Focus Celebrates 10 Years of Bringing House Music to Orange County
The creators of Focus have spent the past 10 years carving a deep niche in OC's underground dance scene. But perhaps even more impressive than the dues they've paid are the ones they didn't have to, specifically to one superstar DJ before he got huge. "We've had some real special moments here," says Jose Tobar, who's better known as Focus resident DJ Nonfiction. That includes booking Kaskade for dirt cheap.
That was back in 2004. These days, the former San Clemente dweller commands around $200,000 per gig and is on Forbes Magazine's list of the world's highest-paid DJs. Years after breaking big, Kaskade (a.k.a. Ryan Raddon) is still known to hang at the club when he's looking to escape the massive scenes in Las Vegas and Miami. So what is it about this weekly club hosted in a tiny Spanish cantina that keeps him and scores of loyal revelers coming back?
Thanks to Focus founder Josh Billings and his longtime friends/resident DJs Wobs (a.k.a. Brian Wahlberg) and Nonfiction, the Tuesday-night club is now a place where world-renowned house artists—from Maya Jane Coles to Morgan Page—congregate when they want an intimate OC gig. On Tuesday, the EDM staple celebrates with a two-part anniversary party featuring back-to-back sets from its three core crate diggers, as well as a "very special surprise guest" for a faithful, sold-out crowd. (Don't ask us who; the Focus guys aren't saying anything.) But it'd be interesting to see if Kaskade—who is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his first album, It's You, It's Me—will give them another sweet discount for old times' sake.
When the club opened in 2003, before the term "EDM" entered our lexicon, the prospect of staying alive for a decade seemed improbable."I remember back in the day, we used to get a lot of LA people talking shit, saying there's no way that's going to last, but if you keep doing it for the right reasons, it starts to catch on," Wobs says. Nonfiction and Wobs joined the Focus team early on, recommended by then-resident DJ Doug Jordan. Apart from their skills, their passion for the music allowed them to persevere despite a crappy sound system and a venue tucked into a Newport Beach business plaza. As the genre has developed, so have the club and its clientele.
"For nine-and-a-half years, it's been this weird, quirky, underground crowd that doesn't really care about being cool, and now it's the hip thing," Billings says. The genre's popularity has grown, as evidenced by the amount of deep house and techno at the new Yuma tent at this year's Coachella, as well as the HARD Summer festival.
The trio has also come a long way since their days of overheated subwoofers and empty dance floors. "We did a show once where the power kept cutting out, and we kept having to turn off the breakers," Billings says. Today, the club has a top-of-the-line sound system, dim lighting, and a projector splashing endless color and laser-light visuals on the dance floor. But the music itself remains king—you won't find go-go dancers in neon booty shorts or bottle service. Ladies are still charged a cover at the door, weeding out the people who are just there for the scene, not the artists.
By taking such measures, Focus has cultivated a community that seems to get more devout every year. "Focus is an oasis for people," Billings says. "I've even been to weddings [for] people [who] actually first met here."
The plan is to keep the brand going for another five to 10 years. Billings, Nonfiction and Wobs have recently did a weekend show at the Yost, and they hope to occasionally go on the road to San Diego, LA and San Francisco.
But as far as permanently branching out of Focus' home venue, don't hold your breath. "It's like going to a house with white furniture, and then telling me to make myself at home," says Billings. "Normally, I would put my feet up on the couch, but it just doesn't feel comfortable."
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