Steve Gordon on Circle Talent Agency's Rise and Rock Expansion
Promoter turned agent takes dance music lessons into rock world with Kenmore agency acquisition.
Steve Gordon, an agent and co-owner at Circle Talent Agency, describes his trajectory as "from the basement to Beverly Hills." For years he was a scrappy promoter in the Baltimore area — which, he points out, "isn't even a major market" — and when he started as an agent, Circle founder Kevin Gimble couldn't pay him. "Now you go to different dance music festivals, and we're on every single stage," Gordon says, noting that 76 Circle acts played EDC this year, comprising nearly a third of the festival.
Gordon stumbled into the music business from an odd angle: after a stint as an inline skater and numerous tryouts at the X Games, he had a revelatory rave experience, which led him to get a job passing out fliers for the promotion company Ultraworld in 2000. Soon he was promoting hip-hop shows and booking multi-genre talent for SONAR, a now defunct venue in Baltimore. He started his own company, Steez Promo, with Evan Weinstein in 2005. A year later, he saw the rave scene picking up steam again and began to throw dance events, he also started to DJ, giving him another window into the music that pulled people off club walls and sent them charging into the fray on the dance floor.
Promotion is grueling work: Gordon describes it as, "every other day we're losing all the money we have, and we're operating with barely any revenue." The drum and bass DJ Dieselboy helped find Gordon a way out. Dieselboy knew Kevin Gimble from their mutual involvement with a weekly publication devoted to drum and bass in the '90s. "Dieselboy calls me up, pretty much out of the clear blue sky," Gimble remembers in a separate conversation. "He's like, you know Steve Gordon, the promoter you book a lot of shows to in the Baltimore/D.C. area? He wants to be an agent. And I think it would be a good move for him and a good move for you."
Since Dieselboy had helped Circle get off the ground — booking an international tour for Dieselboy helped Gimble acquire a name, and subsequently a roster, in the drum and bass world — Gimble took his advice seriously and brought Gordon in for an interview. "He sold himself to me," Gimble says. "I was like, alright, look: I don't have any money for you. Here's some harder to book guys." "From there, I looked at it like: I'm an agent now," Gordon notes. "I went balls to the walls with it."
Through his DJ gigs, Gordon was beginning to get word of the power of dubstep. "We'd been hearing rumors that Dub Wars shows in New York were selling out," he says. "And because I was DJing, people were sending me music, like, 'this is a dope tune to play out.' Somebody sent me one of the Excision records, and I hit him up. [Excision] introduced me to Flux Pavilion and had Datsik under his wing."
Yet again, Dieselboy turned out to be a boon for Circle. According to Gordon, "Excision was like, 'Dieselboy's my favorite DJ. I'm talking to one other agency, but if you can do these couple things, I'll sign with you.'" After nabbing Excision, Gordon witnessed a domino effect: Flux Pavillion, Datsik, Doctor P, Cookie Monsta, and Funtcase all came into the fold within roughly a week.
"He basically discovered dubstep at the time when it was an unknown thing in America," Gimble says. "It was very niche — you couldn't find it in nightclubs." Gordon sidestepped that problem by touring dubstep acts in hard ticket venues. When the genre experienced a major American burst in popularity, Circle was in a prime position to benefit.
Following the dubstep boom, Gordon wanted to diversify in order to compete in more areas. Initially, he says, "it was like molasses for us." But in 2011, Circle made an alliance with Michael Green, whose agency The Collective wanted to expand into electronic music. This move brought Circle out to L.A., where Gordon promptly started hiring more employees. In 2012, he signed DJ Carnage. "Carnage was a huge moment for us. People saw what I can do with that level of talent when given the tools that I need. Working with his manager and him, they really know what they're doing — we made him into a superstar. Fast."
The following year, Circle disconnected from The Collective and set its sights on the world beyond DJs. "A lot of what I learned from the dance scene hasn't been applied to rock yet," Gordon explains. "I'll sit in a meeting and be like, 'look, you don't have a huge budget, but let's create a new stage production for you.' We'll do a once over on their socials, and show them where they're making mistakes. By taking how serious the social game in is dance music and applying it to rock, you're seeing exponential results."
In 2014, Dan Rozenblum left UTA and brought 40 live acts to Circle. Earlier this year, Circle purchased the Kenmore agency, adding 50 more rock groups to the roster. The live division now boasts 10 employees and 125 bands.
All the focus on rock doesn't mean that Gordon has taken his eye off electronic music either — he recently signed Marshmello, a masked DJ whose popular productions are paired with mystery: his identity has not yet been publicly revealed. "I listened to it one time and was on the phone and locked it down," Gordon says. "It was a matter of ten seconds." Though his pitch varies from act to act, the gist remains the same. "If you want the boutique deal and you want the attention, there's nobody better than us."
Gordon's climb from battle-dancing flier-boy to agency co-ownership helps Circle in more than ways than one — the arc of his career serves as a powerful recruitment tool for young agents. "The line I tell everyone is: you can start as a junior agent and end up as a partner," Gimble says. "The proof is in the pudding. If you f--king kill it, your ass will have a seat."