Big EDM festivals are ubiquitous. You can find one almost any month of the year and pay rent-level money to take part. But the vibe remains the same at all of them, with DJ Mag–ranked DJs playing hourlong sets of familiar music.
The promise of electronic dance music was always the journey, with spinners lacing unknown sounds into the seamless, 4/4 fabric of the night. Now that a new generation of festivalgoers is graduating to deeper sounds, some promoters are eyeing a potential new market driven by underrated, critics' darlings on the decks. The boutique festival is here.
San Diego's CRSSD is probably the most successful example. But with a capacity of 15,000, it crosses (no pun intended) into the big leagues. Closer to Los Angeles, organizers of the One Tribe festival got a lot of locals excited when they promised to bring Carl Craig, DJ Dan, Doc Martin and Guy Gerber to the Lake Perris State Recreation Area. Then they canceled it.
Hope for a more intimate and cake-free experience in L.A. is not lost, however. On Saturday, a promotion firm called Tanz is launching a techno-centric festival it calls Transmit, happening at Los Angeles Center Studios in DTLA.
Ghostly International's Matthew Dear and Culprit label trio Droog comprise the heart and soul of the lineup. Garrett Chau, a top booker at Avalon Hollywood before he moved on to work with Lollapalooza, says big-festival refugees in Los Angeles are ready for something deeper.
"It's the idea of doing something that expresses our love of underground music, and doing it in a way that's affordable," he says. "If you make a commitment to good music, not just jumping on a bandwagon, people will support you."
That formula sounds familiar. Chau was the driving force behind a decision in 2007 to focus on more underground, techno-leaning DJ bookings (M.A.N.D.Y., Gui Boratto, Matthew Dear) on Saturdays at Avalon Hollywood. Organizers were inspired by London club Fabric's success with more underground fare, and they wanted to do the same thing — promise a night of bone-shaking thrills without relying on cliche headliners.
It worked, and now Chau thinks festival crowds will open their minds to names they might not know. Transmit's lineup also includes Benoit & Sergio, No Regular Play, Wankelmut, Ricoshëi and HOJ. Who? You'll have to find out. For $35, it's worth the gamble. (A terrace featuring local DJ crew Desert Hearts rounds out the action.)
With tickets, transportation and lodging, "You could be spending $2,000 for three days at a festival," Chau says. "I don't know who could afford that."
Indeed, if EDM is becoming a lifestyle and not just an excuse for once-a-year raging by party tourists, then the progression to more affordable, more underground boutique events makes sense.
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"We see the rise of bigger festivals," Chau says, "and there's an opportunity here to do something that's very authentic."
Transmit happens Saturday at Los Angeles Center Studios, 1201 W. Fifth St., downtown. 21+. Doors at noon. $35. transmitfestival.com.