515 Alive – August 2012
Editor: Alissa Sheldon
The premiere electronic music festival in the state turns ten years old this year. IMB sat down with organizer Brad Goldman to discuss the past, present, and future of the best street party in town.
IMB: This is the tenth anniversary of 515 Alive. What was the genesis of the festival?
BG: I wasn?t around the first year, but I think it was really just a function of a group of DJs who love this kind of music. They were doing underground rave type stuff, and they thought if they did something outdoors that was a little unique, maybe they could catch different people?s attention.
IMB: What path led you to get involved in this scene and with 515 Alive?
BG: I?m from Des Moines, and I used to go to a club I think was called Bugsy?s downtown. I remember being enamored by what I called ?the endless song? that the DJ mixed there. I was taken by the romance of the turntables.
I was best friends with Johnny Farrell in high school, and his dad ran a bunch of clubs. One Sunday we got to have a high school party at Crobar, and the resident DJ played that Chicago house sound. It was such a new kind of thing to hear ? this was 1994 ? and it influenced me. I bought a set of turntables and was horrible at it. I tried and practiced, and had a lot of fun with it.
When I went off to college, I moved to Miami, which has an amazing nightlife scene. I was the only guy from Iowa, hanging out with a bunch of guys from New York. Miami really became the hotbed for the emergence of electronic music, and while I was there a number of clubs started popping up: Crobar, Level, Space, etc. While there, I got very deep into the culture of the music.
I returned from Miami in 2002, and wanted to bring the scene back here to Des Moines. I tried a bunch of different things ? some of them worked, most of them didn?t. Richard McCabe was at the hub of everything happening, and he started 515. I offered to help, and it went from there. We talked often, and eventually he was ready to hand over the reins, and I took it from there.
IMB: How has the festival evolved over the past decade?
BG: Richard brought a different vibe when he was at the helm ?he always brought into it an element of hip hop, graffiti, breakdancing, extreme sports…. It was more of an urban arts and cultural festival. I?ve taken it away from that and focused it more directly on electronic music. Now, it?s more about the music performers and the production value of the stages.
When I first took over it, I was booking some huge names ? Shak G from Digital Underground; DJ Craze, who was a five-time scratch champion; and DJ Scene, who is the ultimate American club DJ. To be honest, I?m not sure that really does much for 515 Alive, so last year we booked two groups from Minneapolis that were slightly less known: Jack Trash and Dirty Talk. They were really talented, and it allowed us to take the money and put it into production, and that really took it to the next level.
This year, I?ve scaled back the main stage but still created an experience there that has a ton of ?Wow? factor. Then we?ve taken some of that money and put it into the other stages, so the whole production value raises a little bit.
What we like now is that the attendees bring the culture with them rather than having us feed it to them. It?s fun to see that working out and to see the audience have more ownership of the vibe.
IMB: How do you choose which performers to include?
BG: I get a lot of heat about whom I choose for this ? it?s almost like running for political office. This year I?ve taken the guys who I think are making the most awesome music, and then my closest friends who are also really taking it to the next level quality-wise. I?ve focused on Iowa DJs this year. I?ve taken guys like Dan Green (SUBliminal Chaos), Mat Rissi, and Coleman Greenhaw, who are really working hard and making the scene here, and given them the later slots.
Then I?ve done something else at the lower tier, which some people don?t like: I?m putting some guys on who?ve never DJ?d before in the earliest slots. It?s good to get some new blood in there. These are guys who go to all the shows, come early and help out, and are working really hard to learn. It?s always worked, and it?s great to have some new talent on the scene.
IMB: If you could pick a veteran who is a true standout in the lineup, whom would you choose?
BG: I think Jade Reed, who has really been developing lately, is going to be great. He played 80/35 with me and has really opened up what he?s doing. Dan Green is another one ? I?m not a huge dubstep fan, but he?s doing it really well. Brett B, who I think is able to open it up in the club and is coming back to electronic music after doing hip hop for a while. If there was a roof to this thing, it?d be off.
Another standout is my buddy Jon Bachman, who goes by Mimic, isn?t really a crowd DJ traditionally. He does what he wants to do ? and sometimes that can make a really genius DJ. He creates very unique stuff, and his musical knowledge is vast, and all of those influences seep in. He?s not really doing it to make a crowd jump, he?s doing it because he believes in what he?s doing.
IMB: What would you say to people who don?t ?get? this art form – who don?t understand the skill and musicianship of DJing?
BG: On the one hand, when the computer started being introduced into this music, there was a famous DJ named Sasha who started experimenting with the computer stuff early on. He was one of the first guys to move away from the CDs and the turntables, and he went to a program called Ableton Live, which is a hybrid music production software that you can also perform live. He custom built his own controller to physically manipulate the software, and people questioned whether or not that was DJing. His response was that people could get hung up on whatever they wanted to get hung up on, but at the end of the day, the only thing that?s important is what comes out of the speakers, because that?s why the crowd is there.
Myself, sometimes when I play a large crowd, I can be a ?press play? DJ, but when I get into a smaller crowd, that gives me a chance to do more remixing on the fly and be more impromptu. When you do that, there?s a better chance of messing it up, but a discerning crowd is more accepting if it falls apart and you bring it back with something.
I think a lot of people today are trying to define DJing, and I think that is a mistake. I think it shouldn?t be taken so seriously. It?s not that complicated, its roots just need to be respected while allowing for evolution.
For some people, this DJ thing is almost like a transcendental experience. If someone feels that way ? that it?s about two turntables and two records, and they believe that?s the truth, I think that?s OK too.
To me, it?s all about great music and great parties.
This year’s 515 Alive Electronic Musical Festival is on Saturday, August 4. For tickets and more information, visit http://515alive.eventbrite.com/.