Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Dives Into Dance Music Business with IBZ Entertainment
After a bitter split from his longtime employer, former Pacha brand director Danny Whittle is striking out on his own with IBZ Entertainment, a new multi-faceted company backed by Y Entertainment Group, an arm of Ron Burkle’s powerful private equity firm Yucaipa.
IBZ will service artists and talent buyers worldwide, combining the disciplines of artist management and booking, with programming services for nightclubs and festivals. Based in Ibiza, it will operate out of a brand-new facility called the Ibiza Music Factory, currently under construction and scheduled to open in late May. Whittle announced in early April that he’d also open a new nightclub, Bomba, backed by Giuseppe Cipriani. Former Pacha director Mark Netto is Whittle’s partner in the new ventures.
“We want to bridge the gap [between] venue operator and venue filler; if both work together it’s a key to real success,” Whittle told Billboard.biz. “Also being presented the opportunity to work with Ron [Burkle] and Rick [Stevens, Y Entertainment CEO] gave us much more confidence that we could change things and bring something fresh to the table. When you have partners of Ron’s caliber with his great reputation, it’s not about doors being opened, but more like doors being kicked down.”
The moves come after Whittle’s dramatic fallout with Pacha Ibiza, the Spanish island’s first nightclub, which over its 40 years has become an international nightlife brand, spawning a line of T-shirts, a perfume, a record label, and several franchises including Pacha New York, London, and Marrakesh. Despite its more subcultural leanings (it opened in 1973, during the reign of conservative dictator Francisco Franco), the club became an unwitting ground zero to the EDM movement, when its longtime resident David Guetta forged many of his hit-making pop star relationships -- most notably with will.i.am -- from the DJ booth of his “F--- Me I’m Famous” party.
Pacha’s rift with Whittle -- and the global dance business at large – was detailed in an April New York Times story built around explosive quotes from Pacha founders the Urgell family. The Pacha patriarchs and unofficial First Family of Ibiza decried skyrocketing DJ fees, the shortening of a standard DJ set, and the general shift from club culture to DJ cults of personality, with Piti Urgell even saying that electronic music “is for idiots.” Many called it sour grapes over Las Vegas’ rise to the top of the international nightlife destination list, thanks in part to its casino-backed budgets.
“I left because my understanding differed from the owner’s,” says Whittle. “He believed that the Pacha brand was big enough to fill the club, and I believe that content is king. For me it is like a major sporting team: If you don’t have the major stars, you don’t stay at the top very long.”
This year’s Pacha roster is centered around its one returning superstar, Guetta, and Guy Gerber, a well-respected but more esoteric DJ, worlds apart from party-starting playboy Erick Morillo, who he is replacing.
While IBZ has not announced any clients yet, Whittle says he is “finalizing contracts” with “a broad spectrum of artists,” and entities including nightclubs, events and festivals. Artist management is nothing new, but an independent “content provider” definitely is: Those duties are usually handled by local promoters, if not the venue or event itself via a dedicated talent booker. Such promoters have made up the core of Robert F.X. Sillerman’s several acquisitions under his revived SFX Entertainment: ID&T, Disco Donnie Presents and Life In Color among them.
“Everyone is looking for good content and good ideas,” says Whittle. “Most of the club nights in Ibiza are run by other people, not the owners; this happens the world over and we have a proven track record of filling venues and festivals.”
The idea behind the Ibiza Music Factory is very Googleplex: A compound built to accommodate collaboration and information sharing, not only between artists (on the eventual IBZ roster, or not), but also dance music businesspeople. “I love the idea of having many different elements of our industry all working under one roof and trading ideas and bouncing of each other on a daily basis,” says Whittle, who is also a founding partner in the Ibiza-based International Music Summit, which staged its first U.S. event in Los Angeles last month. “I have watched the power of networking and communication [via IMS], and we want to try and operate like that on a daily basis.”
For Y, IBZ is the latest in a flurry of activity in the music space, including the purchase of U.S. nightlife company The Light Group, a consultative relationship with Swedish House Mafia manager and ATM Artists head Amy Thomson, and a partnership with former Prometheus Global Media CEO Richard Beckman to revive Fashion Rocks, the brand he founded while at publisher Condé Nast.
“We represent some of the biggest stars of music through our agency businesses, but have been waiting for the right opportunity to increase our presence in the EDM space,” said Y CEO Stevens in a statement. “We are excited that Danny has chosen to spearhead our EDM effort and was able to convince Mark Netto to join the team. Danny and Mark are two of the most experienced pros of electronic music and are known and respected by the top DJ stars, major club owners and promoters worldwide.”