During February and March 2016 I’m traveling North America to meet the Chew community, DJs, partners and investors.
This is part one of my updates on meeting and staying with top Chew fans and DJs. For updates on investor, brand and partner meetings throughout the trip subscribe the the Chew Insider newsletter using the form on my Chew Founders Blog.
The trip almost ended before it began. Sitting in Jamie’s overpriced coffee mobile at Gatwick airport I’d be turned away from checking in already. Apparently the US Immigration find it suspicious that you’re traveling to the country on a visa waiver with no arrival address and a one way ticket.
Quickly searching Skyscanner I quickly booked the cheapest return flight from Miami. I knew that Ultra Music festival was happening around that time so it seemed like a good idea. Immediately I began to regret it. Looking at the confirmation I’d just booked an 18 hour flight with an 8 hour layover in Brussels. On top of that it departed an entire week after the conference and festival where supposed to finish. Oh well.
Next I set myself on where I’d be staying. Picking out the top 100 DJ’s and producers on Chew from North America I typed out an email. Since launching Chew in 2015 far and away the most active countries as been the US. This trip was overdue. But I didn’t know if anyone would look at the email let alone offer me a place to stay of the back of the site they use to live stream. I clicked send on the email and shut the laptop. This time they let me through the body scanner I walked on into the enforced retail hell of Gatwick duty free.
On the plane I contorted into my seat, the centre of a row of nine in total left to right. I flicking through the inflight magazine. It was going to be a long flight. Only thirty seconds later a woman next to me asked if I could switch seats with her sister. I jumped up like I’d been stung by a wasp and swapped to my now isle seat to meet my new neighbour. My new buddy was Fred the emotional support dog. A tiny chiwawa in a waistcoat with a selection of Scout style patches on it. It turned out his owner, sitting by the window was an actress who lived in my home town of Norfolk. A couple of drinks later and the flight flew by.
Landing in LAX two hours since leaving Gatwick according to my phones automatically updating clock, but 10 hours of flying time my eyes felt like I’d just rubbed them with a sheet of sand paper. Los Angeles was keen to impress. As I stepped from the Airports sliding door into the 25 degrees heat the sun began setting beautifully over the sea.
The effect, and the time zone difference combing I felt high. An effect that soon wore off thanks to the cities world famous bad traffic. A fact I found out all to soon. In an attempt to find a bus into town the footpath went from the width of tennis court down to nothing. There’s nothing like walking down a 4 lane highway to a bus stop that makes you feel out of place.
A little later with the sun fully set I sat alone in FreeBird burrito in Marina Del Ray and opened the laptop just like I had at the airport twelve hours earlier. The Gmail loading icon spun and spun as the free wifi struggled to load this first page. As the page slowly updated I could see more and more messages coming in. And not just of the normal faux personal emails from recruiters or from web apps trying to sell me something.
Out of the 100 emails I’d sent 50 had replied. I set about sorting through the offers to DJ, visit and stay and a plan started to form.
One of the first emails I scrolled down to had the list of Mixmag lab dates. I’d been trying to visit Mixmag Lab since meeting with the founder Jerry at ADE last October. In London though it had never really happened. Running a site that’s all about DJs and producers means that 4pm on a Friday is a pretty busy time. Scrolling down the list of DJs performing over the coming weeks, the line LA Lab: Duke Dumont jumped out. What were the chances that such a decent DJ would be playing the night I happened to be in town. I replied to the email and an hour later found myself heading on an epic two hour long bus ride and walk from Venice beach to Downtown LA.
The most scary part of the my route to the Mixmag studio was navigating around the Greyhound bus station on foot. I made it through. There was already a long line by the time I arrived at 6:30pm. Luckily the local hip hop dance troupe was there to provide some entertainment to the audience of hipsters queuing for listen to deep house DJ. Mixing things up. Getting inside with a suspicious look at my grimy EU driving licence the space immediately reminded me of an Argos stock room. A small industrial until with white walls and a roped off mezzanine balcony from which the staff watched the common folk from high above. One wall was illustrated with outline artwork on top of which graphics were mapped from a projector across the room. It was a simple effect but it looked really cool.
Pushing my way through to the bar I realised that I was definitely the only one carrying 6 weeks worth of clothes in a rucksack. On my journey to the bar I bumped into someone I recognised. We’d never met in person but our photos were forever linked on the International Music Summit visionaries competition winners page. Valerie worked for Mixmag in LA as well as now working for the IMS Conference itself post being awarded the honour. We spoke under the mezzanine before she was summoned to intro Duke Dumont to world from behind the decks.
The crowd were loving it, visibly drunk by just 7:30 on the sponsored vodka cocktails which definitely weren’t mixed with until measures. With all my experience in live streaming I could really notice who the intended audience for the stream was. It wasn’t anyone in the room. There were two false starts. At the same time the sound in the room reducing to the level of a teenagers phone on the back of bus whenever Duke Dumont seemed to have a problem. Dipping the volume on the monitors he would lean over speak to whoever was up on the stage with him at the time. Half way through the set my brain decided it was time to start shutting down. I ventured out into the night to try my luck at the two hour long bus back across town. I avoided the Greyhound bus station this time around.
Anyone who knows me will know that I love good Mexican food. We have Chew office burritos on a regular basis. To say I was in my element in California would be an understatement. They have avocados the size of your face. So my the time Dan offered to meet up to grab some tacos down near Abbot Kinney street in Venice I’d already eaten only Mexican food for the entire preceding 24 hours. That didn’t stop me though. The food was great and was only surpassed by Dan’s company.
One of the biggest differences I’d noticed since being in the states was the lack of online radio stations in the consciousness of music fans and DJs I was staying with. So it was really interesting to hear that Dan was working on with Dash Radio in town. It’s not what we have in the UK with our pirate radio. Taking the concept applying great presenters with interesting music tastes to a solid technology platform sounded really interesting and I downloaded the app while we spoke to check it out.
After meeting Dan the longtime Chew user Tyler Tanner (unknown(); on Chew) had invited me to come to his drum and bass event in Santa Monica. By midnight I felt like heading out. I pulled up the event page on my phone to grab the address and book a Lyft. Checking down the event I noticed that the end time on the show was 2am. The 2am finish would mean by the time I got through all the traffic I’d have about 30 minutes left for the event. For a city renowned for it’s parties this put a real damper on the night.
My hosts for work in LA were George and Ben from Repost Network. A music startup that’s making money for musicians on Soundcloud. A money making music startup? Unheard of! I hung out in the Amplify office where Repost and the Amplify accelerator program is based. Just thirty seconds from the beach I don’t understand how anyone can get any great work done there but these guys do.
During my time in town I made use of a Repost desk and the office air con as I came in and out between meetings. For lunch George and I went out for food at the local cafe Ruby’s. The wait was really long but half way through the waitress give me some free donuts. I wasn’t in the mood for complaining after that. As I ate the grilled turkey and cheese sandwich George began to tell me about his other work besides Repost. Both DemoDrop and StudioSessions.tv are exciting side projects of his focussed on supporting producers learn and get heard. After lunch we headed for a stroll down the beach to a local bar. Showing my Norfolk heritage I was laughed from the bar after ordering the only cider on the menu of over 120 varieties of beer.
Originally the plan was to spend the entire first week in LA, with meetings planned on bringing Chew to the US in 2016 plus a little bit of beach time. A message from Tony changed that plan. The message asked if I would you like to come to the 500 Startups demo day. 500 Startups is one of the top accelerator programs for companies like Chew in the US. Originally from Denver we’d first met over a plate of Monkey Fingers at Meat Mission in London. Monkey Fingers aren’t chopped off marmoset digits. They are super sickly chicken sticks from what I can work out. With deep ties across tech and startups it was an offer I could’t refuse.
To travel from LA to San Francisco takes 50 minutes by plane but that would be too easy. Before I flew out someone had mentioned a ride sharing app to me. The app was called Tripda and in true startup style it’s closed down in the time it took me to use the service then blog about it. I couldn’t find anyone driving the whole way, but I only needed to get to Mountain View for this event. In the end I managed to persuade someone heading to San Jose to take me the extra half an hour to the “Hacker Dorm” I’d found on AirBnB. I packed my bag and sat waiting outside Amplify as the sun set. A man in a Dark Grey Camry pulled up. I throw my bag on he back seat, jump in and we drive off into town.
As we drove through Hollywood I started to process my thoughts and feelings about the city after just a few days. The climate, beach and food were plus points. That and the relaxed atmosphere there made me never want to leave. At the same time driving and public transport sucked. I’d met some really interesting people who supported my mission but I’d been surprised at the lack of DJs reaching out from a town that’s know internationally for it’s music. Other cities were already emailing daily offering more generous offers than I could take in a six month trip. Was it down to the LA DJ community. It might have been genuine scepticism reading an email from a man they’d never met asking to sleep on their sofa. I wasn’t sure but the rest of the trip would serve as the best comparison.
Find out about my time in San Francisco right here on the Chew Founders Blog tomorrow.