New York City Travel Guide

8 Performances You Can’t Miss at the Red Bull Music Festival in New York City

The always inspiring and often totally off-the-wall Red Bull Music Festival returns to New York tonight, with innovative and experiential music-meets-performance-art events throughout the city.

The venues are unconventional, from amusement parks to churches, and the lineup is full of boundary-pushing activists, legends, and pioneers of many genres. Some names you’ll recognize (Harry Belafonte, Robyn), some you won’t, but we’re willing to bet that every performance will be unforgettable. Here are our top eight can’t-miss events to kick off what is sure to be a very balmy if not sweltering summer in the city.

1 OF 8

May 4: John Maus

WHERE: Deno's Wonder Wheel Park in Coney Island

It’s hard to know what to expect of a performance by this cult synth-pop musician in such a hauntingly kitschy locale, but it’s intriguing enough to hop on train and head to the beach for a super weird Friday night.

2 OF 8

May 5: A Conversation with Harry Belafonte

WHERE: The Main Theater at Hostess Community College/CUNY

Aside from providing the soundtrack to the most memorable scene in Beetlejuice, Harry Belafonte is a three-time Grammy-winner, civil rights activist (he was a friend and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr.), and one the most revered Jamaican-American artists of all time. Belafonte will reflect on his life and work during this lecture.

Lesley Flanigan portrait - white wall color - (courtesy of the artist)
3 OF 8

May 9: Tristan Perich: Drift Multiply + Lesley Flanigan

WHERE: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

For his most ambitious performance to date, classical composer and sound artist Tristan Perich built 50 1-bit speakers (1-bit sound is the lowest possible representation of digital audio). Over the electronic arrangements will be melodies played on 50 violins by classically-trained musicians. Heard inside of a cathedral, the sound is sure to mystify and blow you away.  Lesley Flanigan (pictured) will also perform, focusing on subwoofers and vocals.

4 OF 8

May 11: Dream Machine

WHERE: Pioneer Works, Brooklyn

A “strobosopic device,” the Dream Machine was invented by Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, and is designed to stimulate your optic nerve so that users actually see things with their eyes closed. If that’s too difficult to picture, musical directors/composers/musicians Dave Harrington and Sophia Brous will present a live re-imagining of the device with wild light design and a host of acclaimed musicians. There is a 7:30 show as well as a 10:30 show

Fever Ray
5 OF 8

May 12 + 13: Fever Ray

WHERE: Brooklyn Hangar

Bald Swedish queen and co-founder of the electronic duo The Knife, Fever Ray (Karin Dreijer) will play at the Brooklyn Hangar with a six-woman band on May 12 and 13. If her performances are anything like her music videos (read: explosive, dramatic, kind of scary), then you’re in for a treat. The music is upbeat and complex, both in themes and musically, a testament to Dreijer’s talent. This is her first US performance in eight years. The May 12 performance is sold out, but there are still tickets for the show on the 13th. 

6 OF 8

May 21: A Conversation with Robyn

WHERE: The Museum of Modern Art

Robyn is here! And we’re never letting her out of our sight again. The five-time Grammy-nominated Swedish pop artist and producer will sit down with her friend and fellow artist Kindness to discuss her life, her work, and her future. This is technically sold out, but we trust you to be resourceful. 

7 OF 8

May 23: Betty Davis: 'They Say I'm Different' Film Premiere

WHERE: Billie Holiday Theater

Funk and R&B pioneer and forward-thinking feminist Betty Davis influenced musicians who came after her, as well as her husband Miles Davis. Over the past five years, Davis had worked with documentarian Phil Cox on a film chronicling her life. See the premiere at the Billie Holiday Theater in Brooklyn.

8 OF 8

May 25: Brujas x Performance Space New York: Anti-Prom

WHERE: Performance Space New York

Activists, feminists, and skaters, the Brujas collective, which started in 2014, will host their third annual Anti-Prom in partnership with Red Bull Music Festival. Held in a non-profit community space in the East Village, this dance party is designed to be a safe space for gender non-binary expression.