Top dance-music agency AM Only is backing the first North American tour of UKF, the brand name of the popular British drum 'n' bass/dubstep YouTube channels, starting March 1.
The UKF Dubstep channel on YouTube, owned and operated by U.K.-based AEI Media, has recorded more than 586 million views since its 2009 launch. And its sister channel UKF Drum&Bass has garnered 186.4 million views.
Now, AM Only, where president Paul Morris was recently named one of Billboard's "most influential EDM business executives," is managing the inaugural UKF Spring Tour 2012, which is taking two UKF YouTube stars Gemini and KOAN Sound to 30-plus U.S. and Canadian cities.
AM Only and London-based AEI Media, the multi-platform digital-music and marketing company, believe the tour's timing is ideal as drum 'n' bass, dubstep and other U.K.-originated underground electronic genres are grabbing international mainstream attention, especially in the U.S.
"The time is ripe because the new generation of kids listening to this music are looking for their icons. They're searching for the artists that they will listen to now and 20 years from now," Morris tells Billboard.biz. "It has a lot to do with music production. The masses were starving for something that sounded new and unique. Electronic music producers pushed the boundaries of what 'mainstream' music should sound like. Skrillex also being nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys was a true testament to this."
Karl Nielson, AEI Media's commercial director, explains why the company is working with AM Only.
"We wanted to promote and market UKF as a brand in the U.S. because a lot of the traffic on our YouTube channels, about 60%, come from the U.S. alone and AM Only has taken the challenge because agencies are key to what we're doing,"
Gemini and duo KOAN Sound, two British dubstep artists who grew up influenced by such electronic-music godfathers as Tricky, Massive Attack and Prodigy, Nielson says, will play U.S. venues such as Union Transfer in Philadelphia (March 1), Webster Hall, New York (March 2), Bottom Lounge, Chicago (March 3) ending on April 8 in Venue Nightclub, Vancouver.
The tour will also take in a special showcase at SXSW (South by Southwest) on March 17 at the Beauty Bar, Austin, TX. It will feature SMOG vs. UKF, a mock battle-of-the-DJs with UKF and U.S. acts like 12th Planet and Two Fresh displaying what is on offer both sides of the Atlantic.
Drum 'n' bass and dubstep are the offspring of the once controversial impromptu rave parties attended by the thousands dancing to fast-paced electronic beats inside massive warehouses in the U.K. during the 1990s.
Luke Hood, AEI Media's head of music and UKF's original founder, says the idea of launching a dedicated YouTube channel in April 2009 came about because, as a college student, he could find no easy access to the music in mainstream shops, shows or on radio.
"So I tried to reach out to the artists and started uploading their music on to YouTube," he says. "UKF became a haven for acts and producers who wanted to share their kind of music." An impressed Nielson became a fan and invited Hood to join AEI Media later that year.
Under Hood's watch, UKF Dubstep channel has grown until it reached No. 46 in YouTube's Top 100 most subscribed channels worldwide on Feb. 27, as compiled by Vidstatsx.com, ahead of Vevo (50) and Universal Music Group (61).
AEI Media targeted the U.S. for its first major tour because "the electronic-music club culture here in the U.K. is well established, but they never really had that environment in the U.S.," Nielson says.
He adds that the decision to embark on a U.S. tour was partly inspired by the recent success of UKF YouTube artists like the U.K.'s Flux Pavilion and Doctor P, as well as the Canadian duo Zeds Dead, whose American tours have been known to generate $500,000-plus and growing.
Future expansion ambitions include more UKF live events at home and abroad via AEI Media's Drum&Bass Arena subsidiary. Its first event was in March 2011 for 900 people at London's Brixton Academy, which sold out in three days. This was followed by UKF Bass Culture, a bigger event for 11,000 at London's Alexander Palace, and the tickets sold out three months in advance.
"We've also done some live streaming events and discovered the audience will pay between £2 and£5 ($3.17-$7.90) for tickets," Hood declares. "We want to expand and take the brands as far as we can take them."
Also on the agenda are plans to record more downloads and CDs under compilations brands like UKF Dubstep and UKF Bass Culture. The UKF Dubstep 2010 compilation charted in Billboard's Dance Top 10 for 47 weeks, Nielson says.
UKF Dubstep 2011 compilation has reached No. 1 on iTunes' dance album charts in eight markets, including the U.K. and the U.S., and in the Top 5 in another six markets such as France, Ireland and Germany.
Other future plans include extending the UKF and AEI Media brands. Earlier this month, AEI Media launched AEI Music Publishing in a joint venture with New York-based Verse Music Group.