As lovers of music that is most prominent in underground circles, we all share varying degrees of an all too familiar feeling of line-up frustration which plagues local Dance Music communities, especially here in the United States. Each city will have it's own specialty so to speak, and as such the local scenes for other genres may suffer accordingly while commercial EDM reigns supreme with most venues. However, as EDM begins to wane in popularity, event groups and promoters who have been a part of their local scene for years are starting to build larger brands, book larger names, and collectively keep their cities' underground Dance Music culture alive and kicking. In an effort to commend and shed light on these hard working denizens of the night club world, we at Playhous are launching a new recurring piece, "Better Know a Scene", titled after Stephen Colbert's "Better Know a District" bit from his show "The Colbert Report". We'll be interviewing various event organizers from prominent groups within different US cities to bring attention to the oft overlooked network of event planners, promoters, and show runners that keep the essence of dance and underground music culture abiding in the clubs nearest you.
Our journey through the club world of the US starts in my own backyard, San Francisco. Having attended events in San Francisco for the past several years, I've come to hold one event group in the highest regard. Although having only been throwing shows for just under two years, Parameter has already hosted some of the most enviable line-ups in the whole bay. Ranging from acts like Robert Hood to Commodo, Parameter's nights bring in crowds from all aspects of underground Dance Music and they show no sign of stopping. With upcoming bookings including Tessella B2B Pearson Sound (April 2nd, 2016), Mala and company for Deep Medi's Ten Year Anniversary Tour (April 8th, 2016), and the legendary DJ EZ for his debut appearance in SF (April 23, 2016), it's clear that Parameter knows what they're doing. I recently sat down with Parameter founder, Nick Ottrando, and was shown some insight into what compelled him to begin to start booking shows as well as what Parameter's day to day looks like.
Tell Us A bit about yourself.
I grew up in San Luis Obispo, CA about 3 and a half hours south of San Francisco on the central coast. There was no local scene for any type of electronic music there which was one of the reasons I chose to go to college here. I moved to San Francisco in 2010 to study Computer Science. I finished my degree in 2014 and started Parameter shortly before that, after realizing there was a bit of a void for the music I had been getting into more.
How did you get involved in show running/ promoting?
The idea of throwing my own shows was exciting but I didn’t seriously consider it until I was about to finish my degree. A friend of mine introduced me to the guys at F8. She had been helping them out with social media and started promoting a little herself, and thought I’d be interested in doing shows there too. I told F8 some of the artists I’d want to try to book and they gave me a chance. Only about 60 people showed up to the first show I did. I didn’t have my 2nd show until 6 months later and it went much better. Each one has been better than the last from then on out so it’s kept me motivated.
Did you start Parameter on your own?
I did start it on my own but have had a few friends help me out in certain areas, introducing me to venue managers and agents, graphic design, promoting, being residents.
What got you into this deeper/ underground side of dance music?
My tastes progressed and I discovered deeper music over time. I’ve been into everything from electro to trance to techno to grime at one point or another. I think that once I began following labels, I started discovering much more interesting stuff. Warp Records and Ninja Tune were two of the first big ones, and everything just branched out from there mostly. Something about the UK sounds stuck with me the most though, Hessle Audio, Tectonic, R&S, Livity Sound, Hyperdub, etc.
While some event companies have a single big show a year or close up shop for long hiatuses after their big nights, Parameter has been getting more and more talented artists, and doing more nights with less time in between. How have you kept your momentum going so strongly?
At first I was cautious about doing too many shows in a short span of time. Then I started to realize that it’s hard to build a brand and awareness about a club night without consistency, and aimed to do something at least once a month. I haven’t forced any bookings though and I’m very selective with the shows we do. A lot of our bookings took about a year to line up, and sometimes they happen to all at once. An example of that are the three shows we’re doing in April. I think we’ve been able to maintain momentum because we’ve established ourselves as a consistent outlet for these kinds of sounds in San Francisco, and we’ve brought a lot of artists who had never played here before. Also, of the 31 headliners we’ve booked, 18 of them run their own labels, and have established themselves well through them. Having solid local support is a big part of it as well.
Many groups stick to a single sound or genre, what makes you guys book so many acts across the spectrum? Do you think that's the key to your success?
There’s just way too much great music out there to narrow our bookings to just one genre. We’ve tried to have it be cohesive but still flexible, and it’s worked out well. A lot of our crowd seems to have the same range of taste as well so we see a good amount of them at both our more bass heavy shows and our techno ones. I think we’ve built up a decent following from booking artists who haven’t played here before and genres that haven’t been well represented on a regular basis.
Parameter, in my mind, is almost like a recurring Rinse FM night. was this the vision you had in mind for Parameter? How do you perceive yourself/ the group in the SF nightlife scene?
Thanks for that! It’s a big compliment to be compared to Rinse in that way. I see us as a consistent outlet for a broad range of mostly UK sounds, a lot of the stuff you’d hear on Rinse or a Fabric mix. No one else was really booking the bass driven techno or house much here before us, so hopefully we’re seen as trying to fill that void.
What's your favorite event that you've put on so far?
No way I can pick just one but some highlights have been the 3 open to close sets we hosted over last summer with Pangaea, Pearson Sound, and Peverelist & Kowton. Each was very unique and really gave the artists the chance to dig deep and show us their range, plus the crowds were very into them, great vibes. Another highlight was having Kode9 and Oneman go back to back, while having Manchester crew Project 13 host the back room at F8.
Who would you most like to see on a Parameter lineup?
I’d tell you but he’ll be playing for us on May 19th!
What would say was your proudest moment so far with Parameter?
I’m just proud that we’ve been able to establish ourselves solely off of our bookings. It’s all about the music for us and nothing else.
You guys have brought a lot of Dubstep artists with strong Grime influences, and are just about to bring DJ EZ out for a Garage set; any plans on bringing out a Grime MC for any future events?
We’ve tried but it just hasn’t happened yet, I’m sure it will at some point. And I’m really looking forward to catching Stormzy and D Double E in San Francisco this month.
Any chance you can give us a hint at some of your upcoming lineups?
We just pulled off a once in a lifetime booking for with an artist that we’ve all been waiting to see, fingers crossed for that one. Some more techno shows are in the works for summer, as well as a label showcase. Also, we’ll be bringing a massive lineup for our 2 year anniversary in fall. That’s all I can say for now!
Do you think Parameter will stay in San Francisco exclusively, or do you have an interest in throwing a night or two outside of the city?
No plans or interest to bring it anywhere else, maybe Oakland for a warehouse party if anything.
What's something you'd want your event-goers to know about you guys/ yourself that they may not already?
We haven’t made a penny off of doing this, and any profits that come our way are put back into future shows and bigger lineups. Parameter is purely a passion project and we really appreciate the support that everyone’s shown us so far.
What's next for Parameter?
More San Francisco debuts of our favorite artists, and hopefully some all night sets or label showcases. We’re also looking to collaborate with some other local promoters on more shows.
Parameter embodies the humble spirit of underground club culture, and continues to deliver quality events to a quality crowd. After speaking with Ottrando, this rings even more true. A truly humble guy who brings the best artists he possibly can to a scene craving more and more unique acts, Nick, along with Parameter, services the greater Bay Area with a much needed injection of bass and underground vibes. If you live in the San Francisco area, do yourself a favor and make it out to one of Parameter's upcoming events.
RSVP for one Of Parameter's Upcoming Events
April 2nd, 2016 – Parameter Instance 08: Tessela B2B Pearson Sound
April 23rd, 2016 – Parameter Instance 10: DJ EZ, Batu, Low Jack
Follow Parameter Online