Collaborations among like-minded musicians are nothing new to New Orleans, a veritable hotbed of artistic talent spanning all media and genres. While traditional band lineups tend to dominate these collaborations, the local EDM scene is pushing a different type of organization, sometimes referred to as a DJ collective. DJ collectives aim to promote artistic individualism and distinct creativity within the context of a community and group survival mentality, though they come with their own benefits and challenges, particularly when set against the backdrop of New Orleans.
Uncovering New Orleans’s DJ Collectives
While the global EDM scene tends to be defined by massive all-star DJs/producers, DJ collectives often form and thrive in the underground. These collectives may also organize for different reasons, such as artists who focus on similar genres or career goals.
One local group, Dohm Collective, is a group of friends whose skill sets range from audio and visual production to performance art and behind-the-scenes management. The group “met and organized under the idea of providing a space for radical self-expression,” DJ Matthew Zuppardo, aka Zupparty, said.
In addition to being a collective themselves, Dohm also encourages crowd participation and an open, community feel through a geodesic dome structure built out of triangles. Dohm first unveiled the structure at CounterPoint Music Festival 2015 and has since taken the setup on the road for festival appearances in addition to various local parties and productions.
“From the very instant the first poles hit the ground, we could feel that we had inadvertently constructed more than just a dome—it was a home, a hub of creativity and awesomeness,” DJ Brendan Pechon, aka Pawn, said. “There was an emotional excitement that we built within the Dohm that wasn't in the original blueprints.”
The party brands Church* and KOMPRESSION were also born out of collaborations among local artists. Some originally met before or while performing with Louisiana Dubstep, a group of artists who helped usher the dubstep craze of the early 2010s into New Orleans’s then-revamping EDM scene.
DJ Chris Jones
Since, Church* and KOMPRESSION’s revolving lineups have included among them Erik Browne, aka Unicorn Fukr, and owner of Horn & Tail; Chris Gomez, aka Herb Christopher, and co-owner of the KOMPRESSION brand; Brock Thornton (Boogie T); Delaney Stanley, (Beverly Skillz); Donovan Fannon (Rekanize); Jacob Martin (Kidd Love); Carmine Potenza (Carmine P. Filthy); Ryan Monica (RMonic); Anthony Trinque (Zander); and resident MC Andrew Mowatt (Werd2Jah).
The goal for KOMPRESSION, a periodic house and techno show, and Church*, a Sunday weekly at the Dragon’s Den, has been to “create a place for friends and the extended music community to come together and dance to music all night, like we love to do,” Browne said. “It’s also an outlet to push cutting-edge dance music that doesn’t necessarily have this commercial EDM hype.”
“The focus on quality music and pushing people to be the best they can be is why Church* has carved out its space in New Orleans now,” he continued. “Some of the most prestigious DJs in the world have come through and played there, and our residents have to represent that quality. As DJs and the crew do well, it benefits the entire party.”
The Benefits of DJ Collectives
The nature of relationships within DJ collectives offers various benefits and challenges—some common to artistic collaborations in general, and others unique to this particular subsect of the music industry.
Create well-rounded experiences. “Musically, each member of Dohm brings a different genre and experience to the table,” Zuppardo said. “Then the visual aspect is added, and we are able to create an entire project as opposed to a single set.”
Empower artists. “[Collectives] have allowed artists to organize and expand themselves without having to sign with a label,” Zuppardo said. “They've empowered artists to work for themselves and not have to bend the musical knee in any one direction.”
DJ Matthew Zuppardo
Drive creativity. “From a DJing perspective, we’re all scrambling to play the freshest, dope-est beats, and always trying to improve our skills and performance,” Browne said. “And when we see each other perform, we are constantly learning new tricks or mixing techniques that can inspire us to get more creative and step up our game. There’s kind of a friendly level of competition among the crew.”
Encourage teamwork. “Everyone performs such an integral task in the execution of a Dohm show, it's incredible to have that support system,” Pechon said.
Creative freedom. “[Dohm] provides a unique experience, and we are playing styles of music that the touring artists coming through are not playing,” DJ Austin Thompson, aka Dino Brawl, said. “Having events as a collective allows us more freedom than direct support slots.”
Unite fan bases. “With multiple DJs and the various networks and connections within the music industry that each of us has plus our own fan bases, those networks and fans can easily be brought together for all the artists, given the common association,” Browne said. “And that can benefit all of us in our individual careers, as well as in growing our overall community.”
Boost versatility and exposure. “We have the ability to connect and perform with festivals we wouldn't be able to as individual artists,” Thompson said. “From sound camps and theme camps to art installations, we are very versatile.”
Expand available resources. “You can pool your resources—who’s got CDJs, who’s got turntables?” Browne said. “Unless you’re one person with unlimited resources, it really helps to have a crew to come together and make it work.”
Support fellow artists. “[You’re] growing as not only your own artist with the help and influence from other artists, but also helping other artists expand on what they are working on,” local and regional DJ Christopher Jones said.
…And Their Challenges
While the group mentality can benefit each individual artist, DJ collectives also invite more opportunities for conflict over everything from music and performance specifics to general business and logistics.
“When you have a group of strong-willed people working together, it can create a lot of tension, and every now and then, personalities and tempers clash,” Zuppardo said. “We've been blessed in that no matter how heated something has become, we've always been able to talk through it and reach a compromise.”
“There's a steep learning curve to separating business and friendship, and I can definitely say I hit the curve pretty hard,” Pechon said. “But it's because I am working with my best friends that I want to wake up every day and continue to pour my heart into this.”
“If one DJ sees success and some of the other DJs in the crew aren’t as active, I’m sure that can breed a bit of envy,” Browne said. “But when it comes to Church* or KOMPRESSION, that has been largely minimal, and we generally all try to support each other and are happy for and celebrate the successes of our fellow DJs.”
Besides challenges among creative individuals working closely together, the availability of venues and events at which to perform in a particular city, such as New Orleans, can also complicate these working relationships.
“There isn't enough in New Orleans,” Jones said. “A few sweet places have opened up to really hone in on certain genres. But there isn't a really good late-night/after-hours spot currently since Ampersand closed a few years back. No one is going until 9 a.m. anymore.”
Why DJ Collectives Work in New Orleans
Many of the genres central to New Orleans’s music history have been collaborative by nature. Jazz, blues, and brass bands, in particular, often feature interchangeable band lineups and surprise onstage and in-studio cameos.
That same spirit is alive and igniting growth in the New Orleans EDM scene. Electronic-based dance music may not be one of New Orleans’s most famous genres—yet. But that commitment to building a community both within and around artists and their music remains a concept any local musician can appreciate and support.
It just may be that sense of community and collective consciousness that will continue to propel New Orleans dance music in the coming years. By facilitating a strong local support system and gathering a mass of hungry fans, these musicians continue to work toward achieving the level of respect earned by countless other local musicians since the city’s inception.