The FYRE Festival was supposed to be a luxury music festival on a supposedly private island in the Bahamas during April and May 2017. A glossy promotional video complete with supermodels, jet skis, and clear blue ocean waters sold a vision of the ultimate decedent party for the young and affluent.
The likes of Kendall Jenner instagrammed about this awesome party (neglecting to mention she got paid $250k to do so). Ticket prices cost anywhere up to $12,000 and promised private villas, top of the range geodome tenting, and even private chefs. But once excited party goers started boarding distinctly non-luxury transport it was clear something was very wrong.
What follows is a fascinating documentary covering how things went so wrong. The festival was partly to be used as a promotional tool for the Fyre App, a new and simple to use system for booking talent. Self-styled entrepreneur Fyre CEO, Billy McFarland, had been riding off the success of his Magnises credit card / member club business (which, as it turns out, also had problems with false promises).
Working in partnership with rapper Ja Rule he created the illusion of a luxury lifestyle for the young and monied to buy into. As the documentary explores, Billy was the ultimate salesman who achieved amazing results by sheer force of will and charisma. Until FYRE exposed how empty promises achieve nothing in reality.
The first half of FYRE features interviews from many who helped to organise the doomed event, along with several contractors who continuously highlighted the serious problems that were stacking up. Even breaking problems such as a severe lack of bedding, no health and safety personnel or security, woefully inadequate toilet and waste facilities, and nowhere near enough food and water, to name but a few. “I used to wonder if Billy was a genius or a madman,” says one organiser, adding instead, “he’s a liar.” All the interviewees state over and over that the festival was never going to be achievable for the scale advertised in the time available (just a few months versus the usual year minimum).
Interestingly, at the time despite the appalling and unsafe conditions, due to event being marketed at the young and rich there was little outward sympathy towards the stranded and exposed attendees. Many on social media mocked their situation as dumb rich kids getting what they deserved. But as the documentary shows, this was extremely negligent fraud from the get go perpetrated by an inexperienced salesman who sunk so much false promise into the brand that it had to continue, no matter what.
Money was actively being stolen from guests by demanding they ‘pre-pay’ into a wireless wristband to use on the island, despite it having no working wireless internet. Most of that money instead went towards the severely mounting debts the festival was racking up.
Director Chris Smith takes an unusual approach in that all the interviewees talk direct to camera, as if imploring you to forgive them for their role in the farcical festival. And it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for the highly experienced gay event co-ordinator who was instructed to ‘take one for the team’ in a revolting way in order to secure the delivery of Evian water that was stuck at customs with import fee unpaid.
Or the guy who desperately tried to point out the dangerous lack of safe beds (which were then virtually washed away in a thunderstorm the day before the festival) only for the wilfully blind Billy to tell him that his Yoga classes would make it all ok.
FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Was does an excellent job of methodically taking you step by step through the utterly doomed venture. Any schadenfreude you may have been expecting from watching the self-obsessed selfie generation get what’s coming to them is punctured by Ja Rule shouting in a conference call that taking hundreds of thousands of dollars for a product that stood little chance of existing isn’t fraud but merely ‘false advertising’.
Get your Netflix on, stream FYRE, and watch the unattainable dreams of luxury burn away.
Words by Michael Record