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Promo Spotlight: The re-emergence of live music in Philadelphia with The Rust Music [Interview]

Given how music opens the connection to the soul, artists and their fanbases must represent the body. Promotional companies, then, are the heartbeat of the music industry. These are the local street teams, the social media hustlers, the business negotiators, the backstage bookers, and talent scouters — all working tirelessly at their tiers with management teams, venues, press, and so on to bring fans their favorite music. However, promotional companies often get overlooked by music goers, outshined by big names and line-ups. They don’t much care for the spotlight though, and they definitely don’t do it for the money. They do it all for the love of music.

That’s why CE is proud to present our Promo Spotlight series, where we scour the United States for local promotional companies to shine a light on the people working behind the scenes of music. They are, for all intents and purposes, music’s beating life force. 

All across the country, booking managers, event planners, operations specialists, and the various personnel that put together concerts are getting back to work. Similarly, artists are excitedly putting together sets as fans mark down their calendars and start requesting time off work. Out of the many cities beginning to steadily fill their venues with elated and vaccinated party-goers, Philadelphia is one of them. 

While most people are quick to assume that companies like Live Nation and Eventbrite are the sole players of this movement, these promotion giants are not alone in the field. The past several years have seen the emergence of smaller players who’ve begun to make a name for themselves in the live music and entertainment industry. One of which is The Rust Music—a full-service label, publication, management company, and more recently, event production company.

On Memorial Day Weekend, Conscious Electronic had the chance to attend one of The Rust’s curated events in west Philadelphia – their first time hosting in the City of Brotherly Love. Headlining the event was the rambunctious and effortlessly talented 5AM Trio, along with support from acts such as Face Plant, Morning Coffee, and Squalpat. The evening kicked off with the smell of delicious jerk chicken in the air, courtesy of the chef at One Art Community Center. The live event space offers a beautiful venue with gorgeous shrubbery and street-inspired graffiti art across the stage. Clouds loomed early in the afternoon, but good vibes seemed to keep the rain at bay. 

Squalpat kicked things off as the venue began to fill up. Up next was Morning Coffee who began to awaken a crowd of fans who had long since been dormant. Several attendees were claiming that the show was their first in a while, which explained the very slight hesitation for large congregations in front of the stage early on in the show. But by the time Face Plant took the stage, patrons began swarming the dance floor as smiling faces and gyrating limbs shook the cobwebs off muscles that perhaps hadn’t been used in a while.

As soon as the 5AM Trio took the stage, things seemed right back to normal. With Zone Drums not missing a beat, Tygris rotated from his bass guitar and his turntable where he was producing cuts and patterns all night, all while 5AM conducted an orchestra of bass synthesizers, jazz samples, and everything in between. Fans were even blessed with a guest performance by singer Maya Elise for a rendition of her and 5AM’s single, “Floating.”

As the night came to a close, guests poured out the doors of One Art with an aura of satisfaction wafting over the crowd and proclamations of postgames, after parties, and a free event the following day hosted by The Rust at FDR skatepark in south Philly. The Rust crew was intent on keeping the momentum going through the weekend and did not fail expectations. After a successful run of live streams during quarantine and a couple of shows in their home base of New York City, the modest music label decided to expand a few 100 miles south to Philadelphia.

Conscious Electronic got the chance to chat with founders Wyler Sanca, Francesco Ferran, Malakai Linden, and artist manager and bookings agent Jesse Boyer about the rise of The Rust and everything they have in store for 2021 and beyond.

CE: When you started the blog in 2014, did you expect it to grow to what it is today?

Wyler: When I started The Rust, it was really just a way for me to share music with other people. I had this obsession with listening to everything on my SoundCloud stream and categorizing it into playlists, etc. and I also realized I enjoyed writing about it, so I started the blog. It was also a way for me to connect with artists on a personal level (well, as personal as messaging can be), something that I consider to be a significant catalyst for The Rust’s “success.” The dream may have always been to turn it into a label, but I definitely didn’t think I could pull it off myself, and it was more just something in the back of my head that I thought would be cool to do. Definitely never thought we’d be throwing shows or managing and booking artists.

CE: What would you say were the missing ingredients?

Wyler: The missing ingredients were Francesco and Malakai, bottom line. The three of us have very unique personalities, perspectives, and tastes (with some obvious overlap) and without the two of them to bounce ideas off of and their commitment to the collective, we definitely wouldn’t be where we are. 

CE: You guys seem like you have so much going on, what’s the hardest part about managing everything?

Wyler: There aren’t enough hours in the day, and we all obviously have our strong suits. But that’s really our biggest hurdle – time. We have SO many things we want to do.

CE: Your live streams we’re a saving grace for a lot of people during quarantine. How do you guys decide to go in that direction?

Malakai: The concept for Featherbed Sessions was actually an idea that was brought to us by some friends, Sam Andrus (5AM) and Peter Auvil, as a collaborative project but the idea of doing live streams, in general, came fairly naturally I think. Our community and the music industry, in general, are full of bright people with backgrounds in technology and computers like producers and VJs, etc. While streaming in this format wasn’t really something that we had explored pre-pandemic, I think many of us were at least familiar with Twitch or had dabbled in live streaming in the past so we knew the basics of how it worked. There were definitely some hiccups early on but I think the main things the team was able to provide that made The Featherbed Sessions such a success was overall consistency and the relationships we’ve built with artists over the years both personally and through the label, the blog, and booking in-person events. Needless to say, we wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without our incredible community.

5AM: As things started to look grim for live music in early March, it wasn’t too long before the question came up of how artists were going to support themselves through the pandemic, and how or whether our community was going to stay connected through the lockdowns. There was a point where some of us who were interested in live streaming started a group chat and we decided to host a stream under The Rust’s banner that was specifically focused on highly curated DJ/VJ pairings of the cream of the crop of underground glitch and bass music. The whole inspiration was to help out our artist homies through receiving donations while making magical moments for fans by providing a chance for our community to reconnect. That idea came with such a wave of inspiration that it powered the whole project. We were considering streaming paywalled events on a standalone website or using Vimeo or Youtube to stream, but I had a conversation with streaming OG Pat/Digital Vagabond from Lostinsound and he strongly recommended that we host on Twitch, and once we had our first lineup, the Featherbed Sessions were born. The whole dynamic of the streams wouldn’t have been the same without the context of Twitch, where followers of the channel can drop customized emojis in the chat and interact with a hilarious programmable chatbot. Not only was all of this something to do to get our minds off of the very heavy realities we were facing, we really felt like we could make a difference and brighten people’s days. So I remember pouring a lot of time and perseverance into troubleshooting just to make the streams smooth and memorable. Between brainstorming lineups, marketing, artist outreach, and running the stream, it was a real team effort and we all learned a lot from the process.

CE: Anyone familiar with the industry knows how tough building a label can be. Was there ever a time you thought The Rust wasn’t going to work out?

Wyler: Right before Francesco and Malakai decided to join. I had been writing articles for The Rust and Addictech and making weekly playlists on Soundcloud, but I’d basically hit a wall in terms of the following and I wasn’t really investing as much time in it as I had been. After Francesco graduated from NYU, he and Malakai went on a road trip together from the West Coast to back East which is where their managerial relationship began. When they got back, Francesco hit me up and was like “okay I’m ready.” I’d always wanted him to work on it with me, but it wasn’t until then that things lined up. Malakai coming along for the ride sweetened the deal and really helped grow us into what we are now. Without his input (and his sound engineering background) Cesco and I would have really had our work cut out for us.

CE: What would you say your biggest accomplishments are so far?

Wyler: Malakai and Sam (5AM) being on the Tipper & Friends King’s Theatre shows in NYC was great. All of the T&F events we’ve had artists on are always a blast and our guys are always well-received. They’re also obviously incredibly well-curated and the production is always top-notch. It’s really a great place to grow your audience because everyone there is so open-minded. We also threw a show in Brooklyn on a half indoor/half outdoor rooftop venue that was basically a huge loft. It’s called Bogart House – we had Spoonbill, Spacey Koala, Bumble, and Cualli out and they all really brought their A-game. That was my favorite show we’ve thrown – it was packed to the brim and we projection-mapped a huge portion of the wall and stage and it looked absolutely wild. Reino + The Void absolutely crushed the visuals. The Featherbed Sessions that we threw with Jade Cicada in the thick of the pandemic also went off very well, and raising as much money as we did for Direct Relief was something I’m personally very proud of. A large part of that, of course, is due to the artists (DJs+VJs) who provided content but it still felt good to be a part of it. 

Malakai: Wyler kinda covered most of it. Being involved with Tipper & Friends has definitely been a big one for me for obvious reasons, performing at Kings Theatre and their other events have been some of the coolest experiences I think I’ve ever had. Something to add on the label side of things is pressing our first vinyl records and having them sell out in less than a day. I put a ton of work and research into that whole process, so it’s been really cool seeing it all come together. They’ve finally arrived and are looking magnificent! 

CE: What cities would you like to see yourselves in?

Wyler: Tokyo. They have the best crowds in the world, or so I’ve heard. I also just love Japan and would love to see how an event of ours would do. Nationally, we’ve done events in New Orleans, but I wasn’t there. I’d love to do a big event down there – that’s my favorite city I’ve visited in the states outside of NYC.

Malakai: Tokyo is high on my list as well for similar reasons. I’m also very excited about taking our music really anywhere in Europe. There’s not such a huge community for bass music out there, which I think offers a lot of opportunity for growth if presented in the right way, but I think that’s also a scary endeavor to try to build it out of nothing.

CE: Any plans on an entire ‘The Rust’ Festival?

Wyler: One day. We want to do it right and we’re not rushing into anything until we’re certain we can do that. Submersion, as a full-day event with a higher cap than a lot of what we usually do, will be our first foray into larger events. We’ll get there. Adding Jesse to our team will certainly help our chances of throwing a successful festival, as he’s worked on many and has even hosted his own, Gala in the Grove.

Malakai: Certainly open to the idea, but I would want to find the perfect venue first. I’m really excited to see how things progress in the next couple of years and I’m optimistic about us getting to that point one day soon.

Jesse: I personally started with event curation before taking on bookings and management, so I’m always trying to get a head start on bigger events for us. We’ve been doing some stage takeovers at festivals in the past (and future!) and the rest of the team let me sort of take the reins on Submersion, which is a much bigger event than The Rust or myself have taken on yet. We definitely couldn’t do what we’re planning on doing without Ryan Karolyi and the Aspire Higher team. 

TLDR; eventually we will host our own festival in the future, but for now catch us on stage takeovers at other regional events as well as a few bigger day parties and smaller venue curated events. 

CE: Have you guys been involved in any charitable ventures? Do you want to?

Malakai: We have a couple of music releases, including the Oxidized compilations, from which all proceeds are donated towards a different charity/non-profit working on something we believe in each year. In the past, we’ve donated to a hurricane relief fund in Puerto Rico, ACLU Worldwide, as well as a few others. During the pandemic this past year, we were also able to raise money during a number of live streams and through donations from the wonderful people in our community. We matched everything that was donated to a number of different organizations working on COVID relief and social justice issues including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter Global Foundation, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Black Visions and Reclaim the Block. Additionally, we collaborated with the west coast label Saeiound to release an 18-track ambient compilation from which all proceeds are being donated to the Global Foodbanking Network. 

This year I think we’re gonna go a more environmental route and will likely be donating the Oxidized series profits to a non-profit here in New York called the Billion Oyster Project which is working to clean up the waterways around the city and restore habitat for aquatic wildlife with the help of students, volunteers, and their partners. More info. 

CE: How has it been settling into Philadelphia? And why did you choose Philadelphia as a place to start expanding the brand? 

Jesse: The Rust “brand” is relatively new to Philadelphia (in terms of throwing shows), having hosted a pop-up here and there in the past, pre-pandemic. A good bit of our roster is located in Philadelphia, and I have been hosting events here long before teaming up with The Rust. I guess it was inevitable and coming out of the pandemic the timing just made sense. I first started hosting events in 2015 under the name “The Funky Dad” starting with pop-up events, then moving on to venues such as Coda Nightclub (rip), One Art Community Center, Liaison Room, and hidden gem The Boom Room. In 2018 I started to help oversee bookings at Sprout Music Collective in West Chester, PA where I really started to grasp the concept of regional bookings outside of a city. With all of the booking history I have in the city and with no plan on stopping with event curation, The Rust and I decided it would be best to start to bridge them into Philadelphia. 

CE: There are definitely a lot of people who are glad you guys did! What do you hope to do in Philadelphia?

Jesse: I just want to host dope events with my friends where everyone can get involved and feel included. I want to safely bring the community together after the wild year and a half we all just endured. There’s so much talent to highlight, ya know? So many artists of all different mediums have been bunkered down perfecting their craft and now we can properly showcase that in the environment in which it can be most appreciated.

Wyler: All I want is a cheesesteak buffet from John’s Roast Pork in the green room. That’s my goal for Philly.

CE: What can Philly expect in 2021?

Jesse: We have a few events we’re working on for the remainder of 2021 into 2022, ranging from small pop-up park parties to music festival stage takeovers, single-day festival-style events like Submersion, to working our way back into our favorite indoor venues for nightclub shows. Our main goal is to host these events properly and to the best of our ability. Keep your eyes peeled for The Rust Music curated events as well as collaborative events with some friends of ours. Quality over quantity!

Malakai: As Jesse said, quality over quantity. I’m looking forward to getting things moving again in NYC in a real way and curating some awesome shows in some awesome venue spaces. I don’t have anything to add specifically for Philly but hopefully I get a damn cheesesteak next time I’m there!

Whether it’s Philadelphia, NYC, or Tokyo, it appears The Rust have all intentions of making their presence known wherever they go. Fans should anticipate all the bells and whistles if The Rust ever shows up in town. Keep up with happenings in the links below.

Follow The Rust:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | SoundCloud | Spotify | Twitch

Follow Conscious Electronic:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | SoundCloud | Spotify | Pinterest | Tiktok