Thom Svast Speaks on the Irony of AFTER’s “DJ Rules”

Image via Thom Svast
Image via Thom Svast

Over the weekend, the dance music Internets were ablaze with talk about some DJ Rules, primarily because they were super on-point. The list was to be put up in the DJ booth at AFTER, a new after-hours event going down in Las Vegas from 3:30AM to 8AM, and lays out what can be best described as the reverse of today’s EDM scene. Everything from not allowing trap, hip-hop, or dubstep to be played to various ways of saying “don’t play pre-mixed sets,” this is groundbreaking stuff in a city where DJs are paid top dollar to be EDM jukeboxes for crowds that don’t know what good dance music is to begin with. Come to find out, DAD homegirl Dani Deahl knows one of AFTER’s managing partners, a guy by the name of Thom Svast, so we figured we would have a chat with Thom to discuss his journey, these DJ Rules, and what Vegas dance music heads can expect from AFTER (which kicked off on February 1 and was a great success, we heard).

First off, tell the people who might not be up on your history about how you’ve been involved with the dance music scene.
I started my music career in the mid-’90s in Chicago and partnered in a promotion group called Family Chicago. I did some time touring to various parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. I co-founded Calamity of Noise (CON artists) with Stellar and did some touring as Svast & Stellar. I’ve been producing for about eight years under the name SVAST. In between, I got into nightclub management in Las Vegas where I managed at Pure nightclub, and directed a couple of after-hours at Seamless and Artisan. Here I am now as the Managing Partner of AFTER.

AFTER’s a new thing, right? Can you tell us about how this new after-hours event got going?
A previous employer of mine had recently parted ways and I was looking for something new to get involved in. I saw so much potential in the underground after-hours scene in Vegas that no one was tapping into and I was blessed to have met my current business partner in the process. I believe most club owners don’t see dollar signs in the things that aren’t mainstream. I have found great personal success in being different. Being different is what creates a new and lasting product that people want or will eventually want once you open them up to it. My business partner believed in my vision and entrusted me with it. He allowed me to run with my ideas. From there I surrounded myself with a small team of brilliant progressive minds and launched AFTER from conception to this point.

We kind of have an idea about the reasoning behind these DJ rules that have circulated online, but can you break down your stance regarding today’s dance music scene and the way some DJs approach it?
People in Las Vegas and coming to Las Vegas pay more to see a DJ than they do to see a live concert. So I find it absolutely appalling when these guys, or girls for that matter, go up there and play pre-mixed sets. It’s offensive to the consumer and unfortunately most people are ignorant to whats actually going on on stage. These guys twist knobs and make heart symbols with their hands and people think they’re earning their keep. The other side of it is the whole ghost-writer issue in the EDM genre. As an artist I am dumb founded that someone else can paint a picture for you and you stamp it with your signature. I’m close with several big name techno, tech-house and deep house artists, and I can say that I am only aware of a few with ghost-writers, but in the EDM side of things I know over a handful of writers that write for several of these big name guys making millions. Some are nothing more than pop stars with engineering teams behind them. I’m not hating on them for reaching that point, but its no longer an artistic music. It’s now pop art, and complete garbage. There is no soul with a team of writers.

Was this list of rules something that was set in stone from the beginning?
I was in my office one day listening to my usual CLR podcasts while I’m working and reading the launch of the “new” club residencies in Las Vegas, and it just turned me a bit that people were excited to see the same guys playing the same songs over and over and over again. Sometimes the same song two or three times in one night. Even Steve Angello admitted that the music is currently unoriginal and stated, “I’m allergic to where dance is going now.” (As a side note, Im a big fan of Steve Angello’s work as Mescal Kid.) I didn’t want to put DJs on my roster that didn’t earn their keep and give a legit show to the audience. People come to the clubs to spend their hard-earned money and I won’t take it from them by duping them into something that isn’t real. The people I book at AFTER don’t need those rules, and that’s the irony of me posting them. I read the comments and laugh because people haven’t done their homework on us. I only book top-notch talent. Even my resident DJs are all great producers in their own right (Black Boots, Spacebyrdz, Steve Prior…). My sense of humor is very dry and somewhat crass at times, and it shows in the “Rules.” I have nothing personal against any of these people, nor do I personally know any of them, but we all see the interviews and I see many of the riders and know the first-hand accounts of several of their egos. We’re simply dealing with taste and a big gap in most personalities. I’m stoked by other peoples success, but not by how many choose to handle that success, and they get people to by into something that isn’t real.

What’s the situation with booking; let’s say you guys book a DJ who might spin more of a trap or dubstep set; would you be booking them in hopes that they’d be flipping their style for your event, or is your aim to totally steer clear the kinds of DJs that are outlined in this list?
My aim is took book purists to their dedicated genre. I don’t have room for open-format DJs. If they’re happy in their work, I’m happy for them as well, but they won’t play our stages. I laugh when people send me demos and I tell them this isn’t what were interested in and they reply, “I can make you a set of whatever you want. I play everything.” No thanks. I want dedicated artists who eat, sleep, and breathe their respected genres. Purists understand whats going on in their scene and know what the forefront of that genre is and can put that effort into their sets every time they play. They don’t go to Beatport’s Top 10 and download all. They take the time to dig deep into the crate to give a new experience every time. That’s what we want at AFTER. A new and different experience for everyone. You leave feeling like you were just a part of something great.

AFTER kicked off on February 1. Talk to us about what the after-hours crowd in Las Vegas can expect from this event, aside from no-trap or deadmau5 tracks.
The night opened with Black Boots from Ultra Records. Many people only know Black Boots for their current more commercial-sounding work, but their roots lie much deeper. Pedi used to produce as Lightknife with dope releases on Italo Business and Lot 49. Techno is his background. Mikey Francis used to be a lead singer in a really good independent rock band called Afghan Raiders. They both have a heart for the deep and dark side of music, and it shows in their techno sets. Spacebyrdz recently came off an EP on Mexa Records called Devils Drugs and the two tracks both broke the top 10. Steve Prior’s new release with Peter Pizzutelli has charted and gained mad love on Anthony Attalla’s beatport chart. Knowing their backgrounds and musical abilities tell you what happened through out the night.

How’d the first AFTER go? Anyone violate these rules?
Definitely no violations. These guys are all on board. They all played on Traktor, but our DJ booth is 10 feet long and it looked like Drumcell’s desk. There was no less than two controllers per person. Spacebyrdz play with five controllers. The technology has made people lazy and ignorant, but the flip side is the amazing sounds you can create by remixing on the fly and layering tracks. That’s what I want to see on the computers. Anyone can put tracks in key and hit a spacebar to play them in sync. It doesn’t make you a DJ. What makes you a DJ is how far you can push the technology or equipment that you’re using to benefit the performance.

Since this list circulated online, what’s been the reaction from the people?
The support and feedback has been nothing short of amazing. Our goal was to change and bring awareness to the scene in Vegas, but now it looks like we may have influenced the world. Our goal was not to put people down, but to put people in their place. We’re tired of the same ole’. People don’t understand it if they don’t live in an environment where a sound is so drowned out. Most DJs in Vegas play for a paycheck, not for music, so they emulate the guys listed on our Rules sheet. We’re tired of hearing the same shit over and over again. Why would I want to go to a club and spend five or six hours there and then go to an after-hours to hear the same fuckin’ songs again? That makes absolutely no sense. We have caught some flack in the process, but that is expected. People take their music seriously, and I love them for that, but they take it a bit to personal. If you love and play that music, rock on. We just don’t want you playing at AFTER. There are people who want to hear what you have to play, but its not what we want. I find it humorous that Mark Farina got kicked off the decks at Marquee in Vegas, Dennis Ferrer and DJ Shadow got kicked off the decks at Mansion in Miami, and Darin Epsilon got kicked off the decks at Lumen in Chicago, but we post something that stands up against the status quo and those people lash out at us saying were being judgmental. Were only stating what sits in the Psyche of most of the underground community and the music lovers that follow them.

What do you hope to achieve by sticking to what’s essentially the antithesis of the current EDM scene today? Are there plans to branch AFTER’s aesthetic into a regular club setting, before the after-hours timeframe?
We’re not hoping to achieve anything in the current EDM scene. We’re hoping to keep the roaches alive, because underground lives forever. In a nuclear winter roaches will survive, and that’s exactly what will happen in our music scene. The “EDM” bubble will burst and the underground will still be riding along. doing what they always have been doing. I do have a certain respect for the pop scene because it’s brought more people over to the music, and I believe if they are properly educated on the music they’ll seep into the underground and allow us to flourish without having to change what we are. Basquiat painted ignorant (street) art, and even in his growth he never changed because his work was a raw reflection of his inner self. Everyone’s struggle is real and underground artists put that struggle into music. That is why it’s pure and will never go away, because it’s from the soul.

Someday very soon there will be a true underground nightclub in Vegas, not just an after-hours.

For more information AFTER, check out their website or their Facebook page.

%name Thom Svast Speaks on the Irony of AFTERs DJ Rules

  • http://soundcloud.com/the-colonel-mc The Colonel

    Of course, if he’s really hiring only quality DJ’s, DJ’s who keep it real, then the rules are unnecessary.

    • Vegas douche

      Ran Seamless.. . Just another Vegas douche– who happens to like better music than the other Vegas douches (ie: nice ‘flavor saver’, douche)

      Black boots, once cool guys who now make douche music for douche dollar$$

  • jlesseig

    Bravo!

  • Robert

    What would’ve happened with someone like DJ AM, who was loved and respected, but the very nature of his own style was the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate genres? Would he not be booked here but respected? Or the exception to the rule?

    • DigiDug

      Nope. He would be considered an open format DJ. The article clearly states his stance on the issue.

    • jscro

      AM was one of the best, but what he did wasn’t really related to the underground house and techno scene. He probably wouldn’t get booked here, just as someone like Jazzy Jeff or Z-Trip wouldn’t be booked here.

      • Robert

        I agree with all these comments. Yes, he wasn’t part of this music. Though he was playing things like dubstep (Caspa) and other forms of electronic music before anyone else with a brand name in the US was doing it, he wasn’t nailed down to any underground genre. He was certainly and definitely not related to underground house.

        RIP Adam. You were a true inspiration.

    • Jake

      He would never have been booked for this club as he was never doing after-hours sets.

  • http://djcraig.net/los_angeles_dj los angeles dj

    Do people really still play Chuckie?

    http://www.djcraig.net

  • sean triana

    Add playing trakor to the list please. Show some skills..play records.

    • o

      didnt you read the part where he mentioned that ALL of his resident DJs play on traktor…times are a changin’ :D

    • therealguy

      traktor is fine; using auto-sync, and pre-programmed sets is not

  • PJ Villaflor

    I have always said this, Vegas is not a place where talent is grown. It’s a place where hot commodities are exploited. And the locals, not all, but many copy the big guys they bring in futile hope to one day be them.

  • scifipi

    f*ck yes. thank you Mr. Svast for staking the claim and setting it right.

  • Casey Reece

    What’s most notable here is what’s left off the list:

    - Make sure you can actually mix two tracks together on the fly.

    Because ever since EDM starting slicing itself away from jungle, dub, and drum ‘n’ bass – most “sets” are really just “play-lists.”

    In fact – I would take (most) artists just sitting at home – for a good week – and putting together a massive set. Just dripping with amazing tracks that – despite whether they are popular or not – fit really well together. Actually considering the craft of a “mix” to be like that of a symphony – with a range of emotional highs and lows – a beautiful mix of energy – that when actually compiled together produces a different world altogether than the tracks just by themselves.

    If the purpose is really the music – then the music is all we should really care about. If I go to buy a desk – I care that the desk is good. I don’t care if the guy is able to build it for me on the spot. If someone can come up with an amazing set-list at their home – carefully considering every second of that experience – and then come to the club, just hit the play button, and then proceed to blow me away – that’s worth more than an artist coming up to the stage and giving me anything less than the best just because that would involve them jumping around and messing with a whole bunch of knobs.

    It seems bizarre that for a genre of music that some of the “old-school” world considers non-legit, because you aren’t standing on the stage with an actual physical instrument, would then turn around and start hassling their own rank and file for not being legit enough with the knobs they’re turning (“You’re not turning enough knobs! You’re not legit!”)

    For a musical scene which has embraced progression at around twenty times the rate of the traditional music industry – it’s rather odd to hear people complain about hearing the same tracks throughout the night. Maybe that’s a Las Vegas thing – but I don’t believe is reflective of the greater EDM movement. I live in Toronto – where each and every night is an underground festival of new ideas and movements. Where people who love their craft can be surrounded by those who know how to celebrate it.

    Maybe Thom Svast shouldn’t be complaining about the effects money’s having on his music scene when he purposefully relocated himself into one of the leading pits of fast and dirty money in the world. It can be rather difficult to attain the right hues of blue you want on your canvas, when you’ve stuck your easel in the middle of the swamp.

  • Nicholas James Concklin

    His assertion that open format DJs just download the Beatport Top 10 (which isn’t even remotely diverse in the first place) and don’t “dig deep into the crate to give a new experience every time” is profoundly asinine

    • Nicholas James Concklin

      The whole point behind being an open format DJ is to “give a new experience every time” smfh

      • vandall

        That may be true but, open format doesn’t work after 3AM and certainly doesn’t work at 6AM

        • Nicholas James Concklin

          Being an open format DJ doesn’t necessarily equate to every set being a stylistic buffet nor does it mean they only have a small selection from any given style. The saying “jack of all trades, master of none” doesn’t really apply here. Open format should mean that they are able to craft a quality set regardless of what the setting calls for, since most open format DJs become that way due to being eclectic crate diggers. Oh well.

  • DJ $even $ix

    Its plain and simple. Iam seeing too much politicking. At the end of the day the people who come to these events just want to here good music in a good mix. i think they could care less if the DJ pre made a playlist or mixes on the fly or what they mix on for that matter. its just a bunch of DJ’S being anal on the the thought of how someone is djing.

    • Dozntmtter

      Its not Politicking its greed. Greed is just playing what is on the radio to get people in the club. Passion is not having to do that and getting the same results. So just because everyone else is jumping of a bridge doesn’t me you have to. Think real hard you get it.

  • goodforalaugh

    So… their residents, Black Boots, won’t be able to play any of their own commercial, signed to ultra, crap music then?? the irony…

  • Forwardpdx Bass

    i love this guy.

  • Deanna Rilling

    Here’s the full story on the DJ rules list since the pic was ripped off my Twitter and used without permission or citation: http://djoybeat.com/the-full-story-behind-after-las-vegas-dj-rules-viral-sensation/

    • http://www.rockthedub.com/ khal

      Wow. Not sure why you have to go in like that, but OK.

    • lasvegaslogic

      be humble girl. just be a part of it. you don’t need credit for posting what somebody else wrote do you? ez duz it.

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  • lasvegaslogic

    Been a bass head (drum and bass) fan of electronic music since early prodigy from the 90’s and other dnb, thanks to my English friend that I grew up with who used to bring loads of cd’s (e.g. drum and bass and other euro tracks) back from the uk when he visited his family there. i lived in las vegas for the last 3 years. i’ve been rollin to vegas steady since 2000, ra at luxor used to have some dope ass dj’s from Europe, rum jungle to. Back then most of the big vegas clubs would only play techno, except one club “the beach” which was rap and was a good fun club with the rap that I grew up on. Many of the americans that were at ra for example didn’t even know what to do and could not have a good time. they just went to ‘a club’ and were like wtf. The foreigners were game and it was super fun. These club experiences were bad ass and so were the few raves I went to in arizona in the warehouses and desert. Many people don’t even know the feeling and what it is like going to a club to listen to music that you listen to all the time and hear a dj play and mix the same genre (e.g. dnb) and hear songs that you never heard in your life, probably won’t hear same songs til 5-10 years later until you come across them on the internet but you remember it, and every
    tune the dj plays and mixes if fucking bad ass, most of them anyway. What a feeling and experience.

    Shortly after ~2004-2010, vegas just sucked for electronic music in the clubs anyway. Rap or “hip-hop” was in (not the kind I liked) and the clubs sucked.

    I lived in Chicago for 3 years 2005-2008 and was able to get my fix there for some electronic music. There was a small club there called the sonotheque. This club had the baddest club sound system I have heard from a power and quality standpoint. Club was built for sound, soundproofed and the owners loved music. Once a month sonotheque had some dnb heavy hitters from the UK and local Chicago dnb dj’s… and it was dope. These dudes loved to play on the system and would wow you. The atmosphere was set by playing classic movies with hot women (russ myers), big bass music with dope sound. it was also able to steadily draw some women as well.

    When I moved to vegas it was EDC’s first year there, I went to edc based on dj’s there that I grew up listening to. It was a bad ass experience and I was impressed at the production and sound. The vegas clubs started to get pretty good, they pretty much suck again already. I only go/went if there are specific dj’s that I wanted to hear playing specific music. I like XS, especially like a knifeparty nightswim. I hate that dumb fuk pop dj warren peace…The artisian got really good for bit but has fell off. I enjoyed Sundays afterhours, dubchurch and other music nights after that. Artisian seemed to quit trying and it shows. I do like wicked Wednesdays for drum and bass. downtown comes through every now and then.

    Anyways this dude is right, the underground will continue (i.e. up and down as well) and I will be checking this place AFTER out. I hope they look into booking some of the local dnb djs and bring some other heavy hitters from all genres e.g. house, techno. etc. Couple of requests, make sure you have the sound, ez on the dress code (it is afterhours), don’t charge for ice water, have $5 drink specials (beer and drinks), set the tone, once you get it going don’t take it advantage of it nor neglect it and you will gain a following. Nice start with the ‘rules’ just to set the tone for some underground shite.

    and btw dnb is king of the underground. get some!

    I also went back to Chicago recently after over 5 years and Chicago has gotten ‘good’ again for electronic music.

  • lasvegaslogic

    another rule… it is electronic music, not EDM