Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the universe. "Welcome to The Jungle. We got fun and games." It is the birthplace of spectacle and ground zero for pop culture on a global scale. If you take stock in stereotypes, it is a place concerned with appearances and the struggle to push through the crowd and claim some of the spotlight, however harsh and blinding it may turn out to be. In truth, LA could well stand for "Los Anonymous," a 500 square-mile metro area composed of 80 different "scenes" – disjointed neighborhoods and people self-contained by distance and geographical logistics. These microcosms teem with a billion different interests, including tastes in art and music. Since at least the early-90s, this has included a diverse soundtrack of electronic music. LA has a proud legacy with DJ culture that stretches back to clandestine raves on the beach, in the desert, and in the seedy Downtown warehouses. The sprawling metropolis has always made it easier to fly under the radar here. This history includes now-legendary events like Juju Beats, Narnia, Does Your Mama Know?, and a little flower called the Electric Daisy Carnival.
For the last decade, another name has blossomed, although in the shadows of the behemouth club "brands" of the EDM machine: Incognito. Alan and Gerard (not "Gerald"), a couple of corporate guys by day, have quietly made a name for themselves in LA's vast, sometimes cutthroat underground by actually avoiding the spotlight and eschewing flashy flavor-of-the-moment musical trends. Instead, they use their hearts and their ears, championing music and DJs few promoters even know about, much less take a chance on booking. Guys like Ian Pooley, Len Faki, and Jimpster. Well over 200 parties, almost half of which are headlined by artists making their LA debut. They take chances and curate music they simply like. At the beginning and end of the day, Alan and Gerard are dance music fans first. Their passion – as well as their business savvy – has turned Incognito into a tastemaking brand.
I caught up with the guys recently and we reflected on their nine years out of the spotlight.
Describe your introduction to electronic music. Did you begin as fans and then get involved in the business side, or was it the other way around?
Alan: I grew up in the Philippines and was a fan of pioneers like OMD, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Depeche Mode. That started it all for me. Later, I saw DJs like Richie Hawtin, Doc Martin, Derrick May, Lee Burridge, and Ken Ishii in Manila in the mid-to-late 90's. Then I moved to the US and that's where I met the other half of the Incognito team, Gerard Not Gerald.
Gerard: I always loved music and dancing since I was very young. I still listen to disco, where it all began! I also collected a lot of CDs on all things electronic. At least 50% of my collection is dance music. Back in Manila where I grew up, I always wanted to get involved with promoting, especially during the heavy partying days. But then I moved to LA in 2001 and everything took a back seat while I was getting settled in. But then, in 2003, it started again; I was hitting the clubs almost every weekend and traveling to other cities just to see these superstar DJs.
How did you two form Incognito and what was your vision for the company in the beginning?
Alan: I met Gerard at my birthday party in 2007 at a random bar in Pasadena. We got to talking about how there were so many great DJs that no one booked in LA that we wanted to see and hear. So we decided to do something about it.
Gerard: Yeah, we were tired of the same big DJs passing through the city. I was collecting CDs and downloading DJ sets, and I started learning more about lesser-known artists. I think it was perfect timing when I met Alan. We were in the same circles but had never crossed paths before. We finally got to discuss music and the current state of things. It was a perfect match – my passion for the music and his marketing prowess. We identified the hole in the market and set out to fill it.
"Incognito" is the perfect name for an underground club. One of the hashtags you propagate is #DanceLikeNoOneKnowsYou. Describe the philosophy behind the brand.
Gerard: We didn't want to be pigeon-holed into an event targeted to a certain race or demographic. We also wanted to be anonymous at first and just let the music speak for us. The hashtag addresses this. It is adpated from the adage "dance like no one is watching."
LA is such a huge, spread-out scene with no definitive or cohesive “sound” per se, like New York or San Francisco has. What is the Incognito sound and what is the niche that you have carved out for yourselves?
Alan: I don't think there is a specific Incognito sound. Simply put, we book who we like and we lean towards House and Techno. Although, we've done a full Acid House night in recent years, and another that was all Downtempo, even a Trance night during the early years.
Gerard: Yeah, I was once a Trance/Prog head ... lol!
Alan: We emphasize to every DJ who plays for us that they play what they want. I remember one time when François K played almost an hour of Drum & Bass. And we liked it.
Gerard: After almost 230 events (and that's not counting all the Drenched Pool Parties and Othersound gatherings), we think that our Incognito community now trusts our musical taste.
You guys are very music-forward promoters, but with the recent explosion of EDM there are now so many DJs and so much music to stay on top of. What is your process for researching talent and curating your events?
Gerard: I'm a dancer first and foremost and I am always digging for the more obscure artists. It's our vision and mission to break artists and push the musical envelope for LA. Finding innovative new artists is difficult with today's cookie-cutter sound. But they are out there, hungry for the world to hear what they have to offer.
Alan: We book who we each like personally and we trust each other's taste. Sometimes, I have no idea who Gerard has booked, but I trust his taste, and vice-versa. Some of them are unknown, some might be more of a name, but if he or I think it's good music then we will make it happen.
In addition to presenting some of the world’s most innovative contemporary DJs, you guys have also booked numerous legends of dance music, like Marshall Jefferson, François K, Jesse Saunders, and Kevin Saunderson. Does education play a role in your talent buying?
Gerard: It absolutely plays a huge part. It's our way of going back to the roots and presenting the journey of dance music.
Alan: I think the beauty of how we are set up as an event is we are not constrained to anything other than our own taste. We do lean towards booking DJs people rarely see and hear in Los Angeles. In fact, a lot of our bookings are DJs playing their LA debut. There are great DJs who always play in LA but we won't book them just because we know they will pull a crowd.
You have also supported local and regional talent on your bills. What advice would you give to new DJs trying to break into the scene? What helps the local guy stand out at a party?
Alan: Support and be supported. Really, though, the best way for a local DJ to get noticed is to produce tracks and/or throw their own events.
You are approaching your nine-year anniversary. That’s a lot of parties under your belt. Which ones have stood out the most?
Alan: Yes, we've been consistent each month for the last 9 years, so we're up to 228 events. Each one has been fun, though. Some that come to mind was when we had DJ Koze and Kevin Saunderson for one night. Or when we had Moodymann for his first weekend gig in LA. Ian Pooley, Jimpster, Phil Hartnoll of Orbital, Matthias Tanzmann, Anja Schneider, James Holden. Also the LA debuts of Alan Fitzpatrick, Ida Engberg, Margaret Dygas, Lucy, Agoria, Slam, Mark Broom, Gary Beck, La Fleur, Xhin, Max Cooper and Oliver Huntemann. I know that's a lot but it's a bit hard to give a final answer. I actually have a really good memory, so I remember most of them.
What is coming up for Incognito? And where do you see yourselves in the future?
Alan: We have Heartthrob on May 27, partnered with Outspoken. Then Evil Eddie Richards and Mark Ambrose on June 11, partnered with Othersound. Freerange (Records) 20 Years with Jimpser and a Secret Freerange Guest on June 25. Joel Mull on July 9, partnered with Work by 6am. Lucy of Stroboscopic Artefacts on July 30. TBA Techno on August 20, partnered with Dirty Epic. Then our 9 Year Anniversary on September 10. At least that's what we have so far.
Gerard: It's our 10th Anniversary in 2017, though. Something big is already cooking in the kitchen!
Alan: For the future, we will approach it as it comes. We go with the flow. I am not a DJ, and Gerard doesn't play much outside of Incognito. We have our weekday lives in the regular world and we have the weekends when we play. We've never tried to be the most hip party, nor do we try to be famous. We will just continue to plug along and focus on the music. At the end of the day (and night), I guess you can say we just like being Incognito.