From free to the sea: The growth of the Mad Decent Block Party
In 2008, Wesley Pentz obtained a cheap permit from the city of Philadelphia to host a block party outside of the music studio he owned, The Mausoleum. Wes, who is better known today as Diplo, invited his friends out to play a free party for anyone that wanted to come down. The attendees did not pay admission, and the artists were not paid to perform. The music ranged from rap to electro house to pop, and the grill was worked by a single freestyling burger flipper. With that, the first of many branded events had begun: The Mad Decent Block Party was born.
“That kind of set the tone – the aesthetic for what it has grown into,” says Andrew McInnes, head honcho of TMWRK Management and curator of the Mad Decent Block Party experience – and what an experience it has become. From that street corner in Philadelphia, the event has blossomed into a full-fledged traveling festival, complete with block party-stylized hospitality and taking over 22 North American cities… and one cruise ship. From the get-go It has been very clear – the Mad Decent Block Party is not a Diplo show, a Dillon Francis show, or a Flosstradamus show – it’s an experience. From Big Gigantic to Chance The Rapper, all the artists featured on the tour can carry shows on their own, but choose to roll with the Mad Decent crew instead for an event unlike any other.
While the scale may have changed, the goal of the event remains the same as it was in its inception: provide a fun and safe environment for friends and fans of Mad Decent to get together and enjoy the summer. “What’s going on onstage is what’s going on in the crowd – everyone’s just enjoying the summer with their friends” says McInnes, going on to explain that although the Mad Decent name is attached to the block party, there is certainly no label association requirement to play the show. As it has grown in popularity, the talent buyers for the operation have been afforded the opportunity to widen the scope of who may play the events. But, with Diplo playing a main role in the design of the lineups, you can be sure that acts that have previously been associated with the label’s head honcho will certainly be joining in on the fun. Future Classic and Fool’s Gold, amongst others are often referred to as Mad Decent’s “brothers in arms,” so it should come as no surprise to see acts like Flume and Run The Jewels visiting some cities with the traveling party.
Of course, in typical Mad Decent fashion, fans can expect to see some surprise performances and collaborations on stage. While McInnes remained tight lipped with details, he stated that Flosstradamus’ recent announcement that Wocka Flocka Flame would be joining them on select stops is just the beginning. From Dillstradamus to the Skrillex and Big Gigantic Superjam at Bonnaroo this year, the Mad Decent crew and their tightest friends always seem to have some treats in store – and they will certainly be present at the block party.
The roster is not the only part of the tour that has evolved to suit the increasing popularity of the event. Red Bull has designed two DJ booths specially for the show, and Mad Decent and TMWRK worked closely with them to ensure that the booths and stage production properly fit the Mad Decent Block Party vibe. Off the stage, every branded aspect of the party took careful planning and calculation. While the party’s growth brings a huge boost in fan outreach and participation, it also involves a great amount of coordination behind the scenes.
Mcinnes often looks to Warped Tour and Lollapalooza in the 90s as inspiration for the cultural effect of the Mad Decent Block Party. “Three years ago is when we realized that, culturally, we had something special on our hands. We talk a lot about what the Warped Tour meant in the 90s… it was a little bit of everything, a place to find new music, and to see a multi-genre lineup you can’t see anywhere else.” It is hard to debate the influence that the Mad Decent brand name has had on the current generation of electronic artists – Diplo’s taste has, in recent years, set the tone for what is to become popular in the American market, and it just so happens that a Mad Decent family member sits around the top of every mainstream genre. For that very reason, the block party packs an influential punch for genres from dubstep to rap, calling upon names from every corner of the musical market. The electro-heavy music remains, but hip-hop stars Action Bronson and Chance the Rapper represent just a small slice of the wide variety of musical offerings throughout the 22-stop tour.
The major strides that Mad Decent has taken in its event planning will surely translate to events across the pond. “We’re going to,” Mcinnes responds to the inquiry, keeping details under wraps about any international Mad Decent Block Parties. Following a successful run in South Africa in February of this year, the event will continue its natural growth, surely reaching those in both familiar and untapped electronic markets. Before making the trip overseas, though, the Mad Decent family is taking the party on the sea with the inaugural trip of the Mad Decent Boat Party. With the massive success that multiple Diplo-associated acts saw on HOLY SHIP! over the last few years, the team felt that there was market room for another party – maybe even one a bit different. The idea driving the Mad Decent Boat Party is a simple extension of the block party events; spread over four days of music on and off the boat, the experience provides fans with the opportunity to visit two tropical islands with their favorite artists. “We looked at the size of the block parties, and we decided we could probably convince 2000 of those people to get on a boat with us. We designed it to be the ultimate block party. If you’re really into Mad Decent, and you’re really into the block party, then you can come and immerse yourself in it for four days.” Working with Sixthman, the over-water concert provider of choice, the Mad Decent team will be completely decking out the boat to immerse fans in a branded experience. “Everything they let us touch or put a funny picture on… we’re embracing the opportunity to put a stamp on that boat.” Whether you’re hitting the beach with Treva the Anti-Racist or desperately trying to catch Trippy Turtle in a moment where he might actually reveal something about himself, the atmosphere of the boat party will simply be as Mad Decent-y as possible.
While the party now carries a slightly heavier price tag, fans take notice – before the incredibly consistent lineups were announced, tickets were available for every stop on the tour for only 25 dollars. Even with the undeniable power that each tour stop’s roster packs, the Mad Decent family still invites you to join them at a fraction of the price it would cost elsewhere: With today’s ticket price market, the face price of the Mad Decent Block Party gives a massive bang for your buck.
With two stops of the party behind us, 20 more and a boat celebration remain. Having already flexed its muscle in Florida and Georgia, the event and its crew look to conquer Washington, D.C. and Norfolk, Virginia this weekend. The Mad Decent Block Party has earned its rank amongst the top annual shows in the US market, and will soon earn that distinction elsewhere. Time to buy your ticket to the best block party you’ve ever been to.