If you weren’t aware of the controversy and utter chaos surrounding Billy McFarland’s failed event Fyre Festival when it happened (or didn’t happen) in 2017, you almost certainly caught up when it became the subject of two documentaries on Netflix and Hulu earlier this year. In summary, everyone was promised a luxurious party in the Bahamas surrounded by supermodels, and paid a hefty ticket price for the privilege, but the reality was complete chaos. While festival-goers were left eating sad cheese sandwiches in disaster relief tents (if they were lucky), the organisers also left a trail of many “collaborators”, including London and Liverpool-based digital design agency Tokyo#, unpaid for their work.
The studio was originally brought in by New York creative agency Matte Projects, which had already developed the branding, film work and social media strategy for Fyre and approached Tokyo to be its digital partner, following a number of previous collaborations. Tokyo had established a reputation for itself in the luxury sector since starting work with Harrods in 2015, and Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Emirates and Annabel’s since then, so it was perfectly aligned to work on Fyre, as it was pitched as the pinnacle of high-end. Tasked to develop the website and hosting platform, Tokyo’s main challenge from Fyre was to prepare for an onslaught of visitors.
“The nuts and bolts of the website itself wasn’t a huge undertaking and we’ve developed much bigger and more complex projects than Fyre,” Tokyo director Aaron Bimpson tells It’s Nice That. “We were told the website was expected to get millions of hits on day one and we were like ‘yeah whatever, everyone says this’ – but we had to plan for it anyway. It’s a good job we did, because it did indeed get battered for days with global media and A-lister influencers sending traffic our way.” It calmed down, but when everything went south a few weeks later, the site got another huge spike of traffic “for less enviable reasons,” Aaron says.
From a creative point of view, Tokyo had to mirror Matte’s luxurious branding in its digital work. One key aspect of this was showcasing the launch film in full-screen on the mobile-first site, immersing potential ticket-buyers in the promise of absolute paradise. The rest of the site is pared-back, serene, aspirational, packed with shots of sunsets, jewel-blue seas, illustrated maps of the remote island – all painting a picture of the imagined event.
Meanwhile, in the background, the site was built to be able to scale up “just in case the client delivered on their promise of millions of hits,” says Aaron. It was backed on to CraftCMS and Tokyo developed a “super-complex” AMS (Amazon Web Services) cloud solution to prepare for this. Then, in the first three hours, the Fyre site had over 6 million hits with zero downtime. “On one hand we were happy the site got hammered because it bravely stood up to the intense traffic levels without any noticeable slow down at all and it made us look good,” explains Aaron. “On the other hand, we had stupidly hosted it on Tokyo’s own AWS account and capped the fees, so we were sweating watching our billings increase in real-time. We probably won’t do that again!”
The rest is history, as documented in painful detail in the aforementioned documentaries. Aaron remembers the unravelling from his and Tokyo’s perspective: “The project started out fine – a very normal process, the initial payments on time, responsive client feedback and so on. It got weird for us at the same time as for everyone else really after the site had already been live several weeks and just before the festival was due to start.”
“We saw reports that bands were pulling out due to non-payment and lacking confidence in facilities and it snowballed very, very quickly. We had payments outstanding and so were feeling a bit nervous, so we threatened to take the site down. After we made the threat, the client quickly spun up a new/rushed website and switched their domain DNS away from us – we got no more payments after that.” Now, all the studio can do is chalk it up as experience, and exposure, and move on.