Though electronic dance music has experienced a recent surge in popularity–June’s Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas reported some 85,000 attendees on one day alone, and artists like Tiesto and David Guetta are practically household names–this was hardly the case just a few years back, when local DJ Trevor Simpson was trying to get his foot in the door.
“About three and a half years ago, I found myself in a place where even though I pretty much considered myself one of the biggest DJs in San Francisco, I would just not have bookings,” Simpson explained. “And it was because the climate of the house music scene was not the way it is today. House music definitely wasn’t the most popular music, and it was kind of before there were hipsters and before there was electro and dubstep and all this cool stuff.”
Around the same time, Simpson, who was then the music director at the now-defunct radio station Energy 92.7, heard about M.I.A. from a record representative friend on the East Coast and became “obsessed” with her “groundbreaking, different vibe.” Simpson also made multiple visits to his brother in Brazil, opening him up to baile funk music. The genre, also popular with Diplo, both a DJ and M.I.A.’s former producer, quickly became incorporated into the emerging hipster movement.
And so, with both his own career goals and these external artistic influences in mind, World Town Inc. (or what he and fiance Mariam Shojaee refer to as “The Party”) was born.
“I started ‘The Party’ because I wanted to have a way that I could take my brand and incorporate it with world music and world cultures and still have it be house music,” Simpson said.
Inspired by M.I.A.’s self-prepared concert visuals–he still recalls the African patterns and a hand playing Congo drums on the beat from the first M.I.A. concert that he attended–Simpson’s original concept for World Town (incidentally, a name also drawn from an M.I.A. song) was that the video and VJ were just as important as the music.
“The Party,” anchored by DJ Simpson as well as other hired talent, would soon find a permanent home in San Francisco venue Ruby Skye, where initially World Town continued to incorporate lots of visuals and live dancers with the music. Before long, the World Town party became Ruby Skye’s largest monthly event.
“We were really lucky to do that,” he said of World Town’s delicate relationship with Ruby Skye. “And honestly, it’s because it was working and low budget. We were local DJs, we hired some dancers and for a couple thousand dollars, we were doing a Saturday night main event party that was selling out.”
Around this time, the music climate began to change, with house music rising in popularity. Having experienced early success, the company was now able to book bigger and bigger names. Additionally, Simpson’s radio relationships–he currently DJs a show called “Clubbers’ Commute” from 1:50 to 2:35 a.m on 99.7–and Bay Area ties helped strengthen World Town’s bookings even more. His roommate from college grew up in a commune-style home in Berkeley along with Niles “Cyrano” Hollowell-Dhar, who represents half of electro-hip-hop group The Cataracs, and was acting as the duo’s manager while living at Simpson’s house.
“We were around this energy of amazing talent that was just growing with ‘The Party,’” Shojaee, who co-runs World Town with Simpson, said. “This entire party is part of a community that grew together. It was this unique sound that came out of Berkeley and San Francisco that is influencing the world now, this sound that nobody knew about or how to produce. And it was very innocently done–kids were working on it for years, and as soon as music started changing, everyone around us just made it all at the same time.”
“It’s crazy to see, because only a couple years ago, they were literally crashing on couches,” she added.
After moving to Los Angeles, Simpson’s former roommate called Shojaee and him one day to discuss the possibility of World Town booking a tour that The Cataracs were doing along with Hyper Crush and Far East Movement, a relative unknown in March when the August 2010 show date was set at Ruby Skye.
“We thought, ‘great’–Hyper Crush was really the only established band on the bill,” Simpson recalled. “But then during that six-month period, “G6” hit, and by the time we got to the date of the tour, we were telling the managers, Far East Movement has to headline the show.”
“After that point, it was less about the audiovisual experience and more about setting the trend by our bookings,” he added.
Following what he now calls the “Far East Movement show,” World Town’s success has continued to snowball as they introduce new talent to the Bay Area. The duo next brought Dutch DJ Chuckie to Ruby Skye–his first show in the United States at which Lil Jon made an unexpected appearance–followed by Afrojack in his first San Francisco performance.
“To have the artists we’ve had is craziness,” Shojaee noted. “Because as soon as they left us, it’s impossible to get them back. They’re at the point where they’re in their own jets and they’re flying all over the world.”
With electronic dance music now infiltrating mainstream radio–for example, Afrojack produced radio mainstay “Give Me Everything” while Diplo produced Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now”–Simpson and Shojaee hope to use the style’s popularity to continue educating the Bay Area public about up-and-coming artists while fighting to maintain San Francisco’s role as a priority musical city.
“This entire [concept of] educating people is so important,” Shojaee said. “The main point of the event is for these artists to come and expose their music to the crowd before they break or while they’re breaking and for San Francisco not to lose those relationships with those particular artists. We literally are third when it comes to Vegas and San Diego right now with the music and these artists.”
“At one point, Europeans especially thought San Francisco was it,” she added. “There was no other city like it.”
Of course, World Town faces other difficulties as well–the tens of thousands of dollar fees that some DJs demand, the criticism that they have gotten “too big” and the somewhat tainted rave image so often associated with electronic music.
“After the scene of tutus and kids overdosing on drugs, someone has to clean up that image,” Shojaee said. “And it is this party and Ruby Skye doing that.”
“The thing is, raves or ravers, there is a place for that, but this is not it,” Simpson added. “World Town is also about expressing yourself, embracing all different cultures, helping out charities and being a wild, totally fun, let-your-hair-down party, but not a rave. Never wanted to be, never claimed to be, never will be.”
But on Thursday, Aug. 4, Shojaee and Simpson’s years of toil will come to fruition as they host one of the artists who started it all: Diplo.
“It’s so important,” Shojaee said. “One of the reasons we started ‘The Party’ and work so hard to this day is because we wanted Diplo and M.I.A. to be part of the show.”
“Diplo was part of the inspiration,” Simpson added. “So it sort of came completely full circle.”