Hello friends of A Different Drum! It is time for another update, and I’ll kick it off with a new arrival in the store, and a pre-order announcement.
Isaac Junkie featuring Andy Bell “Breathing Love” (CDEP) $13 — You can now pre-order the upcoming CD release with Isaac Junkie featuring vocals by Erasure’s Andy Bell. There are several remixes included, plus an Isaac Junkie rework of “A Little Respect”. So, if the new Erasure “Snow Globe” album isn’t enough for you, then pre-order the upcoming, December release of “Breathing Love”. You can pre-order here:
One Vista “Changing Places” $15 — This new import CD from Russia features a classic synthpop sound with female vocal leads. Packed with 14 fun tracks, it is a nice introduction to this new synthpop duo. Check out the sampler video and order the CD here:
Remember, we also have in stock these recent arrivals worth checking out:
Brand New Day “Mind Games” $12 — Watch a video and order the CD here:
Matt Springfield “Erase All Data” $15 — Watch a video and order the CD here:
And now, it’s time for another installment of A Different Drum’s history, as promised…
A DIFFERENT DRUM HISTORY - PART 9 - CONVENTION INTENTIONS
I’ve mentioned some of the fun festivals in which I participated while building A Different Drum as a source for synthpop in the USA, but even with those fun, festival atmosphere’s, I felt like there could be something more interractive and rewarding for both the bands and the fans at such events. I started to look at the possibility of having some kind of synthpop convention put together, rather than a mere festival. What is the difference? Well…at a festival, you typically have a line-up of bands that are scheduled to perform, and though there are usually vending tables for band merchandise, there is really nothing more than the concert atmosphere. That’s not to say that the concert atmosphere is lacking, but at a convention, there is more.
Look, for example, at the anime convention scene, which is something A Different Drum even dabbled in as an attempt to branch out and spread synthpop music to a new audience. At the anime conventions (I attended several), you have a group of people who all love a similar genre, and they gather together for a weekend to share their love of anime. They don’t just pile into a room and watch movies for hours and hours (though there are screenings available). But they also have interactive panel discussions on topics relating to anime, and they have cosplay events featuring fans. They have special, celebrity guests, they have a vending room loaded with vending tables for related products, and they have tons of parties, dances, and more. It’s not just a show, but an interactive dreamland for fans. Not only do the artists take the stage, but the fans as well, dressing up in costume and often receiving as much attention as any star would. Whether you like the genre or not, it’s a party!
So, I thought that a synthpop convention could offer something similar — non-concert interaction between band members and fans, as well as panel discussions, a proper vendor room, and general social gatherings. That kind of approach would seem more enticing for out-of-state, or even out-of-country visitors. One small group of synthpop fans in Los Angeles, California felt the same way and we willing to take it upon themselves to start a convention. They put their own money and efforts into the event, and I showed support by signing up as a vendor and helping to get some of my label bands involved. I promoted it to A Different Drum’s fan base, and we saw the birth of SynthCon. As the organizers found out, putting together a convention is more work than the average show. There are many levels of planning, including putting together a deal with a hotel that will offer room discounts to attendees (which comes with some risky guarantees), and with a ballroom large enough to host the event, etc. Scheduling is a lot of work, and taking care of all of the attending bands and special guests takes some manpower as well. But it came together in a hotel in historic Hollywood, and when the weekend arrived, the small but well-organized convention took flight.
SynthCon featured bands from around the world, and there were even a couple of bands from A Different Drum’s label roster that I had never met in person until that event. There was not a huge crowd in attendance, but it was an enthusiastic crowd, and I was very pleased with the support shown to the bands, as well as to the vendors like myself. I still laugh when thinking back to a particular German synthpop duo who had shown up to play a show. They did not bring any t-shirts or band merchandise to sell, but one of them was wearing a t-shirt that he had custom made with the band name on the front. A fan walked up and offered to buy the shirt off of his back, just so they could have a t-shirt from every band there. The band member agreed and took his shirt off, selling it for something like $20 to the enthusiastic fan. I remember that there were representatives from several small electronic pop labels there, and we participated together in a panel discussion, or round-table, about how to promote and build the synthpop scene. OK, I admit, I don’t remember too much from that meeting, except that one person mentioned a small company called CDBaby that was selling independent music with a completely new financial approach. I remember thinking, “Well, I’m doing that, but with a focus on synthpop instead of every genre in the world. They’re trying to do too much.” That wasn’t the first time I’ve been wrong. CDBaby quickly became the biggest name in independent music online distribution and eventually the owner sold the company for more than a million dollars and retired. Sheesh…maybe I should have thought bigger!
I have many fond memories from that first SynthCon, including many of the friends I met for the first time. I remember some awkward encounters between both bands and fans, simply because of the wide array of personalities present– like Midihead from the band Monolithic yelling in his strong voice, which echoed through the hotel lobby, “You don’t have permission to touch me!” I also remember the elaborate setup which Mark of Faith Assembly put together for his show so that it could be filmed for his “Windmills” DVD release and how stressed he was about getting everything to work out as he envisioned. I remember an award presentation during the convention where I got to go up on stage to receive a plaque for best synthpop compilation, or something like that. It was fun, and I remember pumping my first and screaming or something, providing a silly photo-op which would haunt me online for a while. I remember a long, and somewhat strange, speech by Kurt of Information Society, where he basically talked about not trusting anybody in the music business, including your band members, when it comes to business (which was particularly awkward considering there were several bands there and small labels, all feeling a great deal of unity and affection for one another). Oh, there are plenty of memories with that convention, and they are overwhelmingly positive and worthy of big smiles.
I also remember not getting much sleep at all. As usual, my buddy, Gary, had traveled with me, since he hated missing any opportunity to go to such events, and even after the long days and evenings of shows were over, we’d sit up talking and laughing. I was so exhausted after three days of SynthCon that as I was sitting in the airport having a chat with Gary, I remember bursting into tears while telling about some story from my childhood. You know how it is when you haven’t slept properly for days, that everything suddenly seems extremely emotional.
In the end, the organizers lost money, as usual. I don’t know how much, but it was enough that the key people involved didn’t stick around to do it again the next year. Somebody else took up the reigns for the next SynthCon, and that one didn’t turn out quite as well. It started OK, in a different hotel, near the Los Angeles airport, with the vending tables and shows in small rooms in the basement. But the next morning we found out that the hotel had not actually been paid for the facilities, so the remaining shows were booted out and thrown together for one more night at a small, local club where the attendees could barely squeeze in. I remember that Freezepop, who was quite popular with the youth at the time, was attending as a band, and when they had to play in the club, some of their fans were suddenly too young to get into the club. I felt bad for them, so Joey of The Echoing Green and I decided to call them groupies and have them help carry the band’s equipment into the club to set up for sound check. Then they just stayed there so when the club actually opened and ID’s were being checked, those young fans were already sitting inside. Pretty sneaky…but you don’t ask these teens to travel the country and then more to a venue where they can’t get in, right?
I remember spending some time talking with Claude from Anything Box at a small table in the club, looking back at some of the business that had gone down with his music over the last few years. Again, I was able to meet and talk to several new people, and loved hanging out with some of the repeat attendees who I would see all over the country from that point forward. But the SynthCon convention itself looked to be doomed as it financially crumbled to the dust. But hey, at least they tried!
I did attend some anime conventions, including a huge one in Santa Clara, California, and then a smaller one for a few years in Boise, Idaho. And at those conventions, the organizers thought it was a great idea to have an electronic pop band show up and play a show. In Boise, they even made it a tradition for a little while to have a dance, where A Different Drum would provide a live band. B! Machine played a show at one of those conventions where the audience did not want to stop dancing, and Nate only existed the stage because he simply had to go to the restroom…otherwise it might have gone on all night. Voice Industrie played a great show at one of those conventions as well. A Different Drum’s vending booth always good enough support to make the trip worthwhile, as a completely new audience would hear the music and begin their synthpop CD collections.
Eventually, I hired a young woman name Rachael Haring, who lived on the east coast and had the perfect combination of enthusiastic support for synthpop as well as a love of anime conventions. I hired her as a sales representative for A Different Drum and booked a booth at as many as a dozen anime conventions through the course of a couple of years. She had a special knack for promoting the music and sold a good number of CD’s. Because of her efforts, I even put together a couple of label compilations with anime-style artwork just to cater to the new audience. Plus we put together the “Listen to the Future” CD+Book combination which was the most expensive release on A Different Drum’s label, just to bring some different art forms together and promote at the conventions. Cosmicity got to play a show at a convention on the east coast, thanks to the efforts of Rachael and the support of the anime audience. Rachael eventually met her would-be husband and stepped down, leaving A Different Drum’s anime period behind. There was nobody else that I could find who could do as much as she did. It was one of the high points of A Different Drum’s history, in my opinion. Maybe it didn’t make a lot of money, but Rachael got to attend her conventions for free, plus she made enough money on CD commissions to have a great weekend, plus I’d get a check in the mail a few days later with the remaining sales, allowing the label to put out more music.
When I put together the final festivals for A Different Drum’s labels in Salt Lake City, I originally hoped to bring back a convention feel, booking the events in a hotel with room blocks available for attendees, and informal gatherings to discuss the music business, etc. But, the support didn’t come in the numbers necessary, and eventually it became clear that each time would attract basically the same, small group of people, so I gave it up and haven’t gone back. Maybe some day there will be a convention for synthpop again. At least we can dream.
In the years between SynthCon and the later A Different Drum festivals, there were other fun events, including one of the largest and most impressive multi-band events I’ve attended in my days working with synthpop– Synthpop Goes the World! I’ll discuss some more memories of my trips to different events in the next historical piece.
Thanks for reading!