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Head to the Minnesota River Valley for a techno fest with "no corporate nonsense"

Aurora Halal performs Friday, July 28, at the Great Beyond Festival in Franklin, Minn.
Aurora Halal performs Friday, July 28, at the Great Beyond Festival in Franklin, Minn.Bruno Destombes

by Michaelangelo Matos

July 24, 2023

Like a lot of people who dance avidly, I have a bad back. For many of us — based on informal polling — dancing is both fun and an easy way to stretch out one’s spine. So there was cause for worry when the Sunday afternoon summertime DJ party Communion had one of its busiest bass-music showcases yet with an avid, young crowd — and promoter Steven Centrific was nowhere in sight.

As it was, the show went fine without him. The 25-year-old Intellephunk, the Minneapolis promotion team Centrific and his wife Jasmine Seuling lead up, is a well-oiled machine that includes a loyal posse of young techno lifers who do everything from hauling the speakers to tinkering with the sound, from putting on wristbands to keeping an eye out for trouble. Bass Day, as we’ll informally call it, was great fun, a showcase for rising talents such locals as Ternion Sound, a trio for whom dubstep is a starting point for wilder sonic and rhythmic ideas, and Jen Symmetry, a Minneapolis drum & bass DJ and producer whose work is gaining traction in that music’s wider orbit.

A lot of the kids who came out were first-timers to Communion, and to Intellephunk events in general — but many of them seemed ripe to come back and sample the house and techno that the Sunday party typically serves up. It’s happened before — over and over again. And at least a few may end up at Intellephunk’s most ambitious party of the year, The Great Beyond, which takes place over the weekend of July 28-30 at a campground in Franklin, Minn.

But for a minute it looked like its founder might not. The night of the bass showcase, Centrific’s back flared up too painfully to keep ignoring.

“I’ve had problems for years,” he says over Zoom (plans for an in-person sit-down had to be postponed for obvious reasons). “Then I got in a BMX accident several years ago.” Only over “the last year and a half or so” has he done much work on it. “We’ve just come down to the root problems — stuff that like the massage therapist hasn’t been able to [help]. I already had appointments to other doctors, and then it flared up. It got really bad, so I ended up going to the ER — twice, within a couple days. From what we’re seeing on the scans, it’s actually a lot better than we thought — if we can get the inflammation down.”

Since then, there’s been an operation — seemingly, an effective one: Centrific looked miles better at Communion on July 16, headlined by DVS-1, a techno hero playing a house-leaning set for the occasion.

Centrific will need all the energy he can get, because the Great Beyond is an undertaking — as are Intellephunk parties in general. Between them, its principals — Centrific, Jasmine Seuling, and Dustin Zahn, a Minneapolis techno producer and DJ now in Berlin — have been putting on events for a quarter century. Even now, Zahn, living overseas, “ends up making a total of three trips through the year, including the party one,” says Centrific. “Most of the events that we do together, he’ll come in a week before and leave a week after. For the last several years, we’ve done our anniversary party the last week in April” — which Zahn always plays — “so we usually plan it around that.”

Intellephunk 25 - Group of people stand in warehouse
(Left to right) Jasmine Seuling, Steve Seuling (Centrific), Lindsey Herbert, Dustin Zahn, Decoder, Holden Federico, Lonefront. Intellephunk celebrated its 25th anniversary on Saturday, April 29.
Courtesy of Intellephunk

The Great Beyond isn’t even the first big outdoor campout DJ fest Centrific has been involved with — he was one of the promoters for the first couple editions of Even Furthur in Wisconsin in the late 2010s. “It was like, ‘Well, maybe we want to do something that’s a little bit more refined to our own pace and our own lifestyle,’” he recalls.

That means “psychedelic techno music, or music that is close to it,” as Centrific describes it. “We’re sitting in a place where people who want like a bigger festival experience without the chaotic craziness of the big festivals. They want music in this niche. And we have a community that’s suddenly grown a bit — it went from not just Minneapolis talking to the people in Chicago and Milwaukee and Madison, [to now being] a lot more connected to the people on the coasts and around the country in different cities. It was already happening through the internet.”

But rather than competing with the behemoth of Detroit’s Movement, a big outdoor Memorial Day techno-focused festival ringed by hundreds of independently thrown parties, the Great Beyond is able to cultivate a specific lane musically and community-wise. “We’re a salt-of-the-earth kind of festival,” says Jasmine.

If “psychedelic techno music” sounds forbidding — well, some of it surely is. But that modifier indicates playfulness, too, and that’s as much a marker of the music Intellephunk champions as anything. Particularly at Communion, there is regular outreach to rising new sounds and scenes that are “techno-adjacent,” as Centrific puts it. And reflecting the larger call to “Make Techno Black Again” — it was invented, remember, in Detroit — the local dance scene has grown far more diverse than the ’90s or early-2000s norm.

“Every five years, there’s brand new kids,” says Jasmine. “The last five years, even like six or seven years, we’ve tried to cultivate bringing in more queer kids and making sure they feel safe. It’s not just a bunch of white dudes with their hands in their pockets in front of the speakers.”

Centrific adds: “Our scene ended up being a lot of people that came out of the service industry; a lot of arts people. Jasmine’s right that, at a certain point, there was an overabundance of only a certain people that were into techno. And after all this time, all of a sudden, it’s become relevant to a whole other group. It’s become really important to them. And that group happens to be young and excited about it, and ready to do fun things. So that part of the energy is a big deal. Now we have this really cool scene going on. That’s all a part of it.”

But Intellephunk designs its events for long-timers as well as the new kids. The Great Beyond’s main-stage lineup is full of people well respected in the techno community at large, such as the veteran British producer James Ruskin, but also up-and-comers such as Julia Govor, a Russian who lives in New York and makes techno with production so crystalline and eventful it converted a critic friend who normally has no taste for the stuff. Really, “techno” covers a fair amount of sonic territory, and a lot of that is represented here.

Just as important are the many volunteers who make Intellephunk parties run. “Steve and I and Zahn all worry about a lot [about] making sure our crew is feeling good, and everybody’s healthy and running on all four cylinders during the festival.” Seuling adds. “When you come to the Great Beyond, you’re welcomed into a larger community, but without, like ...”

“Corporate nonsense?” I offer.

“Exactly!” she says.

Having not attended the previous two — the great outdoors and I do not, in general, agree — I was curious just how this team that cares deeply about sound (many people in the Minneapolis dance scene collect speakers like they do records) and production adapts to their environment. “Say, with sound — obviously, you have to be like a little bit more conscious of how far it’s gonna carry and things like that,” says Centrific. Last year, they added a huge hay bale wall in front of the sound system.

Touches like that keep the neighbors happy; this year’s edition takes place on the same property as the first two. “We still have a little room to grow on that property,” says Centrific. “You know, we still have a good couple-hundred tickets to sell.” Nevertheless, they sold a solid chunk of them over the several weeks between the new event’s launch and the announcement of its lineup. There’s not a lot of walk-up business, either, he explains: “People usually made their decision a long time ago. I think people, with a festival, are locking in much earlier and making plans around it because it’s not easy, you know? You kind of have to do it that way.”

But it’s not just repeat customers the Great Beyond cultivates, but returning headliners. DJs such as Wata Igarishi, Juana, and Carlos Souffront have played earlier editions, and Govor is returning after playing the April 2022 Intellephunk party, Space Heater. “When somebody’s just the perfect person for their job, that’s just the perfect for the person for the job,” says Centrific of the repeat headliners. “This person that we actually really enjoy and have had before is available and wants to do it. This should be like a community, from the artists down to the people.”

“The artists actually stay another day after their set, to just hang out and have fun because they know it’s cool that way,” says Jasmine. She’s gotten used to out-of-town DJs telling her, “The vibe is always sick out there. Everybody’s dancing their ass off.”

The Great Beyond. Friday, July 28, to Sunday, July 30, at Minnesota River Valley Sanctuary, Franklin, Minn. Tickets

Flyer for The Great Beyond Festival featuring large hands
The Great Beyond takes place Friday, July 28, to Sunday, July 30, at Minnesota River Valley Sanctuary, Franklin, Minn.
Illustration with colorful cartoon stage performers
Minneapolis-based artist/illustrator Jose Dominguez created three original works for The Current's 89 Days of Summer.
Jose Dominguez for MPR

This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.