Techno Tuesday: navigating the LA Underground, according to the stalwarts behind WORK & 6AM Group
Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
Throwing events in a saturated market—especially dance music—is risky business. On a large scale, we’ve already begun to see the festival bubble burst with many-an-event folding under lack of resources and ticket scales. Widespread gentrification and stricter, somewhat arbitrary laws work in tangent to shut down nightclubs that were safe havens for the genre and, in general, give promoters far more hoops to jump through when it comes to organizing an event. The result is stale, repetitive bookings due to promoters playing it safe, and often lackluster events.
Marco Sgalbazzini and Jia Wang, on the other hand, embrace risk. Through their companies 6AM Group and Synthetik, the two have quickly built a name for themselves in both the local and global scenes for their left field bookings and events that feel as close in proximity as possible to events one would find across the pond in hotspots like Berlin, London, and beyond. In fact, it’s their willingness to go against the grain that has led to their immense success over the past few years. Their bookings have earned them respect as a brand, while simultaneously putting LA on the map as a destination for proper, no-frills techno. Past events at their signature WORK Warehouse have included SHDW & Obscure Shape, Luke Slater, Rebekah, 999999999, and countless other forward-thinking artists currently changing the game in their respective arenas.
From the outside looking in, it’s difficult to see how Wang and Sgalbazzini have managed to be so successful. The truth of the matter is they’ve worked tirelessly to grow their brand from several organic, grassroots angles. Collaborations with potential competitors, honed-in social media marketing, and tapping into a wide network of friends and colleagues are never left off the table when it comes to throwing parties and their promotion. Now armed with their very own booking agency, Deviation (created with Andrew Souto), 6AM and Synthetik are already reaching to a level beyond the status quo, and their success is quite inspiring.
These two have quite a few lessons that surely other fledgling promoters can stand to learn. So, we nabbed them for our latest Techno Tuesday edition to dive deep into the mechanics of taking event-throwing risks that pay off, operating a venue, and more.
Before taking the dance music plunge, what were you doing before? What led to your decision to break into the music industry full time?
Marco: Well… I began working in the dance music industry while I was in college and honestly it was never meant to be a full time thing, and really it still isn’t — I work as the Social Media Marketing Manager for a few companies under the DownBeats umbrella. At some point in college in Chicago I was lucky enough to get an internship at DownBeats, while simultaneously being a very part time in-house promoter at Spybar and some other clubs in the city.
I moved to Los Angeles in Dec of 2015 and when that happened I sincerely planned to leave the promoting behind me, and effectively had. Then I saw an opening as a blogger for the 6AM site and applied, only with the interest of being somewhat involved with the local scene in a new city and keeping busy while searching for another 9-5 job, but never with the intention of doing more.
It wasn’t until October 2016 and a visit to Amsterdam Dance Event that I had somewhat of an epiphany and asked Jia to be more involved with the event side of events at 6AM. Everything sort of snowballed from there. Synthetik MInds, my own brand of events, and everything else I am involved with now came later. With that said, although people think I do the events full time, this is still a part-time thing for me, a passion project if you will, although the dream is of course for this to one day be a full time endeavor.
As Social Media Marketing Manager I run two blogs and a lot of other social media accounts, Yelp pages, mailing campaigns, etc for other companies and that takes a lot of my daytime hours. The rest of what I do, including being Editor of www.6amgroup.com, the WORK, Synthetik Minds and COMPOUND events, the 6AM services, Deviation Agency, etc, is on top of that.
JIA: I got into the electronic music world in Summer of 2006 but mainly just being a spectator and fan. I went to school for accounting and finance so I held jobs working as a financial analyst and eventually as an internal accounting staff for a small IT company when I moved to LA in 2008.
By holding onto that job for 9-years I was able to build 6AM on the side during evenings/weekends and was able to pursue this passion without having money being the root of why I am doing this. I’ve always felt bad for people who pursued this industry full-time without a strong foundation or clear plan to sustain this difficult journey. By the end of 2017, I decided to make the leap fulltime because I could no longer sit at my desk job and focus on any of that boring accounting work. It was a long time coming but the timing was ripe for me to finally make that jump. Let me make this clear, the struggle was (and still is) very real. Every day is a challenge when you don’t have a safety net besides your own conscious decision pushing things through, but so far no regrets whatsoever and I learn something new about life every day ever since making this decision to go all-in.
Give us a rundown of what each of your companies specializes in, and your role within each?
Marco: As I explained, I really only became a part of 6AM at the end of 2015, first as a blogger and then as Content Director for the entire site. As things progressed I became a partner at the company and assumed both roles of Events Director and Content Director, which I still hold to this day. The company runs like a start-up, we all have other jobs or hands in many other pies, if you will, so there’s flexibility on the duties we are responsible for… although I will say that I pretty much oversee the content, social media and event efforts of 6AM.
Synthetik Minds is a brand I started solo in 2017 as an effort to be a bit more involved with the events scene in LA on a personal level. Originally it was meant to be something small, a way for me to collaborate with “smaller” crews in LA that were doing some cool events here and there. I was broke at the time, living off little savings I had brought with me from serving tables in Chicago, and slept on a couch for a year and a half to use all the spare cash I could to begin this project. Honestly, that’s how it began, and it was only due to an unexpected turn of events that Synthetik MInds and 6AM’s WORK events brand began collaborating on bigger bookings and bigger events — it happened the first time for Ø [Phase]’s LA debut event in June of 2017 and it worked so well that we decided to keep going!
COMPOUND is a collaborative effort that sees Synthetik Minds and WORK by 6Am combine with our friends at INCOGNITO and Dirty Epic to throw bigger-scale events with larger production budget and lineups.
Then there’s Deviation Agency, the techno artist agency we launched last summer which Jia and I are a part of with Andrew Souto.
JIA: 6AM specializes in one thing and that is PROMOTIONS. It has been the bread and butter of everything we do and stand for since 2008. Simply put, we promote what we love and what we believe in which is the global electronic music industry. Our website and social media is a resemblance of that purpose and intent which is why we cover a wide range of artists, events, and music locally and globally to give everyone an equal chance of being heard… we really do try our best!
Though we have expanded our services in areas such as social media management and artist visa, at the end of the day I truly believe everything we do here at 6AM aims to promote the music and the industry we are a part of and to shine some positivity behind our brand messaging.
While I have held all positions within the company since day one, today I am truly grateful for the amazing team I have that literally runs 6AM, which allows me to oversee our entire operation between LA and Guam/Asia. As the “Working CEO” I still like to get my hands dirty (you can see me at 7am lugging supplies out from our events) but also understand the role I need to play to keep things intact. Most of my time is spent working “on” the business and not so much “in” the business which my team has a clear understanding of the difference and impact it has for 6AM.
How did your paths cross as promoters, and how have you both made each others’ operations stronger in the process?
Marco: Our paths didn’t really cross as promoters, but me applying to write blog articles for www.6amgroup.com. The promotion aspect of our work together came later when I asked Jia to be involved with WORK’s event bookings, and more in depth just over a year later when Synthetik Minds collaborated with 6AM on our first event together… the Phase one I mentioned earlier.
I would say that we both took our past experiences, mistakes and successful procedures and welded them to create what we have now. Naturally we weren’t completely clueless from the get-go, but we had a lot to learn for our first event together, and still do to this day. I have to say that I really enjoy working with Jia because we complement each other as business partners very well, and our connection extends beyond work to a true friendship. While he really has become my best friend, we are able to keep business separate and to hold each other accountable when it’s time to get things done.
JIA: My event experience working with Marco first stemmed from his involvement with helping out at our events, and after seeing his passion, work ethic, and general operational abilities it was a no-brainer decision when the opportunity presented itself for us to work in a closer dynamic. 6AM, as a company, was going through some very dark times during 2016/2017 that didn’t allow me to take on much financial risk and Marco was able to step in and truly become a event-partner to shoulder the risks involved in doing these events.
I always respect industry peers who put their $$ where their mouth is because this sh*t is hard and not cheap. I think through both of our experiences and our desire to do things as professional as possible we have really elevated the way we plan and execute our events. We hold each other accountable, never make excuses, stay positively stoic (laughs), and make the best of each event whether we win or lose. It is through this mindset and approach we instill onto each other and the team, that our events are starting to truly elevate both from an operational standpoint and attendance.
Marco: Jia is correct, there was a point where in order to make these events happen we truly had to sacrifice a lot. That period in 2016/2017 was tough for 6AM as a company, and was tough on us personally. I lived on a couch for a year and a half to begin to be able to afford even being a part of these events, sacrificing a lot of personal relationships and comfort in the process. I know the same was and still is for Jia and I to this day. I am not sure what idea those on the outside have of promoters like us in LA that do regular events, but it isn’t all glitz and glamour as it can be misunderstood to be.
You guys also seem to be linked with WORK. How does this company come into play, with your operation/bind your two operations together?
Marco: WORK is 6AM’s events brand, while Synthetik Minds is its own company. Essentially I oversee the bookings for both, but at times WORK will collab with other event partners, such as INCOGNITO, and Synthetik Minds will also do events with other partners such as Dirty Epic, or LA Structures. Then there are instances when we all collaborate for bigger night concepts… and that’s how COMPOUND and the soon-to-be-launched Deviation Events came to be.
JIA: As Marco mentioned, WORK is not a company but an event brand that falls under the umbrella of 6AM. In 2014 when I first conceptualized WORK I wanted our industry to realize how much effort (aka WORK) is actually involved in partying and putting together these parties. Everyone needs to put in some sort of “WORK’ in order to reap some form of reward…I don’t care what it is you do in life, nothing happens from doing nothing. People work their faces off to achieve what they want in this life.
The party scene, in general, is looked upon by mainstream society as a bunch of degenerates who want to do nothing but have fun, do drugs, and party. I wanted to promote something very different through our WORK events: if you want to have fun and party then go and WORK FOR IT! Tickets, Drinks, Substances, and just being out is NOT CHEAP at all. Partying is a privilege NOT a right (sorry Beastie Boys) – the moment we start claiming that getting fucked up is a right in society is when we start to see ENTITLEMENT behaviors in our industry or worse, people putting everything on the line to just party with no regards that leads to a dark path I wish no one ever has to go through.
Simply put, WORK is a brand message to the industry. When people attend our events, I want them to feel like they earned it because they hustled all-week and need this moment of escape to rejuvenate so they can continue to push forward whatever it is they are going through in life. When we work with partners, I want this brand to re-assure them that me and my team will WORK HARD to ensure we are the best (or one of the best) partners you will ever work with because we don’t mess around when it comes to getting down to business. We all gotta work hard to make these events happen and everyone will need to do their WORK in order for us to come have a good time during the weekends.
You recently moved into the agency space with Deviation. How did this idea come up, and what steps did you take to get off the ground? Have you learned anything new/interesting about being a booking agent in the process, and has this, in turn, helped your effectiveness as promoters?
Marco: Admittedly, the idea came from Andrew Souto of Dirty Epic. He had already been representing a lot of great artists in the States and saw an opportunity to build an agency and bring us on board. It’s been difficult to adjust to being an agent, but the experience as a promoter does pay off. Our goal is to be transparent as agents, and to work together with promoters and our artists to construct tours that are beneficial to all involved, but that first and foremost elevate local scenes throughout the North American territory, while increasing visibility for both our specific artists and techno in general throughout the States, Canada and Mexico.
As an agent I learned that not all promoters are as professional and easy to work with as I would like, and it has certainly made me think twice about the way I act as a promoter with other agents. Having experience on both sides definitely opened my eyes as to how the whole process works, and it has made me more understanding and patient regardless of the hat I am wearing in the booking process.
JIA: Andrew wanted to take his side-agency business to a new level and feel very honored and happy that he called upon Marco and myself to help him push this into a new direction. This is my first year playing on the agent side of things and I must say that I have so much respect for the work they do, because up until this point I have only been playing on the promoter side of things. This is definitely a big learning curve for me personally because being a (good) agent is really difficult, partly because, as Marco mentioned, not all promoters are as professional and attentive to details as others. I understand this is all part of the process in learning and growing so while it has been frustrating for me personally I know that with time, things will smooth out on its own.
What is your process for curating/booking talent at your shows?
Marco: There is no clear-cut answer to this. First and foremost I try to book artists I think are talented, artists who put out and play music that I respect and that the local Los Angeles scene will enjoy. I have always thought of a promoter as a taste-maker and educator, just like DJs are. Sure, I do book techno legends and big names, both because I respect their artistry as a fan, and because I know they may be in demand, but I also do my best to give space to up-and-coming talent both internationally, in the States and from LA.
We have been debuting a lot of artists at our events over the last year, including a ton of LA quality acts that have impressed us tremendously both through their professionalism and through their sets, whether Live or DJ. Some perfect examples of the latter are Komprezzor from Chicago, JGarrett from Vancouver, as well as Motionen, Mesme’, Tap Newo, Modus and Annika Wolfe from LA. There’s so much talent in this city, it’s crazy! All of these are just examples, and I am sure there are more, but I can tell you they played fantastic sets for us in support of some world-renowned talent, stepping up to the plate fantastically.
This doesn’t mean that I only book international artists I am personally the #1 fan of. Sometimes it’s about recognizing what your market wants and needs, as well as staying ahead of trends and booking artists that are on the come-up and deserve that recognition here in LA.
JIA: Since Marco and I generally have the same taste for Techno, I have given him my full trust in bringing artists to the table for me to review and mutually agree on the booking direction whether they are headliners or local support. Occasionally, I will pitch him options I think will work well and for him to keep an open mind on genres that don’t always resonate to “hard techno,” even though that’s really what we like to book but understand that there are other markets that need to be served and we also do enjoy music outside of the 134BPM floor-to-the-wall bangers (laughs)
I have been very happy with all of our booking selections and with each show, our relationships with artists and their agents grow so many times we will get pitched by them as well or ask to re-book them. As Marco mentioned, there isn’t a clear cut way we do bookings but rather a dynamic of things that get taken into consideration. Buying talent is no easy task, but it’s been amazing to develop personal relationships with artists and to see them wanting to return to play for us time and time again.
Are there any specific goals or milestones you hope to achieve in the next 5 years? 10?
Marco: That’s a tough one, as a lot hinges on what we are allowed to do.
Broadly speaking, I hope electronic music, and specifically techno, house and the more “underground” sounds if you will, can receive broader recognition in the States in the next 5 and 10 years. I know a lot of techno fans want the genre to remain purely underground, but then travel to Europe to attend ADE, Awakenings and other cool overseas festival and venues where techno has not only been clearly been accepted as part of local culture, but permitted to flourish, if not outright supported, thanks to local legislation and initiatives that allow for this to occur.
There is a level of hypocrisy on the matter which isn’t lost on me – I too want techno to remain pure and unadulterated, and I want events to be safe spaces filled with 100% well-behaved crowds. But I do truly believe that we are on the threshold to something bigger for the music we love, and that if we work together, patiently, to educate and improve things, we can find ourselves to be a part of a fantastic local music scene in Los Angeles, and beyond.
I do recognize that local and State restrictions make it hard to accomplish what we want in Los Angeles, and that’s also something that is sometimes not brought into the equation when criticizing the work some promoters (including ourselves) do in the local community. I think there are a lot of great people working their asses off to bring quality music to LA, sacrificing a lot on a personal level despite all the stops and barriers thrown at us by local legislation.
At first it used to trouble me when I saw these efforts become the subject of unjust and unconstructive criticism and personal vilification, rather than supported. Let’s be honest… no one is perfect, including myself and our events, but we do what we do because we absolutely love the music and anyone who thinks otherwise is unfortunately misguided. We are constantly looking at way of improving things, while also providing memorable music experiences to people in this city and sacrificing a lot personally to make these nights happen.
With that said, in the next 5-10 years I hope to be able to improve the way we do events, and to continue to educate our crowd on what it means to be a part of this movement. Naturally, I hope that our events can constantly improve as a result, both from an experiential standpoint as well as for the good they can do for the local community. We have already been taking some good steps with regards to this, including working with local charities that we don’t broadly post about, but the effort can and should only be increased in the years to come.
I also hope to continue to push the ethos of collaboration, and the notion that working together is the only way to improve things, rather than getting lost on social media antics that do nothing but divide our local community. I hope to be able to continue to foster relationships with local officials, promoters, collectives and artists that are married to these same goals and ideals, so that the underground electronic music scene in this country can continue to grow.
Our goal is NOT for events to be bigger, but for events to be better. Our goal is to elevate the experiences we provide and to one day work with the City of Los Angeles itself to underscore the power and beauty of techno and other electronic music genres, as well as the rich musical history of this city. I know it may seem far-fetched as a concept, but I truly believe it’s doable in five years… and later this year I hope you will already see the first stepping stones towards achieving this.
If you asked me whether I believe we could one day have similar events in this country as the Europeans enjoy overseas my answer is yes. I do believe it’s possible. I do believe it will take a lot of work, and that we must find our own identity through this process, but if we are just talking about the scale, appreciation and growth of this culture, this phenomenon that was born in this country then yes, not only does it deserve to grow, but it can… and if we put our petty differences and politics aside, I think it will.
JIA: For 6AM, our long term goal is to champion the Electronic Music industry meaning we are making a positive impact on our scene and for the people (both industry pros/artists and fans) using MUSIC and Event Experience as the medium to motivate and inspire everyone that we come across. How do we do this one might ask? Marco pretty much answered it in full detail above with respect to events, and with the ever-growing platform that is 6AM, we hope to be able to use our channel to elevate everyone in our industry who is willing to put in the work.
For me personally, I want 6AM to be at a point where we are able to fully employ people. As much as we started this as a hobby-passion, there are people on my team who have fully dedicated their lives to this and I have always felt a sense of responsibility to not just make this my full-time thing but a full-time thing for my entire team. We are almost 1/2 way there and I think within the next 5-10 years we should be able to manifest this into reality.
Quoting my favorite hip-hop artist at the moment, J.Cole (slightly edited for appropriation)
“What good is the bread if my homies are broke?
What good is first class if my homies can’t sit?
That’s my next mission, that’s why I can’t quit”
(laughs) Yep I just quoted a hip-hop lyric on Dancing Astronaut!
Can you explain why collaborations between promoters are so vital in our current events sphere, especially when it comes to say, booking ‘riskier’ talent?
Marco: (laughs) I have been hammering at this for a long, long time. Working together is the only way to improve things on a narrow and broader scale. We are never going to change the way the “outsiders” view techno and electronic music unless we are united. We are never going to be able to foster a healthy nightlife scene for Los Angeles unless we are united.
I didn’t used to always thing this way, and in the past I did hold an “us versus them” theory with regards to the “underground versus the mainstream,” but with my years of experience in this field I have learned that that viewpoint was narrow-minded and wrong. It may seem “cool” at first but does nothing to actually build and improve any local scene. In fact, it hinders progress.
Simply put: I love this music and want to share the feelings I experience on the dance floor to countless more. That’s why we do what we do. If you feel the same and are on board then let’s work together! If you feel only a select few/several hundred deserve to be introduced to techno in Los Angeles and the rest shouldn’t, then we can agree to disagree and we should go our own ways… no harm, no foul!
JIA: Before I got into the music industry, team sports, basketball in particular, were my entire life, so working together and collaboration is ingrained in my soul. I prefer to work with others than do it solo… it’s why 6AM over the past 11 years has ALWAYS had more than 3-4 people involved at any given moment because I knew since Day 1 that I wasn’t gonna be able to do this alone just like how no one wins basketball games playing 1 vs. 5
T.E.A.M. –> Together Everyone Achieves MORE – end of ball game. The same applies to why we formed Compound, Deviation, my no-brainer decision to work with Incognito, Synthetik Minds, Dirty Epic and Madhouse, and my pursuit to always consider new faces into 6AM!
Collaboration and partnership is what’s going to take the ENTIRE industry to the next level. Anyone who argues against this notion will not make it in the long run.
This leads into your COMPOUND events. Can you give readers who aren’t in the know a rundown of these events, and the process behind organizing them and finding good partners to work with?
Marco: We decided to do COMPOUND as a direct result of the above belief on the importance of collaboration. The partners behind COMPOUND work together on other partnership events throughout the year, but we realized that to do something better and bigger we had to work together, to pool all our experiences, know-how and skills into organizing these events.
To answer your question, the partners for COMPOUND are always the same. We adopt a “divide-and-conquer” approach to what it takes to putting these events together, recognizing that each of the partners involved may have better skill sets in certain fields, as well as different connections with vendors, agents, etc to put these events together.
That’s what COMPOUND is: getting together for the love of techno, to build something bigger and better so that we can spread this message and this music to more people.
JIA: This partnership formed organically over the years through many levels of collaborations in the past. Whenever you bring in more than a few cooks into the kitchen there needs to be an assessment on personality and working style. We focus on our strengths, flush out any dramas immediately, while constantly remind each other WHY we are doing this. Open communication is the key in all partnerships and I think this is one area we are constantly improving on to ensure each event is at the level we want to produce. COMPOUND has been an amazing experience for me personally, and one of the projects I am most excited to push forward in the next 2-3 years!
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as promoters?
Marco: To be honest, it’s the same challenge any business deals with… scaling! Throwing a 100-300 capacity event is hard as it is, but when those numbers begin multiplying so does the work required, the attention to detail, and much more. It hasn’t been easy to deal with larger nights, and at times we could do better, but I do believe we have a very, very solid team that works very hard to improve our performances event after event.
I think at times the understanding of what it takes to throw some of these bigger events is lost on some people. As a promoter, I would love to be everywhere during one of my events, able to see everything and resolve any hiccups, and to be able to control every single attendee to ensure perfect behavior. It’s unfortunately impossible, and it’s unfortunately unviable to adopt a Berghain-type door policy for what we do. I have been to ADE and encountered shitty crowd behavior, same with many of other European countries including the UK, Italy, France and yes, even Germany. It happens and as events get bigger, the chance of this happening does increase and it can be a struggle for promoters like us whose hearts sink the moment we hear one attendee had a bad experience out of hundreds on the dance floor.
All I can say is that I encourage anyone that comes to our events to work WITH us to improve things. Please do alert us about anything that needs resolution and I promise I will personally do my best to take care of it right there and then, and the same goes for the rest of our staff.
Here is an example: we have been cracking down on camera flash use, as it’s an obvious disturbance in a dark music event setting. Rather than writing a tweet complaining about someone using a flash without even directing the tweet at myself or any of our event accounts, why not send us a Direct Message about what is going on, or better yet contact one of us in person? That will actually enable us to respond back, locate the issue and resolve it. Trust me… not only have I already been doing so, finding random tweets and contacting the person to assist, but there is nothing I would rather do at one of my own nights than to do everything I can to ensure that attendees have a great experience.
So yeah, scaling is a challenge but it is especially so when Jia and I really care about making every night as smooth as possible for all attendees!
JIA: Completely agree with Marco’s sentiments and I would go on to add that maintaining a healthy relationship with some of our biggest supporters and industry peers is one I find challenging. Everyone who knows me and goes to our events knows the “Jia face” and it’s not that I am not happy or having fun but the stress/anxiety that comes with throwing the shows we do makes it difficult for me to actively engage and, sometimes, appreciate the very people who make all of this possible…OUR ATTENDEES.
With a hundred things happening at once, sometimes I feel bad that I didn’t even take one or two seconds to say hello, even though I was very busy at the time. Maybe I am overthinking this a bit, but it’s something I always reflect on when everything is over and I’m sitting quietly in my room. I try to make a conscious effort to thank the team as well as the key supporters who are always bringing in good people and good vibes that make our event successful.
As a promoter, we’re never going to make everyone happy so I try to not focus too much on the negativity (if any) and only give my attention to the positive. That is not to say that if something negative happens to one of our event attendees (knocks on wood), we don’t address that situation and turn the other cheek! We definitely do handle it as professionally as possible so just wanted to make this part clear!
On that note, what are some common mistakes that beginner promoters should avoid when throwing their own parties?
JIA: Managing expectations… I think for the most part, every new promoter comes in with an upbeat and “glass-half-full” mentality, which is GREAT don’t get me wrong, but I think too many new promoters (including myself in the early days) have this unrealistic expectation for their events just because they see other parties popping off.
No two events are the same: even if you book the EXACT same lineup as another busy party it may not yield the same results for your own.
Most promoters start doing events with one intent and that is so they can book themselves to play, and while that is OK to do, I want to warn people to not let their own ego inflate the purpose of why they’re doing events. Don’t make this only about YOU, it shouldn’t be… ever!
Having good sound is key, never skimp on putting extra $$ on sound. It makes or breaks an event and one of the most common rookie mistakes we see and yes, I have made that mistake in the past
One of the best advice that was ever given to me was from Craig Pettigrew (BPM Festival) in what I like to call the “Max capacity rule”. Example, if you know you can only bring 100 people to your party, book a venue that only holds 80, if you know you can only bring 50 people then book a venue that only holds 40. You want your first event to build energy and the quickest way you’re able to do that is to pack the place out regardless if 1,000 people show up or 100 people show up, the goal is to build steam! I believe this was the approach he did with BPM where it started as a boutique festival that is now a global brand in the festival circuit.
I never really thanked him personally for that one advice so doing it now “THANK YOU CRAIG! Hope to see you around soon!”
Marco: Jia covered some very good points. One of the key mistakes I made early in my “career” in this industry, back in Chicago, was in partnering with the wrong people. Having a good partner that you can trust, rely on and with whom you can work together well is extremely important.
You will not always get along, but the way you resolve problems and conflicts will give you an idea of whether the partnership can and will work. I have seen a lot of shady things in this industry and I am owed a lot of money that was effectively stolen from me, but perhaps the worst thing I have observed is a partner who puts their personal agenda above that of the party, the event brand, the company, or what have you.
It happens often in business, and in this industry too, that a business partner is someone in your family, a best friend, a boyfriend/girlfriend or even your spouse, and while that can be fantastic, it can also be easy to lose sight of the company’s good in favor of one’s own personal agenda.
No matter what you do, strive to keep personal issues and company/business issues separate. That leads me to bring up social media: If you’re an event promoter, a DJ, a producer, a venue owner, or hold any position of relevance in this industry, burning bridges on social media or posting self-inflammatory content can be a surefire way to say goodbye to your career. Think before you type.
You guys have your web promotion game on lock, actively posting ads in group in creative and engaging ways. Can you pass on some of your tips & tricks for effective promotion campaigns online, and where you see online advertising moving to in the future with the current changes in algorithms, etc in social networks?
Marco: (laughs) Well people say we promote too much! All we do is try to find creative ways to promote our events, rather than just post a flyer and lineup and ticket link over and over. That’s why I post meme, funny stuff, and tie it back to the events we do. We use a mailing list that is ONLY comprised of e-mails from people who have bought a ticket from us in the past, or entered a ticket giveaway – that is not mass promotion in my eyes, but targeted promotion, letting past attendees know of forthcoming events.
I feel that some people have an “adverse” reaction to social media and promotion on it. They think it’s “not cool” or “not underground,” but we live in 2019 and social media is just a simple tool that can be effective if you understand it and use it well. It’s not complicated at all, it’s all about putting out smart content and understanding what each social network’s algorithm is focusing on, and using that to your advantage.
This is Los Angeles, a city of over 4 million people alone… and that is without counting people in nearby counties. Do the math!
I have seen people criticize the size of a 500 capacity techno show as too big or over-promoted, but how miniscule is that number really? It’s tiny! It’s nothing.. it’s really a drop in the ocean. It makes no sense to me.
JIA: (laughs) Couldn’t agree more, I like to add in the fact, or reminder from above, that 6AM is a PROMOTIONS company. I promote what I love and believe in with no shame whatsoever and I do find it a bit hypocritical that the very people who are complaining about social media are using SOCIAL MEDIA to complain…. they should just complain about it by writing on a piece of paper or brick wall! (laughs) Ok I kid but you get the point. Complaining about something that is inevitable instead of finding solutions is a big epidemic within our industry.
But to answer your question, content is king. Whether it’s memes, quotes, or music; content drives everything. With approach in promotions, people nowadays don’t like to be sold to, so finding a balance between organic promos and paid-advertising is crucial. We only do paid ads to a very targeted audience who we know WILL APPRECIATE the event info popping up as a reminder to catch their favorite techno acts when they are in town. With the advancement in targeting and segmenting, the future of promotions and ads are only niching down deeper into the rabbit hole. Those who understand their audience persona are the ones that are going to be able to get their message and content across with a bigger impact.
For those who want to go the organic route, build an AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY around your brand and speak your truth and be real as fuck. It’s working for us and have worked for others as well, don’t be scared to be who you are online and offline!
Now let’s think happy thoughts – what are some of your favorite moments you’ve seen together as a team? Who’s thrown down some particularly memorable sets in the past few years?
Marco: Oh wow… too many to count. Now I know how it feels when I ask similar questions to other artists and promoters (laughs).
Some memorable moments include our first show together with Ø [Phase], the first time Speedy J played for us was insane… what a crazy night, as were the first COMPOUND with Perc/Headless Horseman as well as subsequent ones with DVS1/Terrence Fixmer and Stroboscopic Artefacts. But now that I think about all the nights we shared there were soooo many other great ones, like FJAAK and Etapp Kyle, 999999999’s unexpected madness, the Synthetik Minds 2 year anniversary with the one and only Luke Slater… I could go on and on.
JIA: We do Electric Island Festival (EIF) in Guam each year since 2013 more on the mainstream side, and being able to launch and operate a 3-4K event for 6 consecutive years is something I do not take for granted. The feeling of accomplishing that is one of my favorite moments with the team. Though not all of the LA team goes to Guam for EIF, most of them have experienced working as part of that team. It is through that festival, did we become the company we are today. All of our pains, gains, and learning experience stems from this single festival 6,000 miles away from our LA HQ.
Seeing Marco’s Synthetik Minds brand take off to where it is now has been quite the ride and seeing some of his struggles along the way has been eye-opening for sure. The first event we did together with Ø [Phase] is what set the tone for where we are today with respect to our LA events
Launching our first COMPOUND and packing out a warehouse via Speedy J are two events that will remain in a special place in my heart. These two events were the gateway for us to really believe in ourselves to take things to the next level.
What’s next for 6AM/Synthetik Minds?
Marco: We have some great nights coming up including our debut Deviation Events night in May with a stacked lineup, as well as some dope acts rolling through LA, some for the first time.
I will disclose some for those who took the time to read through this entire interview (thank you!): SHDW & Obscure Shape’s LA debut, Oscar Mulero, Randomer & Clouds as Headstrong for the first time in the States, a 4 hour DJ Pierre acid set, a MORD showcase, UVB and Manni Dee, the return of Insolate and SNTS… and that’s just the confirmed ones for the moment.
We hope you’re ready LA, we can’t wait to keep improving these nights while bringing artists we truly love to a city we feel deserves all of this… and more!
But beyond the names, I want to sit down and work hard with our team on an effective plan to elevate the experiences these nights provide. We have some ideas already and it’s time to set them in motion!
JIA: Asides from producing events under WORK, Compound, Deviation, and EIF in Guam as well as continuing our quest to champion the industry, I feel like the next step for 6AM particularly is the brand message we want to continue hacking away towards this scene. People are putting a great deal of emphasis on pursuing their life passion and doing whatever it takes to get there so we like to serve as a medium that continuously supports the aspiration of ALL industry people (artists and professionals).
I don’t think anyone is fully taking that step to act as a BIG BROTHER/Coach/Mentor for the community and all I want is to do whatever we can to help ease the anxiety, stress, and mental strain that comes along with pursuing this industry and going through their own journey. I want to use 6AM’s platform and messaging to bring self-awareness so that everyone who is dedicating their life towards this path can find passion, purpose, and intent in all that they do. This is what I am most excited about what’s next for 6AM!