EDM Festivals a Gateway to Nightclub DJ Talent

A recent article in the New York Times spoke of the great financial success electronic dance music (EDM) festivals currently are enjoying. The EDM explosion has turned DJs into rock stars, who now are commanding nightclub residency fees of $10 million and seven-figure festival fees. According to the Times, billionaire investors are getting behind these mini-Woodstocks with hopes of cashing in on the craze. New York’s upcoming electronic-music festival, Electric Zoo, recently announced Phase 1 of its Labor Day Weekend lineup; it contains the usual suspects — David Guetta, Axwell and Tiësto — and many, many more. (For the full list, click here.)

Besides selling booze, booths and bottle service, the club scene has created a cottage industry, becoming the proving grounds for DJs and promotional talent. Nightclubs now are cashing in on this new gold mine — the fame and frenzy created at EDM festivals like Electric Zoo.

Electric Zoo

Electric Zoo. Photo courtesy of Bennett Sell-Kline for ElectricZooFestival.com.

EDM-festival production company Made Event launched the first Electric Zoo in 2009. Made Event co-founders Mike Bindra and Laura De Palma sat down to tell me all about it.

Nightclub Confidential (NCC): Phase 1 of Electric Zoo was just announced. Tell me how the "phases" roll out. When did you start signing people on?

Made Event (ME): We started the booking process months ago. Each year, we roll out the phases a bit differently, but usually we try and announce the headliners — or most of them — first. That said, Phase II will have a lot of exciting names!

NCC: The common mantra is that DJs are the new rock stars, and we all know how rock stars behave! Is the "rock star" DJ world filled with bad boys and littered with trashed hotel rooms?   

ME: No, thankfully it doesn't seem to be that way in this genre. Electronic dance music has been a long time coming in the United States, in terms of being legitimized; a lot of the DJs have been plugging away for years to become successful — they're professionals. Who knows, though? With the recent meteoric rise of dance music and with that the quick rise of “stars,” we could see some of that in the future. We hope not though!

NCC: The Electric Zoo lineup so far features Tiesto, David Guetta, Steve Aoki, Sasha, Bloody Beetroots and dozens of others. How is billing determined, and how are egos soothed?

ME: That is always the hardest part about booking the festival. If billing were abolished, booking Electric Zoo would be a cakewalk.

NCC: Tell me about the different areas in which performances will take place. Is that the right word — performance? 

ME: Yes, performance is certainly the right word now for a DJ set. It is much more visual than it has been in years past. The lights, video, etc., but even the DJs are compelled to give a kind of “show” — all eyes are on them, as it is in the live music world. This year there will be a Main Stage, which is open air, and three huge tents.  In general, we try to mix it up and not focus one sub-genre solely in one tent or the other for the entire three days as we want the festival-goers to move around and experience the festival as a whole. This year we are introducing more artist-branded tents: Above & Beyond's “Group Therapy,” Steve Aoki's “Dim Mak” and Luciano's “Vagabundos,” which will be added fun.

NCC: Will there eventually be a Woodstock-level electronic music event in the United States?

ME: The time is probably very near for that prospect. But there is something to be said about an “intimate” festival of 50,000.

Electric Zoo

Electric Zoo. Photo courtesy of Scott Kowalchyk for ElectricZooFestival.com.

NCC: You must be besieged by agents and management types pitching their lesser-known DJs. How is the cut made?

ME: Yes, we are. The cut is made by doing a lot of research, by asking the fans. And sometimes we slip one in there just for us!

NCC: I don't see an area for mixed-format DJs. Surely this is a legitimate genre with clubs all over the world embracing this music. Are electronic festivals snobbish toward mixed format DJs?

ME: DJ Snoopadelic played mixed format last year at Electric Zoo!

NCC: When will you sleep again? 

ME: We are still able to sleep at the moment; summer is when it ramps up, when the production is in full swing. That's when sleep becomes valuable. 

NCC: What else are you working on? 

ME: At the moment, we are working on our new summer series, “Summer of Gov,” which will be Saturdays all summer long on Governors Island. Some of the artists doing events in this series are Benny Benassi, Laidback Luke, Robbie Rivera... Stay tuned for more info coming soon!

NCC: How does Electric Zoo differentiate itself in the marketplace with so many festivals out there? 

ME: For one, we are in the middle of one of the greatest cities in the world. Musically, our focus is on bringing together all of the sub-genres of electronic music. In the past, there has been a lot of segregation between styles, but that certainly has lessened a bit with the new generation of EDM fans. It's great to see people “crossing-over” into styles less familiar to them. We are also focused on the festival experience outside of the music, in all the details really. It's all ages, and we like to see families as well as masses of young people there to have a good time at the park. Great food, convenient transportation on and off the island, organized and fast lines and fan safety are all of the things that enhance the fan experience.

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