Raised in Hong Kong but now based in New York,…
With the EDC Las Vegas festival fast approaching, and with electronic dance music (or dance music as some may prefer) manifesting itself globally while intertwining with today’s pop music, I brought along Insomniac employee Skylar Hardenbrook for a quick interview with us about his work life and his views on today’s EDM scene. Here’s what he has to say –
Tell us about who you are and what you currently do.
I’m 25 years old, born and raised in the South Bay of Los Angeles, and a lifelong music addict across all genres. I work for Insomniac Events as Product Manager, which primarily involves maintaining Insomniac’s digital products such as Insomniac.com and overseeing the release of mobile apps for festivals. Because these products involve input from many other departments, I work with many other divisions of Insomniac including the marketing, design, engineering, editorial, social media, event production, photography, legal, and merchandise teams, as well as external teams such as our technology vendors and the various nightclubs we partner with. My day to day work involves content management for the website, mobile app planning, internal tech support, and minor development projects. I also assist my supervisor with broader product development and digital product testing on a higher level.
What is Insomniac? And where can we find them?
Insomniac is an event production and dance music lifestyle brand, based in Los Angeles and founded in 1993 by Pasquale Rotella. Our most well-known brand is Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), but we have numerous other festival brands that we hold around the country and around the world, as well as clubs we partner with throughout California.
What amusing observations have you experienced through your involvement with Insomniac or just your involvement in the music scene in general?
Since starting at Insomniac, it’s always been both an amusing and rewarding experience to simply observe those around me at our events and witness the events unfold, knowing that I contributed some part to building that experience for them, even if abstract… in a way, the company becomes my identity during its peak moments. To me, a rewarding career is one that positively impacts others in addition to yourself, and I really enjoy feeling like I’m doing something with my job that affects other people, but mostly am glad to be with a company that so many other people see as important to the enrichment of their lives. I enjoy seeing all the different types of people and knowing that everyone is connected through music, knowing that people turn to Insomniac to provide them unforgettable experiences. It adds another level of satisfaction and gratitude towards my job.
Looking forward, where do you see Insomniac headed?
I can’t speak to specifics, but we do have lots of exciting things ahead. Overall, Insomniac always has its sights on expansion because we know that dance music is a global market and a universally appreciated genre. Although I have no input in our festival lineups, I’m confident that our talent booking team and our festival producers have great insight into what makes an ideal experience, combining global trends in dance music, musical diversity, an immersive experience, but also not forgoing success that will help the company grow further. For me personally, I know the product team is striving to bridge the gap between our company, its fans, the music, and the culture surrounding our music, by expanding Insomniac’s reach into the digital space, something that is relatively new for us.
Looking forward, where do you see the EDM scene headed? For US, Europe, and other places? Do you think it’s just a fad, or a mainstay? Why or why not?
Dance music has always had a place around the world since it was created, even if it was an underground counterculture. Obviously the big boom in the US came in the late 2000s, when dance music infiltrated the mainstream radio waves, and as a result, the rave scene is bigger than it’s ever been, with more influences from dance music being present in everyday society. As far as I know, it has always held its importance in the European music scene, and over there it isn’t such a commercial entity as it is here in the US. There are other regions around the world that are upcoming markets for this music as well.
From what I see within the industry itself, and through the fans, many people are beginning to get tired of those radio-friendly commercial styles, and I see somewhat of a shift back to more alternative styles. However, I don’t question that corporations are still going to try to capitalize on the genre – the problem there lies in the fact that not everyone who wants to make money off of electronic music really understands the depth, variety, and history of it.
Ultimately, I believe the typical fan who discovered dance music during that boom, and the more accessible, commercial styles, will mature to the styles that have existed all this time… authentic house, techno, trance, etc. My hope is that as people age, they’ll progress further into electronic music, and be able to distinguish authenticity, realize there’s more than “the drop” to a DJ set, and understand the history of the music and the sophistication that the genre can have. I do hope the festival market continues to grow, but not to the point of oversaturation. There has been discussion of an “EDM bubble” in past years that may or may not burst, but Insomniac has its origins in the underground and will surely adapt to the market no matter what happens. I expect that festival lineups and the EDM scene will constantly evolve, which is a great thing.
(Interviewer interruption: I may actually be in the picture above! Haha.)
To you personally, what does EDM mean to you? Is it just music, fun, an experience, self reflection…?
Dance music holds a number of different roles for me. I have a background as a drummer, so rhythm-based music has always been an interest of mine. I started out in my teenage years listening to trance and drum & bass, and a bit of melodic house from that period, but I put those interests on the backburner when I began collecting vinyl records, focusing on hip-hop, jazz, and soul for late high school, and for all of my college years. So admittedly I was a late bloomer to the event scene, not even attending any Insomniac events or raves until I was 22, when I reignited my old interests in dance music.
Immediately, after experiencing the vibe of the festivals, and the differences in the club scene, I was hooked and began making up for lost time, expanding my knowledge and seeing as many people as I could. I’m a bit of an OCD historian, so I actually keep track of every artist I’ve seen, and how many times. I also save/organize the event flyers for each show on my computer so I can go back and reminisce on occasion. For me, attending events just to see notable DJs play has become my default activity during nights if there’s something going on. Instead of sitting in front of a TV to kill time, I go out to hear DJs and always keep an eye on the LA music scene. I’ve been to a little over 200 events in 2 years, averaging 2-4 nights a week and sometimes club-hopping to attend two or more events in the same night. I have no problem attending things by myself because I don’t only go out as a social activity… but at the same time I love dance music because it CAN perfectly integrate social life, nightlife, and music all into one. To me, it’s the soundtrack to any night, whether relaxing or partying, alone or with friends, sober or not… haha.
In addition to that, I think because music is such an integral part of my life, I have deep connections with the music itself, which is maybe how I’m able to make it such a big part of my life without getting tired of it. I’m always on the search for songs that will move me through melody or rhythm, and I feel like the best DJ sets can be treated as a “journey” through music as opposed to just songs being played. For me, music (of all kinds) is a never-ending learning process. There’s no way you can know everything, so why limit yourself and stop seeking new things out?
I’m planning to do a post for my readers on tips prior to going to EDC. Is there anything you would like to contribute to this topic?
Regrettably, my first EDC was the one I had to work in 2014, so I can’t speak much to the experience of traveling to EDC. I suppose the best advice would be to pace yourself – it’s probably hard to go all out for 3 days in a row, especially when you’re sleeping at 6 or 7 in the morning. Also, try to diversify your time. EDC is such a diverse festival with so many different styles and stages – at any festival, I’d recommend walking around just to expose yourself to new artists that you might never have sought out otherwise.
Who are your idols / favorite artists of all time, and at this moment?
That’s a little difficult to answer because my influences come from all over. Some of my biggest musical influences in terms of expanding my tastes growing up were DJ Shadow, Nujabes, The Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Jimi Hendrix, Underworld, Aphex Twin, the Beatles, Madlib, and all the essential 90s hip-hop producers like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Large Professor – those are some of my most listened-to artists of all time.
At the moment my favorite DJ/producers are Guy J and Jeremy Olander. Guy J is an Israeli artist, and Jeremy is Swedish, a protege of Eric Prydz. Their style perfectly combines the driving beats of techno with the darker melodic components of progressive house and I literally have never found a set of theirs that I wasn’t amazed by. I’ve seen both live a few times and have been blown away each time.
How do you differentiate the amateurs and professionals (not the music artists, but the music goers) in the EDM scene? For example, some people don’t even know the difference between a DJ and a producer.
This can go back again to the discussion of commercialism vs. underground. I think I should note for all this “underground” discussion that I only call it that for lack of a broader term. I’m sure people who listen to “underground” music aren’t doing so just because it’s called that, but if you take the styles that are grouped into different categories, it’s simply the all-inclusive term.
Anyway, music is music, and every person is entitled to their own tastes, but to me, those who limit themselves to only commercial, “big room” style dance music are not true consumers of dance music, they’re consumers of pop music. That’s fine, of course, but if you had to put a “professional” label on a listener, I would attribute it to those who try to dig deeper within the spectrum of genres and artists, as opposed to only consuming what is easily available. The same goes with every other genre of music too, not just dance music – it takes an extra sense of curiosity about what else is out there in order to really become that “next level” music consumer.
Is there anything you learned and / or regretted while being involved in the music scene?
Nothing I regret yet – I’m extremely happy with where I am. But of course, plenty I’ve learned… 4 years ago, my knowledge of dance music was frozen in a time capsule from 2006, but since I reintroduced it to my life, every day is a learning process of discovering new artists, new songs, new styles, and educating myself about the direction of my industry. In regards to my specific position, it’s also been an ongoing learning process, as I’ve been directly involved in the process of creating digital products and the process that goes behind it. It’s cool to have a job that is not strictly music-focused, but also involves technology to satisfy the nerd that I am.
What’s your motto in life? How do you live your life? What are your values?
Nothing too out of the ordinary… live your life with integrity and humility. Be grateful for where you are and what you have, and don’t take anything for granted. Experiences are more important than possessions, unless your possessions have intrinsic value (I say this only to justify my record collection, haha.) I’m really just an ordinary guy who has been fortunate in a number of ways to get where I am.
To learn more about Insomniac, you can go to http://www.insomniac.com/. To learn more about Skylar, you can check out his youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/skyl4r or his Discogs at http://www.discogs.com/user/SJH.