meta-scriptHow Will Coronavirus Shift Electronic Music? Maceo Plex, Paul Van Dyk, Luttrell, Mikey Lion & DJ Manager Max Leader Weigh In | GRAMMY.com
Maceo Plex

Maceo Plex

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How Will Coronavirus Shift Electronic Music? Maceo Plex, Paul Van Dyk, Luttrell, Mikey Lion & DJ Manager Max Leader Weigh In

"Now, the silver lining could be that people are going to make some amazing music coming out of this. When you don't have the pressure of making a hit track for the club, you usually make something more interesting," Maceo Plex predicts

GRAMMYs/Mar 26, 2020 - 11:06 pm

Amidst all the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, one certainty is this will affect everyone in some way, and it already has had huge effects on all who work in the music industry. As major music events like Coachella, Ultra, SXSW, Glastonbury, Time Warp and many more continue to be canceled or postponed, as well as upcoming tour and club dates, many artists, managers, promoters and the crew members are facing gravely reduced or non-existent income over the next few months and possibly beyond.

We reached out to four globe-trotting DJ/producers—Barcelona's Maceo Plex (Ellum Audio), Los Angeles' Mikey Lion (Desert Hearts), San Francisco's Luttrell (Anjunadeep) and Berlin's Paul Van Dyk (Vandit Records)—and London/New York-based DJ manager Max Leader to learn how the pandemic is directly affecting them and those they work with. While this crisis is radically shifting their plans this year, they all see silver linings, especially in the sense of unity felt in the dance music community and, increasingly, humanity as a whole.

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The Show Might Go On

Longtime (he's been in it since '90s raves) underground legend Maceo Plex, a.k.a. Miami-born Eric Estornel, was set to headline Ultra, Movement (which was recently rescheduled from May to September) and Time Warp plus a bunch of major club dates over the next few months. He underscores that this is going to be hard for everyone as they all scrambles to readjust, reschedule and recover losses, and thus will likely reshape the electronic music industry as a whole.

"It's not just DJs it's musicians, bands, anybody that their job is to congregate people together to hear music is affected. That can be promoters, DJs, they all have the same story, club owners, everybody's pretty much screwed. It does give you a sense of unity because everyone's in it together," the Ellum Audio label head told us over the phone late last week.

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Leader has been in the industry for years, formerly as a promoter and currently, for the past 18 years, as a manager of a roster of major DJs. He also paints the picture of a challenging year for everyone planning and playing events in 2020, highlighting just how many dates and dollars have already been lost.

"The bread and butter for my artists and for me is in live shows. My clients tend to do anywhere from six to 12 shows a month and we work three to six months in advance. So, what happened two weeks ago, was the cancellation or attempt to reschedule the gigs, between one to three months from that moment to three months ahead," he explained during a phone chat last week. "And the promoters that were booking for three to six months from that point, were not booking anymore because they didn't know what was going on, which means that you're already at nine months of no shows. So, if you start looking at nine to 12 months, it means in the space of two weeks, you're suddenly 12 months away from receiving any income from touring."

Canceling even just a few shows could be financially crushing to promoters, as well as the clubs and everyone else who works for them. "Also, these promoters, some of them are weekly promoters, some of them are monthly promoters, and they try to honor deals. Now you lose one show for artists of the caliber that I work with, you could lose $25,000, $30,000. If you lose that amount two or three times in a row, you could be out of business," Leader noted.

For Estornel, van Dyk and Leader, their long, successful careers have put them in a place where they are currently okay financially. Of course, dipping too far into savings is stressful, as is not having an income stream to share with your team. "I'm already going into savings, because of having to cancel the ongoing business," Leader added. "I would say that my business is 90 percent gigs, so I have effectively lost 90 percent of my business right now. And it happened immediately. It happened overnight."

Estronel was set to debut his new M^3 live show in Los Angeles on March 14, which, as he put it, ended up being "the first weekend that no events were happening pretty much anywhere." Two days before the event, California banned all gatherings over 250 people (now restrictions are even tighter) in the interest of public health and safety.

"I was waiting, too. I'm not a promoter, but I was promoting [M^3] pretty much in conjunction with Factory 93, so I already had the production and all the equipment and everything paid for. So that's why it's super important to reschedule. But, at the same time, I think Factory 93 was giving money back to whoever wanted it. I don't know how they were doing it, but I had to pay for a lot of that production out of my pocket. It was already there and I was like, 'Well, f**k it. Let's do this stream.' That wasn't anywhere near what we were going to have planned for the holograms and all kinds of crazy stuff, but at least we used some of the cool lights. So those can kind of come together quickly."

Both van Dyk and Luttrell had major tours slated this year in support of their 2020 albums—the German trance legend's 10th album, Guiding Light, drops on April 17, while the S.F. deep house hero's sophomore LP, Lucky Ones, came out on March 13. Of course, with global spring dates, both tours have been put on hold.

Luttrell was also set to make his Coachella stage debut in April, which will now have to wait until October. "It's affected it quite a bit thus far. I have an album tour that was set to begin April 2. Now everything is being pushed back a few months to end of July through August. Feeling good about getting most of the shows rescheduled at least!" he shared over email.

For Mikey Lion and his Desert Hearts crew (the label/party maestro squad he leads and co-founded in 2012 in San Diego), their flagship "72+ hours of nonstop house and techno" festival was slated for April 23-26, but luckily they were able to find new dates pretty quickly. Some of the other festivals the crew were booked to play have also been affected, including at Lighting in a Bottle, whose 2020 edition was canceled, and Vujaday in Barbados, which was postponed to November. Desert Hearts is also beloved for the fun club nights and block parties they throw in a bunch of different cities. Those will have to wait this year as well.

"We postponed the festival to Oct. 22 to 26, 2020. Luckily our fest is in a really good place right now to come back because we were able to find a make-up date quickly and we didn't have too many deposits out there right now because we were monitoring the whole situation," Lion explained over the phone. He noted how this is not necessarily the case for other independent festivals and events, and that could have far-reaching negative effects in the industry. "I think that that's probably the biggest problem that all the other festivals are going through right now, is that if you're an independent festival that's not backed by Live Nation, AEG or some other big financial backer, you're using your ticket money to secure the acts that you're having, all the equipment, everything. You have so many deposits out there. Then we have this totally unforeseen disease that's coming through and everyone's having to cancel, and then all of a sudden all the fans are looking for refunds and those festivals don't have the money to be paying their fans back because it's all tied up, it creates this really hectic ecosystem where the fans think that they're getting ripped off and festivals can't do anything about it."

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For all the events and festivals that are able to successfully reschedule and bring the majority of their lineup with them, that is a big relief, but of course a year's worth of events can't all happen in the fall and winter, especially outdoor events in colder climates. And who will get to play in the more limited event pool? Probably the bigger DJs, for the most part, with less slots for local opening acts—and less money for everyone overall. It is hard to predict exactly how hard the crisis will strike the global economy, but it has already done damage, with many hourly or gig workers currently out of work. For most people, the less income they make, the less money they will spend on going out, festival tickets and travel, so it becomes harder to get people to clubs and festivals.

"The festivals are already rescheduling and they're not going to be able to pay the same," Estornel noted. "So DJs fees are definitely going to go down in general. Which is kind of a trickle-down effect; the bigger DJs will have to charge less and some of the smaller DJs' fees will then obviously go down as well. Then resident DJs that live in that city might not even play at all. Or if they do, for very cheap, because the promoters are not going to be able to charge the same entrance at the same ticket price or entrance at their clubs or whatever because people are not going to have any money,

"Rescheduling events, in my case, because of the fact that I'm in a position to headline, I get to reschedule first before others. I feel bad for all the other people that are, to promoters, maybe second or third tier artists that aren't getting rescheduled right away… I'm in a position where I can't complain because I can reschedule. But then again, I can't because I'm booked. I was booked up for the rest of the year."

Estornel also underscores that festivals moving towards later dates is going to cut into the bottom line of clubs, as everyone is now competing for a limited window of dates and likely a smaller pool of attendees with any money to spend on nights out. "A lot of these festivals are moving to those [later] months and they're going to take up a lot of the weekends that clubs function really well in those parts. So economically, it looks pretty crazy," he explained.

Leader echoed both of these points, that there are a limited number of dates for events and DJs to fill for the rest of the year and smaller pool of money for everyone. He is also cautious about predicting that events will be back up and running before at least a few months off. He notes recent conversations he's had with promoters, those who are looking ahead to book fall/winter dates—no one can pay deposits right now. Everyone is pretty much just trying to stay afloat at this point.

"The conversation that I do have with bigger promoters is, 'Okay, we're looking at the last two weekends in October, the first two in November, the New Year's Eve, we're looking to fill these holes. This is who I want from your roster on that. However, obviously we can't contract this right now. We obviously can't pay any deposits for it right now," Leader said.

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Livestream Nation

van Dyk explains how not being able to travel to his sold-out Moscow show on March 13 led him to play via livestream to the packed venue in Russia from an empty club in Berlin. From that experience, he decided to launch a weekly livestream series from the club, which he's calling PC Music Night. He and fellow German DJ/producer Chris Bekker have shared two livestreams so far, much to the delight of trance and progressive house fans around the world.

"I was supposed to play in Moscow last weekend and because they have restrictions of people from Germany flying into Russia because of the Coronavirus and you have to go into quarantine," van Dyk explained. "What do people do when their shows are canceled and something cannot happen? Well we use the latest technology. We came up with the idea of me going into an empty club here in Berlin, have everything set up and then stream my performance from Berlin live to Moscow. It obviously is not the same as me being there because, it's difficult to interact. I had a little monitor so I was able to see what's going on in the venue in Moscow, but it was one way to sort of cope with the grim times and the possibilities that there are right now. and we came up with an idea from that streaming experience."

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Since both the epic Paul van Dyk and Maceo Plex sets aired on March 13 and 14, respectively, many DJs and artists have understandably jumped on the livestream wagon, craving a way to continue to share their music with the world and engage with their fans. It's safe to say that music livestream offerings are a bit oversaturated at the moment, but it has been fun to see the different ways artists and their fanbases have been engaging with them. For Estornel, he's aiming to think outside of the box when it comes to interacting with his fans during quarantine times:

"Everything's flooded with DJs doing streams. So now I'm thinking of new ideas… something more interesting. Somewhere between nerdy, like a studio talk but musical where you could dance to it. Hopefully we'll do something for these months, until things get back to normal."

Since we spoke last week, Lion and the Desert Hearts squad have started a new daily livestream series that's very on-brand with their colorful, playful vibes. Stepping out of the box a bit, the eclectic offerings include Q&A on Mondays with Lion, cooking lessons with his brother and labelmate Porky on Tuesday, yoga on Wednesdays and DJ sets from the squad on Sundays.

It's About Time For Unity!

While not being able to interact with others "irl" is difficult for all of us, connecting online, especially over music, can be especially powerful during these times of isolation. van Dyk witnessed this during his first PC Music Night livestream, where he encouraged fans to send track requests and special shout-outs in the comments.

"Chris Bekker and myself played for five hours for free for everyone who wanted to join, just simply to put a smile on people's faces, for people to connect. There was so much interaction going on from people from the U.S. talking to people from Italy, from Italy talking to people in South America. It's like they were all interconnecting. There was a sense of community, a sense of being there for each other. That is the essence of what we are trying to do with this DJ set."

The Berlin legend underscored the importance of staying in touch with others while we are apart, as during times of global distress, we all need comfort and support. "It's those little things to still be there for each other. I don't really like the term social distancing because what we have to do is stay physically apart from each other. But if anything, we should be socially closer and support each other. I think this is what we can do, and this is what we should do in crazy times like this."

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Seeing as the coronavirus crisis really does affect everyone, van Dyk sees this as an opportunity to put aside our differences and practice real empathy and growth. "In these times right now, I think we can all interconnect. At the end, of the day it doesn't really matter if you're a Trump supporter or if you support Sanders. At the end of the day, it's about the species, us as humans. Everyone is affected by it. We have to be there for each other. And that's about actually putting the human first, putting the real us first and therefore being there for each other," he added.

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Lion pointed to the surprising and rather atypical unity we're seeing here in the States between Democrats and Republicans as they try to address the crisis is something to be celebrated. It could also have policy implications that change our lives for the better going forward.

"I think that things like universal healthcare and ideas like universal basic income are at the forefront right now of things we're realizing would be a massive help. It's crazy to see Republicans even embracing those things right now because of the situation that we're in. I don't think they would ever come to grips with and accept it unless they're seeing it affect them," Lion stated. "Hopefully we start getting some relief for people that are really struggling right now."

"I think that people are going to come out of this much more understanding of other people's situations and we are all in this together," he added. "I think that we're going to start seeing a lot more compassion from people in the world."

Luttrell echoed their messages, in sharing what gives him the most hope right now: "I feel like a big crisis like this—especially one that affects the world all at once—gives us an opportunity to come together and become closer as humans on this planet."

In the midst of trying to reschedule, reorganize and roll with the waves of the world, everyone we spoke to has already felt unity across the electronic music scene and the larger music and events industry. As Lion noted, many artists have been understanding about returning deposits for canceled events, given the circumstances, even though money will not really be coming in for a bit. At the end of the day, everyone in entertainment is more or less in the same boat right now.

"For the most part, I think that agencies and the artists are being really cool with getting back to the deposits in a lot of circumstances because I think everyone gets it, that we're all in this together," Lion said. "People are definitely working together on it. At the same time, that's money coming out from the artists and all of our foreseeable calendar just got completely wiped out, basically. I don't have any income coming, none of the other Desert Heart guys do, and we don't know how long this is going to last.

"It's a really harrowing experience, and it's not just the artists that are going through it, it's the managers, the agents, all the photographers and videographers, security, bartenders, all the logistics people to build teams. The list goes on and on and that's just the music industry. You know, the entire entertainment industry is getting absolutely battered right now. Think about Las Vegas, it's a city of almost 700,000 people and their entire ecosystem is based on entertainment. That entire city's pretty much out of work right now, I'd imagine."

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For van Dyk, it is important to him to be able to personally esure his regular team is financially stable during this time. "It requires us being socially aware of our surroundings, of the people who need help and then actually do something. I'm committed to do this in this way, and therefore I don't think my crew needs to be too worried about it."

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font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:550; line-height:18px;"> View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style="padding: 12.5% 0;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; margin-bottom: 14px; align-items: center;"><div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(0px) translateY(7px);"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; height: 12.5px; transform: rotate(-45deg) translateX(3px) translateY(1px); width: 12.5px; flex-grow: 0; margin-right: 14px; margin-left: 2px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(9px) translateY(-18px);"></div></div><div style="margin-left: 8px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 20px; width: 20px;"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 2px solid transparent; border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; transform: translateX(16px) translateY(-4px) rotate(30deg)"></div></div><div style="margin-left: auto;"> <div style=" width: 0px; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-right: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(16px);"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; flex-grow: 0; height: 12px; width: 16px; transform: translateY(-4px);"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-left: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(-4px) translateX(8px);"></div></div></div></a> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://www.instagram.com/tv/B-Kwa5pjU7q/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">Here&#39;s a fantastic new video that we&#39;ve made for you, I hope you enjoy it.⁣ ⁣ When I wrote this song and named this album, I never expected it would be released during a time like this. However, instead of dwelling on the obvious and unfortunate irony of it all, I&#39;m trying to make a conscious decision to continue reminding myself just how fortunate I am.⁣ ⁣ I make music. I’m not putting myself in danger every day like the medical professionals and everyone still out there working to keep our society running - like the head of the CDC, or the people keeping grocery stores stocked and functional - but I do hope that what I have to offer can help bring joy to people feeling stressed, overwhelmed, scared or hopeless right now.⁣ ⁣ If you’re stuck inside like the rest of us, put this music video on and dance around in your apartment, or lay in your bed holding your phone watching it, whatever you feel like. If you have one, get your dog all riled up. Give them lots of belly rubs and laugh at them zooming around the house to the music. Imagine how happy dogs are right now? Their favorite people are home all day. They’ll never disappear for hours on end (which to them probably seems like days). Dogs are possibly the most stoked they’ve ever been in history. Sadly, I don’t have a dog cause my landlord doesn’t allow them, but thinking of all the dogs out there living their best life with their favorite humans that are stuck at home right now makes me really happy.</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A post shared by <a href="https://www.instagram.com/ericluttrell/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px;" target="_blank"> Luttrell</a> (@ericluttrell) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2020-03-25T19:20:45+00:00">Mar 25, 2020 at 12:20pm PDT</time></p></div></blockquote><script async src="//www.instagram.com/embed.js"></script>

To Release Or Not To Release?

As van Dyk put it, music is a necessity in most people's lives, especially those who make it. Music plays an important part in all of our daily lives, and right now feels like a time where many of us are turning to music to escape or to dive into our feelings. "I'm a musician. To me, music is an essential of part of my life. When I'm sad I'm listening to music. When I'm happy, I'm listening to music. When I'm somewhat in between, I'm still listening to music. It's my passion. Therefore, music is something that's essential, from my perspective, in everyone's life," the German artist said.

"Right now, everyone has endless time on their hands," Lion added. "People are digging, people are paying attention, everyone's at their computer. It is a good time to get stuff into people's hands and really try to affect people in a positive way. Music's absolutely one of the best ways to do it."

"To me, music is an essential of part of my life. When I'm sad I'm listening to music. When I'm happy, I'm listening to music. When I'm somewhat in between, I'm still listening to music. It's my passion." – Paul van Dyk

Perhaps it's a great time to put out an uplifting track or music video, but what about releasing an album or club cuts? While many in the industry seem to be encouraging fans to support their favorite artists with online album and merch sales, other entities, like Amazon and even some artists themselves, have decided now is not necessary a good time to release projects. If you can't tour in support of the release, will the financial investment in the project be worth it?

For electronic artists specifically, who support and promote each others' new, often then-unreleased, records by playing them at their DJ sets around the world, the hype and release cycle just had a big wrench thrown through it. Additionally, if most of the DJs of the world are hunkering down in their home studios right now, which tracks and albums will cut through the noise when everything is dropped in a few months?

Leader's comments speak to this, and the "hustle," as he put it, that will ensue to get the gigs and have your music heard this year.

"You can definitely plan ahead in terms of what you're releasing to the world. Everyone is assuming that come July, August, this will die down. I personally am not having conversations besides with the most optimistic of promoters about shows, pre-October, right now. And really, most of the conversations are 'Well, let's see what the next couple weeks unfolds for us,' so you're not really banking on anything there. But in terms of products or music being released, and social media, building your fan base, and working on consultancy jobs or working with brands, there's still some business out there that can be done. It's a hustle."

"One thing that I am thinking is that all these DJs who usually are gigging Friday, Saturday and Sunday, home on Monday, recovering on Tuesday, making music on Wednesday, and then getting ready to tour again on Thursday, are finally having long periods of time to actually make music. And so, I think what we'll find is a plethora of music coming out at the same time, which has an effect on the developing artists," Leader continued. "Even if I'm looking in October [for their release], I think the market is going to be really excited about the [bigger] producer who's finally released some new material because they had four, five months off the road."

Estornel and Lion also spoke to releasing tracks during the age of COVID-19:

"You don't sell music to dance to or to DJ to when nobody can go out and dance," Estornel explained. "They're not really selling that much music. You have all these artists that had their releases planned and it's like if you postpone the schedule, then their music doesn't come out until way later, when that music's old, basically."

"You can't really go test out new tracks now. I feel like the entire record label promo system right now is just worthless, because how are people even going to go try out your tracks or get feedback on stuff?" Lion says. "I've been seeing a lot of artists go to moving all their stuff over to Bandcamp because it's a much more direct peer-to-peer system over there than having a middle man like Apple Music or Beatport. I'm actually running through and getting our Bandcamp set up today."

Read: Musicians Earn $4.3 Million From Bandcamp With Nearly 800,000 Items Sold On Friday

Creativity & The Future Of Dance Music

Regardless of artists' personal stances on releasing new music now, it's likely many of them will be using the ample free time to work on music in some way. 

"The city where I live, San Francisco is now on lockdown," Luttrell said. "I won't be traveling outside my apartment much the next few weeks. I'll take it as an opportunity to focus on having more interaction with fans online and come up with fun ways to promote different songs on the album... I'm already working on a bunch of new songs that will eventually be the next album, so I feel like there's going to be a lot of time to make that really special. A lot of those songs will have been written during this lock down in S.F., so maybe I'll use the weirdness of it all as some sort of inspiration."

Similarly, van Dyk also feels new music will come out of this experience for him. "I finished my new album," he said. "I was ready to be out on the road in the world to play my music in front of my audience. So it's a bit of a strange timing for me, but I constantly make music and so, I'm pretty sure whatever extra time I have at hands now, some music will come out of it."

Leader also sees these times as a creative challenge and powerful reset for his work. "I think that everyone's playing from a level playground now. You know, everyone is suffering, and in a way, we're all in it together for that reason. And I'm optimistic by nature. I believe that this will end, and we will get back to business, and that it allowed me to really think outside the box in terms of my business. If you're in an intense job like I'm sure you have, you're going a million miles an hour, and you always wish you had a second to breathe, this is giving us that second."

Quarantine Diaries: Beach Slang's James Alex Is Making Mixtapes & Watching "Yellow Submarine" With His Kids

Estornel, who has a young son, acknowledges the challenge of working from home if you have kids that are now out of school. Yet he is embracing the creative exploration that may likely come from the reduced pressure he and other DJs are inevitably facing to make the next club banger. 

"Now, the silver lining could be that people are going to make some amazing music coming out of this. When you don't have the pressure of making a hit track for the club, you usually make something more interesting," Estornel said. "So maybe something new will come out of this, but for the most part it also kind of depresses people because if things are kind of bad out there and you're making dance music and nobody's dancing. It's like, f**k. You don't feel inspired. It's tough.

Maceo Plex added, "I feel less pressure to make a bomb kind of, because there's no reason to right now. In the past, the reason why I have any kind of a bigger name is for all the music that I made that I wasn't worrying about making a bomb. I was just trying to make something that was cool and creative, or pretty or just different sounding tracks. Those ended up becoming bombs. So, I mean, it's kind of good. Creatively, I don't have that pressure. So I might have a bomb after this, I don't know. I'd rather not think about it."

Regardless of whether or not the world is gifted any glittering Maceo Plex bombs over the next month, electronic music will be shifting. With a halt as drastic as this, there is no way things will remain exactly the same when we return to the dancefloor. He sees parallels to the disco backlash in the late-70s that, while harrowing, directly led to the emergence of house music and thriving underground scenes in Chicago, New York City and beyond. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens.

"I think this may be the biggest blow to clubbing since the disco backlash back in the late-'70s, early 80s when everybody was for just a moment it was like this media-driven burning of disco records and stuff." Maceo Plex said. "Since then, clubbing got bigger and better and dance music got way more popular over the past 30, 40 years. I think this is kind of like a reset. I'm hopeful we're going to come out of this strong. Nothing can really stop people from listening to dance music and dancing. …We'll be fine, in other words. It's just that it's going to take a couple of years to get back to the size of festivals that we were used to for a little while. They're kind of almost ridiculous at this point; 100,000 people festivals and stuff like that. I don't feel bad for them as much but because they've made so much money, but EDM, this is probably going to be such a huge blow to commercial EDM music more so than underground music."

"I think underground dance music's going to get big. It's going to get bigger, in a way. It's going to see a Renaissance," Estornel concluded. "Whatever happens, the dance music community is in for a wild ride, with new faces and sounds likely emerging over the coming years."

Quarantine Diaries: L.A. Pop Luminary Katelyn Tarver On Quarantining With Siblings, IN-N-OUT Burger & White Wine

John Summit press photo
John Summit

Photo: Dana Trippe

interview

Finding 'Comfort In Chaos': John Summit On The Journey To His Debut Album

"I always wanted to do an album," the DJ/producer says of 'Comfort in Chaos.' Although Summit has graced many major stages, creating his full-length debut took "over 10 years of producing and eight years of releasing music to get confident enough."

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:18 pm

"I'm a little hungover, but I'm hanging in there," John Summit admits with a chuckle. The DJ/producer had stayed out late the night before (as DJs typically do) but for once, it wasn’t for work. Instead, he and his friends went bar- and club-hopping — "normal people stuff," Summit calls it. When asked how often he gets to do that these days, he laughs again. "Literally never. I felt like it was the first time in years." 

Given the past few years, it’s understandable. Summit was still early in his career when he released his breakout hit, 2020’s "Deep End," a couple months into global lockdown. He maintained that momentum with a long string of releases including "Thin Line" with Guz, "Sun Came Up" with Sofi Tukker and "Human," the latter producing his first U.S. Dance Radio No. 1.

When live events powered back up, Summit quickly graduated to playing major venues and main stages. In the last two years, he’s DJed everywhere from Movement Detroit to Manchester, Turin to Tulum, and NYC to nearly every Ibiza superclub; in between, he launched his Experts Only record label. This year, Summit closed out EDC Las Vegas and Coachella; in June, he headlined a show at Madison Square Garden. Being a dance music superstar is a marathonic job, but a glance at his off-the-cuff social media posts suggests he’s more than up for the challenge. 

Despite his hectic schedule, Summit somehow carved out time to write his debut album, Comfort in Chaos. In a way, it showcases his past, present and possible future. Recent single "EAT THE BASS" delivers the booming energy of the club tracks upon which he made his name; others, such as Billboard Top 10 hits "Where You Are" and "Shiver" with Hayla, are examples of his current evolution into lyric-focused songs, equally rich in melody and emotion. There are more surprises, still, as Summit explores sounds beyond his house and techno playground. "[This is] exactly the kind of music I've always wanted to make," he says, "but I never had an outlet or a reason to because they're not dance-floor-focused tracks."

The album’s sonic extremes also represent the duality between John Summit, the artist we see living his best life, one party at a time; and John Schuster (his given name), who’s introspective, who isn’t always confident, and who’s experienced "the lows" of returning from a show to an empty hotel room. "Now I'm comfortable where I am in life and I feel like I can tap into that [emotion]," he says. "It's cool to be able to show that side of me." 

Before Comfort in Chaos’ release on July 12 via Darkroom/Experts Only, Summit tells GRAMMY.com how he got to this milestone.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How long has the idea of a debut album been in your mind? 

It's been in my mind since the day I started making music. I really got into songwriting four years ago. I did "Summertime Chi" with Lee Foss, which is an original written vocal, and then I did "What A Life" with Stevie Appleton a year later. That was received really well by my fans and I'm like, Oh, I don't have to just use samples. I can actually write completely original music.  

Ever since then, the music has gone crazy. The first single off the album that I made was "Where You Are" with Hayla, which came out over a year ago, and that's when I feel like the ball really started rolling. In November, I took a month off and wrote pretty much the whole album in London and it really all came together then.

An entire month off? That seems rare. 

Yeah, it's insane for me. I haven't taken a month off since I started touring, but I knew I had to do that, especially to make music that's not just meant for the dance floor. I produce on the go. I produce on planes and everything, but when you're always playing shows, you always make music just for the shows.

When you can actually take time off, I feel like you can make music that's actually meant for those rainy London days meant for just chilling with friends and stuff like that. So it was cool to make an actual body of work instead of just festival music.

What did that month look like for you in terms of the creative process? 

I got this studio house for a month; this crazy house that has a couple of studios in it. My bedroom's at the top and I would take a slide down to my studio literally from the bedroom. I had a session every day for 30 days straight, and I just invited all the singers and producers I worked with. Sub Focus for example, he lived in London and then Hayla, Julie Church, Paige Cavell.

Pretty much everyone I work with is UK-based, so it was kind of a no-brainer to go to London for that. It was a lot of fun because we just make music all day, then drink at night and party. That's when you can share all your ideas with other people, at night when you're having drinks, wanting to call it banter. It was great.

To speak more about the variety of music that you make: You initially broke out with very club-forward tracks like "Deep End." But as you said, you've since honed a more melodic, songwriting-based sound. Was it a conscious evolution or did it just gradually happen over time? 

I feel like it was just an evolution as an artist. House music is a very loop-based sound where it's, what, a four-by-four kick drum and an eight-bar loop… I kind of graduated from that to doing full-written songs [like] "Where You Are." But it took a lot of time.

I was always writing songs during that process, but they weren't good. Writing a full song, it's like going from a short film to a movie. I always wanted to do an album, but it really did take me over 10 years of producing and eight years of releasing music to get confident enough to be able to do this. 

How do you tap into the emotion of those songs, especially given the image that you portray online? 

I guess that's the whole purpose of the album: That I've been portraying this John Summit image my whole career, but in reality I'm John Schuster. The John Summit image is obviously an entertaining party guy that loves to have a good time; in reality, outside of the club, I'm just sitting at home making music, and I want to show the more introspective side of me.

I've been neglecting my emotions the past few years, especially after quitting the accounting job five years ago. Then I was just in this full party mindset, but now I'm comfortable where I am in life and I feel like I can tap into that. So it's cool to be able to show that side of me.

Who is that more introspective John Schuster? 

Someone that, I guess, shows that I'm not really a 100 percent confident all the time. That I've experienced very high highs, but very low lows as well. I mean, John Summit has the biggest highs on stage, but then I go back to my hotel room and I'm by myself and experiencing the lows and being by myself all the time. So I guess showing that kind of emotional side is fun for my music at least. 

Absolutely. I imagine it’s difficult going not from zero to a hundred, but a hundred to zero. 

Exactly. That's the hard part. Zero to a hundred is the fun part.

If debut albums are like an artist's mission statement, what do you want 'Comfort in Chaos' to say? 

I think kind of what I was just touching on, the duality of John Schuster and John Summit. This is the first time I've fully shown my other half. I've been showing it through singles: "Where You Are," "Go Back," "Shiver" and stuff. But to do it in a full album where — especially the intro track where there's really no vocals on it, and it starts experimental and a bit progressive, and then the drop is really just a kick in bass. It's tension-release, which I love in music, but it just shows, not to be too pun intended, the comfort in the chaos that is my life right now.

What brings you comfort in chaos? 

That's a good question. Honestly, it's more so me trying to find my comfort in chaos. Because the thing is that if I'm on stage every night, I’ve got to be comfortable up there. The more confident I am, the better show that I do. And so I think I'm finding it now.  

It's kind of the whole fake it till you make it. At first I had to get hammered every single night just to get on stage, and now I can get up there without doing that, which is a big stepping stone for me. 

So it seems like it's more about the journey than the destination. 

Exactly, exactly. It's basically trying to find my comfort in chaos. And I think I've gotten there, so now is the perfect time for the album. I couldn't release that while I'm still not comfortable.

Given how significant Kaskade and deadmau5’s "I Remember" is to your electronic music journey, it must feel very special to have Kaskade on the album. 

Yeah, it was kind of a no-brainer. I was able to remix "I Remember" last year, which is huge for me. The track that literally got me into electronic music. Kascade is also from Chicago, and he's the one that introduced me to Hayla, too.  

We've been trying to make something work and we just didn't know what direction to go with it. It took a while, but we both love melodic and emotional music and we both love heavy techno, and so we made it work in one song, which is great because the track starts very comforting and it gets very chaotic, so it's very on-brand with the album.

What have you learned from Kaskade, whether directly or from afar? 

I've learned patience, and that everything's going to be okay. I'm a very neurotic person; I am very anxious and worry about every little detail, and he's the coolest, calmest guy I've ever met. I think it has to do with just his experience in the scene. Everything I'm experiencing is something he's experienced at some point in his DJ career, and even before Coachella, I was like, "Man, I don't know if I can do this" And he was like, "Bro, you got this. It's easy. Play your music." And I'm like, "Oh s—, you're right." It’s as simple as that. Yeah, he's been a good mentor.

To borrow a word that you've used in another interview, being "unhinged" on social media has played a significant role in building your fan base over the years. How has your relationship with social media changed in terms of the content you share and fan interactions? 

I'm still definitely unhinged on social media. That hasn't changed, but it has made me not afraid to show all facets of myself. I've just started showing the more emotional and deeper side of myself, but it is cool that I can say no matter who I am, I have good days and bad days. The fans can connect and resonate with that, which is cool because it was annoying growing up and following artists who are perfect on social media all the time. So I try to be as transparent as possible. 

Given the positive response to your collaboration with Subfocus, do you feel more encouraged to get eclectic in your future music? 

The Subfocus one was still pretty dance-floor-focused, and I still haven't released anything that's not dance-floor-focused. I mean, obviously in the album there is with the intro, with "Calm Down," with "Undo," with ["Palm of My Hands"] and ["Stay With Me"], so I'm waiting to see how fans like that. But at the end of the day, though, I’m at the point in my career where I don't have to put out things just to please dance floors. I feel like I've kind of made it where now I can experiment more and take risks. Now is when my career is starting to actually get fun. 

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Janet Jackson performs at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture.
Janet Jackson performs at the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture

Photo Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Essence 

interview

Celebrating 30 Years Of Essence Fest: How New Orleans & Multi-Generational, Diasporic Talent Create The "Super Bowl Of Culture"

Ahead of the 30th Essence Festival Of Culture, held July 4-7 in New Orleans, GRAMMY.com spoke with executives and curators of the legendary celebration of Black excellence.

GRAMMYs/Jul 2, 2024 - 03:02 pm

Every July, millions of Black people, specifically Black women, descend upon New Orleans for the Essence Festival of Culture (EFOC). Known for many years as the Essence Festival, the festival is a celebration of Black culture, community, and heritage. Since its inception in 1995 as a one-off event to commemorate the publication’s 25th anniversary, the festival has evolved into a diasporic jubilee, drawing in people of African descent from across the diaspora. 

In addition to its global presence, the festival pours millions of dollars into the local New Orleans community, which has served as the festival's home for 30 years (with the exception of 2006, when the festival was held in Houston, because of Hurricane Katrina). In 2020, the festival was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, the annual festival continues to be one of the most sought-after and attended festivals in the United States. 

This year’s Essence Festival of Culture will be held at the Superdome from July 4-7, replete with legendary and fast-rising talents. On July 5, Birdman & Friends will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cash Money Records. The following day will feature a special performance by Charlie Wilson, while Usher will commemorate the 20th anniversary of Confessions.

Janet Jackson and Victoria Monét will headline the festival's final night, while Frankie Beverly and Maze close out the festival with the return of All-White Night. Other performers include The Roots featuring Mickey Guyton, Ari Lennox and T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, Raphael Saadiq, D-Nice featuring Shelia E, Big Boi, and many more.  

Read more: Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More 

EFOC has been compared to SXSW, Coachella, Austin City Limits, and other notable festivals, yet it stands out for its empowerment-centered approach. It is not simply a festival, it is a family reunion. The one festival in the United States that does not pander to or take advantage of Black audiences, but truly celebrates them and their achievements. Although music has always been an integral part of the festival’s ethos — Aretha Franklin and B.B. King performed at the first iteration — the festival excels in its multi-generational and interdisciplinary programming. On any given day, attendees can attend sessions on Black entrepreneurship, politics, mental health, and literature, as well as seminars focused on issues impacting the Black community.  

There’s a reason why the festival is referred to as the party with a purpose. For decades, it has operated as a celebratory convening place for Black people, Black families, and Black communities. Now, more than ever, spaces like EFOC are needed, as the Black community experiences an onslaught of changes — from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in North Carolina and Tennessee being subject to intense government oversight, to Black women-owned venture capital firms being targeted by conservatives, and Black voting rights becoming at risk during an election year. 

Ahead of the festival’s 30th celebration, Michael Barclay, Executive Vice President of Experiential for ESSENCE Ventures and Barkue Tubman Zawolo, Chief of Staff, Talent and Diasporic Engagement for Essence Ventures, spoke to the Recording Academy about the history, legacy, and future of the Essence Festival of Culture.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Are you part of the generation that grew up with the Essence Festival of Culture? If so, how does it feel to be a part of it?

Barkue Tubman Zawolo: I'm originally from Liberia. And even being in Liberia, prior to my family moving to the U.S. in 1980, Essence was always a thing for my mom and my aunts. When we came here, fast forward to me, as an adult, [after] graduating college, I got into the music industry. I've managed artists that have gone through the Essence stages and pages in different ways.

Essence Fest has always been something that we were familiar with. I have to say, I had not really experienced Essence Fest until 2019 when Essence was actually a client. One of the things that I was doing [at that point] was integrating the Diaspora and African creatives within the festival in fashion and music.

To be in the role that I'm in right now and to be on a team with people who have been a part of Essence for a long time…. Essence seems to be ingrained in all of our fabric. [What] started as a music festival now is the Super Bowl of Culture that is the Essence Festival of Culture. To be on the team that helps bring this to life for our community is a daunting but rewarding task all in the same. 

Essence is something that I don't think anybody in our community takes lightly. Even our partners understand the value of it. We certainly understand that we serve the Essence-inverse and, and we are in service to this community. It is a huge honor to be able to be a part of the team that brings this to life and, and, and constantly hear what it means to the community globally too. 

One thing that I admired, especially about last year's festival, was GU Kickback — a music event hosted by Girls United, the publication’s Gen Z vertical. I saw a number of local artists from New Orleans, such as 504ICYGRL. ESSENCE just released a series of cover stories celebrating the 30 year relationship between the publication and New Orleans; how do you highlight the city and their history?

Michael Barclay: As somebody who's worked in experiential, creating gatherings and experiences for almost 25 years now, the venue is always important when you're trying to set the box where you are creating for your community, for your audience. New Orleans has been that backdrop for us for almost 30 years now. 

New Orleans is the convergence of our mission, our brand, in a city that is perfectly matched for that energy. New Orleans is as much a part of Essence Festival of Culture as Essence Magazine is to Essence Festival. 

It is very much a partnership that has created this cultural movement. To be more inclusive, and highlight more of those local relationships and talent is very intentional. It has been something that we have put a lot of energy and effort into over the last couple of years. 

This will be my third festival this year. I think Barkue, you started maybe a year or two before me. We're a fairly new crew that is working to help grow and reshape and solidify those relationships. Even with how we handle the management of the festival. 

Our VP of Essence Festival, Hakeem Holmes is a hometown boy from New Orleans. He's the pride and joy. They love to see him coming. He's always enlightening us on the things that we need to be focused on for the city and how we make the best partnership and make the best impact on the area.

It was intentional what you saw last year. It's intentional this year. We dedicated our entire festival edition of the magazine as a love letter to New Orleans. It's a symbiotic relationship that is one of the key reasons why this festival is the Super Bowl of Culture.  

I would love to hear about the talent aspect of the festival. Last year, Megan Thee Stallion headlined. In previous years, Beyoncé and Prince have served as headliners. What is the formula between balancing local talent, national talent and diasporic talent at the festival?

Zawolo: As we grow the festival, the intentionality becomes even more and more important. And, what we do in understanding where we are as a brand. 

We're 30 years into the festival, the brand is 55 years. What's traditionally known as the Essence Woman is now bringing her daughter. It's multi-generational. We also know that the world is as big as your cell phone, so people are now exposed to different types of content and music. 

We see the influence of Afrobeats and Caribbean music. We are intentional about making sure that every night really speaks to multiple generations, but it's anchored in a generation. It's like, who's bringing, who to the concert on Friday? Is it the daughter bringing her mama? 

It's anchored in  that younger demo, but we're going to make sure that they're going to have a collective good time there. Saturday is usually our heaviest night. We have our living legends that show up there; that really cuts across generations. This is anybody can bring anybody, but let me tell you, you're going to be able to teach each other, connect with each other with the different groupings of talent that we have.

We try to make sure that there is something that speaks to us, but that that connects with the diaspora on as many nights as possible. Sometimes it's not because they're from a different country, but because we know the music also resonates.

If you think of Janet Jackson, you can go anywhere in the world. She can check off that box, although she's not from there. You can create those ties, but we also are intentional about having Ayra Starr and Machel Montano. Last year we had Tems and Wizkid. The goal is to continue to grow what that looks like, because we are a global brand and that is our diasporic and global intent in connecting the global Black community is really important.  

We are intentionally multi-generational. We intentionally lead into where a multitude of generational communities can come together and have fun together. There is something for everybody. We have a unique opportunity with Essence as the brand grows to be able to not only speak to what they want to call the aunties, I call the punties. I also think that this is where we get to educate the next generation on where we're coming from. We also get to learn from them on where they are and where they want to go. 

What a beautiful way to kind of tie all of these connections. Last year, the festival celebrated 50 years of hip-hop; this year you're celebrating the 30th anniversary of the festival. What is the intention behind this year’s music programming?

Zawolo: Paying homage to people who had done some historical things on our stages. We have Janet [Jackson] back. People are like, “Oh, we saw Janet two years ago,” but Janet is also one of the highest sellers in the festival's history. 

If we're going to celebrate, let's celebrate, because we know Janet never disappoints. We also want to lean into some of the [older] talent, like Charlie Wilson, Uncle Charlie. He's graced that stage so many times, but yet it's still very relevant. Using this moment to reignite things that we've done in the past and bring them back to life that we know the audience missed.

Frankie Beverly, who is going to come, this is probably going to really be his last performance. The passing of the torch. This year was about having to be intentional about what other milestones are happening that are important to this culture. Cash Money is also celebrating 30 years. Who better, right?  

Essence has been in New Orleans for 30 years. Cash Money and crew are from New Orleans. Juvenile just got the key to the city from the mayor. We want to honor and celebrate him, but we also want to recognize the influence that this group of very creative, entrepreneurial, rappers and artists have had on culture, because there was a time where we all were backing that ass up. 

Making sure we highlighted milestones, connecting with people who have historically been a part of making history with us, introducing some new ones — that's what we have to do. We have to set up now for the next 30 years. We want to go to the soul of what appeals to our audience, and we're really all about good music.  

I think the 30th year just continues to do what we do. As we look to grow and connect demos, Megan Thee Stallion is a very viable option because again, the daughter now is going to bring the mama. Intergenerational diasporic and connecting demos, I think that only happens at the Superdome. That's also happening in the convention center, which I believe is honestly the soul of the festival. 

What are your hopes and aspirations for the next 30 years of the Essence Festival of Culture? Will Essence Fest always be in New Orleans? Are we going to have an Essence Fest in Lagos, Nigeria?

Barclay: Being on this side of [EFOC], seeing the true impact of the festival and how it impacts the communities, how it impacts the folks that come to New Orleans, and now, because we've expanded to our virtual audience, the 1.7 million that are viewing around the world, my hope for the festival is that we continue to show up where our community needs us.

We're going to be in New Orleans. We're going to be in our official world as we call it. If you can't make it to New Orleans, you can tune into Essence.com and you can see what's going on there. We are creating virtual experiences, AR experiences, VR experiences, all those things, so really keeping up with the way that people continue to connect with each other, whether they're physically in the same place or halfway across the world.

I think that type of innovation is what I want to continue to see us do and allow us to create that joy that we generate in New Orleans and wherever it's needed for our community.

PRIDE & Black Music Month: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ & Black Voices

Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023.
Billie Eilish performs at Lollapalooza Chile 2023

Photo: Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

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The Environmental Impact Of Touring: How Scientists, Musicians & Nonprofits Are Trying To Shrink Concerts' Carbon Footprint

"It’s not just [about] a single tour, it’s every tour," singer Brittany Howard says of efforts to make concerts more sustainable. From the nonprofit that partnered with Billie Eilish, to an MIT initiative, the music industry aims to curb climate change.

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2024 - 01:30 pm

Beloved by fans around the globe, yet increasingly unaffordable for many artists, concert tours are central to the world of entertainment and local economies. After the pandemic-era global shuttering of concert venues large and small, tours are back, and bigger than ever.  

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is smashing records, selling more than four million tickets and earning more than $1 billion. But that tour made headlines for another reason: as reported in Business Insider and other outlets, for a six-month period in 2023, Swift’s two jets spent a combined 166 hours in the air between concerts, shuttling at most a total of 28 passengers. 

Against that backdrop, heightened concerns about the global environmental cost of concert touring have led a number of prominent artists to launch initiatives. Those efforts seek both to mitigate the negative effects of touring and communicate messages about sustainability to concertgoers. 

A 2023 study sponsored by Texas-based electricity provider Payless Power found that the carbon footprint of many touring bands was massive. In 2022, concert tours in five genres — country, classic rock, hip-hop/rap, metal and pop — were responsible for CO2 emissions totaling nearly 45,000 metric tons. A so-called greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide contributes to climate change by radiative forcing; increased levels of CO2 also contribute to health problems.  

No serious discussion of climate issues suggests a worldwide halt to live music touring, but there exists much room for improvement. Both on their own and with the help of dedicated nonprofit organizations, many artists are taking positive steps toward mitigating the deleterious effects that touring exerts upon the environment.  

Smart tour planning is one way to lessen an artist’s carbon footprint. Ed Sheeran’s 2022 European run minimized flights between concert venues, making that leg of his tour the year's most environmentally efficient. Total carbon dioxide emissions (from flights and driving) on Sheeran’s tour came to less than 150 metric tons. In contrast, Dua Lipa’s tour during the same period generated 12 times as much — more than 1800 metric tons — of CO2 

In July, singer/songwriter and four-time GRAMMY nominee Jewel will embark on her first major tour in several years, alongside GRAMMY winner Melissa Etheridge. During the planning stage for the 28-city tour, Jewel suggested an idea that could reduce the tour’s carbon footprint.

"I always thought it was so silly and so wasteful — and so carbon footprint-negative — to have separate trucks, separate lighting, separate crews, separate hotel rooms, separate costs," Jewel says. She pitched the idea of sharing a backing band with Etheridge. "I’ve been trying to do this for 25 years," Jewel says with a laugh. "Melissa is the first person who took me up on it!" 

The changes will not only reduce the tour’s carbon footprint, but they’ll also lessen the cost of taking the shows on the road. Acknowledging that there are many opportunities to meet the challenges of touring’s negative impact upon the environment, Jewel emphasizes that “you have to find [solutions] that work for you.”

Sheeran and Jewel aren’t the only popular artists trying to make a difference. A number of high profile artists have become actively involved in creating the momentum for positive change. Those artists believe that their work on sustainability issues goes hand in hand with their role as public figures. Their efforts take two primary forms: making changes themselves, andadvocating for action among their fans.  

The Climate Machine 

Norhan Bayomi is an Egypt-born environmental scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a key member of the Environmental Solutions Initiative, a program launched to address sustainable climate action. She’s also a recording artist in the trance genre, working under the name Nourey 

The ESI collaborates with industry heavyweights Live Nation, Warner Music Group and others as well with touring/recording acts like Coldplay to examine the carbon footprint of the music industry. A key component of the ESI is the Climate Machine, a collaborative research group that seeks to help the live music industry reduce carbon emissions. "As a research institution, we bring technologies and analytics to understand, in the best way possible, the actual impact of the music industry upon climate change," says John Fernández, Director of the ESI.  

"I’m very interested in exploring ways that we can bridge between environmental science, climate change and music fans," Bayomi says. She explains that the tools at the ESI’s disposal include "virtual reality, augmented reality and generative AI," media forms that can communicate messages to music fans and concertgoers. Fernández says that those endeavors are aimed at "enlisting, enabling and inspiring people to get engaged in climate change." 

The Environmental Solutions Initiative cites Coldplay as a high-profile success. The band and its management issued an "Emissions Update" document in June 2024, outlining its success at achieving their goal of reducing direct carbon emissions from show production, freight, band and crew travel. The established target was a 50 percent cut in emissions compared to Coldplay’s previous tour; the final result was a 59 percent reduction between their 2022-23 tour and 2016-17 tour.  

A significant part of that reduction came as a result of a renewable-energy based battery system that powers audio and lights. The emissions data in the update was reviewed and independently validated by MIT’s Fernández.  

Change Is Reverberating 

Guitarist Adam Gardner is a founding member of Massachusetts-based indie rockers Guster, but he's more than just a singer in a rock band. Gardner is also the co-founder of REVERB, one of the organizations at the forefront of developing and implementing climate-focused sustainability initiatives.  

Founded in 2004 by Gardner and his wife, environmental activist Lauren Sullivan, REVERB  began with a goal of making touring more sustainable; over the years its focus has expanded to promote industry-wide changes. Today, the organization promotes sustainability throughout the industry  in partnership with music artists, concert venues and festivals.  

REVERB initiatives have included efforts to eliminate single-use plastics at the California Roots Music & Arts Festival, clean energy projects in cooperation with Willie Nelson and Billie Eilish, and efforts with other major artists. Gardner has seen sustainability efforts grow over two decades 

"It’s really amazing to see the [change] with artists, with venues, with fans," Gardner says. "Today, people are not just giving lip service to sustainable efforts; they really want to do things that are real and measurable."  

The Music Decarbonization Project is one tangible example of REVERB’s successes. "Diesel power is one of the dirtiest sources of power," Gardner explains. "And it’s an industry standard to power festival stages with diesel generators." Working with Willie Nelson, the organization helped switch the power sources at his annual Luck Reunion to clean energy. At last year’s festival, Nelson’s headlining stage drew 100 percent of its power from solar-powered batteries. "We set up a temporary solar farm," Gardner says, "and the main stage didn’t have to use any diesel power."  

Billie Eilish was another early supporter of the initiative. "She helped us launch the program," Gardner says. Eilish’s set at Lollapallooza 2023 drew power from solar batteries, too.  

With such high-profile successes as a backdrop, Gardner believes that REVERB is poised to do even more to foster sustainable concerts and touring. "Our role now," he says, "isn’t just, ‘Hey, think about this stuff.’ It’s more how do we push farther, faster?"  

Adam Gardner believes that musicians are uniquely positioned to help make a difference where issues of sustainability are concerned. "When you’re a musician, you’re connecting with fans heart-to-heart. That’s what moves people. And that’s where the good stuff happens."  

Small-scale, individual changes can make a difference — especially when they’re coordinated and amplified among other concertgoers. Gardner provides real-world examples. "Instead of buying a plastic bottle, I brought my reusable and filled it up. Maybe I carpooled to the show." Conceding that such steps might seem like drops of water in a giant pool, he emphasizes the power of scale. "When you actually multiply [those things for] just one summer tour, it adds up," he says. "And it reminds people, ‘You’re not alone in this; you’re part of a community that’s taking action."  

Gardner understands that REVERB’s arguments have to be framed the right way to reach concertgoers. "Look," he admits, "It’s a concert. We’re not here to be a buzzkill. Our [aim] now is making sure people don’t lose hope." He says that REVERB and its partners seek to demonstrate that, with collective action and cultural change, there is reason for optimism.  

"There’s a wonderful feedback loop between hope and action," Gardner says with a smile. "You can’t really have one without the other."  

Sustainable Partnerships 

Tanner Watt is Director of Partnerships at REVERB; he works directly with touring artists to develop, coordinate and implement initiatives that bring together his organization’s objectives and the specific personal concerns of the artists. "I get to come up with all the fun, big ideas," he says with a wide smile.  

Watt acknowledges that like every concertgoer, each touring artist has a certain level of responsibility where sustainability is concerned. "And everyone can be doing something," he says, noting a number of straightforward actions that artists can put in place while on tour. "They can eliminate single-use waste. They can donate hotel toiletries that [would otherwise] hit the landfill."  

Watt stresses that artists can lead by example. "Nobody wants to listen to an artist telling them what to do if they’re not doing it themselves," he says. "But we believe that everybody cares about something." He suggests that if an artist has cultivated a following, "Why not use [that platform] to be that change you want to see in the world?"  

Each artist has his or her own specific areas of concern, but Watt says that there’s a base level of "greening" that takes place on every REVERB-affiliated tour. Where things go from there is up to the artist, in coordination with REVERB. Watt mentions Billie Eilish and her tour’s sustainability commitment. "The Venn diagram of food security, community health, access to healthy food, and the impact on the planet is a big cause for her," he says. "So there’s plant-based catering for her entire crew, across the entire tour." 

Speaking to Billboard, Eilish's mother Maggie Baird said championing sustainability starts with artists. "If artists are interested, it does really start with them telling their teams that they care and that it’s foremost in their thoughts." In the same conversation, Eilish called the battle for sustainability "a never-ending f–king fight."  

Watt acknowledges that with so many challenges, it’s important for a concerned artist to focus on the issues that move them the most, and where they can make the biggest difference. "Jack Johnson is a great example," he says. While Johnson is a vocal advocate for many environmental issues, on tour he focuses on two (in Watt’s words) "cause umbrellas": single-use plastics solutions and sustainable community food systems. Each show on the tour hosts tables representing local nonprofit organizations, presenting concertgoers with real-world, human-scale solutions to those specific challenges.  

Four-time GRAMMY winner Brittany Howard is another passionate REVERB partner. "Knowing that I wanted to make my tours more sustainable was a start," she tells GRAMMY.com, "but working with REVERB really helped me bring it to life on the road. REVERB has helped us with guidelines and a green rider to keep our stage, greenrooms and buses more sustainable." 

After listing several other specific ways that her tour supports sustainability, Howard notes, "By supporting these efforts, I am helping ensure future generations have access to clean water, fish, and all that I love about the outdoors." A dollar from every ticket sold to a Brittany Howard concert goes toward support of REVERB’s Music Decarbonization project. "I’m also excited to see industry-wide efforts that are reducing the carbon pollution of live music," Howard continues. "Because it’s not just [about] a single tour, it’s every tour." 

There’s a popular aphorism: "You can’t manage what you can’t measure." From its start, REVERB has sought not only to promote change, but to measure its success. "As long as I’ve been at REVERB, we’ve issued impact reports," says Tanner Watt. "We include data points, and give the report to the artists so they understand what we’ve done together." He admits that some successes are more tangible than others, but that it’s helpful to focus on the ones that can be quantified. "We’re very excited that our artists share those with their fans."  

Watt is clear-eyed at the challenges that remain. "Even the word ‘sustainable’ can be misleading," he concedes, suggesting that the only truly sustainable tour is the one that doesn’t happen. "But if folks don’t step it up and change the way we do business in every industry — not just ours — we’re going to get to a place where we’re forced to make sacrifices that aren’t painless." Getting that message across is REVERB’s aim. "We can’t stop the world," Watt says. "So we find ways to approach these things positively."  

Watt says that the fans at concerts featuring Jack Johnson and the Dave Matthews Band — both longtime REVERB partners — are already on board with many of the sustainability-focused initiatives which those artists promote. "But there are lots of artists — and lots of fan bases — out there that aren’t messaged to, or have been mis-messaged to," he says. "I’m really excited to find more ways to expand our reach to them, beyond mainstream pop music. Because these are conversations that are meaningful for everyone, regardless of political affiliation or other beliefs."  

Reimagining The Planet’s Future 

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Adam Met does more than front AJR, the indie pop trio he founded in 2005 with brothers Jack and Ryan. Met has a PhD in sustainable development and is a climate activist; he's also the founder/Executive Director of Planet Reimagined, a nonprofit that promotes sustainability and activism through its work with businesses, other organizations and musicians.  

"I’ve spent years traveling around the world, seeing the direct impact of climate change," Met says. He cites two recent and stark examples. "When we pulled up to a venue in San Francisco, the band had to wear gas masks going from the bus into the venue, because of forest fires," he says. AJR’s road crew had to contend with a flash flood in Athens, Greece that washed out their hotel. "And in Rome, some of our crew members fainted because of the heat."  

Encouraged by representatives from the United Nations, Met launched Planet Reimagined. Met’s approach focuses on tailored, city-specific actions to empower fans and amplify diverse voices in the climate movement. Through social media and live shows, Met strives to galvanize climate activism among AJR fans. And the methods he has developed can be implemented by other touring artists.  

Met points out that one of the most climate-unfriendly parts of the entire concert tour enterprise is fans traveling to and from the concerts. And that’s something over which the artist has little or no control. What they can do, he says, is try to educate and influence. Working closely with Ticketmaster and other stakeholders, Met’s nonprofit initiated a study — conducted from July to December 2023, with results published in April 2024 — to explore the energy that happens at concerts. "In sociology," he explains, "that energy is called collective effervescence." The study’s goal is to find ways to channel that energy toward advocacy and action.  

Polling a quarter million concertgoers across musical genres, the study collected data on attitudes about climate change. "Seventy-three percent of fans who attend concerts believe that climate change is real, and that we need to be doing more about it," Met says. "Seventy-eight percent have already taken some sort of action in their lives." He believes that if his organization can activate even a fraction of the estimated 250 million people annually who attend concerts around the globe, "that’s the ballgame."  

Met’s goal is to do more than, say, get concertgoers to switch from plastic to paper drinking straws. "At scale those things make a difference. But people want to see actions where there’s a track record," he says; a return on investment.  

AJR will be putting a plan into action on the second half of their upcoming arena tour. Part of the initiative is encouraging concertgoers to register to vote, and then actually vote. Beyond that, Met has specific actions in mind. "At every single stop, we’re putting together materials around specific policies that are being debated at the local level," he explains. "We give people a script right there, so they can call their elected representative and say, ‘I want you to vote [a certain way on this issue].’"  

He believes the initiative will lead to thousands of people contacting – and hopefully influencing – their representatives. With regard to sustainability issues, Met is convinced that "the most impact that you can have as an artist is when you give fans ways to pick up the mantle themselves." 

Artists Who Are Going On Tour In 2024: The Rolling Stones, Drake, Olivia Rodrigo & More 

 

Teezo Touchdown performing
Teezo Touchdown

Photo: Astrida Valigorsky/WireImage 

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10 Acts You Can't Miss At Bonnaroo 2024: Four Tet, Teezo Touchdown, Chappell Roan & More

From acts that embody the classic jam band spirit like Joe Russo’s Almost Dead to fan favorites like Idles, read on for 10 must-see sets at Bonnaroo 2024.

GRAMMYs/Jun 10, 2024 - 01:25 pm

Anyone who’s been to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which returns June 13-16 for its 21st edition, will know that the Manchester, Tennessee festival can be a marathon.  

High summer temperatures and humidity, often some rain and mud, and more than 100 artists to navigate over four full days — three of which extend with late-night sets that run until nearly 4 a.m. But, veteran Roo attendees also know that it’s well worth enduring. 

Of the myriad fests held each year, few have the sense of community felt at Bonnaroo. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the majority of the roughly 90,000 attendees are camping, meaning that no matter what happens, they’re all in it together. Or maybe it has to do with the fest’s self-generated “Bonnaroovian code,” which implores festgoers to “radiate positivity” throughout.

During the early aughts, a huge part of the bonding experience arrived during cross-generational legacy artist sets — often classic rock legends or big time jam bands closing out the fest’s final day — including Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Phish, Widespread Panic and the String Cheese Incident. As primary ticket buyer age demographics shifted, so did the lineups, particularly with regard to headliners, who began leaning more prominently toward pop, hip-hop and EDM. This year’s finale sets feature Pretty Lights (playing two full back-to-back sets on June 13 plus a sunrise set two nights later), Post Malone, Fred again.. and Red Hot Chili Peppers (the one top-line exception as they’re arguably a legacy act at this point). 

Of course, there are plenty of performers amongst the lineup’s incredibly diverse undercard that still embody the classic jam band spirit, and even more newcomers or rising stars that encompass a mind boggling range of musical styles. Read on to get the inside line on 10 must-see artists who fall into the latter category. 

Say She She

If you’re angling to find a dance party to get your blood pumping on the first day of the fest, look no further than Brooklyn-based Say She She. Fronted by three women — Piya Malik (formerly of Chicano Batman), Sabrina Mileo Cunningham and Nya Gazelle Brown — Say She She produce flawless harmonies over what they describe as “discodelic soul.”

At their core, they sound like Nile Rogers and Chic, who they’ve candidly owned as chief influences (to the point where Rogers reached out to personally give them a nod). There’s sometimes bits of ABBA vibes sprinkled in, but all that said, their sound is hardly a rip-off. The music certainly pays tribute to classic disco, but with elements of 90s R&B and neo-soul, it comes across as fresh, unfiltered and — on the strength of three voices harnessing incredible range — capable of moving in countless other sonic directions. They’re two albums in (sophomore full-length Silver was released last year) and already garnering shining reviews; now’s the time to catch an act in a small tent before they assuredly graduate to bigger stages.

Read more: Say She She's Big Year: How The NYC Disco Funk Group Made Sure The World Wouldn't Forget Them 

Abby Holliday

Indie rock is a fine general description for the music of singer/songwriter Abby Holliday, but it’s difficult to put her style in one box. Sure, a lot of the music on her 2023 sophomore album I’M OK NO I’M NOT sounds quite a bit like boygenius, but it dares to go further. Holliday incorporates unexpected elements like autotune vocals, which often resonate like Bon Iver and at other times more closely resemble the hooks from popular hip-hop songs.

Amid the gentle melodies and distinctly emotional lyrics are bursts of heaviness and exuberant energy, which in all likelihood will translate to a magnetic set to help kick off the Roo roster on June 14. One can only imagine how triumphant it might feel to play an essentially hometown fest of this magnitude (Holliday is based in Nashville, about an hour’s drive west). It’s almost a sure bet it will be a milestone moment worth witnessing.  

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

The first Bonnaroo in 2002 was headlined by Trey Anastasio, moe. and Widespread Panic (among others), and slowly but surely, Bonnaroo has veered away from those jam band-heavy roots. But there’s always something in the mix harkening back to those origins, and this year it’s unmistakably Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.

The five-piece group was conceived in 2013 by its namesake drummer / singer along with another jam rock veteran, Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz, and has since established itself as one of the foremost Grateful Dead tribute bands (they play other tunes, but the Dead are the main focus). The last Grateful Dead-oriented performance at Roo was Dead and Company’s back-to-back double sets in 2016, so if you’re looking to experience some long-awaited old school Roo vibes among the fest’s veteran fans, make sure to pop by JRAD’s show on June 14. 

Gary Clark Jr.

With the March release of latest album JPEG raw, Austin, Texas-bred guitar hero and four-time GRAMMY winner Gary Clark Jr. seems intent on breaking out of the blues mold — a common blanket description for his catalog spanning nearly two decades. On his fourth full-length, he delves deep into hip-hop, classic R&B (notably with a feature from living legend Stevie Wonder on “What About the Children”) and even traditional African music. If you’ve listened closely to Clark’s music all along, you’d know that he’s always incorporated a slew of styles, but his recent recordings represent the most overt effort to exude his sonic diversity.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years — which will doubtless be on full display during his Bonnaroo appearance — is Clark’s penchant for superb shredding. You already know this if you’ve seen him live, and for all the newcomers, get ready for your jaw to drop for the duration of his hour-long set on June 14.

Read more: Gary Clark, Jr. On 'JPEG RAW': How A Lockdown Jam Session, Bagpipes & Musical Manipulation Led To His Most Eclectic Album Yet

Cage the Elephant

Kentucky-bred outfit Cage the Elephant delivers one of the most riveting rock shows around. With his Iggy Pop-esque antics — never not running and writhing from end to end and often standing atop the audience — frontman Matt Shultz’s stage presence alone is enough to rile up thousands of fest fans at any time of day.

That’s been the standard since they put out their 2008 self-titled debut, and based on the decidedly anthemic indie-rock sonics of just-released sixth full-length Neon Pill (plus the fact that they’ll be only a little more than a month into touring and imbued with a fresh burst of boisterousness), there’s every chance the band’s June 15 main stage set will manifest as an explosive Roo moment not-to-be-missed. 

Teezo Touchdown

Hailing from the small, unsuspecting East Texas city of Beaumont, rapper, singer/songwriter and producer Teezo Touchdown (born Aaron Lashane Thomas) only launched his professional career eight years ago. But within the past four years, he’s become a household name among contemporary rappers. His 2023 debut album How Do You Sleep at Night? notably featured 10-time GRAMMY nominee Janelle Monáe; in the years preceding, he’d already collaborated with Travis Scott, Tyler, the Creator, and Lil Yachty. He performed to his largest audience as a guest at this year’s Coachella during Doja Cat’s headlining sets to perform their single “MASC.”

Yet, his impressive set of credentials isn’t the main reason you should include him on your Bonnaroo schedule. He’s an enigmatic performer: sporting his signature wig of nails and flower bouquet-enshrouded microphone, he switches seamlessly from sharp raps to ear worm singing. There’s never a lapse in his on-stage energy, assurance that his early evening set on June 15 will provide a surefire pick-me-up to help push through the remainder of the marathon fest.

Read more: Teezo Touchdown, Tiana Major9 & More Were In Bloom At The 2024 GRAMMYs Emerging Artist Showcase 

Jake Wesley Rogers

Jake Wesley Rogers has come a tremendously long way from his first spotlight at age 15 on "America’s Got Talent" in 2012 (where he was eliminated). He supported Kesha on her Only Love Tour in 2023, and now he’s opening the main stage on the final day of Bonnaroo. 

The Missouri native’s rise to budding star, built upon four EPs and a handful of standalone singles, is well deserved. On stage, Rogers absolutely belts a soulful, goosebumps-inducing tenor, and he performs with all the glamorous energy of a young Elton John (even sporting similarly flamboyant sunglasses and climbing atop his piano while banging on the keys). Muster the energy to get on the field early after three days, or you might regret missing a pivotal moment for an artist who’s likely on his way to fest headliner status.

Read more: Tour Diary: See Jake Wesley Rogers' Favorite Photos & Memories From Touring With Panic! At The Disco 

Idles

For the past decade or so, post-punk has seen a significant resurgence, and on the surface it may appear that England’s Idles are one of the bands leading the charge, but they’ve staunchly rejected the descriptor. Vocalist Joe Talbot said it directly in a recent interview with British daily newspaper the Times: “We’re not a punk band.”

There’s ample evidence of that on their fifth album, 2023’s Tangk, which delves into new sonic territory with songs like “Dancer,” where the band mixed in elements of art-pop via collaboration with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Nancy Whang. Backtrack to third album Ultra Mono (released in 2020 at the height of the pandemic) and you’ll hear that they were already veering away from the punk rock mold with distinct elements of hip-hop and other styles on songs like “Grounds.”

All that said, their shows resonate with the in-your-face energy of punk rock, yet they stand out significantly among other bands of the genre by exuding an overwhelmingly positive, unifying spirit. Many fans have described their show as something akin to church, and with the group at the top of their game and at a festival that already historically proliferates such a mindset, their Bonnaroo appearance on June 15 is certain to be one for the books. 

Read more: IDLES Chatter With Joe Talbot: How The British Rockers Get Personal, Political & Festival Filthy 

Chappell Roan

Chappell Roan is having a major moment. The 26-year-old electro-pop singer/songwriter (real name: Kayleigh Rose Amstutz) immediately became a viral sensation when she dropped her song “Die Young” on YouTube at age 17. Now — after releasing debut album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess (a nod to her Missouri origins) in 2023 and opening for Olivia Rodrigo on her Guts World Tour earlier this year — she’s become one of the most anticipated artists at 2024 festivals nationwide.

Roan, which Amstutz equates to a sex-positive drag persona, performs with supreme professionalism, and her ability to deliver pristine vocals while exhibiting unerring athleticism (high kicks aplenty) proliferates non-stop audience engagement. Her fans are diehards who belt out every word, and with a relatively small platform at Bonnaroo in a tent on June 16, she’s sure to draw one of the most overflowing audiences of the weekend. If you wanna get anywhere close to the stage (and you should), make sure to arrive early.

Read more: Chappell Roan's Big Year: The 'Midwest Princess' Examines How She Became A Pop "Feminomenon" 

Four Tet

It’s almost a disservice that electronic musician/producer Four Tet is slated for a late afternoon/early evening set at Bonnaroo, a couple of hours before sunset. His hypnotic and experimental yet highly danceable compositions lend themselves to a late-night performance packed with spellbinding lights cutting through the darkness to illuminate the pulsating crowd. 

On the other hand, he boasts a legendary reputation for live sets, plus a prolific catalog that spans more than 20 years and 12 studio albums, including this year’s Three. As a whole, it's a discography that can cater to not only electronica fanatics, hip-hop heads (note his many collaborations with Madlib) and experimental enthusiasts. To boot, there’s potential for some special moments during his appearance on June 16. Four Tet has previously played alongside the final night’s headliner Fred again.., so the potential for that guest spot alone might make it even more worth it to prioritize his performance. 

Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More