This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Jennifer Lyon, founder, MeanRed Productions; co-owner of the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival.
Jennifer Lyon is one of one of America’s most prolific, if not one of its most innovative, talent buyers and music curators, with nearly two decades experience working with independent music venues, festivals, corporate clients, and production companies.
Lyon, founder of MeanRed Productions, is co-owner of the annual weekend dance music festival Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival which she runs with Katie Longmyer. The festival started in 2008.
This year’s lineup drew internationally lauded DJs Pete Tong, DJ TOKiMONSTA, DJ Marky, Texas-born, Detroit-raised electronic avant-pop artist Matthew Dear, and others.
Blue Note Entertainment Group recently tapped Lyon and Randy Henner as talent buyers to collaborate with its current talent team to program the company’s network of venues, properties, and projects, excluding the Blue Note Jazz Clubs.
Lyon first broke ground as a promoter and curator working shows in Brooklyn and New York in such venues as Output, Volume Nightclub, the Baldwin Brothers Luahn, Santos Party House, Joe’s Pub, Volume, and the 205 Club.
The lady got around.
She was also the founder of the legendary BKLYN Yard, her own underground venue which hosted much-talked about one-offs and series, including the Parked food truck festival, and Mister Sunday.
As well, Lyon acted as event director for K7 Records, Barely Breaking Even Records, Downtown Records, and the RCRD LBL website; and as a talent curator for Red Bull Music Academy, and Mysteryland.
Along the way, she has worked with such significant corporate partners as Clear Channel Media, Moet, Hennessey, Toyota, Red Bull, Fuse, Flavorpill, American Eagle, Saatchi & Saatchi and others
Originally from Orange County, California, Lyon’s early years were spent attending punk-based events at DIY clubs around Los Angeles.
Give me a breakdown of your current roles.
It’s a lot, and I have a new job at Blue Note Entertainment Group. With Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival, I am the co-owner.
That’s with Katie Longmyer, the owner and CEO of Good Peoples.
That’s with Katie. Meanwhile, we do a handful of things in venues. We book into a lot of rooms. Just doing shows that we find and which we like we do.
MeanRed Productions does about 20 events per month?
About 10 to 20. For 2018, MeanRed will produce in New York City, and Detroit another series of SHIFT, a series of rappers and producers, and more underground and warehouse events, as well as the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival, and various other music-driven events. MeanRed is known mainly for progressive music taste, alternative venues, and pushing limits in every way. We have deals probably with more rooms than anybody else. We work out of 20 of them (venues) in New York. Then there’s the big new relationship as a talent buyer with Blue Note Entertainment Group. I am in-house with them to develop the Highline Ballroom, The Howard Theatre and other Bluenote properties.
Do you have an office?
Yes, but I hate being in an office.
What staff do you have?
MeanRed has two full-time staff, and more part-time staff as shows go on. We have lots of support people that come on. During the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival, we scale up–there are probably 10 to 15 people–and then we go down again
Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival just had its 10th anniversary?
Yep, and this year will be the 11th year.
Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival has evolved from being a grassroots event to being a major festival utilizing 7 venues including Output, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Analog, BKLYN Yard, House of Yes, Good Room, Villain, The Lot Radio, and some warehouses.
I always start with four or five venues and then add them on.
How did you come to be involved with Katie Longmyer?
When I was booking the 205 Club, which is a downtown venue (on the lower east side of New York City), she threw a party there. Then we did a bigger party at Studio B together. We started out as promoter friends. She was the one who said, “Let’s take this over.” A couple of friends had started the festival and I was helping them with locations and they had wanted to give it up, and she said “let’s do it.” And I said, “okay.
Where was the first Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival held?
It was at BKLYN Yard for the first year, and the Can Factory the second year. My friends Ruth, Joel, Beth, and Aaron from Famous Friends started it, and I helped them with venues the first years. Then we did the event as a collaboration. Ruth was creative and prolific in those years; fun to work with. Finally, they all decided it was a beast that they didn’t want to tangle with anymore, so they offered it to us. Katie was into it. I thought it was nuts, but she always has great ideas about the world at large, so I said okay. So Katie and I took it over. This coming year it won’t be multi venues. It will be in a multi-room house space. That is kind of a fun change.
Why the change? Are multi-venue events more difficult to administer? In that you have to deal with multiple owners with varying lists of demands. Plus there’s the complexity of dealing with multi-venue ticketing.
I think also that Brooklyn has changed a lot. When we first started this multi-venue thing it was just one street, and it was great. You bought a ticket, and you wandered around. I want to go a little bit back to that, to where people are kind of wandering around each other. Also, in New York, there is so much stuff going on. It is really hard to create something that is going to turn something into a done dollar. We did this big party as part of the festival this year in a warehouse on Bushwick at Johnson. It felt good. It was kind of a mainstream line-up to be in a warehouse. It reminded me that when you are in an alternative venue that you can also be beholden to each other. The alternative venue beholden to us–the crew that are working the party—and vice versa. But it is still possible to have it feel off the grid a little.
Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival attracts music fans who want to discover emerging artists.
Yeah. That’s the goal.
With its mainstream popularity, the spate of acquisitions that may have overly commercialized the scene, and some 29 confirmed drug-related deaths nationwide, was the electronic scene in danger of imploding?
I think we have to look around at the (regional) scenes. I would say that in New York there were individual scenes. At one point, there was house, techno, and drum and bass. Easy one. But at the same time, I want to say that all this stuff shifted to L.A., and music in the world changed, and marketing changed drastically. Suddenly all of the festivals were taking on everybody. And then there was the Tinder dating app. That’s where people hook up with an app and they aren’t going out as much anymore. That’s an issue as a promoter if you think about it. Also, the underground stuff started to be really scrutinized after the Oakland warehouse (the Ghost Ship) burned down. You had people dying, and that obviously was a big problem. So I think that there was a constant shaking out of what was. The world of electronic music used to have distinct scenes of fans and friends helping people out, and it slowly shifted for lots of reasons. Now I’m glad we are in it for the music. It used to be for the club, the night of the week, or for the party. My thing now is that if you are showing up for the music that’s pretty good. If you are willing to go there. That (the music) used to be one tentacle out of five, and now that’s the main tentacle. So I think it (the scene) has changed for a lot of different reasons.
[Smoke inhalation killed all 36 people who perished in a 2016 fire at an Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship, according to investigators. The blaze broke out during a concert, trapping scores of people. The warehouse had an internal maze of structures, making it difficult for patrons to escape the quickly moving fire.]
And the scene has spread out a little more too.
I think so too. I think that people are still going to be showing up to see dance music, but they are pulling that music from different sources now.
People are finding out about music, including electronic dance music, differently today. Previously, they had to go into a club to experience a new style of music. Now they can hear it online or through friends via social media.
Yeah, they don’t have to go out to a club which is really interesting, and totally different. That has changed it all. Changed how people connect with each other, and as a result, what they want to feel has changed a lot as well. There’s a lot of pressure now for people to be part of anything that is new and different. Like, “I want to understand everything that people want to talk about instead of experiencing a known quantity.” So that has changed a lot. Even the marketing has changed a lot. People are looking for different things. That’s become interesting.
As electronic music became more popular, and with large multi-genre festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Ultra Music Festival, and Electric Forest joining HARD, Electric Daisy, and Psycho Circus in offering a wide range of dance music—including live electronica, dubstep, breaks, electro, trance, house, techno, drum & bass– regional festivals have sprung up in North America serving specific nichés.
A small local electronic festival may provide something more unique as well as deliver a higher quality of artistic experience through the promoter’s familiarity with the local scene or through encouraging artists to create challenging sets.
How many local acts would you book for Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival?
Loads. It’s a constant discussion. One year I set the task, and I think that 75% of the line-up was local. Another year, it was 50%. I will be honest, and say that my problem in Brooklyn is that really creative artists can’t afford to live there anymore. If you are going to live in New York who are you, and what is your financial plan? This becomes interesting as well, right? The guys I end up really loving out of New York are the guys that have labels or have a little bit of backing or whatever. A cushion or the ability to survive. So it will be interesting in the next couple of years to figure it all out. Bringing (electronic) people back to Brooklyn when so many of them live in Berlin these days. There are a lot of artists living there. I think about that a lot. And about why we should have a connection to New York. New York is everybody’s fun city. For a good chunk of time, Brooklyn allowed creativity that was more carefree than what was happening in Manhattan. With all of these clubs (in Manhattan) you came to look good. Whether you got in or not or whatever. Brooklyn didn’t have that which helps you (as a club promoter) a lot of times.
The New York scene is different. It’s more sophisticated bars and clubs. People in Manhattan are used to going out after work. Brooklynites are apt to think, “Let’s get dressed up, and let’s go to Manhattan.” It’s for an occasion. A night out.
Yes, exactly. But I think that a lot of the Brooklyn scene can be interesting. If people putting on a show are willing to be open to being creative. So I like that part. And people still want to come to come to Brooklyn. So I think that the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival can be maintained.
A scaled down electronic music festival provides a more intimate alternative to the massive EDM festivals, with their corporate sponsorships, and festival atmosphere.
I don’t think that we will ever have to give into this (mainstream) like when I watch Coachella or others. Okay, I barely read those line-ups, except to see if I had friends on them. I’m excited for them, but that can’t be what my reference point is.
Brooklyn has some very cool music venues like House of Yes, Baby’s All Right, the Knitting Factory, Output, and Union Pool. I also love what Peter Shapiro and Charley Ryan did with the Brooklyn Bowl, which previously was an ironworks foundry.
Yeah, it‘s great what Peter is doing. He just kind of went for it. It’s good. He’s booking some good stuff. People are having fun there. He’s created something different. It’s really good, you know.
Who puts a music venue in a bowling alley?
(Laughing) Yeah, I hate the idea, but it works. Who am I to talk? It’s great.
A decade ago when you were starting out as a club and warehouse promoter, with its unused warehouses and buildings, Brooklyn was a natural home for electronic music.
Yeah. You know when we were doing BKLYN Yard, which was the outdoor space on the Gowanus Canal, we were doing electronic music once a week with Mister Saturday, and then the other weekend days were punk shows, food events, community-focused adventures and so on. The BKLYN Yard, in particular, because it was a disgusting piece of land. It was untouched. There were trees, which was kind of funny because everybody wanted trees. You couldn’t be outside (at night) because it was dark. It almost felt at the time that it was a testing ground for the developers. At the time, the Toll brothers were about to develop that space. Then it went to another developer because it got claimed by SuperFund Brooklyn as part of its overall cleanup of the Gowanus Canal.
What you were doing was very similar to Sound City (formerly Liverpool Sound City) when it relocated to the historic Bramley Moore Dock after years of utilizing clubs in Liverpool’s city center. What you were first doing was looking for venues where nobody was going to worry about pressure from local residents or politicians. Then came creeping gentrification.
A lot of different spaces that we were all in got developed through gentrification. I think that just must be an assimilating way in which the hardcore arts are always on the fringe. Williamsburg, the neighborhood in Brooklyn where I’ve worked a lot, was a bunch of artists, and now it’s like a box that is totally gentrified. It is clear what happened was really very direct. Bushwick, for example. We were all doing stuff there 20 years ago, and then within 10 years, it turned into “acceptable,” and in 20 years, it’s worn out. Really very direct, and fast in Brooklyn, I think.
While rapid economic and social transformations altered the make-up of Brooklyn over the past 20 years, underground promoters in New York have continually been dealing with task forces and residential challenges for many years as well.
I started doing shows in Detroit a couple of years ago, and just now we’re starting to activate this stuff from Detroit. The same thing there where I’m told nobody brings a show into the market there. I’m like, “What are you talking about. There are two million people in the area.” It’s just that everybody says no (to providing a venue), and nobody has been able to do it. But there are bodies there, and there are people there, and they want to connect with artists.
There’s also the bleed over of Canadians coming over the U.S./Canada border from nearby Windsor where Ritchie Hawtin and John Acquaviva launched their influential electronic label Plus 8 Records in the early ‘90s.
Exactly. We’ve done a couple of shows at the Leland Club, and while most people say, “How disgusting, other promoters probably won’t touch it.” I’m like, “Let’s just do it.” One of the things that I’ve noticed about Detroit is a lot of people saying, “Well, you are not from Detroit.” There’s a lot of that. “I’m like, “No. I’m from Brooklyn. I’m from Southern California.” The great thing about the West Coast…there’s probably no ego from being any place
Within your own city sometimes, it’s like forest and trees. It’s like, “We are going to use this space.” And locals then say, “What? That space?”
Exactly. And they have left, and it and it could be so lovely, right? Brooklyn was so clear for me. It was so great. I went to Gowanus. I did that thing. It took me a year to figure it out and build the audience. I knew there were guys coming out from the Mr. Sunday guys and all of that stuff. And it was the same thing in Williamsburg, right? I opened up the Volume Nightclub (the first major underground nightclub in Brooklyn) for these guys. I was part of that team. The guy that sort of brought me up was Serge Becker. He was The guy at the area club early on, the visionary guy. Serge was there with a bunch of other people. He was the first guy to be doing bands and DJs and stuff at Joe’s Pub.
Culture is translatable to international audiences After Detroit is there anywhere else that you’d like to do shows?
Yeah but nothing I can commit to yet, but yeah it’s a fantasy in which every year I’d like to try them on. I think about doing things in other cities. For now, Detroit is growth, and it’s interesting. I can still do a lot of interesting things here in Brooklyn and New York which is really fun. In my fantasy life I would go to Spain next month and the following month I would try for Dublin and then I would think of how to build some really niché situation in Guatemala.
What you did with warehouse events a decade ago is matched today by artists and brands utilizing pop-up stores to sell merchandise. You’d see a building that could be used for an event, and you ran with it. You went to a landlord, if one could be found and said, “Look give me the building for a couple of nights, and you’ll make some money. No risk to you. Here’s cash. We’re in business.”
I came pretty close a couple of years ago with that. Like the worst choice in my life, was probably (being a promoter). I am amazed that I am still doing that. I think back–the ticket right is the security of knowing that you can create a sensible event. That nobody is going to die on your watch, and it will be a lot of fun.
As you said in an interview, “And someone might even get laid in the bathroom.”
That might happen for sure. Like with the dim sum guys I worked with. We did a dim sum restaurant for years and years on the lower side. It was hilarious. I’m sure that every once in awhile that we’d knock the manager out. He asked me if I wanted to do a stripper party which I really thought out. He thought that I was going to bring him hookers. First, I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this. I have to think about it.” Interesting discussions like that. One venue in Brooklyn, Sugar Hill, is a black-owned urban nightclub. Only one of two that I can think of in all of New York City, right. So that becomes interesting, right? It’s interesting because how a business happens, how a family business, becomes part of a discussion of the show and the neighborhood, and all of the relationships with the venue, the promoter, and artists.
Sugar Hill is where MeanRed Productions does the 808 shows?
Yeah, we do that stuff there. It is kinda of amazing because I think that because I own my own business, I have a longer, more interesting life with them than I do in booking into Irving Plaza. Even though Live Nation is great, and I go to the Live Nation crew for dates, but what becomes more interesting for me is that a little bit of it (working at Irving Plaza with Live Nation) is political too, and a little bit is about the vibe too. They know me really well, but I’m not a catalog. I can’t lift it off directly (take a run-of-the-mill booking) but I can tell you how it feels, and tell you who could sponsor it. That is when the venue piece and the community piece becomes interesting. It’s about where the music needs to prowl a little that becomes interesting.
MeanRed still does shows at Output?
Yes. We still have shows going on in there. Probably once a month we have a show going into there. We have been with Output since the beginning.
You work under different titles as a promoter. Like CRUSH right?
A few years ago you booked garage-influenced U.K. pop darling Katy B at the Drom Club in the East Village. She’s pure pop which I wouldn’t expect you to embrace.
Yeah. I love it. I was always such a music fan, but I came from Joe’s Pub. I was there for three years. Joe’s Pub was a joint venture between Serge Becker and Josh Pickard and The Public Theater. It was the most amazing venue to be part of in those years. I was there for three years around 2001 or so. Serge really gave me my start as a booker. Bill Bragin was at the Public Theater heading up programming on their side, and Walter Durcatz and I were working on programming from the Joe’s Pub side. They were all pure music fans. I feel lucky that I came up with them, and saw how they worked because I could always figure out a way to enjoy any genre of music as a music fan, and then on the business side I could figure out how to market it. So, if America got more screwed up, and I needed to go and book country in Iran because that’s going to sell well, I think I could figure it out.
[Born in Paris to a Swiss mother and Vietnamese father, Serge Becker has for three decades designed many of New York’s most distinctive hot spots. His current portfolio includes La Esquina, The Box, Joe’s Pub, Café Select, and Miss Lily’s which also operates in Dubai. Previously, there were the Bowery Bar, Fez, M.K., and Area.]
You and Randy Henner were recently named as talent buyers at Blue Note Entertainment Group.
I like to have a big anchor home. A spoke. In New York, it’s really Live Nation and AEG. As a company, and as an individual I’m good at running into those guys a lot. And I’d rather not. I’d rather not run into anyone.
You also had worked from 2011 to 2014 at Downtown Records with Downtown Events.
We worked with RCRD LBL and we were producing Downtown events. I also paid a lot of attention to doing corporate clients.
How much are you using social media in marketing club events? Or do you count on the clientele of the club or fans of the act to draw on their own?
We have a really big mailing list so people know what shows that we are doing. Then we go on to whether or not the artist or the venue is promoting and we make sure that we are hitting the crowded space. Now it’s about figuring out the algorithms online. But what I know now is that when an artist puts up a show, and we push it to a bunch of places, it’s to the ones (people) that are going to come.
MeanRed comes from Truman Capote’s 1958 novella ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in which Holly Golightly called her bouts of anxiety “the mean reds.” Six years ago, you presented a TED talk “The Joy of Taking Risks.” With the birth of your daughter Marley, did you start taking fewer business risks?
I’d like to tell you I started taking fewer risks; I didn’t. I think that I just really had to go very hard at trying to figure out how to make a living for us. It pushed me to keep trying things. It took me a really long time to converge having a family, and a career though. I’ve only just now learned how to be the best in what I do.
Being a white mother in a mixed family must make race a present, yet also complex issue.
As a woman in a mixed family, I am constantly mindful of race and hatred because I will come across it. I often have experienced it. You are the white person who gets to be the non-white. I’m always happier with the person who will tell me, who will inform me on my life than not because, at least, they are honest with what they are thinking. The people who is hiding it (bigotry) are the ones that scare me. I’d rather hear it.
Marley is now 12.
Yep, my munchkin, she’s 12. She’s a good kid, and we talk a lot about making money off of art and thinking about art. The creativity. It’s just a constant thing about what motivation is. As a mom, I slowly paced myself in the business. When a bunch of my pals and I were out partying hard with agents and managers I did take more notes. Then I couldn’t go out, and party. Now that Marley is older I want to go to every festival; not because I want to be the power of the business in the middle of the room, but I want to see every band because then I’d know how to book them. That’s another truth that has come about lately for me is, I want to see a band or a DJ or an act. I’m not totally sure I know ( to book them) without doing that. I need to see them and feel them because then I can market them really well.
Being a kick-ass mom of a 12-year-old, has your daughter changed your musical tastes?
Yeah, she opens me up to certain things. She likes things that I don’t like. We talk a lot about K-pop. The aesthetic, right? She’s more interested in what is cute and what looks good. She really connects a lot of that to her music. She has learned a lot; learned about her aesthetic and tastes. K-pop has turned into a huge fascination for her. It is amazing being with her because she spends more time on Snapchat than anything else. I’m not putting that time on it. She is. I’d prefer that my kid was growing up more with pop or more with punk. But she’s her own person, and it’s “I like this” or “Snapchat did this. Do you know about this brand?” She has the branding aesthetic, and social media awareness in one quick little package. So she pushes me that way, but I probably don’t want to be pushed. She looked at the Kardashians, and she sized them up quickly and blew them off for whatever reason that she decided that they are not working it. Whereas I am still, “I don’t know how you don’t see it. They have so much power.”
I don’t know how the Kardashians merit a headline on Google News every day.
Crushing it. Crushing it. She’s post-Kardashians, already.
Okay, where does Marley stand on Taylor Swift?
Doesn’t know a thing about her nor does she care. I don’t know how to tell you what I will do with this information, but she can identify any singer by voice, which fascinates me. She’ll say that is Kate Perry or that is Beyoncé. She relates to the ladies that are pushing it a little like Selena Gomez for sure. Beyoncé which I think is really interesting. She’s not as much into Rhianna as I would want her to be. I want her to be a big Rhianna fan. She’s like, “Nope.” She wants to be around the prettier girls a little bit. Ariana Grande for sure.
Currently, live music is pushing beyond traditional boundaries as in the ‘50s’ and ‘60s. The gatekeepers—whether a label or radio programmers—are not as relevant. A good time for you?
I think so. In the past year, there’s a life to the business. I like to have real freedom to try things because that’s the way that I am. I did get more resourceful because I just felt it was okay if I figured it out. it is very interesting to me being between AEG and the big independents trying to figure out how do you exist in that world, and whether the shows you book will work, and how does that impact your life every day. I can try things. Like how do you book a club in Washington, D.C.? Before I wasn’t sure about doing a show in D.C. Now I can work with a venue there. Do they know that I will crush it for them? Yes. So this has become the energy that I try to take my kid into the world with. Also what I take to my kid, when she is older, is telling her, “You are going to get fake I.D., and you are going to come and work with me.”
You are from Los Angeles?
When you were growing up there the popular local bands were the Adolescents, Social Distortion, Agent Orange, Bad Religion, the Minutemen, Suicidal Tendencies, and Circle Jerks
Yep. Gwen Stefani (co-founder and the lead vocalist of No Doubt) was my breakout artist. She was really part of a bad ass underground independent scene when they started. They did a lot of warehouse stuff and a lot of ska punk kind of stuff was happening in motels and hotels. I remember shows at Denny’s on Sunset. Punk was fun then. I’ve thought a lot about artists that I really like. I kinda have a bucket list. I really want to book the Pixies. I reached out to Edward Ka-Spel (best-known for his work with the experimental rock group the Legendary Pink Dots which he co-founded) this year to try to book him for the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival. I thought let me just try, and get what I want.
You can sometimes get almost anybody you want.
Of course. I think that is kind of what the TED talk came out of. I constantly breathe like that. I don’t consciously think about that. You just live that kind of life and breathe it just becomes part of it and you just go. Then you end up a lot more successful like some. I had a conversation with Ice T’s management the other day because I was like, “I’d love to book your show.”
That would be cool.
Exactly, right? It might take me five years to get there but it’s going to happen but I’m going to tell him as often as I can because it’s fun and funny and by the way I love the shit out of Ice T and I’m going to tell the manager and the manager is going to hear my voice. And that’s cool.
Would you hang out at the Liquorice Pizza record store while living in Orange Country?
No. I was too young. I was really young. I started clubbing when I was 13 or something. Then my mom moved me when I was 15. Then I just went down there (to L.A.) a lot. We moved to Portland, Oregon for a couple of years, and then I moved to New York when I was a teenager.
You went to Portland with your family?
Yep. I went with my mom. It was there that I probably had my first club job. It was at this all-ages gay club called The City. I was a backup dancer for drag shows when I was 16. It was amazing. I felt so lucky and my mom was like, “Hey, what are you doing with a bunch of…
Did your mom and dad break up before you moved to Oregon?
No. They stayed together. What it was that my whole family, my Super Cal family, including my grandparents, all moved there. Then my mom talked my dad to go up there. On my mom’s side, all of them came from LA. Both of my grandfathers were housepainters. My father was the first to go to college.
What did you father do?
He did corporate real estate. He was at Home Depot for years and years. He worked his way up. My mother had a sewing business. She was entrepreneurial. She was more entrepreneurial. I followed her path. She also used to go and do residential real estate. Their real estate knowledge I sort of came up under that with both of them and that helped me with alternative venues because I could go and talk with them (owners and landlords) and then talk to the city, and then figure it out. I never called my dad. I probably should have. I never asked my dad.I probably should have. “How do you get Home Depot built because I need to get a warehouse permitted?” I didn’t but I learned how to maneuver. So I did a little bit of residential real estate investment, and that is sort of riff in my life. That helped me fund and start the company.
You were also a social worker.
I was a social worker for 10 years. I moved out (of the house) when I was 16. I got my Masters in social work at NYU, and that’s really how I got into underground stuff. At the time in Brooklyn, Mos Def had an Afro-American book store, Nkiru Books, around the corner from where I was working. I was paying for college by working in clubs, and it (the scene) all started happening. There was this real connection between hip-hop and social activism. Then there was an underground period in Brooklyn with very political people, and there were people throwing these parties in the streets in in Bushwick then. House of Yes came out of that energy. Very much so.
You transitioned from being a social worker to being a promoter.
I had to figure out how to combine my knowledge of non-prof with sort of the in-prof. I am so grateful that I went into the promoter business because I never would have learned about real business if I had stayed in non-profit. It is different. I would have learned about that business. It is different.
I recently interviewed Ruth Daniel, CEO/Artistic Director of In Place of War, a Manchester-based organization working with arts, creativity, culture and entrepreneurship in places of conflict around the world. IPOW collects equipment to establish new music studios in the world’s most marginalized communities, including in four locations in Uganda. She is also the founder of Un-Convention which has overseen some 80 events in over 25 countries in the past decade.
That combination is what I’d like one day. If I can grow up and have some connection to that piece; that’s the dream for me. That’s the total dream. How do you really move that forward? I get excited about this because what makes it awesome is that it all makes sense to me that as an art form music affects you faster emotionally than any other art form. It is an immediate response and, as with visual or theatrical arts, there is another layer of impact that happens. So music to me is, of course, it make so much sense to make a recording studio in Uganda because the minute someone there creates a sound, and the minute that they play it back, it changes their whole life.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”