Brendan Pechon
Dohm Collective

Nine years ago, Brendan Pechon turned a dream, a love of live music, a bunch of metal poles, short bolts, and a few armfuls of dollar store shower curtains into a sacred space. With five friends, known as the original Dohmies, and a healthy disregard for authority, Pechon dollied his several-hundred-pound deconstructed spherical tent into festival after festival, learning, adjusting, and improving with each setup, eventually becoming invited, sponsored, requested, and even given the reins to book and organize major events.

The physical structure is constructed by hand every time it’s built, so attention to detail is required to make it sturdy and secure, but it isn’t just the materials and the way they fit together that make Dohm. Pechon believes that the shape forces you to really see everyone else in there with you, meaning that the dome represents a place of equality, respect, and shared experience. It’s a spot where you can eat, sleep, dance, and play. The visual artists, DJs, builders, techies—anyone who has ever entered the dome and shared a bit of themselves—that’s Dohm Collective.

We conducted our interview in the dome, which Pechon had set up the basic structure of in his backyard, as he does, occasionally, in anticipation of upcoming events. Shortly after I arrived, he climbed to the top to add shade covers and we continued our conversation, rocking in hammocks, while my dog sat in the coolness of the garden edges blooming with tomatoes, blueberries, and variegated plumeria.

What first sparked your interest in festival culture?
I had gone to concerts and shows all my life—live music was always my passion. I grew up on the Northshore, where they had a pretty big underground, alternative scene, so I was into punk rock and screamo. As Cities Burn, 12 Stones, and a few others came out of Covington at the time… I was a gymnast for many years, so I would travel for these competitions and when I was traveling, I would get my mom to take me to see music. Then I decided to try wrestling, got pinned weirdly, ended up in the hospital, and found out that one of my vertebrae had never fused properly and I could have died if I had ever landed the wrong way. Because of the injury, which saved my life, I had to wear a neck brace. I had glasses. I had braces. I couldn’t do PE or any athletic things. They put me in ROTC, so I was in the uniform with all of that, and I was probably 90 pounds wet. I lived inside of trash cans. That really pushed me towards the punk rock era of my life, the rebellious phase.

And then you found techno?
It was an easy transition. They’re all connected. I always liked it. It became focal when I started writing for a blog based out of California called Be The Rave in 2012. I quickly became an editor there. That allowed me to start reaching out to artists and people I respected. I found myself at a lot of shows, meeting a lot of the same people who became my friends. Over time, we would all get together and go to festivals together. We’d make these long E-Z UP [canopy] hallways, with 20, 30 people trying to camp together; but if you were at the ends, that was who you’d hang out with, not the people on the opposite ends, and it didn’t feel like we were all together.

So you were looking for a Knights of the Round Table sort of solution?
Yeah. We went to Electric Forest where they were renting domes, as a service to people. I looked into that because it seemed like a cool idea but it was a lot of money and I thought, “I can do this.” Six of us had just bought tickets to Burning Man and they were all gung ho about the idea so, we didn’t have a lot of the tools that were necessary to make it, but we started with 10-foot poles. It’s a three frequency unit, so there’s three different size poles in it. The lower the frequency, the bigger the poles, the bigger the frequency, the stronger the poles, because they’re stronger—they’re made of EMT (electrical metallic tubing), basically the stainless steel that you run wires through.

Are they flexible?
No, and we didn’t have a press, so we hammered them flat by hand. I drilled the holes, bent the edges and everything like that. It was very much a labor of love by individual efforts. For the first time, we built it in 2015, for a festival in Atlanta that is no longer, called CounterPoint. We didn’t tell the organizers that we were bringing it but we had enough people camping with us that we were all able to section off an area big enough to build it on site. We didn’t have a ladder that could get to the top, so I would go to the middle and stand on the top of the folding ladder ridges but usually it resulted in us making a really tall friend who would put the bolt in the top in the middle and then just hang with us for the rest of the weekend. It took us six hours to build. One of our friends was running a company where he designed halo lights for cars so he got us these LED ropes that we put all over the dome. Within an hour, we had concert-goers circling the structure. That night we had some of the music performers come in without any mention. They had just seen the dome and wanted to play in it. We filled it with hammocks. We didn’t have a big speaker so Vibe Street, a performer at the festival, played his laptop into a cord that went into a bucket that we put over a small speaker and that’s what everyone on the grounds was listening to.

I love the visual of you sneaking in… how many metal poles and bolts and tools?
The poles break down into five feet. They’re about two pounds each and there’s probably about 160 of them for the most basic structure, so it gets real heavy. The most “not asking questions” was Euphoria Fest in Austin in 2016. At this point, we didn’t have a trailer, we didn’t have any real utility. We were still transporting all the poles wrapped in tarps and then we would lift those and put them over the bed of a truck. We moved them on dollies and this particular festival had a gulch that the dolly got stalled in. I think it was the hardest event we’ve ever done. There were five or six of us arguing with security guards, stuck in that gulch, and I finally got impatient and snuck it behind the guy and got the name of the first person with a badge inside and said, “He approved it!” They took a bunch of videos of it for their after video, so I think they liked it, once they found out what it was.

Is the dome strong enough so that you can sit on top?
For sure! But I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. I have been at the top several times. I know how to climb it, ‘cause I built it. In our original rulebook we had “Here’s how to climb the dome” which quickly got replaced with “no climbing.” At Middlelands, we had a ton of people climbing the dome. Someone went up to pull on the middle and put weight into the middle of a pole so it caved entirely, during the middle of our set. It was a whole thing.

Have there been any serious injuries?
There have not, knock on wood. Usually the worst that happens is a few bent poles. The dome has been through a lot of storms. [Bayou] Boogaloo was definitely the most fucked up [the dome has] ever been because the wind was so strong that the whole dome rolled. For most storms, we keep the cover on, because it helps the ground underneath to not become a mud pit for when people are dancing inside. But occasionally there’s 80 mph winds and it operates like a sail, and pulls four rebar poles out of the ground with concrete and all that… It was insane and we learned from that. Our headphone tent rolled all the way into the bayou that day too but the dome was stopped by a trailer that was parked behind it to provide it power—thank God, ‘cause I have no idea how we would have gotten it out of the bayou. It’s about 800 pounds of poles and pieces sticking everywhere so it would have just become a new artificial barrier.

Dohm at Deep Tropics Festival
Courtesy Brendan Pechon

You did Burning Man your first year with the dome?
My friend [Alex] Zuppardo, who’s one of the founders of Dohm, he and I joined a few different builds, through Chewbacchus people, to be part of different camps and find out what we liked and what we didn’t like. We did a build with John Valentino for a New Orleans style float that we would burn on the playa and we just made a lot of really good connections and found people experimenting with a regional Burning Man festival at Faubourg Brewery, initially called Ignition, now called Engulf. It’s how I met a lot of people that I know and work with today. It was Chase [LaBure a.k.a.] C-LaB, who was a DJ; Zuppardo who was just beginning to DJ; I  was a graphic artist dabbling in video; there were people in it who did live painting and things like that. We wanted a unification of all of these different cultures of electronic music to have a home at Dohm. The dome itself acts as a hub. We wanted to create a melding of all of the things that we enjoyed about music festivals. There’s the six of us who originally built the dome but Dohm Collective is all of the artists who are a part of the process.

Now, whenever I’m running shows or orchestrating LUNA Fête, I’m focused on trying to bring more people together. I’m trying to package and incorporate the feelings that I’ve had at these music festivals, of inclusion and understanding and self-exploration. I’m trying to bundle that all into one little pocket and deliver it everywhere that I go with it. And it’s surprising how well it’s worked out so far.

Isn’t LUNA Fête kind of your flagship event?
LUNA Fête is one of the largest things we try to do. It’s almost 60 artists every year, so we’ve built extensions onto the Dohm because, more or less, how a dome works is, you have longer poles that make different shapes. For our three-frequency, it’s a hexagon, then you have shorter poles that make a different shape: pentagons. So if you stack hexagons, they have spots where the pentagons fit and pull it together. So if you add more poles, you just get more of a circle. But if you take it apart and add enough to each side, it makes two dome halves that we use as amphitheaters. That’s what we’ll do for Hell’s Gala or LUNA Fête.

Let’s talk about the visual projections.
I use a bunch of different programs for my digital creations. I’ve been fascinated by visuals for as long as I know. When I listen to music I create these structures and elements of a storyboard in my head. I started with Resolume in 2015. That’s, more or less, a basis for projection mapping and using light and masking and things of that nature. It’s kind of like Photoshop, like the powerhouse area of things. Then you have other programs like Synesthesia and TouchDesigner and Nest. I use a lot of them all together because then you can run things into each other and run them out. There’s just a lot of playing that goes on in what I do. Sometimes I’ll create interactive things at festivals where we incorporate video games so you can actually play an N[intendo] 64 controller but it’s run through Resolume, so it’s all garbled and I’ll have a webcam where you can create feedback off of the movements. There’s just a lot of different elements that I keep trying to educate myself on and grow and learn and see how other people do their things. The festival that’s coming up, that we’re doing next, is Secret Dreams [Music & Arts] Festival, which we started doing three years ago, in Ohio, at Legend Valley. I met the owner randomly at an event, we talked about Dohm, and he handed me a ticket. It was a crazy universe this-is-supposed-to-be kind of thing and he said we would always have a spot at the festival. I want, so badly, for them to succeed. It’s a great festival. He makes a huge effort to bring live artists and live painters together so it will have an art row of like 150 artists, all painting at the same time. Live painting has always been a part of Dohm Collective: Brandy [Hirsch], Jenn Laiche, Mr. Balloon Hands… I could go on and on about all of our artists. They’re incredible and I love seeing people communicate without words.

At the end of the day, Dohm seems very personal to you. It literally lives in your backyard when it’s not at festivals.
It is. Some people just see a giant dome thing but I know that it’s an experience. The shape of a dome and the concept of a dome is unity. It forces people to look at each other and interact with others involved. Bringing art into that space made sense. It’s mostly peaceful inside of the dome and the “ohm” inside of the brand and logo is about the idea of creating a home and a safe space. After a super abusive relationship, Dohm became art therapy for me. It started where I worked to avoid things but it’s become more than anything I had anticipated. It was just a structure when I built it, and it is my life now. It’s something that heals, something that grows, and something that makes a difference.

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Top photo by Sabrina Stone

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