This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Eddie Dean, founder Dean Entertainment Group.
Eddie Dean hustles.
You know how hard this guy works for his money?
He’s not only exploded nightlife culture throughout New York City and Brooklyn for nearly three decades but under his DEG Presents banner, he has organized innumerable events in dozens of venues
Among these are the MetLife Stadium, BKWRHS, Pier 94, New York Expo Center, Brooklyn Hangar, Central Park, Radio City Music Hall, and The Harbor Hills Project on Governors Island.
DEG owns and operates Schimanski, and Bar Schimmi in Brooklyn, and is seeking to launch a new seasonal entertainment extravaganza at the Coney Island Art Walls, just steps from the Coney Island seashore.
DEG has produced such annual events as Fearhouse, New York’s premier Halloween event; Big Week NYC, a week-long concert and event series in December culminating with a knockout New Year’s Eve show.
DEG has promoted shows by such top-flight artists as Kaskade, Diplo, Snake, Calvin Harris, Chance the Rapper, Tiesto, Travis Scott, Skrillex, Marshmello, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and Eric Prydz.
Dean’s first foray into live music came about while he was a young real estate agent in Brooklyn when he and a friend bought Faces, a small pub in Bay Ridge.
Next came Ruby’s, and later, Rock ‘N Jocks, both in Brooklyn.
Dean crossed over the 1.3 mile Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan in 1999 to open Hush in the Flatiron District. Two years later, the club was renamed Discotheque, and he installed a state-of-art sound system.
Two years later, Dean opened Tiki Room, prior to setting out to open one of nightlife’s most prestigious global brands in New York.
A club that changed his life.
In 2001, Dean had hired DJ Erick Morillo to spin at Discotheque. The duo then licensed the rights to open Pacha clubs in North America in 2005. For a decade, Dean oversaw Pacha New York, Hell’s Kitchen’s pre-eminent New York’s nightspot that became famous around the world.
In 2012, Dean launched RPM Presents, introducing dance music to venues throughout New York City with events at Pier 94, Radio City, Madison Square Garden, Governors Island, Central Park, Pier 36, MetLife Stadium, Citi Field, the Meadowlands Race Track, and more.
RPM also brought major festivals, including Electric Daisy Carnival, and Life in Color, to New York.
DEG Presents owns and operates a number of venues and provides concert and music event programming in multiple spaces throughout Brooklyn and New York.
Thank you for noticing that.
As electronic music became more popular, and with such 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— the bigger live music promoters, Live Nation and AEG Presents, have both planted EDM flags of their own, but are less inclined to grind out promoting events within its sub-nichés.
DEG Presents is able to offer major, middle, and small events through your familiarity with the local scene, and through encouraging artists—many of which are friends—to create challenging sets. You can, perhaps, also move quicker in covering live electronica, dubstep, electro, trance, house, techno, drum & bass more fully.
Have you been eavesdropping on me for the last 5 years? You are on point, let me tell you. Holy crap, man! You are absolutely right.
Also, you work a great deal within Brooklyn, which is ultra-competitive. Though Output closed last year, Brooklyn has emerged as a hub for locally sourced and international electronic music, functioning as an alternative to Manhattan’s party scene. Clubs like Brooklyn Mirage, Elsewhere, and Analog and more than a dozen others host popular weekly DJ nights. Plus after a four-year hiatus, Germany’s Time Warp, one of the most coveted techno music festivals in the world, recently returned to the U.S. for just the third time in its history, thanks to veteran Brooklyn party promoter Teksupport. There’s also the annual Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival which started in 2008.
Still, no Live Nation or AEG for you to contend with in your lane.
Well look what is really important is that if you look at how the Live Nations and AEGs are built, right? They have venues of all different sizes. But when you have a bunch of people running companies, and it’s not really their money that they have in a publicly-traded company so the checks are flying around. If they need this or that, they can get it. I’m sure that there are checks and balances, and there are budgets of course…
Of course, AEG or Anschutz Entertainment Group, and concert promoter AEG Presents are privately-owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz.
Correct. They are private. But the thing is if you have a big checkbook behind you…As an individual guy like myself, I have to be really nimble. I need to be everything to everybody which is very difficult to do in any line of work.
While working in real estate in Brooklyn in 1989, you and an ex-cop buddy took over a small Irish pub in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn that was up for sale. This was Canterbury’s which stayed open for three months until you closed it to renovate, and then opened it as Faces Neither of you had club experience. You had no idea what you were doing, right?
Being a 24-years old, a young guy, and everybody had seen the (Tom Cruise 1988) movie “Cocktail,” you think, “I’m going to be this swashbuckling club owner. Then I ended up meeting my wife right off the bat.
You met your wife Kim the opening night of Faces?
That is one of the funniest stories and it’s true. I often say it was the first night, but it was within the first couple of days. She’s managed to bear with me all these years. She’s a real superhero in all of this, believe me. She’s the superhero.
So this was a failing Irish pub?
Yeah. It was failing. Every single place I’ve ever had, to be honest with you, has been a failed venue. Every one.
Ruby’s, and Rock ‘N Jocks in Brooklyn?
Every one of these were failed venues.
The Flatiron District nightclub Hush you bought in 1999?
Absolutely, it was a defunct club that failed.
Installing a world-class sound system there, Hush was rebranded as Discotheque in 2001, and there was the theme club, Tiki Room.
Discotheque was a controlled exit as was Tiki Room. I sold both to my investor partners, and they were both out of business within 9 months after I sold to them.
Not unlike the real estate practice of flipping properties. Fix them up and sell them.
Yeah. A couple of the places I ran through the entire lease. Faces I ran out a 10-year lease. Ruby’s, I had a 7-year lease, and I ran it out. Rock ‘N Jocks was a sale in the end. I sold it. It’s very rare to sell one of these businesses because there are so many that go out of business that you can get for free. But I sold Tiki Room and Discotheque to my partners because I was opening Pacha, and I wanted to dedicate full-time to Pacha. Then I ended Pacha with a controlled exit as well. I did it in a proper way. Paid everybody what I owed them.
Rents in Brooklyn have shot up over the past 20 years as rapid economic and social transformations have altered the make-up of the borough. Does your background in selling real estate help you in scouting and evaluating new locations for your music venues? Do you rely on that background to be able to size up a building, and work out their somewhat complicated leases?
Yeah, that’s a great pickup. I do. I’m actually looking hard right now for another place (in Brooklyn) to go back to my roots, I guess. An Irish sports bar concept. It has been really helpful lately because with the way the rents have climbed in New York….you are only as good as your lease. A lot of guys fall in love with the location or they fall in love with a concept. Your lease, your real estate agreement, is just as important, probably it’s more important than your concepts, your relations, your connections, and your experience. If you don’t have a favorable lease agreement, you are kind of finished before you start up. You are already on your way out of the business.
By now, everybody in New York knows the story of City Winery’s founder and CEO Michael Dorf doing $2.3 million worth of construction at his wine-centric music venue at 155 Varick St. after extending its lease for 5 years in September 2017 only to learn that the building was part of a Trinity Church-owned parcel to be sold, and to be demolished. In a $650-million deal, Disney took a 99-year lease on the property, and plans to develop a million-square-foot office complex known as 4 Hudson Square.
City Winery was ousted from its location, and Dorf is now constructing a new 32,000 square-foot City Winery at Pier 57 at Hudson River.
(The $2.3 million investment renovation, Dorf claims, would not have been made if he’d known he’d be forced to close a year later. Seeking to recoup his loss, he is now suing Trinity Church. While the City Winery lease contained a 12-month demolition clause, Dorf maintains he was assured Trinity would not exercise the clause for three to five years.)
You want a laugh? A small world. I was at a wedding about a month ago, a young couple, my friend’s daughter. They were scheduled to have it at City Winery, and they were called when the news broke and were told, “Listen sorry, but your wedding date is no longer going to be viable because of the (Disney) transaction. However, if you can move your date up a few months, we have a date we can make work.” The couple hadn’t sent out the invites yet, so they said, “Well okay, we will do that.” They were literally getting ready to send their invites out when they got another call, “Oops, we were wrong. We were informed that we have to vacate immediately. So now we cannot do that date. However, we have City Vineyard, an alternative venue that we’ve opened down on the water across from the West Side Highway.”
At Pier 26 in Tribeca’s Hudson River Park, on the banks of the Hudson River.
Pier 26, yes. The City Vineyard. That is where the wedding was held. If it was summertime, you wouldn’t have minded, but it was a brisk, cold and wet day. Thank God that these two kids had such a positive attitude. They really rolled with the punches. The mother was fine with it. The kids were fine with it. It turned out to be a really beautiful wedding.
In addition to disclosures that are standard to most New York City rental contracts, there are certain extras it’s wise to have an attorney add into your paperwork before a closing. And look out for any surprise clauses.
You are absolutely right. In New York City, they have what is called the “knock down clause.” You may get into a situation—One of the reasons that I sort of left Pacha was because of my landlord. I wanted to stick around. I wanted to reinvent the place. I was looking at some new, and different concepts. He gave me a 10-year lease, but after 3 years he wanted to have the option to take it (the lease) back at a moment’s notice. Go to your investors, and be honest and transparent with them, and say, “Put up three, four, or five million, but we might be closed in three years.” That just wasn’t workable so I just decided I wanted to move on. I realized nothing I could do would ever compare to Pacha.
Selling real estate in Brooklyn, that background would have prepared you to deal with both tenant contracts and financing issues? You’d know the finer details? In his book “Indulge Your Senses” (Post Hill Press), Michael Dorf tells stories of when he owned and operated The Knitting Factory. About regrettable financing deals including working with venture capitalists, and a business-savvy music angel. You are, perhaps, more versed with these types of finer contractual obligations because of your real estate background.
Yeah, well it all does interchange. With real estate, there’s the deal-making aspect of real estate that certainly lends itself to business dealings. So there are certain clauses when you get into percentages of things, and understanding expenses. People get caught up in the rent, what is the per square foot type of things as the top numbers that you see; but, if you are paying portions of real estate tax or shares in insurance in the building, you have to figure out the proportion of shares to your space versus the overall insurance for the entire building
You have to really dive deep.
Lawyers are supposed to be looking out for you but, quite often, unfortunately, there are lawyers who overlook things. Just because they got a degree from a particular college doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t make mistakes. You don’t believe that it’s a problem until it’s too late. So it’s very, very important.
You were such a young guy when you were a newbie selling real estate in Brooklyn.
I was a fly-on-the-wall. I volunteered to go to closings—I think about this a lot because I didn’t have to be there, but something about me wanted to understand the workings of the business. Not that this building was sold for X to this group for Y. I wanted to be there to hear the horseshit and the banter. I learned by watching my bosses negotiate, and teeing up the thing. Teeing up, and asking if in a deal if it was something they really, really wanted. They’d ask, really be interested in something else, only to give that back to the other side because the other side was reading that they wanted it. It was all about negotiating because they would then slip in something that they really, really wanted. So you really learn the nuances and the body language. So when I have a closing, I’m paying attention to things that, maybe others aren’t, and I’m looking for that sell (opportunity). That, “Hey, wait. Maybe there’s an opportunity here to get a little more of this or more of that.” Whatever you can do with your lease really, really helps in the long run. Otherwise, I would say that you bought yourself a job. You go to work day in and day out. You don’t make any money. You pay the bills. Pretty rough.
At 55, how long do you see yourself in the live music game?
Well, I do pick my spots carefully. I am at the club a lot less than I used to be. I see your point. I’d always be at Pacha ‘til the end of the DJ’s night. Networking and making sure everybody was happy, and everything was working well. With the clubs, I have a great core staff of people that are with me. Very trustworthy people. I am at the club (Schimanski Nightclub at 54 N.11th Street in Brooklyn), if (UK record producer and trance DJ) Paul Oakenfold is in town. He’s an old friend. I try to spend the weekends with my family as much as I can. Dinner with friends and things like that. I really work hard with the balance of it. I’m not at the club Schimanski as I would have been in the past. I just try to balance it more. As long as I balance I don’t see any end in sight. It’s what I do.
Would you consider opening a club outside New York and New Jersey?
These businesses, it’s hard, man being around. This type of thing, you have to be there because it’s a cash business. It’s really not. I don’t worry about that shit. If someone is stealing, and they get caught, It’s on them. I never really got myself too caught up in that sort of stuff. It is more about making a decision, putting your culture on a plate, and how management handles situations. Just dimming the lights at the right time.
Would Philadelphia be a market to expand into?
It could be. I’ve worked if Philly a few times. We were going to do a couple of shows there, but Philly is not that big of a market, and it’s well-represented. D.C. is a great little market too, but it’s a small little market. Even Miami isn’t a big market. It’s not. There’s one or two players down there. People have their little niches down there. To go into some markets is not too easy. My relationships, my knowledge everything is here. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t do something in Las Vegas or L.A.
You had talked with Las Vegas casinos about opening Pacha there.
Well, you have to do it with a casino. You have got to do it the right way. You can partner with one of the casinos, and do a joint venture. Like a management arrangement. That’s what a lot of guys do. They (the casinos) take your concept. They build it. They take the lion’s share of the profits, and then you get something once the investment is paid back. I’ve come close several times to opening Pacha out there, but for different reasons, it didn’t work out. I just think it’s a very tiny market there, and they close ranks out there when a new guy is going to come to town. I may have been on the wrong end of that a little bit. I can’t prove it, but it is funny how certain things didn’t pan out.
Club owners in Miami, who were interested in opening Pacha there, flew you down, picked you up in a limo, and had you experience their club. No deal came, however.
I came very close. When I had Pacha everybody was pushing me to do Miami, and L.A. I was like, “Guys it’s not going to work there.” I presented a plan, and I said, “If we were going to do a second Pacha (in North America) we should do Toronto or Montreal.” They didn’t understand that. I even went up to Toronto and looked at Circa, Peter Gatien’s club (a 55,000 square-foot entertainment venue). The realty company wanted $125,000 a month rent. Ten years ago. I said, “If you want $125,00 a month, then you are going to get it for the first three months, maybe two months or one month. Then we are going to be in court. If you give it to me for $25,000 a month, I’ll be here for 20 years.”
You are actively seeking to launch a pair of Irish-styled pubs in Brooklyn.
I’m looking really for a personal thing. It’s full circle. I started out with pubs. I’m a huge sports fan. I’m a huge pub fan. I love a great pub. A great burger, and a pub. I just love that. That’s where my roots are. I have some friends from Ireland who are very prolific athletes there; that are retired, and they have opened a few pubs. We’ve been talking for years about, “Let’s do it over here.” If you look up Bernard Brogan, who just retired as a very prolific Gaelic football player. His father (Bernard Senior) was a legend in the ‘70s. His brothers (Alan and Paul) all played for the national championship team. Just a great bunch of guys. A tremendous family. They have a couple of pubs.
(Dublin GAA legend Bernard Brogan retired from inter-county football in October 2019, announcing the news on a statement on Twitter. The 35-year-old, who made his championship debut in 2007, recalled “15 amazing years” representing the Dubs in which he won 7 senior All-Ireland football titles, four All-Stars, and the 2010 Footballer of the Year award. He is part of a distinguished Irish sporting family, with his brothers being former Dublin players, while his father Bernard Sr. and uncle Jim also lined out for Ireland.)
It is really intriguing to pull all my Irish heritage together with what I love best running pubs with sports and music. The other fellow is Chris Byrne of (the American Celtic rock band) Black 47. I really want to put all of these things together. My real true love would be to put together an Irish sports bar/music pub with strategic partners like the Brogan family, and with Chris Byrne. Chris owns a bar out in Red Hook (Brooklyn), and we are talking about giving it a facelift and opening up a revamped Irish pub there with a group of really great people. We can work on building a scalable Irish pub./sports bar concept. That is taking up some of my time lately.
In 2019, DEG Presents didn’t do any shows at the Brooklyn Hangar.
We’ll still do shows there. We didn’t do any there this year. They were doing a big movie or TV shoot there that prevented us from planning out (an event) in advance. But I fully plan on doing more shows there. I love working there. Great management and ownership. We love working with them. I love the venue. I imagine next year we will get a bunch of shows on the map there.
This summer, there was a considerable local media frenzy over DEG Presents launching Amuse at the Coney Island Art Walls. But it was just a one-off show with more being planned in 2020 at the venue located at Bowery Street and W. 15th Street, just steps from the Coney Island seashore, and within walking distance of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, Luna Park, the Cyclone, New York Aquarium, the Ford Amphitheater and MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones.
There’s a little pedestrian walkway they call it the Bowery, and it’s right behind (the original) Nathan’s (Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue). I did the one show, and the press really ran with that. I couldn’t believe the reaction. We did have bigger plans for it. We are re-thinking to look at it this coming year, right now. It was in a venue that has existed for a couple of years. I went down there to pitch them on one show that I felt would be a good fit. I connected with the operator of the venue (representing Thor Equities). He’s a little younger than me, but he also started out doing some things in Bay Ridge, broker-wise, where I started off. So we hit it off. But it was in May, and it was way too late in the (summer) season to get any substantive shows down there. We are taking a harder look at it this year to get a real jump on it for next summer, and see if, maybe, we can put together a little more of a border.
The concept behind Amuse is to have a scalable 20,000 square-foot tent occupying a 50,000 square-foot lot, nearly the size of a football field, with various options for day time and evening events to up to 4,000-capacity concerts.
Right. So we built it Amuse. We gave it a name, short for Amusement. We are right in the middle of all of amusements there. The tent is part of the bigger plan but with only one show confirmed, we put the tent on hold. That is really the big thing that is being examined now. Does it warrant making this massive investment to put this really cool custom tent down there or not? We are gauging that now over the next two weeks and will come to some sort of decision. Are we going to do the same as last year? A couple of dates here and there. Will we go really big? That is really being evaluated right now.
Meanwhile, you are planning further major events at The New York Expo Center in The Bronx, located directly on the East River Waterfront. Its prominent smokestack can be seen from across the East River, the Major Deegan Expressway, the Bruckner Expressway, and the Triborough Bridge. A 10-acre venue space, it features a 90,000 square-foot interior space with a 60,000 square-foot main event space.
New York Expo is really a great and interesting venue. For many years. I did all my big EDM concerts up at Pier 94 on the West Side Highway. Three years or so ago I had a tremendous line-up set up for Halloween and New Year’s, and they decided that they didn’t want to do any more concerts there. An internal decision. So I was out looking. Where do you find a place where you can do six, seven or eight thousand people, right? It’s really hard to find that in New York City where you aren’t going to bother neighbors. A broker said, “Take a look at The Bronx.” He showed me a few spots around Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx. I came across this. It’s a very big family development group that owns a lot of property in Brooklyn along the water here and in Greenpoint and in Dumbo They have been investing in the South Bronx for a few years. It used to be a manure factory. For this business, it’s a Horseshit Factory so it is sort of apropos, right? It’s really funny. It has “great bones” as they say. Really high ceilings. A really old and cool industrial warehouse. It has taken me three years to really get it on the map. I did that really big Halloween show there which went well.
How many shows will you do there in 2020?
This year we are putting up 5 shows. Next year I’m hoping to do 10 shows. Double it for next year now that the world is looking. The #1 DJs in the world we have had to make Halloween with a great lineup of importance. We sold out 8,000 tickets this year. Everybody loved the venue. All the artists were from Belgium, Holland, and Italy, and they are all staying in Manhattan. They get in their SUV, and they are going to the gig. They are going over the Queensboro Bridge, through the Queen’s Midtown Tunnel. The next thing they are on the RK Bridge (Robert F. Kennedy Bridge)). They are on the Bruckner (Bruckner Expressway. They are driving under the Bruckner. They are driving over an old bridge into Hunts Point (in The Bronx).”WHERE ARE WE GOING? HOW IS ANYBODY GOING TO FIND THIS PLACE?” All of these artists are in Manhattan. They don’t really venture out of Manhattan. It’s like. “Where are we going?
In 2005, you were commissioned by the Urgell family – who started the Pacha legacy in 1967 – to bring the Ibiza-based nightlife Pacha brand to America. Pacha New York debuted on December 7th, 2005 on the city’s West Side, and soon became one of the world’s leading nightlife clubs. There wasn’t a lot going on in New York in those days other than Limelight, Palladium and a handful of lounges and clubs.
It’s funny when I opened Pacha New York there was probably 10 big clubs, and before that there were probably 20 of them. There was also indoor and outdoor lounges and hotel rooftops. There’s a scene in Harlem now. There’s a scene out in Queens. When I say scene I mean that there are functional places. There are so many options these days. Back in the day when you had (Canadian club owner) Peter Gatien. could you imagine owning, The Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel, and Club USA?
(The first Pacha club opened in the beach town of Sitges, Spain in 1967, and first expanded to Barcelona and the Catalan coast. Ibiza’s Pacha opened in 1973, and became world-famous, with the brand expanding into the hotel business with El Hotel Pacha there, and to clubs in Dubai, Buenos Aires, New York, Macau, and Sydney.)
Prior to opening Pacha New York, you had been hanging out in Ibiza with Euro DJs, and your soon-to-be partner, DJ Erick Morillo, was then Pacha Ibiza’s most popular DJ, working there for 9 years, and building a loyal following. The relationship Erick had with clubs goers there and around the world was quite amazing, and certainly his work as a producer under the pseudonyms Reel 2 Real, Ministers De la Funk, The Dronez, RAW, Smooth Touch, RBM, Deep Soul, Club Ultimate, and Li’l Mo Ying Yang is unsurpassed.
Yes, We were definitely ahead of the curve. A lot of guys, who tried to duplicate that model since have failed. We were the first to really do it. I started with Faces in 1990. That’s where I started with live bands and evolved into dance music. I started getting into DJ-driven music in the mid to late ‘90s, and when I came to the city I really started getting into it. So I knew about it. My (RPM Presents) partner at the time, Rob Fernandez, he really was a lifer in the New York City nightlife scene. He was a real aficionado. He knew every DJ that came through New York in the previous 10 or 15 plus years. He knew where they played. How many people they did that night. He knew the weather that night. He was really, really a student of nightlife. and the DJ-driven model. I chose him to be my right-hand guy. and creator and curator. He was just the best guy.
(Rob Fernandez was director of promotions and booking at Pacha New York for close to a decade. He also was co-partner with Dean in RPM Presents. As well, Fernandez was known for his parties at the Meatpacking District spot, Cielo.)
Every known DJ, starting with Carl Cox that first New Year’s, spun at Pacha New York’s supersized DJ booth.
When I had Pacha, we had every DJ in the world come to the club. You’d be hard-pressed to find, one of these Top 100 guys that there is hardly one or two of them that their first gig in America, never mind Europe, that their first gig in America wasn’t at Pacha New York.
David Guetta frequently was spinning at Pacha New York long before he was internationally known.
David was a good friend of my partner, Erick Morillo. When we first opened up the club, Erick said, “I want you to book this guy from France, David Guetta.” I said “Okay but who is he? I have never heard of him. Erick said, “Look, he works in Ibiza and he’s great. He’s talented, and he’s going to be really popular.” So we booked David right from the beginning. We did several shows with him. I will never forget driving to work one day (in 2009) coming off Westside Highway, and “I Gotta Feeling” came on the radio with the Black Eyed Peas and David Guetta. I remember texting him. “I’ve just heard this on the radio.” He was like, “I know I know. I heard. I can’t believe it.” So yeah I go back to the beginning of EDM for sure you know. That was the first really big modern-day crossover song. There had been sporadic ones over the years before, but of the modern-day EDM era, that was the first one. We had a very long and good relationship with David.
(“I Gotta Feeling” spent 14 consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, making it the longest-running number-one single of 2009.)
While Pacha New York held a 10th anniversary, you had planned to close it down earlier. Rob passed away, and you closed the club within 6 months. Had the time come to close considering the average nightclub lasts 18 months, and Pacha New York was still standing nearly a decade later.
There’s a funny anecdotal story about that. We saw the pre-EDM boom. We lived through the EDM boom. We could see certain artists that sold 200 tickets, and then they sold 900 tickets, and then 2,500 tickets. Then we did them at the Brooklyn Hangar with 3,000 people or a pop-up warehouse. We did them up at Pier 94 for 7,000 or 8,000 people. Then we also saw the same artists suddenly selling 1,000 to 700 (tickets). So all our documents, our paperwork, and our notes showed that it (EDM) had peaked, and it was correcting itself a little bit. We also had a four-story city warehouse with Pacha. If you wanted to see David Guetta, and you were on the third floor looking to see what’s out there, that’s not your idea of a show. So we really had a dinosaur of a venue, and we saw that. I really wanted to make sure when I ended it that I didn’t want it to die like a lot of other clubs. Just twisting in the wind, and fading away. I wanted to do a closed organized end, and wrap it up. I wanted to end it at 9 years. But it was Rob who said, “C’mon let’s do one more year. We will end it at 10 years. We will end with 10 nights in a row with 10 of our biggest DJs.”
Then Rob suddenly died in his 40s from what his family said were “heart-related causes while jogging.”
I was planning our 10-year anniversary/closing when he passed. The moral of the story is that I wanted to close Pacha earlier. After Rob passed, I felt we had to stick to our game plan. I pushed that. Instead of ending on New Year’s Eve, we pushed it out to mid-and-late January (2015). We really got preoccupied about doing a big charity event in September in Rob’s honor to benefit his son Ryan, and from the time that he passed in early July to September, we were just preoccupied with that. I wasn’t even thinking of the closing at that point. We focused entirely on this charity event. It was the most nerve-racking event that I had ever done. It was so important. So many people supported it. So many artists came around for it. I don’t know if you will ever see that for anybody in this industry ever again. Rob had such an impact on so many people that we didn’t want to screw it up. In the end, it was a tremendous success. We raised a good amount of money for his son’s education and to help his family out. It was really a positive thing. Then after that, I turned and said, “Okay now what am I doing?”
You ultimately made the decision to close Pacha.
I was trying to put the pieces together. “Do I want to continue? Do I want to re-brand? I was really putting a lot of time and thought into it. Weeks and months. One day I just made up my mind to close Pacha. I had a press release written, and I said, “Send it out.” I didn’t even tell my wife or my kids. They all saw it online. It went viral. I sent it out at the beginning of November. And i said, “That’s it?”
Once we announced that we were closing, you saw the crazy response. We did a lot of big events and monumental important events in our career between RPM and club Pacha. We got lot of engagement on our social media posts, but the biggest response to any social media post ever was the announcement that we were closing. The outpouring from around the world really put into perspective how important that club was during that period of time.
Avicii wrote a beautiful thing saying, “What a shame. One of my two most favorite clubs in the world was Pacha New York.” I couldn’t believe it. It was something that he took the time to write. It was a real nice acknowledgement. Of course, we worked very close with him. That’s really is what helped to start RPM. It was because Avici wanted to do a big concert to make a statement in New York. We did New Year’s Eve 2011 with him at Pier 94. That was our first real big show outside of the club.
Any regrets today of closing Pacha New York?
I don’t have any regrets whatsoever. We put our best foot forward, and we had one of the best instrumental night clubs in the world for 10 years. Nobody can take that away from us. Pacha New York really put a lot of careers in America on the right track. It was really such a pivotal venue. We did a lot of good things there, and I’m very proud. A lot of kids’ first club experience was Pacha. A lot of DJs got their first tapes played in Pacha. A lot of kids learned about music, and clubs at Pacha that grew up with techno and trance, and all of sub-genres you mentioned earlier. But they were introduced there to it.
You had also partnered with Insomniac for dates in New York market as well.
We were partners with them. I put the deal together.
A few months after Pacha New York’s closure, you launched Pacha Macau, China’s first mega club.
That was a three-year licensing deal. Yes, that was within three months.
What on earth were you thinking in launching Pacha in Macau, China In April 2015? Talk about an ego out of control. Launching a club in Macau are you kidding me? While in the midst of planning the 4th annual Electric Daisy Carnival New York at the MetLife Stadium, as well as a series of warehouse shows in Brooklyn. You also brought the Halloween event series “Pier of Fear” back to Pier 94, followed by your annual New Year’s Celebration.
So an ego out of control?
(Laughing) Well, you are right in many ways. At the time I was closing Pacha, and it (Macau) was an opportunity that came to me. It was very intriguing. I had a contract that was carefully thought out. I didn’t have to move there. I agreed to a certain amount of visits before the opening. Effectively, it was a consulting deal that turned into a management deal because when I helped them broker the deal with the (Urgell) family in Ibiza said, “Well, we need you to help run the place.” So we put together a management agreement, and we put a staff together. What I learned quickly is that it is very difficult to operate in Asia, in particular in Macau. They really are not into the non-gaming residency like Vegas. It is a very unique environment (under casino operator Melco Resorts and Entertainment), and we were very dependent on (nearby) Hong Kong. They really didn’t want to spend the money to market and promote the venue properly. We ran into a lot of walls there. It was really frustrating. I felt the place could have done a lot better than it did, but our hands were tied. I did bring some big artists down there. For the first show I brought in Paris Hilton. The Asian community really loves American celebrities, and she’s well-known in Asia. It was a smash success. It was a real Vegas’ lifestyle pool party, and we really took it to another level. I feel we did accomplish some things there, and we did make some history there. It was a lot of positives. But I learned a lot about the culture, and learned a lot about frequent flier miles
Afterwards, you opened up the Schimanski Nightclub, saying, “I started in Brooklyn.” Make no mistake about it, you are a live music lifer.
I wasn’t ready to hang ’em up. I still love the hospitality. I love producing events. There are lot of parts of this business that are different from what they were over the last decade. There’s certainly a lot less fun now. It is definitely all business. It certainly is not the same, and not having Rob around is not the same. We were known to be hard-working 24/7 workers which we were but a lot of that time we were laughing and making each other laugh. If I miss anything about Rob, more than anything, are the laughs that we had together. Getting each other crazy, warped sense of humor. Al the inside jokes. That is one thing I certainly will miss every day.
You are from Caldwell, New Jersey?
A world-famous musician lived in Caldwell for years.
Let me think.
He played in one of the most famous bands in the world.
Was it the Beatles?
Yes. It’s drummer Andy White.
I did not know that.
(Glasgow-born Andy White started playing drums in a pipe band at 12, and became a professional session musician at 17. In 1962, he received a call from EMI producer Ron Richards asking him to attend a Beatles’ recording session at Abbey Road in London. The Beatles had recorded “Love Me Do” twice earlier at an EMI with Pete Best on drums while he was still a member of the group; and again with Ringo Starr on drums, The version of “Love Me Do” with Ring was used on the early UK pressings of the single. The version with White was used on the first American pressings of the single, and all later releases of the single, and on the Beatles’ albums that included the track. White later played on “Shout” by Lulu and the Luvvers in 1964, and Tom Jones’ 1965 hit “It’s Not Unusual.” In the late 1980s, White moved to the U.S. and lived in Caldwell where he taught Scottish pipe band drumming. He died at age 85 after a stroke in Caldwell in 2015.)
Not to mention America’s 22nd and 24th president Grover Cleveland, the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office, was born in Caldwell.
I went to Grover Cleveland Junior Hall, so I am well aware. Caldwell is a great town. I still have a lot of my friends down there. I getting together swoon with a whole school of buddies. I haven’t seen some of them in over 25 years. Over the holidays, we are going to get together in impromptu poker matches, and have a little bit of wine. Instead of drinking warm beer, we now drink wine.
Your father died while you were still at the University of Delaware?
That is right. I was at the University of Delaware. I was a Bachelor of Arts. I had no direction. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My dad was a lawyer. I loved history. I loved reading. To this day I spend a good part of my day reading anything. I just read read read. I read a lot. I loved history. I love reading about history. I don’t know. I had a few law courses. So I thought, “I could do this.” So I was leaning toward going to law school, like my father, and when he died suddenly—and it was sudden. There was no sign. He lived in Brooklyn. We were out in Jersey. He passed away. He had a heart attack and died. It kind of put me in a position, “My family. I have to go and work.”
You didn’t finish college?
I didn’t go back to school for my final semester. I only needed 12 credits, and I promised my mother “Don’t worry. I’ll get the 12 credits.” And I did over the course of the next year. My dad passed away the first week of December in ’85, and by the end of December, I had a job.
What kind of job?
I was in sales. Back in the day when Bell Telephone had a monopoly, and the government made them break it up, you had all of these regional telephone companies now back in the mid-80s. I was selling private payphones. My job was to go around to any place that had a (Bell) payphone and try to replace it. So I got paid $600 every time I replaced an old Bell telephone with a private payphone. If you went to a diner years ago, they’d have those (line of) phone banks. Six phones in a diner. I figured out if I went to a diner, and sold 6 payphones I could make 36 thousand bucks. Instead of going into little coffee shops that had one payphone. So I’m 21 and I am working in an office with probably a team of 15 salespeople. They were experienced salespeople. All older. Every Friday we’d have a sales meeting. They’d put up on the board how the phones were going. I’d sell 7 or 8 phones. The others were selling zero or one or two. After about the third week, two of the guys in the office took me to lunch. I thought, “This is awesome. The older guys are taking me to lunch.” We get the lunch and they say, “What’s your trick kid? Are they feeding you these deals? How are you selling all of these phones?” They got in my face. Threatening me. I thought I was going out for a nice hamburger.
Did you ever see the 1959 British film “I’m Alright Jack?” It’s a satire on British industrial life in the 1950s. The trade unions, workers and bosses are all seen to be incompetent or corrupt. A new employee is tricked into showing how much more quickly he can do his job than other more experienced employees. When the union foreman is informed of the results, he calls a strike to protect the rates his union workers are being paid.
Well, listen. You stole my punch line because what happened was I left that meeting thinking, “What the hell was that?” So the next week comes around, and the boss says, “Steve”—the sales guy who called me up, “How many stops did you make last week?” He pulls his book out, and he says “I made 52.” The next guy says, “48.” Then “37, 61.” I had gone to 220 stops. I didn’t know any better. I’d go into a place, and I’d look around. If there was no phone, I’d leave. Or I’d go in, and talk to the person (manager or owner), and realize that they didn’t want to get rid of the phones, and I’d leave. Being 21, you are in shape, right? My knees and ankles hurt from getting out of the car so much because I was seeing so many people. The old saying, right? “Sell.” It’s a numbers game.
Your gift of analysis might also be because of your father who was a trial lawyer. I know he died while you were a junior in college but he would have had an analytical, “Check the small print,” mind too.
Yeah. My parents got divorced when I three years old so I didn’t grow up with my dad. But it’s funny now that I am 55, I look back on it and I believe that I must have inherited some kind of instinctive stuff from him because I was never taught a lot of stuff. When I was in my early years of business, I didn’t know. I think about it now that I’m older, and I have my young kids I think, “Man I must have really picked up stuff.” His friends, and my family’s friends often times would make comments about it. Along those lines. It didn’t really resonate with me, but over time as I thought about it more, I must have inherited some of his better qualities.
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 a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.