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LED makes a splash in EDM

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The electronic dance music firm LED is making industry waves with its Splash House festival in Palm Springs

Before he became one of the West Coast's foremost dance music promoters, Johnny Shockey played hockey for the junior-league San Diego Gulls and trained with the L.A. Kings. His two most recent careers don't share much of a skill set. But an ability to take body blows and climb back to your feet is an asset in the concert-promotion business.

"It's still a risk at every show," Shockey said. "There are times where it's absolutely perfect, but early on there were nights where you're like, 'My God, how long can we keep doing this?' "

Shockey has been having fewer of the latter lately. Since founding the EDM-focused promotion firm LED in 2009 with partners Tyson Ziebarth, Farley Lucas and Kevin Wiles, the group has built a dance-music fiefdom across California from their terminally chill hometown of San Diego.

After producing hundreds of club shows, acquiring two venues, breaking into the L.A. and San Francisco markets and bringing superstars like Avicii and Deadmau5 to some of San Diego's biggest venues, Goldenvoice's parent company AEG partnered with LED last year to bolster the Coachella promoter's dance-music portfolio. The move drew comparisons to Live Nation's investment in Insomniac, the L.A.-based Electric Daisy Carnival promoter and current pace-setter for mainstream EDM events.

As Coachella becomes increasingly dance-music-centric, and EDM shows no signs of abating in pop culture, LED could become SoCal's new nightclub-to-Sahara-Tent farm team for dance artists. But how many new slots are open in EDM's major leagues?

This weekend, LED hosts the second installment of Splash House, a growing Palm Springs festival that sprawls over the Saguaro Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel and Hacienda Beach Club pool scenes (making the area's brutal mid-summer heat something of an asset).

They partnered with Splash House's founder, local Palm Springs promoter Tyler McLean, for a full weekend of DJ sets from Moby, Claude VonStroke, Purity Ring and dozens of other artists.

Though fans are just two months off of Coachella's own revelry (and just weeks away from Electric Daisy Carnival and Hard Summer), McLean believes that LED's partnership helped him create a new outlet for dance music in the desert, one without the grime of traditional festivals.

"When your festival is built on multiple, separately owned venues, there is a lot of work that goes into securing the partnerships. With Goldenvoice at your side, there is obviously a lot more trust in place when you walk in the door," McLean said. "The explosion in popularity of music festivals is actually what makes them ripe for innovation."

That eye for unclaimed space in the dance music scene is part of what brought LED (an acronym for the very EDM-ishly uplifting phrase "My Life Every Day") to prominence.

While L.A. and Las Vegas became the epicenters of America's mainstream dance music boom, San Diego was barely on the map as a tour stop in 2009. So LED made it into one — taking over two clubs (Bang Bang and Voyeur) focused on underground acts like Seth Troxler and Damian Lazarus, while also betting on big shows at the 15,000-capacity Valley View Casino Center. Shockey and his partners had a tougher logistical climb to put on major shows in San Diego, but almost no competition in doing so.

"The pulse of the city is so laid back, it's hard to create any urgency around buying tickets, which can give you some premature gray hairs as a promoter," he said. "Goldenvoice told us that if we could make it San Diego, we could make it anywhere."

Increasingly, they have been making it everywhere in California. Last year, LED produced an L.A. edition of its OMFG NYE festival at the Shrine Expo Hall (with headliners Boys Noize and Madeon), and will bring its Finger Lickin' festival (with Gareth Emery, Arty and Morgan Page) to San Francisco's Fort Mason in July.

Their expansion echoes the early rise of Hard and Insomniac, each of which have been brought into the Live Nation fold for reportedly tens of millions of dollars in investments and acquisitions. LED has yet to produce anything close to the scale of Insomniac's Electric Daisy Carnival (which is expected to draw 400,000 fans over three days this year). It's still uncertain how much room is left for major firms to successfully produce new, large-scale EDM festivals in Southern California, which draw on expensive and limited top-tier talent.

But Goldenvoice (which didn't return requests for comment by press time) and AEG clearly saw the growth potential in a market where competitors are staking long-term claims.

"It's hard to compare us. Insomniac has been around so long and operates on a totally different basis for massive EDM events," Shockey said. "But they are a role model."

The LED team has since moved much of its staff from San Diego into Goldenvoice's L.A. offices (though Shockey commutes), reflecting the broader geographic reach the firm has in mind. The beachy bonhomie of LED's founders is a cultural contrast from the punk origins and hipster cachet of Goldenvoice's own brand and its other recent partnership, Sean Carlson's flinty firm FYF.

But in perhaps the ultimate sign of trust, LED is starting to get their fingerprints on the dance bookings at Coachella, Goldenvoice's marquee music property.

For an old hockey hand now in the dance-music racket, that's like drinking champagne from the Stanley Cup.

"Anybody who walks into the Sahara Tent knows that Goldenvoice can produce a dance fest with the best of absolutely anyone," Shockey said. "But yeah, we give our opinions when Paul [Tollett, Coachella's founder] asks us."

Twitter: @AugustBrown

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What: EDM festival features Moby, Claude Von Stroke, Purity Ring and more

When: June 13-15

Where: Saguaro Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel and Hacienda Beach Club, Palm Springs

Tickets: Weekend passes, $103, single-day tickets, $35 to $50

Information: Splashhouse.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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