“We're both corporate guys,” Alan Agbayani says over drinks and tacos at a downtown restaurant.
Like a lot of other people hanging around downtown at the end of happy hour, Agbayani and his promotion partner, Gerard Florendo, are dressed in conservatively casual office attire. By day, Agbayani works at an ad agency; Florendo is in digital marketing. At least once a month, though, they're Incognito, the duo that brings roving parties filled with top-notch house and techno talent to Los Angeles.
Agbayani emphasizes their corporate backgrounds with an anecdote from Incognito's early days. In 2008, not long after they threw their first event at Boardner's, the duo learned of an open night at another Hollywood club, King King. Usually, party promoters compete for club nights with the same spiel. “Everybody goes [in] there and says, 'I know cute girls,'” Agbayani says. Instead, he arrived to his King King meeting with a hefty PowerPoint presentation.
“I bring out my Mac and a projector and say, 'This is how we do it. This is our target. This is how much we're going to make.'” They got the gig before Agbayani finished his presentation, and spent nearly three years throwing regular events at the venue (which L.A. Weekly recently named “Best Non-Douchey Hollywood Club“).
Neither Agbayani nor Florendo had worked in the club scene before Incognito, and they barely knew each other when they first developed the brand. In 2007, Agbayani moved to Los Angeles from Manila. Florendo and his wife had relocated to L.A. from the same city several years earlier, and Florendo's wife happened to be Agbayani's friend from college. When they all met up, Agbayani and Florendo discovered their similar musical interests. (Agbayani notes that he's more into house and Florendo is interested in techno. Florendo recalls that, at that time, he was into trance and hit up Circus almost every weekend.)
They held the first four Incognito events at Boardner's, playing trance in one room and house in another. After the move to King King, the team hit their stride with a mix of up-and-comers and dance music vets, including Lee Burridge, Paul Woolford and Ian Pooley.
Agbayani says that half their bookings are DJs playing their first L.A. gigs. Their eighth anniversary party, held in September, was headlined by two artists new to Los Angeles audiences, both booked by Florendo: Glaswegian DJ Hans Bouffmyhre and Tokyo-based A. Mochi. Agbayani didn't know who the DJs were, but Florendo notes that, with an eight-year partnership under their belts, they've learned to trust each other's instincts.
Incognito gets plenty of repeat guests, too. Dance-floor heroes like Francois K. and Kenny Larkin have played the party multiple times. U.K. house DJ Jamie “Jimpster” Odell, who joined us at the interview, had his third gig with Incognito just days before we met. He had played Los Angeles before that, but says the vibe at Agbayani and Florendo's parties was different.
“Their party was the first time [in L.A.] that I felt it had a sort of raw atmosphere with a good crowd that wasn't just there for drinking or whatever,” he explains.
Florendo, who DJs as Gerard Not Gerald, typically warms up the crowd. “I'm the controller,” he says, meaning he knows not to play the heavy-hitter cuts before headliners hit the decks. He rarely plays outside of his own parties these days; in 2015, his only non-Incognito gig was opening for Joris Voorn and Pan-Pot at Exchange over Memorial Day Weekend.
Agbayani sticks with promotion duties. “If ever I DJ, I'm like David Mancuso. I stop and play,” he says, referencing the legendary New York disco DJ well known for not mixing tracks.
In the beginning, Agbayani says, they received criticism. “We got so much hate,” he says. “'Who the fuck are you? Why are you throwing these events? You should book this DJ.' We were being told who to book.”
Despite that, Agbayani says not being part of the L.A. club scene in their early days had its advantages. “Pre-2007, we weren't really involved in the scene, so we didn't know who was good or not,” he says. “We had fresh eyes. We were just following our heart, I guess.”
A few years into their run, Incognito moved underground. The shift from clubs to warehouses was to give headliners more time with the crowd. When they aren't bound by pesky things such as 2 a.m. closing times, they can book DJs to play four-, six-, maybe even eight-hour sets.
Every once in a while, though, Incognito pops above ground. Last May, they returned to King King for a special extended set from Francois K. On Nov. 1, Incognito joins forces with promoters Animal Factory for Othersound, held in the courtyard of the Egyptian Theatre, with Evil Eddie Richards, Heartthrob and others.
Incognito's philosophy is built into its name. “In our minds, it's about how everyone is equal under the music,” Agbayani says. “We wanted to do something where we don't care who you are, it's just about music.”
In the end, the parties that Agbayani and Florendo throw are the antithesis of corporate. They aren't pushing to draw bigger crowds; entry into an Incognito party can require two passwords, and RSVPs are capped at a size that's appropriate for the venue. And to this day, they book who they like, whether or not they think the DJ has a large following in L.A.
“It's all about the experience,” says Florendo, “and the music and meeting friends and new people who share the same passion.”
Incognito and Animal Factory present Othersound at the Egyptian on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2 to 10 p.m. More info.
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