“I always joked that we were the hardest-working guy and girl in the scene,” Kelly Gray says with a wistful smile. In the late 2000s, Gray and her future spouse Andrew Parsons were just another DJ and dancer navigating a miniscule club circuit in an Austin, Tex. market dominated by rock n’ roll. Their paths kept crossing through work, until a casual friendship became something more. Back then, they couldn’t have realized the impact their coupling would have — not just on each other, but on Austin’s nightlife scene.
Parsons and Gray are the creative minds behind RealMusic Events, the Austin-based production company that’s been credited for injecting underground electronic flavor into the “live music capital of the world.” The husband-and-wife duo turned intimate Austin nightclubs like Republic Live and the now-defunct Kingdom into locales of legend.
Recently they’ve produced and executed large-scale parties for major labels like Dirtybird BBQ and Anjunadeep Open Air. And last year, their public profile soared to new heights with the launch of Seismic Dance Event, happening this year on Nov. 16-17, a two-day house and techno festival that is gearing up to hit even harder in 2019.
The chemistry between Gray and Parsons is palpable: Gray’s eyes go wide when she eagerly answers tough questions, while Parsons takes a more laid-back approach, chiming in only after he carefully considers his responses. Laughing at each other’s jokes, the two fill dead time with compliments, finding different ways to reiterate sentiments like, “She’s so creative and organized” and “He’s so good at spotting fresh talent.” Their mutual adoration is only trumped by their obvious mutual respect.
But long before they were the premier providers of dance music in Austin, and even prior to their first date, Parsons and Gray were just club kids with big dreams. In 2007, Gray (who is originally from San Antonio) founded The GoGo Gadgettes, a celebrated dance group for whom she still performs and fashions elaborate costumes. The GoGo Gadgettes have become an important component of Austin’s nightlife visage, adding flair to local concert venues with freestyle choreography and eye-catching garb.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, they also have a strong presence at Seismic Dance Event, where they move alongside the stages with an unbridled energy. Gray recently left her full-time job at Google to lend her full attention to RealMusic Events. “It felt like the right time,” she says.
Parsons has been in the game for close to two decades. He launched his own record label while attending high school in his hometown of Waco. His teenage years were spent DJing and scouting out now well-known acts like Mat Zo, whom he champions as one of his signees.
“I get a rush from finding new artists before other people do. I’ve always found that aspect of discovery intriguing,” Parsons says. It’s a favorable asset for shaping flagship projects like Seismic Dance Event, which features names like Italian duo Giolì & Assia, who will perform live at the festival as part of their first North American tour. The Seismic lineup is a reflection of Parsons’ tastes and brims with rising talent like Moonwalk and Teenage Mutants. Others with massive reputations, such as Cirez D, will also play in Texas for the first time come Nov. 17.
Parsons and Gray say that 2009 was the year things “got serious” for RealMusic Events — when they began throwing monthly shows. Their mission to bring names never before seen in Texas remains stalwart. While Austin has some live music venues that host large electronic tours, such as ZHU playing Stubb’s BBQ, when it comes to house, techno and sometimes trance, RealMusic Events is the main purveyor.
When Kingdom was open, the venue was the primary hub for “underground” electronic music and the home venue for RealMusic. Following the closing of Kingdom — which became another casualty of corporate management companies buying up space for high-end real estate, they say — the two trudged on. With no other house and techno festivals happening in Austin, soon a larger festival concept seemed like the logical next step.
The demands of throwing weekly parties and a multi-day festival have created an exciting yet bittersweet reality for them. Parsons and Gray have taken a step back from dancing and DJing — the things that originally brought them together — and they speak of Seismic Dance Event the way new parents might describe caring for a baby.
“I think we’re both a little sad that we’ve had to put our own artistry on the back burner,” Parsons says, “but we’re building the brand into something much bigger than ourselves.”
“There is a deep appreciation and satisfaction that comes from doing this kind of event, and obviously, it takes priority,” Gray adds. “Eventually, we’ll get to go back to our passions, but today our focus lies in building up our team and working to preserve certain vibes we’ve tried so hard to cultivate.”
“Vibe” is a word that Gray and Parsons use often. They say it to refer to the loyal community that surrounds RealMusic Events, as well as the atmosphere they aim to curate. They see value in tight-knit audiences and accessible venues. Seismic’s first iteration was meant to take place at Carson Creek Ranch (the former home of Euphoria Festival), but 2018’s tropical storm season intervened. Gray believes the last-minute transition to Travis Expo Center, a space that hosts roller derby matches and other large gatherings, was a blessing in disguise. “We started as promoters. RealMusic Events was born in the clubs,” she shares. Instead of seeking festival grounds for the 2019 installment, they’ll bring the Seismic vision to The Statesman, a modestly sized warehouse location in downtown Austin.
“We want to deliver the big festival experience with an intimate vibe,” Parsons says. “We aren’t trying to sell 20,000 tickets, because that’s not the goal. We always want to keep it boutique.”
This year’s indoor/outdoor event, which anticipates hosting less than 5,000 attendees, will again feature two main stages and a third alcove for regional talent. The Volcano Stage is reserved for red-hot techno acts, while progressive and deep house beats will make waves on the Tsunami stage. Seismic’s production design takes an abstract direction, utilizing lighting effects and geometric shapes to deliver artistic interpretations of Mother Earth’s forces.
All of the 2019 bookings are new to the Seismic family, among them Nora En Pure, MK, Gorgon City, Nic Fancuilli and Ellen Allien, with everyone playing between 90 minutes and two hours. “RealMusic Events has spent 10 years building relationships with the artists, the agents and their management companies,” Gray says, “and that’s why we’re able to get lineup.”
All events are also self-funded. “That’s really big for us,” Gray adds, “that we remain an independent company, and we’ve grown it ourselves.”
Since its launch, Seismic Dance Event has become a well-oiled machine, and as a team, Gray and Parsons are more focused than ever. “Year one for a festival is all about gaining legitimacy and credibility, and we already did that,” Gray says with confidence. “This is the year we solidify our reputation and show we aren’t just rinse and repeat.”
“We started the business to satisfy musical desires,” Parsons says, “and now we’re absolutely doing that with the festival.”