As the electronic dance music industry continues to thrive in the United States, it’s spawned a corresponding ecosystem of confabs and summits. The Winter Music Conference in Miami is the grand dame, and Insomniac’s EDMbiz in Las Vegas benefits from its proximity to the Electric Daisy Carnival. Yet the most distinctive may well be the intimate 250-person conference taking place April 15 in Hollywood.
Founded by veteran DJ Pete Tong and music manager Ben Turner, Intl. Music Summit Engage may be entering only its third year, but it’s already seen a number of colorful highlights. Whether it be Diplo’s manager getting into a brawl with members of a different management company in the audience, Moby grilling David Lynch with an hour’s worth of metaphysical questions, or Sean Combs claiming to have been haunting Ibiza since before it was cool, the event, which pairs seemingly incongruous figures from within and outside the dance music industry for unmoderated conversations, is always good for unscripted explorations of dance music’s trials and travails.
This year’s iteration at the W Hotel will feature Quincy Jones in conversation with ex-Swedish House Mafia DJ Sebastian Ingrosso, Public Enemy’s Chuck D paired with outspoken electronic producer Seth Troxler, and former Warner Music Group CEO Lyor Cohen facing off with wunderkind DJ manager Jake Udell, among others.
Per Turner, making sure that the confab addresses provocative questions is a key motivator behind some of their bookings and pairings. Jones, for instance, has expressed some rather critical opinions about the trajectory of modern commercial dance music in recent years, yet here he’s paired with a man who in many ways embodies it.
“Dance music is in a position of strength, but it’s been in this position before in this country, and on three occasions, it’s spectacularly imploded,” he says. “So where does it go from here? Sure, we can ask Skrillex that question, but why don’t we ask Quincy Jones that question? Why don’t we ask someone who’s made crossover music durable for 40 or 50 years.”
A sister event to IMS’ three-day conference-festival in Ibiza later in the spring, Engage’s primary charge going forward, per Tong and Turner, is to further engage with the local filmmaking community from which dance music has certainly received its share of attention, if not necessarily comprehension.
“We wanted to be in L.A. so we could have a direct dialogue with Hollywood,” Tong notes. “Our culture is the youth movement of the last five years in America, yet we have little to show for it onscreen. We need to get the industry tuned into our story and culture. We want to show that our world is just as rich and vibrant as any other — we have over 40 years of history; we weren’t birthed with the term ‘EDM.'”
As much as those sorts of dialogues — as well as such expected debate topics like dance music diversity, discovery in the age of streaming, and the ceaseless strain to remain abreast of distribution platforms — may push the program toward seriousness, Turner stresses that IMS puts the emphasis on provocative debate, rather than sheer shop talk.
“It’s not a summit where you go to learn about publishing or how to get your record onto a TV show,” he says. “It’s very much about putting inspirational, entertaining people together and having an open dialogue about the things that matter to this culture.”