Asheville's venues, promoters and festivals deserve much of the credit for fueling the local electronic music explosion. What started out as the soundtrack of private house parties and informal gatherings can now be heard almost any night of the week at downtown clubs such as Emerald Lounge, Club 828 (formerly Nashwa), Hookah Joe's, BoBo Gallery, Scandals, New French Bar and the Orange Peel.
It's the result of forward-thinking local talent buyers, national trends and growing fan demand, says Frank Bloom, who now serves as the director of LAAFF and who helped book the Emerald Lounge in its formative years, bringing in national acts like STS9, Lotus and Telepath before they graduated to bigger rooms. "When you're a booking agent you have to be part weather forecaster, because you have to know what's coming before it's overhead. Electronic music has been a slow burner. It's been on the rise for a while," he says.
Also helping foster the scene is an increase in large outdoor events such as the monthly Full Moon Gatherings and multi-day festivals such as Trinumeral, Tron-a-Thon and Luminescence. Since it was first held in the area in 2008, the Trinumeral Festival has served as something of a yearly electronic music summit, pairing local acts and enthusiasts with top national names.
Organizing Trinumeral and many of the area's larger events are Miami transplants Grant Howl and Par Neiburger, who recently started an entertainment company, Under One Beat, and say they're planning big things for 2010.
"In the coming year, if we put our name behind it, it's because the band's going to blow your mind," says Howl. "I think there's a large population in Asheville that's not well represented here by the bands that come. And we're going to try to bridge that gap. We've become more and more motivated to bring awesome music."
Adds Neiburger, "We started booking electronic music because that's the music we were into and the music that was speaking to us and meant something to us. And we definitely try to foster a sense of community. That's what Under One Beat is about. It's about bringing all these different people together."
David Mathes, drummer in the self-described "electro-post-rock" band Sonmi Suite, credits Howl and Neiburger, as well as Isaac LeFever at Low Frequency Ops and Andy Askew at Skew Records, with bringing Asheville musicians more opportunities. "Now that we have people who are promoting shows and are billing shows with local acts mixed with national acts, that gives us all a lot of practice playing together," says Mathes. "I think before, there were a lot of live electronic bands but they were all in the woodwork, us included — we spent our first two-and-a-half years as a band playing a couple random shows here and there, but mostly basement parties for an extended group of friends. But we were writing our tracks, figuring out what works, and I think there were a lot of bands in the same position during that timeframe. As soon as everyone started organizing, we started networking and figuring out who each other were," he says.
That growing sense of local community and enthusiasm proved a powerful draw for electronic musician/MC and Circuitree Records founder Paul Gaeta (aka Panther God), who, despite success in Miami (he was voted Miami's "best electronica artist of 2007" in the Miami New Times), decided to move to WNC after inspiring experiences at the 8-8-08 and 9-9-09 Trinumeral Festivals.
"The first year we came up to play, I'll never forget seeing Eliot Lipp perform at 1 a.m. and all these kids were going nuts. At the time I thought, 'Even in Miami people don't freak out for that kind of thing. This is like a really new phenomenon, this hippie-raver younger generation just finding out about this music and freaking out. There's a potential for me to find a place in this explosion too,'" says Gaeta. "That's why Asheville kicks Miami's ass right now, because you've got people who are excited."