If you are around in our scene its hard not to know Aaron Austen. He has got his hands in a little bit of everything. Whether he is putting on shows for his Production outfit Run614 or DJing, you can always find him trying to help people have a good time. He has got over a decade in the game here in Columbus, and he is still trying to push the envelope of our local shows. I hope you can take the time to read this interview, as he sheds some light on his history, how he thinks about putting on shows, and where he thinks we are going as a community. Enjoy!
Local Autonomy (LA): You have been involved in DJ’ing, organizing, and attending shows for a good part of your life. What is it about dance music that interests you so much?
Aaron Austen (AA): It is the way that people interact with the sound and can relate to certain noises that make them happy. People that listen to electronic music generally don’t always know who or what they’re listening to at the moment. It’s not so much like pop/radio music where commercialism repeats itself over and over. EDM to me is a truer form of what the music industry should be like. Producers get known usually for the music & most people can’t even put a face with their name. I think that is pretty kool. Music is meant to be heard, not seen. I think the general population of America has put that notion on hold over the years. The fact that image becomes more important than the music saddens me. You don’t look at music. You listen to it and, in turn, feel it as well.
LA: You cite your experiences in Columbus clubs in the mid 1990s as a key Ah Ha! moment that really inspired you to get more involved in the scene. Why was that era so special to you?
AA: When Mekka opened in ’95, it was a big moment for me. It was the biggest culture clash I have experienced still to this day. You had rich, poor black, white, gay, & straight all there to party together. It didn’t matter what brands of clothes or shoes you were wearing. It was about a common interest of the music.
Then I went to DEMF (Detroit Electronic Music Festival) in ’02 and got bitten by the deeper, underground sound. I still didn’t really get it at that moment, but I saw something that really left an impression on me. Seeing thousands of people all getting crazy to the rhythmical pounding of Detroit Techno made me try to dive deeper into the music and helped me understand where I wanted to take the music that I play. It also made me think how I wanted people to experience my live sets so that we could be connected on the dance floor. This makes me try to craft an experience when I play that is less about playing the one track everyone knows, and more about the vibe of the set as a whole. I advise anyone who says they love EDM go to Detroit for Movement (DEMF) where it all started. You get such a deeper understanding from the roots.
LA: I get the sense that you approach DJ’ing as an artistic activity. I know there has been a lot of controversy of late in the DJ community about the artistic nature of DJ’ing. Why do you think DJ’ing is an artform?
AA: There are all kinds of forms of DJing/mixing. For me, the thing I love the most is the long mixes. I love it when it is no longer just the one track playing and for a moment it becomes its own track bridging the two together seamlessly. Also, I feel that it creates a sway to the mix making and has more of a live, improvised feel. For those moments, the two tracks join to make the set unique.
When you have laptop DJs using effects to loop or delay tracks it just feels cold to me and loses my interest fairly quickly. For me, phrasing is a huge part to mixing that gets lost by the use of newer technologies. Don’t get me wrong, there are the DJs out there than can fool my ear & do an amazing job, but they are few and far between.
LA: Switching gears to talk about your experiences with shows, How did you get your start putting on events?
AA: When I was living on E 13th on OSU campus, we used to throw an annual Disco party from“96-2000”. We literally had 14 kegs, 3 garbage cans of hairy buffalo, an ice luge, and a full bar for shots.
Our house would host over 2,000 guests (Most in full disco garb) throughout the night. The front yard, the house, & back parking lot would be packed. Needless to say, I had met a lot of people though these parties, and I found a way to turn those connections into a following.
So in ‘98 Jerry Calliste (AKA Hashim creator of the old school electro massive “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)”), had me put my people gathering skills to work at a seedy little afterhours joint called “The Alley” just off 5th and High in Pearl alley. During this time, I also worked with Chad Allen of Purpose Productions, who threw the Revolution & Transformation parties in the late 90s. I started out being the the kid littering the city with flyers. I put in work & gained respect from the older promoters. Over the years, things have just snowballed and I have taken the same approach to step up the ladder as they were presented.
LA: What drove you to go out on your own and start Super Good Events & Run614?
AA: I felt the music was getting stagnate. At the time, we were only using one bar and we were the only EDM game in town. Some shows were great there, but it felt like we were losing our edge by beating a dead horse. The crowd was shifting to a “be seen” crowd & the owners were pressuring the DJs to play music they normally wouldn’t choose to play. It was hard to convince the powers that be to try to build something rather than just riding the wave until it was beached. It was also tough because I knew that that the amazing local & regional talents we were bring in to open were better than the headlining acts. They just don’t have the money behind them to break out. My hopes are to bring a balance back to the taste makers of the area that are pushing the envelope musically.
LA: What is your philosophy when you are putting together events? In other words, what are you trying to achieve and what are some of the guidelines you use to put an event together?
AA: Location & sound! They are always the first things I check out. People don’t seem to wander off the beaten path so much anymore. Getting people out to experience something new is the hardest battle for a promoter like me. After the location is set, then I move on to the sound. I want people to hear the music the way it was intended to be heard. If you don’t have the correct amount of bass, especially for techno & house, it sounds flat & boring to people. I feel that not having a proper system here in Columbus, Such as a FUNKTION-ONE System, has limited these genres of music.
After sound come the smaller details such as capacity, programming, and booking. I like to keep it where you have room to be comfortable. I really dislike feeling like you are in a dead end & are stuck somewhere. I feel that many venue owners overlook where they bottle neck people & make it impossible to get around. I focus on figuring out the flow of the location to prevent large crowds from having to stand around & wait just to get through a door. Programming is also really important. I always ask: What Music feels right for the spot? There is nothing worse than walking into a room where the DJ is beating the hell out of the system playing bangers at 10-11 pm slot to a room of ten people. Programming & volume can make or break your event. There is also nothing worse than the DJ not seeing when the people are ready to dial it up a notch, which ends up flat-lining your night. In general, I always strive to make it as comfortable as possible for the target audience.
LA: You have worked in both large national production companies like Disco Productions and have attempted to help build an underground scene with Run614. In your opinion, what role do the underground and large promotion companies play in a healthy scene?
AA: Lets start with the larger style promotions. They are a necessity for the underground to survive. They are able to pull in the masses to increase exposure to the music. Here in town, PSG (Prime Social Group) is an amazing resource to get in touch with the younger age groups. It creates a trickle down effect to the underground. There are kids who are just there to party, and then there are the ones who love the music. The ones who love the music usually end up expanding their relationships with the music and what they listen to. They tend to search more for their personal sound. That is where I feel the Underground type of parties really benefit from the larger exposure of the national companies. There are a lot of really creative underground events happening by forward thinking people out there. If you are looking for them Squared or Push Productions are a good start. It seems the more you focus on a sound/genre that the crowds begin to split into their respective sub-genre. I would also have to say I have noticed over the years the underground is an outlet to a more artistic minded type of crowd. Trying to capture their attention & hold it is a much harder battle to accomplish. It becomes about the experience as a whole. The really good underground events seem to be the ones that can program a cross promotion of multiple groups, and can set personal agendas and ego’s aside for a night.
LA: We talked at length about how the Columbus scene is embedded within a larger economic system that we don’t often talk about. What are the limits and opportunities that money places on crafting dance music events in Columbus?
AA: It is a huge obstacle in Columbus. We all want to see world-class talent come through our city, but with world class talent comes world-class riders (contractual requirements). There are some pretty decent clubs in Columbus; however, other than some that are just catching on & getting closer, there isn’t a world class sound system in town. Having to add/rent sound everywhere kills your break even number and makes most mid-to-small sized shows lose money. It is a trend here for clubs to open up on what will just get by for their night-to-night operations. They aren’t prepared for special event demands. Sound rental limits our market to doing the non-top 20 djs & ultimately keeps us from being able to do the up and coming acts. I would have to say that in my opinion it is the element that holds our city back from a true dance club culture like you might see in Chicago or even Detroit. We have to spend more as promoters to book talent and rent sound, so the ticket buyer has to spend more to attend the show. This prices many underground shows out of our market. People would rather party at home with their friends instead of feeling gouged at the door.
Make sure to Check Aaron Austen out with special guest Seth Yender out of Detroit (Check out the samples on this recent-ish EP from him out of Beretta music) at The Social Room tonight for Niche. Event Details HERE.