Updated Fri, Jan 17, 2014 4:25 pm
photo: Dave Rave Photography
For decades, Athens, Ohio, has been a hotspot for live music. Hundreds of bands have come and gone--sometimes playing their hearts out to empty rooms, sometimes to sold-out crowds--but the tried-and-true model of "three guitars and drums" has been pretty constant over the years.
But to limit the Athens music scene to just performance-based acts would be a mistake. For years, DJ culture has co-existed alongside local live bands, drawing huge crowds and providing an outlet for fans of electronic music.
Dave Rave, made up of Brandon Thompson (DJ B-Funk) and Dave Alexander (DJ Time Traveler), is celebrating its fourth year on the scene with a Jan. 24 show at The Union, featuring guests Milk N Cookies, an up-and-coming DJ duo from Illinois.
WOUB caught up with Thompson and Alexander to learn more about the Athens DJ/dance scene and how they became one of the most popular acts in town.
WOUB: Let's go back a bit. What was your introduction to electronic music?
Dave Alexander: I started listening to electronic music when I was in high school. When I came to OU as an undergrad and grad student, I really enjoyed the dance parties in Athens. International Dance night at Casa and Headroom at Mama Einstein's/The Dugout were some of my favorites, as well as the Greenery and Swindlefish/Swindlecheese.
Brandon Thompson: I have liked electronic music for as long as I can remember. I specifically remember liking it as a middle-schooler and not knowing what to call it--I had never heard of techno before. It wasn't until high school, when I got very serious about music, did I start collecting CDs by Prodigy, Orbital, Paul Van Dyk and The Chemical Brothers. Those four are huge influences of mine.
Dave Alexander and Brandon Thompson (photo: Eli Hiller)
WOUB: What was the motivation behind starting Dave Rave? Did you feel there was a gap in the local music/entertainment scene that needed to be filled?
DA: Athens had a pretty good scene for electronic music back in the late '90s, with some events at The Pub and Zachary's, and later at Evolution. I got a small taste of what I was looking for, but I was traveling to big cities like New York and D.C. to get my fix for clubbing and electronic music. In the early 2000s, the electronic music scene died out in the U.S., and big name DJs weren't coming to Ohio that often. Also, there were a lot of changes to the Athens dance party scene, and I wasn't really getting what I was looking for. I thought Athens could use another dance party that was more like a nightclub experience with electronic music.
BT: I started DJ'ing in high school and that was more than 10 years ago, with the last five or so being dedicated to DJ'ing electronic music almost exclusively.
DA: In 2004, my friends threw an after-hours house party that they called "Dave Rave," where I "DJ'd" electronic music. Not really DJ'ing, but playing electronic music. I tried to make it an annual event, and after the second house party, I wanted to try to bring the party to Court Street. But I wasn't an actual DJ, so I didn't know how to make that happen. Brandon and I had a mutual friend named Andy Korn, and he kept telling me that I should meet Brandon, who was already an established DJ in Athens and shared my love of electronic music. Andy introduced me to Brandon at OU's Homecoming in 2007, we hit it off, and decided to try to a party uptown.
photo: Dave Rave Photography
WOUB: What were those first shows like?
DA: We threw our first party in April of 2008 in the basement of the Red Brick Tavern. We actually had a lot of difficulty getting the event booked because no uptown venue owner wanted to take a risk on electronic music. We paid $100 to rent out the Red Brick basement to throw a free party. We kept the Dave Rave name because it was something that a lot of my friends already knew because of the previous events I threw. I did have an interest as a DJ before I met Brandon, but I had a hard time learning how to mix vinyl. Eventually, we became roommates and I was able to learn how to DJ on his equipment. My first time DJ'ing was at 19 South. I wasn't really ready, but Brandon threw me into the fire. I've served mostly as an opening DJ for our Dave Rave events.
WOUB: A lot of people still think DJ'ing involves spinning LPs on a turntable. What equipment do you use in your act?
BT: There is a massive debate on what DJ'ing actually is. My personal feeling has changed over the years. I still use traditional CD players, but also have time-coded CDs that play mp3s from a laptop. But with the whole EDM (electronic dance music) craze, the need for visual stimuli has gone through the roof. We have been keen to this since we started. We constantly add lasers, strobes and flashers to our rig to create the big city atmosphere this music thrives in. We also have a VJ system that projects images and allows the crowd to communicate to us through twitter. We have always kept the customer experience in mind from when they step in the door until they leave.
DA: We have always put an emphasis on the party as a complete experience. We are the only dance party in town that offers coat check.
WOUB: What kind of music do you incorporate into your show? Are you constantly on the lookout for new material?
BT: People who come to a show can expect hear most types of electronic music, with the main focus being house, progressive, trance, techno and bass. These days, music is literally available anywhere and everywhere. Music and tastes are moving very fast and it's sometimes difficult to stay relevant with the next big thing coming right around the corner. But that constant change means we can change things up as well. Sometimes we'll do a show with a harder edge to it, and then next time we may decide to go a much softer, vocally driven sound. It all really depends on what the crowd wants.
DA: We have to be constantly aware of new music. We started out playing a mix of house and Top 40 to try to make our events accessible to everyone. Trends change fast in the electronic music scene and also in Athens. 2011 was a big year for a genre called dubstep.
BT: I hated dubstep when it first came out and refused to play it. However, after listening to a few tracks, I can now honestly say I am a fan.
DA: We were aware that it was popular, but it ended up being a big craze that took over the U.S. We didn't play dubstep music ourselves, so we adapted by bringing dubstep artists to Athens. The latest trend this past year was Trap. Each year it seems like producers try to find an overlooked genre and try to make it the next big thing.
WOUB: How much do your own tastes influence the shows?
DA: I think our tastes have evolved a lot over the years. I've been in love with house music, and Brandon has branched out into other styles. You could characterize his style as "open format electronic," which means he mixes songs from several electronic music genres. You can't really make everyone happy, but we've been trying our best to make our events accessible to everyone. We're fortunate that we have been able to build enough of a following that we aren't forced to play Top 40 and country at our events, which was what people were demanding when we started.
photo: Dave Rave Photography
WOUB: You’ve got some special guests coming in for your anniversary show. What can you tell me about them and the show itself?
BT: We're bringing in Milk N Cookies, a group of twin brothers from Illinois who have been tearing up the festival circuit with their brand of electro-house. I first heard of them when they played a festival I went to two years ago. Then I saw their name again at a summer Cincinnati concert series. I asked around and everyone said these are the guys to get now before they're too big to book.
DA: The national acts that we've been able to bring to Athens have always been on the cusp of making it big. Milk N Cookies is one of those acts who are knocking on the door of being a top-tier national act. We wanted to do something special for our fans, and Milk N Cookies plays a style of music that's relevant now.
BT: We're are asking a slightly higher fee at the door to cover the costs, but anyone who has been to our shows know that we deliver quality. The show will feature two other acts: a duo from Dayton and myself. If you plan on coming, get ready to dance your butt off!
photo: Eli Hiller