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Interview: Evan Weinstein (Co-Owner of Steez Promo)

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    At first, the thought of an outdoor dance festival located in Washington D.C. at the end of November seems like a crazy, illogical idea. But bring in over a half-dozen temperature-controlled tents to cover revelers roaming through four stages, secure an earthshaking sound system, and book artists like Moby, Infected Mushroom, Armand Van Helden, Diplo, Excision, and Zed’s Dead, and you have something massive. Fall Massive, to be exact.

    Thanks to Steez Promo and Ultraworld Presents, the same team that delivers year after year at Starscape in Baltimore, bassheads and electro-aficionados worldwide have something to be quite thankful for this holiday season, when Fall Massive takes over our nation’s capitol this Saturday, November 26th. At the head of this ground-breaking festival experience is Evan Weinstein, co-owner and head of marketing for Steez Promo. Amidst continued planning for Fall Massive and still in the booking phases for Starscape, Weinstein was able to chat with Consequence of Sound about planning D.C.’s largest dance party ever, how new blood has been able to keep Starscape on the cutting-edge, and the current state of electronic music.

    Just to get a sense of the work you do, what’s your position with Starscape and Ultraworld?

    I’ve been involved with Ultraworld from about 2001. My partner and I came in– I started as a street promoter, pretty sure he came in as a street promoter as well; now we own 50% of the festival. We do all the buying, promotions, and marketing, and play a major role with all of the planning from top to bottom.

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    A man of many hats. What projects are currently on the table for Steez Promotions and Ultraworld?

    Right now, our main concern is with Fall Massive. The event is the largest production either Steez or Ultraworld have ever done. I’m also working on our calendar of club shows for 2012. We are working on breaking into eight to 12 new markets, while maintaining the 12 or so markets we’re already working in.

    And that is going to be in Washington D.C.?

    Yeah, we are going into RFK stadium and taking over Lot 8, the largest parking of the stadium, and we’ll be using the space for the largest dance event ever to come to D.C., somewhere around 16,000 to 20,000 people. This is realistically the largest indoor dance event ever to come to the East Coast.

    This event, everything from promotions to lineup to sound to marketing, is the biggest thing we have ever done. We have one of the biggest media companies in the nation partnered with us on the event; they are called the Collective and are based out of LA and work with T.V., film, management, everything under the sun. We brought Ultraworld on and have Lonnie [Fisher] doing on all the logistics, and plugged the Starscape network into that, then we just went balls to the walls with the lineup. Simply, it is the biggest line-up that we could get put together.

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    Will the re-vamped Fall Massive also be an all-night event similar to Starscape?

    This ends at 2 a.m. [the site’s curfew] and starts at 4 p.m.. Again, we are not trying to be Starscape with it. Last year, it ended at 2 a.m.; before that it was at the Paradox and ended at 6 a.m.. When we outgrew that venue two years ago, we moved the event to a 2 a.m. curfew.

    What we are trying to create is a club atmosphere in an outdoor environment, and doing it in a season when you normally cannot do an outdoor event. The entire thing, except for the smoking area and port-o-potties, is totally enclosed. If we can pull this off, we can do a show like this anywhere at anytime.

    I have been in talks with two companies that own outdoors venues all over the country, and we could realistically just go in at anytime and set up an event. I personally think it’s ground-breaking, and I hope others do too, as I don’t know of anyone else that’s done anything like this before.

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    On the booking end, how early do you begin speaking with management and agencies?

    For this specific event, it’s a unique situation because we used to produce this event in a 3,000 person club up the street in Baltimore, and we would still probably be doing the event there, but it closed and left the event homeless. We were then in talks with a 6,000 capacity club, and that ended up falling through, which is good because I just heard an event was canceled last week because they didn’t pay their electric bill. So then we just decided to throw the event in a parking lot somewhere in the city.

    We then started conceptualizing it, got a parking lot locked down, then called Lonnie from Ultraworld, and oddly enough he had been envisioning this event for 10 to 15 years. He wanted to do an outdoor event, but create an indoor event using tents. He told us, “This is an event I have been planning for years.” So naturally we passed over the site planning and logistics to him.

    We didn’t start booking until July or August. We probably started sending out offers in June or July, compared to a nine-month lead-time for Starscape, and that is late for us. We were super late in the game, but the lineup definitely worked out.

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    Do you know off-hand who is doing the audio and visual projects at Fall Massive?

    We are working with Turbo Sound out of Canada along with Maryland Sound locally. We have a bunch of different sound items we are putting it. From what I understand, the bass cabinets for the Dub Nation Stage are the same cabinets they use to calibrate earthquake-measuring equipment.

    There are several companies we are talking to for visuals and lights. We are going out of our way to find things that we don’t normally have at Starscape, like choreographed dancers and more decor. With an expanded capacity, we are looking to put more back into the event; we have crazy stadium grade lasers, next level stage displays, confetti cannons, and much, much more.

    This is going to be the biggest production that we have ever done.

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    What do you think it is about Starscape that’s different from other dance festivals that has kept it thriving?

    First, it is the only all-night music event on a city-owned property. I’ve been to DEMF, I’ve been to Ultra, and it’s just different. Our lineups have been more eclectic in the past; we went in electronic-jam music much earlier than other fests. We were a dance-music festival; we broke out into some jam music and live electronic stuff. Now we are going back more towards the DJs.

    We actually had the Disco Biscuits way back in 2006. Back in 2005 was really one of the lowest points in dance music nationally, and we decided that we needed something new or this festival was going to die. At the time we had been running Sonar, a live-music venue in Baltimore, and the Disco Biscuits were doing well there, so we decided to bring them over to Starscape. Also around that time, me and my partner were getting back into DJ shows, but shortly after that time we were going more heavily into live music for Steez Promo.

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    Now in its 14th year, Starscape is also one of the largest running music festivals in the country, and it’s one night. It’s 18 hours, boom, done, won’t be back until next year. People wait for this music festival all year, and after the one-night it is just done, and then they are sitting there waiting for next year. Unlike going somewhere for three days, getting all worn out, and then waiting a few months before you’re really getting ready for the following year. At Starscape, the day after people are already contacting me about who is going to be playing.

    Starscape has been able to showcase a range of artists well before they reach a national stage; how have you gone about buying?

    We are just really in touch with dance music. For instance, we booked Skrillex for seven shows back in September of 2010, and they all sold out. We knew it was going to be big, but we didn’t know the scale.

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    When we think something is going to break, we are really on top of it. Like SBTRKT and the guys from Hospital Records, we think that is going to come in big, but we have been on top of that for awhile.

    Now in its 14th year and after selling out in advance in 2011, are there any expansion plans for future Starscape festivals?

    We have talked about expansion plans, but a Starscape on the first Saturday in June in Baltimore is not going to change. It’s at Fort Armistead Park; it will be there until the day [the park] is gone. We have talked about alternate locations, but it has to be the right conditions. Starscape has always been an all-night event, and we would never move it somewhere that is would have to end at 2 a.m. or a place where we couldn’t create the same environment that we do at the current Starscape.

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    Starscape sold out three-and-a-half weeks before the event last year, and we are expecting it to sell out even sooner for 2012. But there is new competition on the East Coast with EDC: New York coming, so we are looking to be doing more festivals. We are going to be doing something in Philadelphia in May and looking to do something else in Maryland.

    Will these events be produced by Ultraworld or Steez promo?

    Steez promo did over 160 events this year. The guy who started Ultraworld, started Starscape, is our logistics guy. He has taken a step back and is into a lot of other things right now. He was actually one of the head people at the Baltimore Grand Prix this year. He has really just turned Starscape over to us when it comes to talent, promotions, and marketing, then he helps out with Steez’ other events like Fall Massive.

    Other dance-music festivals have had issues in the last few years planning events due to regulations by local government. What type of relationship has been developed between Ultraworld/Steez and the city of Baltimore to ensure longevity of the event?

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    We work closely with the city and state to ensure that the event is good for everyone involved. We definitely stay on top of any and all safety concerns that the city has for the event. We work closely with police and Fire Marshall to make sure the event is positive and the safest event possible. When we sell out, the hotels and other city attractions sell out, so it is positive for everyone.

    With that said, do you feel Starscape has turned into a destination festival?

    Definitely. It is crazy how it has transformed into that. Luckily for us, we do sell tickets in local outlets, because due to the way information travels on the internet and Facebook, a lot of the local, longtime supporters would be shut out if we only sold tickets online.

    Last year I spoke with people that came in from New Zealand and came in from Europe. People keep traveling further and further for these events. Right now, it is really turning into a global scene. And really, when a person comes one year, they will come the next with friends. It just keeps building and building.

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    This past year, Starscape was broken into dub, dance, bass, and main stages. Will this change for upcoming festivals? And what type of genres do you see being represented more heavily in the upcoming editions?

    We are going to keep it more balanced. One of the biggest genres that we fell in love with over the last 12-months has been the Dirty Dutch movement and Moombahton. Me and my partner are always listening to music and looking for what we can incorporate more.

    It is kind of hard to format by genre now, because a lot of DJs are playing a lot of different genres. One of the biggest complaints this year was that dubstep was playing on every stage. Even my partners and myself were surprised at the fact that dubstep made it into a number of sets where we didn’t expect to hear it. Not saying that’s a negative thing but definitely a surprise.

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    The dubstep movement is taking over everything right now, which is great for the scene. It’s finding its way into performances by artists you would never expect to play it; we can no longer make one stage the dubstep stage, another the dance stage. Right now, house artists are playing dubstep, the drum n bass artists are playing dubstep, and even the live artists are playing dubstep. But you know, you cannot tell artists what to spin.

    For instance, Dieselboy’s Subhuman label is bringing together all forms of bass music.

    Dieselboy’s whole thing is that he can play anything; he is one of the most technical DJs out there. It’s almost like DJs who are into DJing will play anything. But producers find what they are good at and kind of focus on that. For instance, Dieselboy’s new Unleashed is all over the place: DnB, dubstep, drumstep, he can play it all and he does. Every set is different and every set is exciting.

    When Tiesto and deadmau5 start dropping dubstep into their sets, you know it’s everywhere. It was weird when, two or three Ultras ago, when deadmau5 dropped some bass music the middle of his set, and I felt the whole crowd just stopped because bass music hadn’t taken over. There were like 50,000 people there and you could have heard a pin drop.

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    It’s good to see everyone supporting bass music, but as a fan, I know where kids are coming from there, saying, “Oh god, I don’t really like dubstep and I cannot get away from it!”

    We have discussed it a bit already, but what are the plans for Steez promo in 2012?

    Right now we work in 12-14 markets, and produce 160 events per year. We are looking to produce over 200 [events] during 2012, and are already in the process of expanding into eight to 12 more markets next year. Right now, the only company on this scale is Insomniac events, and while I don’t see us competing with them because there is a mutual respect there, I definitely want to get Steez Promo up to their scale, or at least try to get Steez Promo to that scale.

    The whole movement in the U.S. is crazy right now. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that is pushing the dance movement forward, everything from Jay-Z and Kanye using a tune from Flux Pavilion [on “Who Gonna Stop Me”] to Skillex music in ads to Heineken supporting dance music, is helping the scene appeal to a larger audience.

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     For more information on Steez Promo and Fall Massive, please visit Steezpromo.com and Fallmassive.com.

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