Why Is It So Frustrating to Be a Local DJ in OC?
MAKJ at Yost Theater
Courtesy of Jeff Allen
While the rest of the EDM world is in South Beach celebrating Miami Music Week and the 16th Annual Ultra Music Festival this weekend, we're stuck here in OC trying desperately to stay off social media with envy. With the explosion of dance music the past several years and the shift from open format to the banging basslines of dance music at most major clubs, Orange County has been involved in this transition for almost half a decade now. But what does it really mean for local DJs who have been playing electronic music for years and trying to make it big to the new guys hopping on the EDM train? We talked to some local promoters and DJs to find out what it's really like to play in OC and open for artist like Tiësto and Gareth Emery with dreams of events like Ultra and EDC.
From Focus Tuesday's in Newport Beach who just celebrated their 10 year anniversary in 2013 for bringing deep house to OC to Sutra who partnered with mega festival promoters Insomniac to bring EDM every Thursday, for the past several years the electronic music scene has been thriving here. "Well it's kind of funny how trends have worked out, but I feel OC is constantly playing catch-up. LA and SD have always been trendsetters with companies like Giant, LED and Eventvibe," says Alex "Precept" Castro. "A lot of it is about who you know, the relationship you have with people, how good and dependable you are. But with OC it's a lot more about how many people you can bring. To be honest I've never really been asked to bring a certain amount of people elsewhere."
In a recent DJ competition held at Sutra judging was based on a scale of 1-10 in three categories; music selection, transitions and crowd energy. Then a bonus point for every attendee mentioning the DJs name at the door and five points for every bottle service table they booked. Seems more like the finalists were based on how high their "following" was at the event and not how well they DJ. "If you're a local DJ in OC and a promoter asks you what's your pull I know the gut reaction is 'WTF.' But at the end of the day can you really blame them?" says Scott Land (½ of DJ Slander). "I might get shit for saying this but everyone's gotta eat and if you're a promoter and hosting multiple shows a week you want as many people going through the doors because that's how you make a living."
Which leads to another interesting question. Are clubs and venues booking artist based on talent or because the world class DJs can pack a club and sell bottles? "Companies like LED, Dim Mak and Control Fridays at Avalon are booking new artist and setting trends. While a lot of OC venues play it safe and follow trends," says Precept. "You have some select people making moves, trying to book different shows and new names like Kedd Cook with the deep house stuff and White Rabbit with electro and bass music." Sure safe may be fiscally responsible, but for the overall club culture in OC it can get pretty tired seeing the same names recycled every couple of months. "There's a reason why Avalon in Hollywood rates in the top 100 clubs year after year," says Kevin Tran from OC's Trilogy Events.
Avalon was bringing in huge trance DJs at a time when it wasn't necessarily popular as well as opened doors for big dubstep, trap and electro shows on Fridays when no one was willing to take that risk. So how does a local OC DJ make it big playing gigs in LA and all around the world like our hometown heroesNorin & Rad
? "The scene is so big now and going to continue to grow that I think it takes more than just being a DJ to make it. Producing music and creating your own sound is key," says Tran. "Take our MAKJ show. We had Henry Fong open for him at a time when not many people knew who he was and look at him now. He's blowing up." This notoriety also came from a move to LA and big name artist playing Fong's music.
So must all local guys escape OC for new horizons if they want super stardoom? "Being humble and able to rock a room without overstepping boundaries like a good opener should is something I feel is lost now. Everyone wants to be a star overnight and we forget why we do this in the process," says Precept. "I see people coming up that have put in work like Bones, TJR, Henry Fong, Dillon Francis and Skrillex who used to play side rooms with me. If you're heart is in it for the right reasons and you're cut out for it you will make it." So can we please go back to keeping things fun, sexy and about making people dance? The last thing we want is for EDM to continue to sound alike and for dance music to be a popularity contest and fall off like the rock scene.
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