On Wednesday in Los Angeles, a bunch of dance music industry professionals sat together in a room air-conditioned within an inch of our lives and listened to a bunch of rich dudes talk about the state of the industry for seven hours. The occasion was IMS Engage, the Pete Tong-helmed industry conference that originated in Ibiza and made its L.A. debut two years back. This week’s event hosted musical luminaries including industry exec Lyor Cohen, manager Jake Udell, club kingpins Jason Strauss and Dave Grutman, producer Stuart Price, artists Kaskade, Seth Troxler and Public Enemy’s Chuck D. While Sebastian Ingrosso was scheduled to take part in a discussion with legendary producer Quincy Jones, Ingrosso was a no-show. But don’t you worry don’t you worry, readers, Tong took over in the conference-closing talk.
It’s worth noting that only one woman was featured in the day’s programming—IMS Visionaries contest winner Valerie Lee—and her name was not printed in the event program (strangely enough, not even on the page featuring her photo and an interview). Insult was added to injury when technical difficulties preempted the screening of her contest-winning short film. Le sigh.
What we did learn is that the dance music industry remains a cash cow in North America, with the top 12 North American nightclubs raking in half a billion dollars in 2014. North American festivals also hosted 1.8 million attendees last year. To put that number in perspective, it is the same as the population of Austin, Texas.
Altogether, it was pleasant if slightly standard conference fare that contained some interesting information but lacked any of the edge-of-your-seat TMZ drama that went down two years ago when Diplo got into a fight with an audience member. Luckily, noted loudmouth Troxler and Chuck D engaged in a riveting conversation that demonstrated what happens when people stop being polite and start being real. It was a breath of fresh air that brought with it many of the day’s best sound bites.
Here, a recap of the day’s conversations:
Lyor Cohen and Jake Udell
Cohen, who noted early in the talk that he wasn’t feeling all that well, talked a lot about his newest company 300 Entertainment, while also throwing in some back-in-the-day stories about pairing up Run DMC with Adidas and somehow simultaneously also noting that he doesn’t like to discuss the past all that much. He also told a story about flying to Norway to meet with the as-yet-unsigned Kygo, whose father invited Cohen to go hiking in the snow, which he did in dress shoes. Cohen went on to say that did not ultimately sign Kygo, because he doesn’t take part in bidding wars. Meanwhile, young upstart Jake Udell espoused the superiority of communications intelligence over both emotional and intellectual intelligence, a skill he has aptly demonstrated by orchestrating the rises of his acts Krewella and Zhu.
Best quote: “If you’re following your business plan, you’re fucked.” —Cohen
Takeaway point: Lyor Cohen seemed legitimately ill.
Jason Strauss and Dave Grutman
The nightclub impresarios (Strauss’ company owns and operates clubs including Tao and Marquee in Las Vegas; Grutman rules over Miami clubland) discussed the health of various club markets, noting that Las Vegas has taken precedence over Ibiza as the place where DJs are getting their trend cues. The duo also discussed bringing VIP services to major festivals (including, full disclosure, Insomniac’s), saying that bringing bottle service and a controlled environment to such events was at first a big challenge, but an area that will surely see growth after much initial success. The two also discussed the Los Angeles market, calling it tricky due to the fact that the L.A. crowd is so spoiled for entertainment and that trends in L.A. move so quickly.
Best quote: “The DJs now make more money than David Copperfield.” —Strauss, on the Las Vegas market
Takeaway point: Vegas-headlining DJs are currently making more money than you and I will probably ever make combined.
Kaskade and Stuart Price
The DJ and storied producer Price (the Grammy winner famous for working with artists including Kylie Minogue and Madonna) talked about spending time in the studio, with Price noting that it’s important to keep the microphones on at all times, as any take may turn out to be the golden one. Kaskade, meanwhile, divulged that he adopted his moniker instead of using his real name in case his musical project didn’t work out and he needed to distance himself from the work. He also said that he played music in his Coachella set last weekend that no one, not even his wife, had ever heard before.
Best quote: “What if you’re the guy who laid the tracks?” —Kaskade, in response to a question about “jumping on the future house train”
Takeaway point: Stuart Price calls remix culture the most important area in the progression of music.
Seth Troxler and Chuck D
The day’s most exciting pairing was of Chuck D and Troxler—who called the opportunity to speak with the hip-hop legend one of the highlights of his career, admitted he was super nervous, and announced that his dad drove to L.A. from Arizona to watch the talk (awwww). The sprawling, high-level conversation focused on art vs. commercialism and the importance of quality content, of putting on a performance that makes the audience feel like they got their money’s worth, and of being aware of what is going on in the world beyond the realm of music.
Best quote: “Unless you’re Joni Mitchell, if you’re doing a set and the power goes off, we’re fucked.” —Chuck D, in response to Troxler explaining that he doesn’t make “EDM”
Takeaway point: Amen for keeping it real.
Quincy Jones and Pete Tong
Tong let Jones take the lead on the conversation, which was essentially a series of stories about Jones discovering and working with legends including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson, all of whom Jones discovered when they were 11 years old.
Best quote: “I don’t know what it is, but if you ain’t got it, it ain’t going to happen.” —Jones, on star quality
Takeaway point: In a room full of fairly cool individuals, Quincy Jones was the very coolest.