Orange County is known for many things. The beaches, the weather, and anything else other than music. With Los Angeles and San Diego so close, local club life isn't a hot topic on most young OC residents' minds. With clubs closing and reopening constantly, it's tough to get a foothold on such a barren scene. Enter Brendan Thomas, a man with a passion for music and a desire to create something real in a place filled with so much plastic. A former manager and marketing director for defunct retail store The Closet, he now runs a well known and respected promotion company out of three different venues, giving fans not only what they want, but what they need.
Here we sit down and discuss how he got started, some of the challenges of operating and running events in a place where most shops are closed by 10pm and jaywalking is a serious offense, plus what he and his team look for when seeking out new talent.
Tell us, how did you transition from a men’s buyer for a clothing store to a club promoter?
I went to my first rave in '98 when I was a freshman in high school. A couple of my older friends who were seniors told me they were taking me to this party, and I just hopped in the car. But I caught the music bug early. I had been into punk for about five or six years, then late high school I got into hip hop, which then grew into Drum n’ Bass. I started getting my feet wet doing some music programming and management for a local restaurant and lounge called Mesa. I was mostly managing, but then I began booking local DJs here and there. The show that really showed me I should get into the music scene was booking Mark Farina for a Cinco De Mayo party. That was the moment I said ‘Oh shit I should do this'.
So when exactly did MDA come about? What does it mean?
So I started MDA in 2013, which stands for Modern Disco Ambassadors. When I first came out with that name people thought I was talking about disco in a literal form, when I mean the actual disco itself. We’re here to put our modern touch on throwing parties. I wanted to create a culture instead of just an event, such as I Heart Comics and Control.
Running a club night is obviously hard work. LA is a hub for many things, like partying, but Orange County is not. What's it like running a club promotion company in Orange County?
I would be lying if I told you it's easy. I've actually done a lot of shows in LA, working with Red Bull. There’s a lot more people in LA, but there’s a lot more options. Down in Orange County, we have a lot less people supporting, but a lot less options. I truly feel if I stick to OC and grow our roots there, it will be more respected. We try to keep a lot of different offerings that don’t compete with each other. All of our parties are in different venues and attract different crowds.
You have artists like Nightmares On Wax and Way Out West coming soon. These are huge names. What is it that you look for when booking talent?
It’s a combination of things. Number one, we never have, and never ever will book someone whose music we aren’t fans of. I’ve never been like ‘How many tables will this artist book?’ After that, we take a look at their public profiles. Do they have any recent releases? Are they playing somewhere else around the area? We really like to look at interaction with social media as well. Lastly, even if they aren’t killing it on social media or they don’t seem super hyped, we look at possibly getting in early and booking an artist before they blow up.
So that’s with the bigger names, what about local talent? What exactly helps a local guy stand out?
A lot of local guys that we book have come from us just going out. Going out is super important, because we come across these guys that are just out gigging and working their way up. We are looking for people that get a party properly set up for the main artist, not those that are more concerned with making a name for themselves.
You’ve been doing parties for over a decade, whether as MDA or some other form. What are some parties that have stood out the most?
One in particular would be our seven year anniversary of throwing events at La Cave. We had Cut Copy come and DJ in the little back room. Tickets sold out in days, and the vibe was just incredible. It was super intimate and everyone was losing their minds. It was cool to see these huge artists playing such a small party.
Being a promoter, you are exposed to loads of different artists. Who are some of your favorite acts right now?
Number one Shaded. He’s on fire right now. His Tiga remix for the track '100' is a super fire track. I love watching Seth Troxler play, he’s just a fucking insane DJ. He just knows how to put smiles on peoples faces. He takes risks and pushes the crowds tastes and educates them. I’ve always loved the Magician, his mixes are just incredible. Other DJs I like to watch are James Murphy, Z-Trip and DJ Shadow.
So what are you top five definitive electronic music tracks that have really stood out through out your clubbing career?
There’s a track by AK12, ‘Drowning’, it’s a dnb track that was super cool back in the day. Another one I would say is ‘Reverse Skydiving’, I feel it really came out at the right time and inspired a lot of people with that style. ‘Pro Nails’, which is an earlier track by Rusko came out right as Dubstep was getting big. Tracks like ‘We Are Friends’ by Justice, and some of those older Ed Banger tracks were great.
What’s next for you and MDA? What does the future hold?
We are talking closely with another promoter right now about starting a new party. They are another brand that books similar artists and has the same vision. It would be a traveling party, and we are looking at all outdoor venues. Once we perfect the concept here, we’d hit the road and do other cities. We have our eight year anniversary coming up at La Cave. At Wayfarer we are going to be doing more live shows. Our brand Waves is going to be doing more collaboration shows and takeovers. And touching more on the live shows, we are going to be doing full blown traditional live bands at the Wayfarer. Most of our day to day work with this other promoter. When we can speak more about it, you’ll be the first to know.
Check out MDA's upcoming gigs:
5/ - Sirus Hood
5/18 - Grum
5/25 - Jody Wisternoff
6/8 - Max Cooper
6/29 - Way Out West
7/6 - &Me
5/6 - SHADED
5/13 - Fred Falke
5/27 - Satin Jackets
6/3 - Hayden James
6/16 - Nightmares on Wax