Blow Up or Bust
It takes a lot of work for DBJ to get his records out to the club. First he loads eight metal cases, carrying about 7000 records in all, from the back of his car onto a trolley. Then, with the help of two club employees, he rolls them into State, the hot new nightspot on Lincoln Road in South Beach, for his six-hour Sunday-night slot. When asked whether this much vinyl is really necessary, DBJ, a.k.a. Brant Vogt, cites Kid Capri's usual cargo of 25,000 records and the feeling of "incompleteness that comes with not having a complete selection of songs" as why he'll keep showing up here with a mountain of wax.
On the nightlife circuit, the 25-year-old DBJ is known as a hip-hop DJ with residencies at State, Rumi, and SMAC Entertainment's events. But his true love is breaks, a funky, electro-derived style of dance music that's considered too underground for most of the places where he spins. He has released two notable compilations, Breakdance Nation and Atmospherics V 2.0 (both on StreetBeat Records), and two years ago started his own record label, Sound Records.
As a young entrepreneur in the music biz, DBJ has learned that getting Sound Records' releases out to listeners is tougher than dragging around his exaggerated record collection. That's because start-up companies like his often lack a sufficient forum to promote their products. Winter Music Conference week, which attracts a considerable congregation of dance enthusiasts and industry players, presents the best opportunity for that kind of exposure. "I've been planning my party throughout the entire year," he explains. "Though there are so many parties, I think mine will stick out because it will have the largest lineup of breaks DJs during the whole conference."
DBJ's party, titled Future Sound of Breaks V 2.0, is scheduled to feature breaks big shots such as Icey, Rennie Pilgrem, and Baby Anne, as well as locals such as Merlyn, Wreck, Ash Rock, JASP 182, and DBJ himself. For a new venture like Sound Records, an event of this scale would be nearly impossible to put together at any other time of the year. But during WMC, logistical obstacles are overcome by the proximity of resources. For one thing, promoters don't have to spend money on flights and hotel rooms because all the talent they want is already in town and anxious to play. Many DJs, including a few slated to play at the Future Sound of Breaks, are willing to perform for free, and headliners often take a reduced cut for their performances, accepting hundreds of dollars for a gig that would usually net them thousands. Local venues clamor for the opportunity to host WMC parties, and funding them is made easier by the number of corporations who eagerly approach promoters about sponsorships instead of the other way around.
In DBJ's case, DJ equipment companies M-Audio and Ableton helped with his party, less to reach a potential consumer base of 2000 fans than to establish business relationships with the impressive number of DJs involved. In the end, though, he and his partner, Glen Morgan of Droppin Science, will still have to reach deep in their pockets (and credit lines) for additional funds. "But it means everything to get sponsorship," says DBJ. "Last year I didn't have sponsorship for my first WMC showcase and it wasn't as big as this one. All year I've been forming relationships through e-mail and phone calls with DJs and people in the industry all over the country to get them to be part of my event."
Obviously the ultimate goal is to push the Sound Records name. But DBJ also hopes to stimulate industry enthusiasm for breaks. "It's important to me to get people excited about breaks again. It's a style that needs to be rediscovered by the dance music industry and if that happens, labels like mine stand to benefit," he says.
Progressive house company SFP Records (Sounds For People) and its hard house subsidiary Filtered are also pushing a musical style in hopes of reaping the rewards of a larger fan base. Since it was formed in 1996, label owners Marc Sacheli and Pierre ZonZon have built a significant roster of producers that includes Ivano Bellini, Nicky Scanni, and Robbie Rivera. But Sacheli is concerned about recent trends overtaking Beach nightclubs, which have gone from throwing all-night progressive house parties to programming eclectic transitions between Eighties rock, New Wave, hip-hop, and some house.
"Many of these clubs are making the wrong move by copying what the others are doing. I don't think this eclectic approach really works, and the transition is hard on the listener," says Sacheli. The SFP sound used to dominate entire nights at several venues. But now it has to share the limelight with different styles, which he thinks has forced progressive house back into the underground.
Sacheli expects to rekindle interest in his roster with three SFP events. He says the main showcase of his label's talent will be the Juicy Filtered party at State, scheduled to include sets from Rivera, Bellini, Saeed & Palash, and others. Like DBJ with his Future Sound of Breaks, Sacheli doesn't expect to make back all the money he's spending. Instead he wants to get bookings for his label's talent and, ultimately, sell more records. "Before getting a record deal you have to build a crowd," he advises. "With the state the business is in you have to concentrate on getting your DJs booked elsewhere, then you're in a better position to push your records." One result of that strategy: Bellini was invited to spin on French radio program Carte Blanche after he performed at a WMC party last year with the show's main DJ, St. Clair.
Sacheli says the chance to play in front of other talent and music executives from around the world is what makes WMC the biggest and best platform for small imprints like SFP. One good event attended by the right people could lead to important bookings and distribution deals. But he knows that WMC is not a corporate summit. It's a party. And this year, he says, the end of full-scale combat in Iraq and the dropping value of the American dollar in overseas markets promises to bring in more out-of-towners than ever before. So, for him and DBJ, the success of their efforts significantly depends on the level of excitement they can create throughout the week.
"I'm a DJ at heart," DBJ says from inside State's DJ booth, which is now overrun with his records. "I don't see myself as a promoter, so for me the main thing is [to] have an event that features good music above anything else. That's the bottom line for most people anyway."
Future Sound of Breaks V 2.0 takes place on Tuesday, March 9, at Pure. DBJ performs on Friday, March 5, at Maze; Sunday, March 7, at State; Monday, March 8, at Soho Lounge; and Tuesday, March 9, at Pure. Sounds for People Presents takes place on Friday, March 5; Filtered Presents takes place on Saturday, March 6; and the Juicy Filtered party takes place on Tuesday, March 9, at State. See listings for more info.
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