Diplo, Skrillex Talk Electronic Music, Tech at International Music Summit; Fist Fight Breaks Out
Some attendees of the confab called "Engage" took the name literally. Additional featured speakers included managers for Lady Gaga and Swedish House Mafia and the founders of Instagram and Ultra Records.
The International Music Summit, a perennial gathering of electronic music artists and tastemakers held in Ibiza for the past six years, made its U.S. debut at Hollywood's W Hotel on April 17.
The day-long event billed “between the Coachellas” featured one-on-one “conversations” with the likes of Skrillex, Diplo, Pete Tong, Russell Simmons, Swedish House Mafia manager Amy Thomson, Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter, Ultra Records founder and Sony Music executive Patrick Moxey, and SFX’s Shelley Finkel, among others.
Much of the day’s itinerary focused on the current state of electronic dance music -- or EDM, not that anyone referred to the genre by the acronym -- particularly as it relates to American audiences. Also on the agenda: emerging technologies and social networking advances.
Now boasting more than 100 million users, Systrom said that when he launched the photo service in Oct. 2010, he “had no idea that it would balloon to the space that it's ballooned.” The motivation, he added, was: “The purity -- I didn't want links or an article … I just wanted gorgeous photos in a single feed.”
Systrom complimented the electronic music scene for embracing the technology, a sentiment that was shared by Diplo, who opined that “social media becomes a lot of smoke and mirrors.” An example the DJ and Major Lazer leader cited: a club in Singapore which based its pay scale on the amount of fans and followers the DJ carried on social media.
As for the future of EDM, Diplo sees promise in the breakdown of genres. “The bigger DJs are the ones playing everything,” he said of the recent Ultra Music Festival in Miami. “They combine things together and that’s definitely the future.”
Troy Carter, in conversation with SHM’s Thomson, spoke about the challenges and high price tags of staging an international tour. Asked whether Gaga’s career suffered from a relentless concert schedule, Carter commented, “her hip suffered,” adding, “One thing we realized is the world is a big place to tour, and when you're building a global audience, we don't do touch and go. When we go into a market, we want to be in that market for a week. … It’s important long-term that we've planted seeds all over the world.”
Another lesson learned, that Carter is now using for other acts: “In the beginning, you say yes to everything, and when they get big and famous, you say no to everything.”
And in the battle for production largess, Thomson said she relies on brands to help offset the cost of being on the road, which she explained most people judge based on the number of trucks on the road -- 11 for SHM. But Carter had her beat at 36 trucks for Gaga, who’s been on the road for three years.
Ultimately, he added, it’s “curiosity” that drives his ambition, be it in tech, music or fashion.
Slightly less compelling was Moxey’s chat with Russell Simmons, which lacked focus. Although the two had worked together before, Moxey as a 22-year-old song pusher for Simmons in the early days of Rush Management, they didn’t seem to have the chemistry that one would expect from two fellow New Yorkers.
“Electronic music needs a movie about the scene,” said Moxey in response to Simmons’ nostalgia about the influential 1985 film Krush Groove, which featured such artists as Sheila E., Run-D.M.C., The Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, New Edition, Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, among others.
Further illustrating the disconnect, Simmons seemed unaware of Moxey’s position as head of Electronic Music at Sony Music – “I'm still on the outside but I've got one foot in the building,” said Moxey -- though Simmons did have some advice about the corporate structure. “The building’s useful,” said Simmons. “Indies always get sucked up -- hate to say it but that's how it was. [But[ at Def Jam, we didn’t change, we just got bigger distribution.”
Skrillex’s talk with the Summit Series' Jeff Rosenthal, which closed out the day of conversations, had more pep as the Grammy-winning dubstep DJ reflected on his own beginnings and grand ambitions. “The more you can do yourself, people will notice that,” said Skrillex, adding that A&R execs “can feel that energy. That’s what I look for with people that I sign -- people that have the talent and that energy.”
Offered Rosenthal: the phrase “keep it real” is passé. “What you have to do is what’s surreal,” he insisted.
To that end, the most unbelievable moment of the day had to be during Diplo's appearance when, after marveling over the number of Twitter followers DJ BL3ND boasts (Diplo hinted that a sizable chunk might be fake), the two DJs' managers -- BL3ND's Steven Haddad and Diplo manager Kevin Kusatsu -- got into a physical fight. Kusatsu did not return to the W Hotel hall, according to Billboard.