LED Goes Big in California with New Business Model for Raves

LED Festival III Anniversary Party

Adam Reiter

Running three sold-out events in three markets on the same day with many of the same artists jetting from city to city to play more than one party is a rare achievement. San Diego-based LED Events hopes to make it an annual tradition. Last month during the typically low-key President’s Day Weekend, the promoters celebrated their fifth anniversary with same-day events on February 16 in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

“We just knew four years ago when we first did our big event that this was a sleeper weekend that we kind of stumbled on,” LED’s Johnny Shockey explains. “We thought, let’s use the same artists and let’s do a California takeover.”

Traveling to multiple cities for multiple performances in a single night isn’t a new concept. Artists like Tiësto, Deadmau5 and others do it, particularly on New Year’s Eve, where they can command impressive fees by doubling up their DJing commitments for the night. What makes LED’s multi-city venture so unique is that they did it with lesser-known artists and still sold out each of their three events.

“I remember Carl Cox doing the New Year’s thing, playing three cities,” says DJ/producer TJR who played both San Francisco and Los Angeles. “I’m not doing L.A. to Australia or something crazy but it was a cool moment.”

Laidback Luke also played both S.F. and L.A. while Showtek and Ummet Ozcan went between L.A. and San Diego. Adventure Club made the biggest trek, playing both S.F. and S.D. Other artists, Henry Fong, Firebeatz, Chuckie, Pegboard Nerds among them, rounded out the lineups but played only one city each.

“We can all agree that we’re not at Tiësto level,” Adventure Club’s Christian Srigley joked about his group’s travel. “You can be at a lot of levels and still not be at Tiësto level.”

“I don’t think our strength is in big headliners,” Shockey affirms. “Our strength is in a lot of really great support artists and building brands up and letting the brand speak for itself.”

The numbers speak for themselves. The S.F. and L.A. shows, both branded as “Finger Lickin’” parties both sold out with around 5000 tickets at the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion and Shrine Expo Hall, respectively. In San Diego, where the official anniversary party was held, 10,000 fans packed the San Diego Sports Arena until the music stopped at 4am.

That San Diego – the smallest of the big three markets in California – has become a stronghold for LED is not lost on the promoters. In fact, their success there has emboldened Shockey to take his company’s brand of rollicking EDM parties to other underserved cities.

“I’m getting people hitting me up who own other arenas asking me, ‘Hey, I hear what you’re doing in San Diego you should come do it in Victoria, B.C., or Spokane,’” he says. “You have people from Boise, Idaho that go to Vegas. They go and they hear Calvin Harris and they hear Deadmau5 and they know who these guys are. Do they know some of the artists that are playing some of our other brands? Maybe, maybe not, but they’re looking for something.”

Since AEG’s Goldenvoice bought into LED last fall, the San Diego promoters have had the opportunity to expand where they do their events and what kind of events they do. While some venue owners might be resistant to hosting a rave, the confidence that AEG/Goldenvoice backing provides can literally open some doors.

“To be honest, they’ve just trusted us,” Shockey says of his new Goldenvoice partners. “The day that we met with them, I just knew that this was the right fit for us, even though we were talking to other guys and other companies. It was just one of those things where we felt like everybody else’s dance card was already full. They already had key players in the dance music scene that were going to take precedent. For us, we felt like there was a blank canvas at Goldenvoice to help build some really great events.

Of course, the question remains as to how much involvement LED will have with Goldenvoice’s flagship event, Coachella. While the April festival has always featured several stages of dance music, they have in recent years suffered somewhat of a credibility problem amid the American EDM explosion, not to mention competition from radius clauses imposed by Las Vegas residencies and Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnival in June. While they impact LED events as well, problems like radius clauses don’t intimidate Shockey.

“The wonderful thing about dance music and DJs is that every month there’s a new artist to work with,” he says. “It’s physically impossible to eat up all the talent, even if you wanted to. There are so many gaps and so many guys are still available. Maybe one artist doesn’t sell 6000 tickets but five collectively can.”

As the increasingly crowded festival calendar dominates major markets in the U.S., the LED model just might be the key to unlocking the future of EDM’s continued growth.