Meet the Indie Tastemakers Shaking Up the Dance Music World

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When dance music exploded from a grass-roots to a mainstream movement, the world’s leading live-event companies, labels and agencies scooped up its biggest talents. But an indie spirit still persists in the industry -- and recently, independent players have been some of the genre’s standout success stories.

ARTIST: YAEJI

The rising DJ-producer released her first and second EPs with boutique label Godmode, the first of which included breakout hit “raingurl.” But she chose to go independent at the start of 2018 in an effort to control the pacing of her career and work with like-minded friends. “The most important part is the feeling of you and the people you care about growing together, at the right pace, and with the right ideas and intentions,” she says. “If it’s not that way, it would feel mass-produced and not true to myself.” Last year, she self-booked and managed two North American tours, starting at 200- to 400-capacity clubs with just a USB but eventually doubling her venue size and upscaling production to incorporate live singing, front-of-stage choreography and a DIY traveling light rig. Yaeji closed that trek with a hometown performance at New York’s 3,000-person Knockdown Center, where she set her booth right in the middle of the dancefloor.

LABEL: ARMADA MUSIC

Co-founded in 2003 by Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren, Armada has grown from three to 120 employees with offices in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and New York. It’s a parent to over 40 sublabels and expanding further still, seeing its overall sales and streams grow at an annual rate of 20 to 30 percent as it focuses on putting out dancefloor hits and signing up-and-comers (Loud Luxury) and legends (Erick Morillo) alike. “We’ve divided the A&R [reps] into genre-specific music signings,” says co-founder/CEO Maykel Piron. “You need to have more A&Rs if you want to sign the best.” Today, Piron spends half his time in New York working with U.S. label rep/radio programmer George Hess on the label’s stateside growth, while his partner Nadine van Bodegraven makes inroads in Asia and Latin America, both newly major dance-music markets.

EVENTS GROUP: BROWNIES & LEMONADE

Los Angeles-based Brownies & Lemonade started in 2013, pooling co-founders Kushan Fernando and Jose Guzman’s funds to fly underground SoundCloud producers out to play free-with-RSVP warehouse shows. Bar sales kept the dream afloat until their bets on talent paid off: Now, this community of artists and fans has attracted big-time agent and label support. In 2018, B&L teamed up with festivals including Ultra, Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, Coachella and Lollapalooza on branded stage curation and official afterparties; then put together a nine-date North American club tour. It closed the year with a New Year’s Eve show at The Novo in Los Angeles, a sellout despite a secret lineup. “We don’t have a parent company, so we’re not exclusively tied to any deals with any particular entity,” says creative director Chad Kenney. “That also goes for having full control over our branding and our voice. We’ve always stood firm on that, and it has paid dividends for us.” B&L just produced Billboard Dance’s first Ones to Watch Live monthly showcase (which sold out) and soon plans to expand into gaming and fashion.

This article originally appeared in the March 30 issue of Billboard.