Tyler McLean fits the all-American male stereotype down to his photogenic smile. His parents own a successful vacation rental business. He played high school football and ran track.
He became popular for throwing inter–high school parties, but he didn’t just wait for mom and dad to go out of town. McLean reinvested his resources and put an emphasis on production to create a modernized rave environment for his teenage peers. Now, with his older sister Kelly, he's the co-founder of Splash House, throwers of Palm Springs' most raging pool parties.
“I created Splash House out of solving a problem,” explains the now 25-year-old McLean. While observing his family’s business, he saw an age gap in Palm Springs vacationers. The city made lame attempts to lure college kids to spend their vacations in the resort town by taking out cartoonish ads in college papers, but still lacked the alluring debauchery of other popular spring break and summer vacation destinations like Cabo San Lucas or Vegas.
In his senior year of college, McLean conceptualized a hometown, weekend event that drew inspiration from the Vegas resorts but fit the laid-back aesthetic of Palm Springs. In Vegas, he notes, "You need to get tables. You need to get bottle service to really enjoy it. As a college kid, I wasn’t doing that. I was in line getting shut down everywhere. So let’s make a more unpretentious pool party. ... Splash House was a reaction from that.”
McLean graduated from UCLA a semester early and spent the first half of 2013 drafting a plan to convince thousands of young people to trek out to the desert in triple-digit heat for an event they’d never heard of. The high school and college parties of his younger days were doggy-paddling compared to the attention to detail needed to throw a poolside production that could compete with the Vegas mega-clubs.
The first-time promoter found a smart solution in dividing the talent buying between the dFm, LED Presents and Pacific Festival. Each company branded a stage and curated a unique lineup. “The concept behind that move was: I don’t know how to book the talent myself,” McLean explains. “And two, having these sub-promoters on gave us credibility.”
The first rendition was met with meager ticket sales. But McLean’s ambition caught the eye of Goldenvoice, the promotion company behind Coachella. Goldenvoice provided the resources for Splash House to persevere in 2014, but it wasn’t until McLean watched Flume take the stage that August that his vision became fully realized. “I was able to step away and just look at it. It was the first time I had goosebumps and was like, 'Shit. This is a good party.'”
Now in its fourth year, Splash House attracts 5,000 attendees each of its two weekends — one in June, the other in August. McLean notes that partygoers are “spending money in downtown’s merchant shops and restaurants,” but the festival is contained to two resorts — the Riviera and Saguaro Hotels — so the city is able to carry on without closing down streets.
"There's not many other festivals where you get to have your hotel room with a balcony overlooking the stage," exults McLean. "You can chill out, have a couple drinks and go back downstairs and dance. That's what made it awesome and that's still what's driving it."
In recent years there has been a shift in focus to the afterparty, a late-night, outdoor bacchanal on the tarmac of the Palm Springs Air Museum. “You’re just sitting there partying and there’s a 747 taxiing behind the stage,” recalls McLean. “[Last August] we had two Vietnam helicopters flanking the stage all lit up. It was like a Pitbull music video.”
McLean asserts that Splash House is in a “blessed” position and has no reason to expand until it is “sold out and people are just trying to slam down the door to get a ticket.” Once that inevitable, riotous day comes, McLean’s focus will switch to scouting additional locations that can provide other vibes. “I guess kind of similar to South by Southwest, where it’s a multivenue [event] and there’s all kinds of different shows and things you can go to,” he says. “So we can have bigger resorts and more boutique resorts for what kind of music we’re throwing there."
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In the meantime, he's content to let Splash House grow organically and not turn into the very kind of bottle-service, mainstream dance party he wanted to escape from. "For right now, I’m loving the two weekends that we have and just knocking that out of the park.”
The first Splash House weekend is Friday through Sunday, June 10-12, and will feature sets from Odesza, Jai Wolf, Justin Marin, Lee Foss and Guy Gerber, to name a few. Tickets and more info at splashhouse.com.