A crowd of over 200 international dance music industry-ites turned up for IMS Engage, the first U.S. edition of the Ibiza-based IMS conference, at the swanky W Hollywood on Wednesday.
Comprised of L.A. locals, visiting Ibizans and New Yorkers, the growing dance music press corps, and the starter-uppers and hopefuls who fill in the blanks at any conference, IMS painted a flattering picture of the swelling business: Young, hip, and intrinsically global, yet still learning what it means to mature and grow under the sponsorship of increasingly corporate entities.
The single-day conference aimed to “engage and inspire the best people from our world and put them together with leading entrepreneurs from other worlds,” said IMS co-founder and BBC Radio One legend Pete Tong in his introduction. While the speaker line-up did just that, pairing dance titans like Ultra Music president Patrick Moxey with titans of industry like Russell Simmons, the shadows of dance music’s acquirers and new partners loomed largest: Weighty names like SFX, Yucaipa, Live Nation and Universal, all of which are in the beginning stages of their high-stakes journeys into dance land.
The day kicked off with remarks from Billboard editor Bill Werde, who recounted his own rave past, calling legendary Baltimore parties like Ultraworld and Fever “life-defining moments for me.” He challenged the industry to clean up its own house in light of its newfound success, calling the recent failure of Baauer and his label Mad Decent to clear the samples in his Hot 100 No. 1 “Harlem Shake” “a missed opportunity. Treating the business like more of a serious business doesn’t change the creativity; the element of brilliance of those moments in the studio.”
Some highlights from the day:
Ever karma-correct, Skrillex revealed that he had purchased and was in the process of renovating an 11,000-square-foot building in downtown L.A.’s Chinatown, for who he called “in the box” producers, or those who work solely with their laptops. “It will have great facilities with everything you need as a producer, so you’re not resting your laptop on a big SSL desk and thinking, ‘I’m not using all of these channels,’” he told panel buddy Jeff Rosenthal, co-founder of Summit Series. The building will also be a home base for his OWSLA record label staff, which is currently spread all over the globe. “When everyone is in the same room stuff goes 50 times faster,” he said. “I want to make a place for people to be independent and do what they do.”
Ultra’s Patrick Moxey got to interview his longtime mentor and first music industry employer Russell Simmons (who hired him to work as an assistant in his early Rush Artists office), in a conversation that ended with Simmons waxing profound about living a creative life for the rapt audience (“The sound between the snare drums is forever,” he said at one point). While the Def Jam founder and devoted yogi was unfamiliar with many of the dance luminaries Moxey brought up, like Calvin Harris and Deadmau5, he spoke about the value of embracing the unfamiliar. “You want to be open, to be able to transcend. All youth culture keeps reinventing itself. You don’t have to fake it. If you’re honestly there you’ll feel it; it’ll seep in.”
Sporting New Balance sneakers and jeans, SFX deal-maker Shelly Finkel charmed the audience with tales from his storied past in boxing and rock promotion, including how the Congo government intimidated George Foreman into fighting the Rumble In The Jungle in 1974. Apparently Foreman had tried to ask for an additional $250,000 just prior to the bell. “Sounds like Tiësto,” quipped moderator Pete Tong.
Diplo and Instagram founder Kevin Systrom talked primarily about Instagram proper during their afternoon exchange. “The first reason [I went on Instagram] is because I thought I had to do it,” confessed Diplo, who picked up an ASCAP Vanguard Award at the 30th Annual Pop Music Awards later that evening. “When it comes to social media, you don’t want to be the odd man out. You want to be ahead of the curve. But I spent the last three months having a lot of pride in the way my photos looked. I’m between being really creative on there, and being a promo machine.” A few moments after the talk ended, Diplo’s manager Kevin Kusatsu got into a physical altercation with representatives from Hashtag Management, purportedly sparked by comments Diplo made about their client DJ BL3ND.
Swedish House Mafia manager Amy Thomson, who is preparing to open Cirque Du Soleil-themed nightclub Light at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas next week, raised a few Twitter-brows by asserting that America’s fervent love affair with dance music could “kill it.” In conversation with Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter, she said that her own partnership with Yucaipa head Ron Burkle had given her insight into how companies should be valued, and she feared that many currently on the block had inflated price tags and could be headed for failure. “[Dance music] would carry that stigma for 20 years, after we’ve just been legitimized,” she said.
Carter seemed to take the glass-half-full approach, saying about both hip-hop and dance, “everyone who could have killed [them] didn’t have the power to. Huge commerce with a new form of art is really fragile. I don’t know how you unring that bell.”
He also likened the current crop of dance music managers, Thomson included, to the first wave of hip-hop managers. “When I started in hip-hop years ago, it was Homeboy 101 management; hire your friend to manage you, and whatever happens happens,” he said. “Then more sophisticated people came along and kind of fucked it up a bit. The guys who started out as Homeboy 101 were Russell Simmons and James Lassiter, who have gone on to build serious legitimate businesses.”