exercise. But then the design really evolved, it’s almost like giving artists and musicians a brand book and saying “This is who we are,” and interpreting that how they want to interpret that but we’re also not using, like, Capital Cities, so it’s finding people on an artist level and a music level and letting them work within that.

MP: We’ve definitely done that to some extent. You bring artists together and actually collaborate with each other on a unique set design or a unique track and that’s something I think that’s inserting it’s also interesting just to commission stuff and have it all live within this general experience and those brand guidelines.

And for this year?

BK:I think the motorcycles are going to be epic.

I don’t even know if you’re kidding.

BK: No, we’re not.

MP: Come and see, let us know what you think.

Matte Black takes place April 8, you can purchase tickets here.

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