Seattle’s electronic music scene is thriving. Local talent has blossomed, cottage event producers are seeing major scene success, and opportunities abound. In the midst of this Renaissance comes White Rabbit Group. Founded by Brandon Owen, White Rabbit Group is making its move from SoCal to Seattle, buoyed by opportunity and a rich understanding of the Seattle market.
You’ve probably seen White Rabbit Group on Facebook by now. The announcement marketing their debut Seattle event, DSTRTION, has been proliferating through the community since its launch in early November.
Their combination of resumé, proven event success, and Seattle history make White Rabbit Group worth taking seriously. We sat down with Brandon at The Westy, shortly after the announcement, to discuss his company’s DNA, perspective on events, and its plan to bring Disney-inspired production values to Seattle’s electronic music world.
“We’re all mad here.” – The Cheshire Cat
At this point, Seattle is used to hearing about the big new thing coming to town. Major international players like Insomniac and All My Friends are dipping their toes in our scene, and local show runners are expanding their scope in droves. White Rabbit Group, originally from Southern California, is entering a crowded and changing market, but what if it was actually possible to bring a new idea, something fresh and unique, to Seattle?
“I think Disney is the ultimate experience cultivator,” says Owen. “They’re the best. What event producer is making more money than Disney theme parks? Nobody. A packed day in California Adventures in Disneyland is around 80,000 people. That’s the size in one day, a summer day, of most of your largest festivals in the world. They just do that every day, in one theme park. It’s crazy.”
The dream of a Disney-level electronic music production is a bold, mad vision, but let’s take a step back. Who is White Rabbit Group?
Their directors include Brandon, Eddie Elizalde, Matthew Jager, and Johan Yang. The leadership team cut their teeth in Santa Ana, Newport Beach, and across Southern California, before bringing their take on events to Seattle.
“Southern California may be the most competitive event market on planet Earth,” Owen points out. He’s a vivid speaker. “It’s a nightmare — there’s a festival every other weekend; you’re radiused out of booking your brother.”
”As a small independent company, it’s kinda like you want to paint van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night,’ but you only have gray and black. That’s the only colors you’re allowed to use because all the other ones are used.”
“It’s really hard to create what you want.”
“What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?”
“Whereas here in Seattle, with the marketing opening up and the opportunity, you’ve got this open canvas and all these colors to paint with and a desire from the community to have something new,” says Owen. “It all comes together where you can make what you want and something people want to enjoy, a mutual thing.”
White Rabbit Group, the company, is built on core values they refer to as the “5 I’s” — Inclusion, Idealism, Imagination, Integrity, and Innovation.
“White Rabbit is for everyone,” says Owen. “We don’t discriminate or have ticket prices based on age, race, sex, or outlook. We book artists based on the music we love and the talent that moves us. The health of our company is measured by the health and happiness of our team, guests, and collaborators.”
We hear a lot about community in our interview with Brandon. He spent his first year in Seattle as Marketing Director for USC Events, while still coordinating White Rabbit Group events in Santa Ana from his local post. In fact, he’s actually a local himself.
“I went to middle school and high school in Portland, so it’s not like I’m completely new to the Northwest. I really enjoy Seattle and it’s got the breathing room White Rabbit needs.”
Breathing room, maybe, but there are also thrown elbows. Activism and cultural responsiveness define the Seattle nightlife community. We are conversational by nature, sometimes adversarial, and our community largely interacts and grows on social media. This forum has benefits and drawbacks, but there is no denying that nightlife success depends on engaging that forum, and responding quickly to its needs.
“The formula for things used to be, there was the company in this big box with suits and this giant veil and curtain, and then there was the customer,” Owen recounts. “Now with everything, the food we eat, because of Twitter, because of that connection, because of groups forming if they like or hate something; our government may be fucked, but our entertainment is as democratic as it has ever been.”
He continues, “The crowd has power and you have to do right by them. I think the only way to function is to be really transparent, because the truth rises to the top faster than ever, and people can organize. If you’re not paying attention to that, if you’re not sensitive to it, if you’re not understanding it – ingraining it as the right thing to do in your company’s DNA – I think you’re setting up to fail.”
White Rabbit’s upcoming charitable event, titled “Home for the Holidays,” is its second major event in Seattle, and brings together the energy of many of the region’s best event producers. The event will benefit First Place, a charity which provides housing and educational resources to at-risk youth.
“One of the hardest things is building something that people care about. Once people care, you can have all kinds of fun.”
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Alice
While Seattle boasts more shows, club nights, and local showcases than perhaps ever before, there is still plenty of room for growth. From Kremwerk, Q Nightclub, and Monkey Loft, to the Showbox, Substation, and beyond, there’s no shortage of places for the scene to build its future.
“I think that the best events are created in the mind space of, you want to see something exist and it doesn’t,” Owen notes. You might be asking yourself, what Seattle club could launch these events? It turns out, no club at all.
“Rewind about seven or eight years,” Owen says, “to when we started in Orange County. White Rabbit Group worked either the beach bar scene or the bottle service club scene. That is where the affluent crowd went and that’s where you worked.”
He continues, “I really wanted to have my big raver, 18 and over, EDM, dubstep, and trap mosh pit party called ‘Havoc’ and people said, ‘That’s not gonna work’ because we did it in Santa Ana. ‘No cute college girls are going to go there. You’re an idiot. It’s far from the beach cities. No one’s going to want to travel. No one from LA is going to come to all this stuff.'”
“When we looked at our numbers, 40 to 50% of our crowd was coming from LA,” he points out. “Because of that, we were able to create something really unique, and then it didn’t matter as much where it was, it mattered what it was.”
To that end, White Rabbit’s Pacific Northwest debut, DSTRTION, won’t be at any of Seattle’s top-billed clubs or venues downtown. It will be at Tukwila’s Virtual Sports, a decision that was made in service of true creative freedom. Brandon expresses a real interest in choosing a venue for its management style first.
“I don’t like making money for people I don’t personally like. I was part of a team that produced events at Virtual Sports and it was incredibly successful. I really liked the ownership. A lot of people said, ‘Oh, it’s all the way in Tukwila, [no one is] going to go.’
“I couldn’t help but smile because I heard this before.” Plus, “we’re closer to Tacoma, we’re closer to Renton and the South Sound.”
“Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.” – Ch. 1, Down the Rabbit-Hole
Every event company will tell you they’re bringing unique events to a market. Many pick a genre lane, others like White Rabbit make variety part of their brand. The rave scene takes all kinds, especially in Seattle, and an event company that’s ready to truly capitalize on this market has to pitch a big tent.
“When you say ‘the rave scene,’ this is a lot of different things to different people,” says Owen. “Some people really love the quintessential definition of the rave scene: flow toys and the culture and the totems. That’s their jam and that’s awesome. Whereas [others] may want to hear EDM and be surprised with — God — even a little old school hip-hop thrown in there, because it speaks to them and that’s how they enjoy it.”
He continues, “We want to be the ones that turn people on to new music and artists, help them hear something they never knew they’d love. You have to widen your scope and realize that people love EDM in different angles and approaches. I don’t think it’s binary. You have different events for different folks.”
“Our job is to not let you down. We would love for you to be part of the White Rabbit family, whoever you are.”
DSTRTION, White Rabbit’s debut Seattle show, will feature Arius, Pixel Terror, and Cherney, as well as a b2b set featuring locals Vanz and Silver. The event will be open to an 18-and-up crowd, with tickets on sale now here, starting at $18.
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