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Fyre Festival’s 25-Year-Old Organizer: “This Is the Worst Day of My Life”

Fyre Fest's organizers struggled to contain a debacle that became a national punchline on Friday after leaving hundreds of customers who had paid thousands for a star-studded "luxury" experience stranded on a remote island in battered tents with little food and no one in charge.

They promised to get all remaining ticket holders back to the United States by 9 p.m. Friday.

In a phone interview Friday evening, the 25-year-old tech entrepreneur behind the festival, Billy McFarland, called the previous 24 hours the "worst day of my life" and described the fiasco, which reverberated across social media, as essentially an act of God.

"Unfortunately we were hit by a storm early Thursday morning that caused some damage to half our tent housing and busted pipes and delayed flights that were arriving to the point where we weren't comfortable in our ability to resolve it, and we decided to postpone the festival," McFarland said.

He did not address the "villa" housing, which was sold on the website, but did not appear to exist.

He promised all guests would be "refunded in full" and promised free VIP tickets to a 2018 Fyre Festival, which he says will be held somewhere in the United States with a portion of proceeds donated to the Bahamian Red Cross He said he planned to donate $1 per ticket, though in another interview the same day he said $1.50.

The apology capped a 48-hour period where well-heeled millennials took to Instagram and Twitter to document failed logistics that left them stranded on tarmacs, wandering around a half-built festival, and at least in one case, locked in a Bahamas airport overnight.

Fyre Festival was intended to be a "once in a lifetime musical experience," where revelers could mingle with models and hunt for treasure on jet skis in between big-name artists' sets on a "remote and private island" in the Bahamas.

Read the full story on VICE News.

‘Sympathy’ Offers a Literary Take on Instagram and Intimacy

Sympathy opens with what must be the most intense description of an Instagram follow request ever committed to print. Alice Hare, the 23-year-old narrator, relates the agony of waiting to be granted access to a private account. She aches for that pale grey "requested" button to give way to its more reassuring successor; to confirm that she's "following." With this, the stage is set for a contemporary tale of obsession.

It feels as though the world has been waiting for a literary take on the photo-sharing app. Who among us hasn't been queasy after a bout of girl crush stalking, or that very particular self-aware frustration when unable to find the right angle for a selfie? Not posting would be like having a margarita without the salt. What makes Sympathy such a standout in its approach to social media is a move way from Black Mirror-style satire and, instead, a smart and lyrical evocation of that murky emotional terrain between our online and offline selves.

The novel, written by 28-year-old London native Olivia Sudjic, has already been praised by the likes of British editor Diana Athill and is one of the most talked about debuts of the year. We meet in a cafe near my apartment, which I've chosen specifically for its Instagrammable properties: millennial pink tables and food served on pastel plates. It's the kind place I imagine Sympathy's characters might post about, tagging the location like a breadcrumb to be found.

Alice, the book's lead, is living in limbo after graduating from college, and in search of a "single, coherent narrative" about her origins (something her adoptive English mother has been unable to supply.) After striking up a correspondence with her sick grandmother, Alice travels to New York to help out during Silvia's cancer treatment. Once there, she becomes increasingly obsessed with a Japanese writer and Instagram cool-girl named Mizuko, and Alice detects odd parallels between their life stories. Any similarities that might not be present between the pair, Alice is able to manufacture, mining Mizuko's online presence for likes and interests with which to furnish her own personality. When Alice orchestrates a "chance" encounter with the writer—all thanks to geotags—Mizuko is unable to see that what feels like a happy coincidence is anything but.

Olivia Sudjic portrait at Cafe Miami by Imogen Freeland

Olivia Sudjic portrait at Cafe Miami, Clapton, by Imogen Freeland

Full of wry humor and sharp observations, Sympathy explores the ways we struggle to fully understand an experience that is not our own. We relate to others—as we must—through our own limited perspective. In this era of hyper-connectivity, the illusion of sympathy is everywhere, but are we really connecting in the way that we imagine ourselves to be?

Sudjic describes how, at 25, she'd tried a few different jobs and found herself working at a branding consultancy, but the idea that would evolve into Sympathy had already begun brewing. She decided to take a six-month sabbatical. "Of course, what happened is that I didn't write anything," she says. "Suddenly I had all this free time. I just freaked out."

Nearing the end of the six months, Sudjic's boss told her that they'd given her job to someone else, but that she was welcome to take a role in the Dubai office. "There was nothing like the threat of having to leave London to light a fire under my ass!"

"Throughout history, the tools we make end up shaping us."

She wrote the bulk of the book in three months in a self-confessed "fever dream," fitting for a novel rife with mysterious illnesses, identity slippages, and swift, feverish descents down social media's rabbit holes. The narrative's non-linear structure imitates the feeling of scrolling through an Instagram feed, where past and present co-exist and a #TBT might pop up at any time. It was meticulously plotted, so that Sudjic's writing space looked more like "a crime scene" than an author's desk. "It just felt like a much more authentic way of storytelling according to the way modern minds work," she says.

Surprisingly for a book that reads like The Talented Mr. Ripley for the 21st Century, Sudjic says that she initially conceived it as a historical novel about a 17th century "medicine" called Powder of Sympathy. "I'm quite glad now that I can talk about this historical element, because it guards against the idea that this book is only about now. I feel like there are these age-old human frailties that technology can take advantage of. The point is that, throughout history, the tools we make end up shaping us."

Alice's character being shaped by life online is immediately evident. "I was interested in how the internet sees you," Sudjic says. "To a machine, you're viewed as this collection of metadata; the things you like and click on, what you've spent time doing." What's most specific in Alice's characterization are the traits that can be easily understood by our devices: locations she visits, the amount of time she spends walking around the city, and the sights she captures through the lens of her iPhone. 

Despite the first person narration, Alice's inner-psyche remains blurry, mimicking the way someone is seen by a browser's internal algorithms. Later in the novel, strange coincidences begin to occur that mirror how a Facebook advert might anticipate a user's needs. "These things that we think are all about choice are actually being predicted, nudged, and shaped. What we get access to online, the links that float to the top of our searches—that's all colored by information we often don't even realize we've given out."

"The digital apparatus we have with which to affect change slightly tricks us into feeling like we're more powerful than we are, and actually, we're quite passive."

Sudjic compares buying a smart phone to a kind of Faustian pact: "There's this trade off between privacy and convenience." She points me to the novel's epigraph, a line from Alice Through the Looking Glass, in which Alice tells the Red Queen, "I wouldn't mind being a pawn, if only I might join." It is exactly this bargain we enter into when we share information about ourselves online. I ask whether Olivia was nervous about writing Alice as a character who, though the driving force of the novel, is quite passive—a pawn—when it comes to her interactions IRL. "She is passive, but I feel like that passivity is what a lot of our generation is coping with. The digital apparatus we have with which to effect change slightly tricks us into feeling like we're more powerful than we are, and actually, we're quite passive."

It's proof of Sudjic's electric talent that Alice's voice remains captivating, even as she seems to become a conduit for other people's experiences (her boyfriend Dwight's, for instance.) Alice is simultaneously relatable and inscrutable, sympathetic, caustic, and infuriating all at the same time. Of course she is—she's a 23-year-old trying to figure out her place in the world.

Acutely aware of the difference in the ways male and female novelists are asked to promote their books, Sudjic says she fought hard to keep the novel's original title. "I just thought, if Franzen can do it, I can. Men seem to have ownership of those one word titles. Also, I couldn't believe that it hadn't already been used, given what novels, from their genesis, are supposed to be about."

We discuss the first American novel, The Power of Sympathy: "It was about how we can over-identify with characters and it can lead us astray morally." Sudjic was drawn to the idea that novels used to be a slightly perilous moral undertaking. "Now novels are good and it's Instagram that's bad. Every single time a new format comes up for identifying with other people, we all throw up our hands thinking it's a disaster."

For Alice and Mizuko, it just might be.

Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic is published by ONE/Pushkin Press on the May 4, via Pushkin Press. Also available on audible.co.uk.

Follow Kate Loftus O'Brien on Twitter. 

Upsider Abbey Rich on the Power of Social Media

“Communication between me and my customer is so important...” Abbey Rich became an accidental entrepreneur when she uploaded some designs online, and found a market. A part-time student, and now a part-time small business owner, Abbey is an Upsider. Hear her tips and tricks for using social media to network, curate, and connect with her customers, and find out what helps to power her passion. vodafone.com.au/upsiders Already an Upsider? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us on Instagram your passion project – tag @vodafoneau and #Upsiders

Model Harnaam Kaur Says Her Beard Is a Blessing

Think about puberty. Think back to those weird, scary years.

You, on the edge of young adulthood, examining the virginal hairs sprouting from your underarms and your groin. Remember the fascination, the fear. The confused excitement combined with self-disgust.

Now imagine being that age, and everyone in your classroom is able to see those new foreign parts of you—except it's something no one else your age or gender is dealing with.

You're a 12-year-old girl, and you have a beard.

As you grow older, you try waxing, shaving, tweezing, and endless attempts at other hair removal methods, but, like some cruel joke embedded in your biological design, the punch line persists.

Meet Harnaam Kaur.

The 26-year-old London, UK-native is now a body activist, model, and life coach. She's a fiercely passionate force, and she's reclaiming her self-worth while paving a revolutionary road for a western world engrossed in physical insecurities and brainwashed beauty standards.

I've been following Kaur on Instagram for more than a year now and wanted to speak to the inspiring person behind the Insta-handle. But despite her open-book social media presence, her seemingly-confident exterior (she has a tattoo of her own face on her leg), and her near-80,000 Instagram followers, Kaur still gets bullied, fields death threats on a daily basis, and is learning to love herself completely.

VICE: So for those who don't know, could you describe what polycystic ovary syndrome is?
Harnaam Kaur: Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition where the woman's level of sex hormones—estrogen and progesterone—are off balance. Which leads to cysts and growths on the ovaries, which are benign masses. And that can cause problems with women's menstrual cycles, fertility, and cardiac function. Some of the side effects are things like diabetes, weight loss or weight gain, hair loss, alopecia, and facial hair.

When were you diagnosed with this?
I was very young. I would have been around 12 years old, so just a little bit before I hit my teenage years.

What age did you start to notice you had facial hair?
I was in grade six—I would have been about ten or 11 years old.

How did you deal with that? Sort of realizing that there was something that set you apart from other girls your age?
I had trouble dealing with all the bullying. There was not really a way in which I could block them out. I thought, Well, OK, you're getting bullied for your facial hair so why don't you try removing it? [But] then I was hitting a brick wall—I was being bullied for having facial hair, and now I was being bullied for removing it. I used to tweeze, wax, thread, shave, [tried] different hair creams, but it just didn't work because you know, I have this condition and if I try to remove my hair, it just grows back.

So when did you really learn to embrace your body for what it is?
I'm still on that journey right now. I'm always evolving. I can't exactly say, "Yes, right now, I accept myself for me." This condition changes my body in different ways, [and] it takes me time to get used to it, and I'm still on that journey of accepting and embracing my body. But I'm a lot more loving towards my body than I was a good ten years ago.

How did the ultra-perpetuated western beauty norms affect your self-worth growing up?
The media portray women to be a certain way, and it's heartbreaking. When you look at women and think, Wow, women are different shapes and sizes, and the color of their skin is different and those are just our physical traits were talking about. It's just a shame that I'd have to look in magazines and not find women that represented me. It's a shame that women and teenagers and people of all generations still have to face body-shaming and bullying just because of the way they look.

And have you found any difficulty or tension forming friendships or romantic relationships?
Oh yeah. Having a beard, you know—I actually love her [my beard] by the way, so I'm not blaming her at all—but having a beard, it stopped me from a lot of things. I should've been going to parties when I was younger, experiencing all those things that teenagers normally do, but I was really introverted and she stopped me from experiencing different things. She stopped me from doing a lot of things [and] I still find certain relationships difficult to handle. But it's great, because she has connected me to people in my life that I see as loving and compassionate, that's what I'm drawn to.

When you speak about your beard, you personify her as a she. When did you start doing that? Is that something you came up with to personify it and cope with it?
I think it's just quite disrespectful to call someone "it." I thought, well, how do you talk to a person in a loving way? I thought, stop calling your beard an "it"—she's not an "it." She's something on your body that you embrace and love. So, I've given her a name and a persona, just for self-respect reasons.

Today, you're a life coach, a body positive activist, and an anti-bullying activist—what sort of bullying did you endure growing up and still endure today?
Today, it's more cyber-bullying. [People] sitting behind their computers and saying whatever they want to say. So, these days, it's mostly threats online. I get death threats as well. But in school, I had horrendous people calling [me] horrendous names, which I can look back on and laugh at now, because it's pathetic, but back then [it hurt].

Have you ever battled with suicidal thoughts?
Yeah. When I was being bullied in school, I was self-harming just because I hated my body for the way she was formed. I had huge hatred for my body, which lead to being very suicidal and having suicidal thoughts.

You posted a caption on Instagram recently saying you can't believe you haven't been shot or stabbed—have you actually received death threats like that because of the way you look?
Yeah, of course. My social media is open—available for anyone [to comment on or message me], so yeah, there are people online who think it's OK to send death threats.

When you get those messages, what is your reaction? How do you deal with that?
I laugh. I genuinely just laugh. I'm not afraid—that's one thing about me, I'm not scared, I'm not afraid. So when I do get these death threats or messages, I just laugh at them. They're empty threats and just people that are cowardice and have nothing better to do with their life. And I know that my work is way more superior than people's mental options and the comments they make at me, and that's what keeps me going—just knowing that my work is superior.

You have a tattoo of your face on your leg—is that correct?

When did you get that and why?
I got that [in the] summer of 2016. She represents the Dame. She's like my alter ego—the most high self-esteemed, confident, and strongest version of me. Then you have Harnaam Kaur, who is the most sociable, fun-loving person, and they come together to make me whole, if that makes sense. So she's kind of like an alter ego—my internal voice. Even the way she looks and the way her face is, the way she's posed. She is very confident, so that represents the Dame—my inner voice.

If we could all learn to love ourselves as much as you've learned to love yourself, the world would be much a better place.
Thank you.

Do you have any idols or people you look up to?
No. I actually like to take inspiration from different people's lives. I wouldn't say there's just one person I look up to. I like to experience different people, different cultures, backgrounds, and sexualities—so I take inspiration from everyone. I don't think there's one particular person.

If you could describe your relationship with your facial hair, how would you describe that now?
It's just love, that's all I can say really. I've just learned to love her and embrace and accept her. It's really weird because she's just hair—like hair on your head, or your arms, or your legs—but she stands out differently because she's on my face. I feel a lot stronger and liberated to be who I am and accept who I am freely. Having her on my face is almost like saying to society, "you portray, or paint men or women to look a certain way, well I'm here as a woman who's wearing something that's supposed to be—in quotations 'supposed to be'—a man's feature. But I'm here rocking it—rocking her—as a woman."

Would you say it's now more of a blessing than a curse?
One hundred percent. Absolutely. Like I said, I embrace her a lot more and love her a lot more than [I did] ten years ago, when I absolutely hated the fact that she was on my face. But now I've learned to embrace her and she's just part of my life now.

I'm sure, like anyone, you probably still have really bad days where you're not feeling so strong about yourself. Do you have a mantra or an anthem you turn towards to bring you back to superhero status?
See now, there's nothing wrong with having bad days. Within a month, I probably have a handful of bad days. And I allow myself to have them, because those are just negative emotions leaving your body. So I allow myself to cry, to stay in bed, eat chocolate, eat ice cream, and watch Netflix. There are days where I just don't even want to work, and I won't reply to emails until I feel better, because I only allow myself to work when I'm [feeling] 100 percent. I allow myself to have those down days, because once you reach rock-bottom, you can't really go any further—you can only shoot back up. So that's one thing I always have embedded in my heart—that you will always get back up. So if you feel down, just cry, it's OK to cry.

What would you say is the hardest part about being yourself?
Having to sacrifice a lot. I've had to build myself as an activist from the ground up, so the hardest part is balancing what I want in my life in regards to activism, but then there are things like, I would love to be in a relationship and have children, and be stable, and have a home, etcetera. But I concentrate a lot more on my work and changing people's lives and helping people embrace their life—so that part of my life [aspiring to have a home and kids], I've had to put on hold.

What is the best thing about being you?
Changing people's lives. Especially when people tell me things like they're not suicidal anymore or they're not self-harming anymore because of my message. The positive comments I get from parents about their children and what they learned from me—that's the main thing. That's what I live for.

I just want to thank you for the work you do. And I hope that you are part of this much-needed revolution that we need in this society.
I appreciate that so much. I live to break down stereotypes. I live to break down barriers. I was researching [recently] and [found out] I'm the only bearded lady that's been featured in Teen Vogue, and I want to work to pave the path for the next generation. There are so many other women who are going to have polycystic ovary syndrome and I want to be able to show them—regardless of what you look like [or] your disability or anything you have that's different on your body—[that] shouldn't stop you from achieving what you want to achieve.

 Follow Hillary Windsor on Twitter.