Hear that pulsing sound? That means it’s EDM week here at DFW.com. Check out our other stories we’ve been rolling out this week: Falling into step with dance music (a look at the overall EDM movement); Tarrant goes techno; a long history of EDM at the Lizard Lounge in Dallas; an EDM glossary; and a look at the EDM documentary Under the Electric Sky.
The clock is ticking close to midnight in the space formerly known as Ghostbar, 32 floors above the city of Dallas in the W Hotel. It’s the inaugural night for Lights Up High, the scaled-down sibling to Lights All Night, Dallas’ biggest annual EDM party, and DJ Twelfth Planet is digging deep into the dubstep as the fans gather closer to the booth.
And there in the crowd is some guy dressed as a panda — and no one finds it odd.
In fact, everyone wants to have a selfie taken with him.
A few days later, in a Deep Ellum building that once housed a Fritos factory, there are no pandas in sight. The guys who run Highland Concerts — the company that operates the Lights franchise of events — are dressed more like the young businessmen that they are.
In fact, CEO/talent booker Scott Osburn and president/talent buyer Hank Keller make no secret of the fact that they not only want to take Lights All Night — which takes place at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center every December — beyond the Metroplex but also move into events that fall outside of EDM’s boundaries.
“A big goal of Hank’s and mine is throw a multi-genre, mainstream rock festival,” says Osburn, 28. “This [EDM event] was an opportunity for us to prove ourselves and cut our teeth.”
In fact, Lights All Night has its roots in very un-EDM events. The childhood buddies, both of whom grew up in Dallas, went to different colleges — Texas Tech and University of Montana for Osburn, LSU for Keller — but both had an interest in concert promotion. They collaborated on a Missoula, Mont., show for the folk duo the Indigo Girls. It sold out.
Back in Dallas, they took a New Year’s Eve party at aimed at a college crowd at Dallas’ Magnolia Hotel — which drew 500 in 2008 and 1,200 in 2009 — and expanded it into what is now Lights All Night.
“Scott said we needed to brand it,” Keller, 27, recalls. “And so we called one of our girlfriends from high school and said ‘we’ve got this New Year’s Eve party and we need to give it a brand. We’re going to have some electronic music and we need a name.’ She calls back five minutes later and says, ‘I got it. Lights All Night.’ We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s perfect!’ ”
With Ghostland Observatory headlining, that 2010 edition of Lights All Night — held at the Plaza of the Americas — drew 6,000.
The next year would prove even more crucial. The mammoth Electric Daisy Carnival was coming into the market with a huge event at Fair Park and Osburn and Keller needed investors. “Back then, it was just Scott and myself in his parents’ back house,” laughs Keller.
“We put an investment model together that we could show to a group of investors,” says Osburn. “We had this momentum — 2008, 600 kids; 2009, 1,200; 2010, 6,000 — and then we said there’s no better time to go for it and create a bigger show, create a bigger budget and bring in these large acts.”
But tragedy struck the Electric Daisy Carnival in the summer of 2011 when one man died and many others were hospitalized. This could have been bad news for Lights All Night in the wake of the negative publicity.
So Keller and Osburn brought in a team of outside experts — including Jim Tobin Productions, which handles logistics for such large-scale events as Bonnaroo and many others, and Southlake-based Alpha & Omega Mounted Security Patrol, which works at Coachella and other festivals — to help reassure city officials that Lights All Night could go off smoothly. “We were able to to hire the best of the summer-festivals business and bring them to Dallas in December because there’s not much going on,” Keller says.
“We had 220 security [personnel], 150 police that year. It was Super Bowl staffing levels just to put the event on, and it was expensive,” says Osburn. “But it worked and we had a great year.”
They attracted 26,000 fans. Fast forward to 2013, and 43,000 showed up for a bill that included Deadmau5, Kaskade and Fedde Le Grand. On top of that, Keller and Osburn expanded internationally with a Mexico City event on New Year’s Eve.
“Right now we’re working on trying to do a Lights All Night in Panama City,” says Osburn, who adds there could be Lights All Nights in Asia and Australia as well. On top of that, there will be the occasional Lights Up High events in Dallas.
Their success has caught the attention of the big promoters — Live Nation, AEG and SFX among them — but Keller and Osburn say they like having their independence. Though they have partnered and consulted with MCP Presents of Denver — who stage Atlanta’s Tomorrow World and Mad Decent Block Party in Dallas and New Orleans, among other events — they’ve decided to stay in the driver’s seat.
“We sought to learn from [the big promoters] … and we have been in conversations with them and we decided that it’s not the right time to take that step and that we need to stay independent,” says Osburn. “We’re excited about that.”
Cary Darling, 817 390-7571