By: Connor Alcock
In the hills of East Tennessee, a local promotion and production company has achieved growth and success of epic proportions. Founded and owned by Brian Coakley, Midnight Voyage Productions has helped spark a new cultural renaissance of electronic music in the region. This explosive expansion has helped create an amazing community of artists and fans that may be the fastest growing scene in electronic music today. Thriving on the vibes and positive feedback from fans and the public, Midnight Voyage is leading the charge to revitalize the nightlife scene in Knoxville. Today we’re talking with Brian Coakley about the history of the project and what the future holds for this shining example of entrepreneurial spirit.
Tonight in Knoxville, Up Until Now hits NV Nightclub with David Starfire and more!
Midnight Voyage began as a radio show in March of 2008. I had just recently started working at WUTK as a DJ there, and one of my aspirations as I got involved was to have an electronica specialty show. After working there for a few months, they had a Friday night specialty show slot open up from 12AM to 2AM. It started at midnight, and I had recently gone to a festival called Langerado in Florida and seen Ghostland Observatory for the first time. I was listening to some music by them and saw they had a track called Midnight Voyage… with me getting ready to start an electronica show that began at midnight, I just knew that's what the name was supposed to be. That’s how it all began, and it’s come a long way since then.
It has definitely evolved since then, describe the current business model?
It’s evolved a lot over the years, but I'll do my best to describe the evolution from the radio show to what we're doing now. After a few years of doing the radio show, we began to use our airtime not only to promote new artists and what they were putting out in terms of mixes and productions, but also to promote live electronica events that were happening in Knoxville. The World Grotto was one of the first venues we promoted shows for, and we were promoting shows for Andrea Kerns (who is now our Marketing Director) when she was booking events at 90 Proof and Southbound. As we went along, we developed more and more relationships with different venues, promoters and productions companies, and we were just trying to spread the word about as many shows as possible in the Knoxville area. We also started to get involved in festival promotion; the first one we ever did was for Camp Bisco. We did everything we could to promote as much live music as we possibly could, and from there I started getting involved with working for different venues, the first of which was The Valarium, which is where I took a job right after I graduated college at UT. I started out doing marketing over there and got more and more involved with booking. That gave me a platform for developing live shows in conjunction with the radio show and allowing Midnight Voyage to progress as its own brand and identity, which worked really well. We never made any money for the first few years because we were just growing and getting our name out there, but we had a means and an outlet with Valarium and Ciderhouse to produce shows within that business. As we produced those shows, we developed more relationships with agents, management companies, etc, and from there we’ve become more and more independent. At this point, we are a completely independent promotion/production company, and we’re doing our own weekly event at NV in the Old City. It’s been overwhelming to become independent and get off on our own, but it's extremely exciting at the same time, and we’re really anxious to see where it goes.
What are the current venue setups like?
The situation for the venues we are working with right now is basically a small/medium/large situation. The Bowery is the smallest at 350 person capacity, and it’s for the smaller, more intimate shows with up and coming artists. NV (750 capacity) is where we do most of our shows, and it’s been the best space for us in terms of the size of the room and getting consistent turnouts. It’s got more of a nightclub feel, but we try to give it as much of our own character as we can. Lastly, we have the Old City Courtyard space, which is a huge leap from NV in terms of size. It holds 3,500 people and is generally used for large-scale productions like the shows we've done with Flux Pavilion and Excision. We're also working on giving that space a festival-type feel utilizing a lot of live art installations, additional performers, and things like that, which is what we did for our Papadosio show last month.
What are your go-to promotional methods and how do you think has most of your following been acquired?
Most people within the electronica crowd are very well connected through technology, and for that reason I’d say social media is our strongest resource. That’s something we have been building long before we were promoting shows, when we were just doing a radio show. I started building the Midnight Voyage Facebook page about 5 years ago and connecting with people; it’s grown a lot since then and has been a prime example of the way information can spread virally through that network… it's insane! So that’s the main one, but whenever it comes to promoting an event, our brand, or the radio show, we try to utilize as many resources as possible. We’re still very connected with WUTK since that’s where we do our radio show, so we do a lot of underwriting with them, and we have a fairly large street team that helps us get out physical materials like posters, handbills, etc. We do occasional print ads in Knoxville publications such as Metropulse and Blank Newspaper as well, and we utilize any website that we think is relevant for our crowd, including JamBase and The Untz. Those are people that we love and try to work with on a regular basis.
Can you describe the following MV has accrued?
I think that we’ve accrued a pretty diverse following. I think that because we’re based in Knoxville, most of the people that come out are Knoxville-based, and I think it’s evolved from being mostly a college crowd to being a lot more than that. We learned especially from this past summer that there are a lot of people that stay in Knoxville and aren’t just here for school who come out to the shows. I was really surprised by how consistent the turnouts were over the summer, especially when a lot of people consider Knoxville to be a ghost town over the summer. We had some really great turnouts this past summer: Flux Pavilion, Zomboy, Bass Science, and Thriftworks were all great crowds. I think a lot of people travel from regional cities, especially for the bigger artists. A lot of people come from Nashville or Asheville and from Chattanooga as well. Quite a few people tend to come down from Lexington for certain shows too. We are definitely blessed with a fairly large following across the region, and hopefully we can keep expanding.
Knoxville seems like such an unassuming city, what makes it a special place for this music scene?
I think that Knoxville is just a strong place for music in general. A lot of music was born out of the Appalachian region, so a lot of people here have a very special connection with music as an art form. Knoxville has always been an extremely musical place, and you can get that vibe if you just walk around and pay attention to everything going on here. There’s music everywhere in this city, and we have amazing radio stations and venues that serve as the backbone of our musical community. I think that EDM in particular is really strong here because it’s on the cutting edge of where music has gone and where it’s headed. Making music with electronics is the newest way that one can make music, and a lot people enjoy being on the cutting edge and listening to sounds that are new and fresh.
What kind of sounds does the scene tend to gravitate toward?
I think we have a pretty diverse crowd, but there are definitely things that people gravitate toward. Knoxville definitely loves bass music… trap and dubstep are genres that tend to do well here, but we try to mix it up instead of focusing on one genre or another so people are exposed to different things. As a collective, the people involved with Midnight Voyage have a deep passion for many different genres, so we try to bring as much variety as we can. I’d like to explore doing more chill-type shows with more downtempo music, and we're hoping that house music will build back up in Knoxville. We love us some house music.
What have been your favorite productions you have put together?
My favorite production that we've ever done was Flux Pavilion combined with the 2-room afterparty, which we called Funtasia. It was essentially our first festival-type production. The Old City Courtyard stage featured performances from Sour Kandi, Skism, and Flux Pavilion. Immediately afterwards, the stages at NV & The Bowery hosted talent from local producers LysergiK and Cosmoore as well as Krueger, Blockhead, Govinda, Savant, and Ana Sia. It was a wonderfully diverse lineup from start to finish, and to see everyone come together for it the way that they did was just mindblowing.
What has been your proudest MV moment thus far?
I would have to go with my response to the previous question for this one as well...definitely the Flux/Funtasia event. Seeing all 3 venues going full force was absolutely magical.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
I’d say the biggest challenge has been becoming independent from being attached to venues. As I mentioned before, we kind of grew out of The Valarium in terms of our live shows. Evolving from being dependent on a venue to being able to produce shows entirely on our own has been extremely difficult and has basically taken us 3 years to accomplish. When The Valarium closed, it was an eye opener that was forcing us in the direction of being independent. At first it was overwhelming and a little bit scary because we weren’t sure where we were going to go, but thankfully the Old City has shown us a lot of love, and Carleo Entertainment has been extremely helpful in giving us a space to work in and be creative. The Old City is an incredible place… in the 7 years that I've lived in Knoxville, I've always thought that it was the coolest part of the city.
Are there any artists you have forged a close bond with who now act as advocates of Midnight Voyage?
I’d say we have formed close bonds with a few artists… I’d say recently the biggest one we have formed is with Thriftworks. He showed us a lot of love, had a great time, and he definitely wants to come back. We love his music, so we are really excited about that connection. We’ve always had a good bond with Excision, he’s definitely one of our boys. Andrea (our Marketing Director) was the first one to bring him to Knoxville...it’s crazy how some of these artists have gone from playing for a few hundred people in smaller rooms like 90 Proof & Southbound to playing Old City Courtyard in front of huge crowds. Dominic from Big G is one of our friends who we've watched grow immensely in this market, and ill.Gates is one of our homies who we always love having in town.
What are shaping up to be some of the highlights of this fall at Midnight Voyage?
I would say all the outdoor shows coming up are super exciting for us… Datsik and Infected Mushroom at Old City Courtyard on November 1st is going to be one that will go down in the books. The lineup is ridiculously stacked, and we were lucky enough to get one of the only Infected Mushroom tour dates in the southeast. Seeing them perform with the live band is gonna be awesome! We’ve dreamed of having a show with them for a long time. For this event, Infected Mushroom has also allowed us to display some of our own custom stage production, which we are extremely thrilled about. Afterwards we’re having a 2 room afterparty with Zoogma and Vibesquad, so the whole event is like a festival similar to what we did with Flux/Funtasia. We’re really excited about that. Our 3 year anniversary party on November 15th is going to be really big as well. We’ve got Kalya Scintilla and Bird of Prey opening up the show and Minnesota is headlining so it should be a good mix of downtempo and west coast bass!
You are notorious for having fun giveaways and contests, what are some of the most memorable ones you have done?
These are usually Andrea’s work, she’s always coming up with creative ways to give out free stuff or engage our audience better. She’s our marketing person, and she’s very creative and talented. My favorite thing that she’s done is probably the totem contest for Papadosio. I think that was a great idea because a big part of our crowd are people who like to go to festivals, and the totems are a fun way to keep your friends together at those events. It was a good way to allow people to be as creative as they want for a contest. That’s what we’re all about, creativity.
Are there any local producers that are currently (or soon will be) blowing up nationally?
That’s a hard thing to predict. I couldn’t really tell you who’s going to blow up nationally from Knoxville, but I think there are a few local artists who are extremely creative and have a lot of potential. Fast Nasty, Spooky Jones, and Magmablood all come to mind. Also, I think This Is Art (from Nashville) is one of the most promising artists in the southeast. He’s amazing, he’s a great person, and I think he’s gonna do big things.
Are there any artists you would really like to bring in but haven't been able to work out yet?
There are several artists that we've been working on that haven't quite been able to work out yet. Flying Lotus, Noisia, and Thievery Corporation are all dreams of ours that we hope to turn into reality some day.
Anything to say to new fans or EDM tourists looking to come to a MV show?
If you’re looking to have a good time, get your groove on, and hear some forward thinking, creative electronica then definitely come out to one of our shows. We strive to bring genuine art to people in whatever form it may take, as we believe that art has the power to bring people more in touch with who they really are. We’ve always received a lot of positive feedback on how friendly the people are here from anyone who travels to our shows and even from the artists themselves. We have an extremely enthusiastic, friendly and open minded scene that comes together to create a truly positive atmosphere in which you can let loose, enjoy yourself, and most importantly, be yourself. It's all about community for us, and our community definitely spreads that southern hospitality. Hope to see all of you sooner than later! Much love and respect to everyone.
A few words for any EDM fans potentially looking to travel to Knoxville…
The venues are located in the Old City district right next to Downtown and a block away from the Greyhound bus station. Parking in the area is ample and free spaces are easy to find. A variety of hotels and accommodations are available within walking distance, including Crowne Plaza (who sometimes coordinates with Midnight Voyage to offer specials during big events). For budget minded travelers, there is also a hostel located half a mile away in the 4th and Gill historic district.
All these areas are very safe and in centrally located parts of the city. Most of the locals in Knoxville are extremely hospitable and it’s easy to make new friends there. Should you arrive early and have some time to burn, it’s nice to spend some time walking around the Old City and Downtown areas and checking out the local businesses. A great option is Barley’s Pizzeria, located directly across the street from the venues, this location was voted “Best Bar in America” by Playboy in 2001 and it features an extensive selection of beer as well as delicious, affordable food. The convenience can’t be beat and it just might be the best place to pregame for the show if you arrive early. Further Downtown, Nama Sushi Bar has some of the best sushi in the southeast and Downtown Grill and Brewery is a nice historic spot that produces their own beers and the most amazing bar food you will ever eat. A good choice for health-conscious heads would be Tomatohead located in Market Square. They offer a variety of local beers and top notch food including vegan, gluten free, and sustainably sourced dishes. Also worth noting to visitors, the area off East Magnolia Avenue is fine during the day but it can be a little bit sketchy after dark (there’s not any reason to be traveling down there after a show though).
Midnight Voyage can be found on Facebook or at www.themidnightvoyage.com and their radio show airs Thursdays from 10pm-1am EST and can be streamed anywhere live through their website. Be sure to check out the homie This Is ART at www.thisisartmusic.com. Truly the future of live southern bass music, you heard it here first. Have a great time in Knoxville and safe travels!
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