We’re talking to Alex Wright in our latest #DIYwithDYD feature. #DIYwithDYD is a series that follows creative individuals. We learn how they made their amazing projects happen. Alex Wright is Head of Analytics and Social Media at the digital agency Base2 by day. He co-founded one of South Africa’s biggest music and design blogs, Don’t Party. He’s also one of the creators of sub_urban state in his spare time and he’s a music producer that we love. You may know him as liver.
DYD: You’re a producer, DJ, Head of Analytics and Social Media at the digital agency Base2, one of the co-founders of DON’T PARTY and one of the creators of sub_urban state. Where do you find the time to do all of these things, especially when all of these things happen at the same time?
Alex: Hey guys, firstly, thank you for having me on this segment I think it is extremely important that people are encouraged to pursue their own ideas in an economic landscape like South Africa’s – it is most valuable to our collective future interests.
To answer the question, it is hard and can be extremely chaotic, but all of these pieces are part of a puzzle that complement each other and fuel my own and their individual innovation and evolution. I firmly believe that my growth, professionally and personally, has been a direct result of the combination of these investments. I am also part of great teams – Rowan and Verushen on Don’t Party (plus all the others who get involved on an ad hoc basis), with Anikesh, Andrew, Ciaran and Joe on sub_urban and a boss at Base 2, Mark Schefermann, who encourages my external activity. It is because of these people that I am allowed to be a part of many things. If you love something and surround yourself with great people, you will make it work.
DYD: Tell us about sub_urban state. What prompted its creation?
Alex: sub_urban started as a thought I had about creating a day event in Johannesburg on Saturday that encouraged people to listen to music. The scene here seemed very isolated and disparate and it was like people were just living to get a wasted as possible, without any real concentration on the diversity of electronic music in Joburg – besides the bigger festivals and events. There wasn’t a consistent project that brought different people and sounds together (or at least not one that I knew of). So I approached Kesh with the idea, he felt the same and was in immediately, we then phoned Andrew and the rest is history.
Our event exists a meeting place for different people with no pretence of prejudice, a place where people can appreciate each other, the beautiful city of Johannesburg and the incredible music that we have in this country. I believe Jozi is the capital of South African music and we wanted to express that.
The constant change up and diversity has not always been met with as much appreciation as we’d hoped, especially when we “blew up” but we think we’ve got a consistent crowd now who gets it and that’s what keeps us going.
DYD: sub_urban state has moved to Constitution Hill. We welcome the change because it seems like the rooftop on the Citilec Building has lost its exclusivity. We’re thinking of the Citilec Rooftop as it was in the beginning. What kind of challenges did you face when you started hosting sub_urban state at this rooftop?
Alex: A fair amount. When we started it we were super naïve. It was like “Yeah, let’s just invite people to a roof, get some drinks and food up there and a sound system and go,” – we were so silly. Besides the logistical nightmare of taking a R200 000 event up a three story building in Maboneng via the stairs, was the health and safety requirements that we were made blatantly aware of when the council shut us down 2 days before one of our events. They rocked up on the Thursday morning before the Saturday event and were like, “Nope, no way guys. Cheers”. We didn’t want to lose the brand name and upset our community, so we phoned Gert from Town Hall and he allowed us to use his club. We made the party free and took a bit of a financial knock, but the people loved it and the brand survived.
It is these challenges that you don’t foresee. Nowadays, we are fully aware of all health and safety requirements (which is a key focus for us) as well as all other elements that go into these productions, but you can’t always predict the future! We just hope people keep believing in what we do and what we’re trying to achieve and support our growth and the development of the new South African environment that we try create.
DYD: We don’t understand how you manage to give away so many free tickets for each sub_urban state. Do the books balance when this happens? Or does the right social media for the event pay off?
Alex: The social element was something we did to get some promotion and it worked. We continue to do it because people respond well to it and because we’d like to get the people to come who might not have the disposable cash at present. We don’t want to exclude people from the event and want to grow our family with the right people, so we just keep going. It’s a financial risk, and we could make more money by charging everyone who arrives, but we try keep the best interests of the people at heart and also add a bit of fun to the whole concept.
DYD: How long have you been throwing events and what made you decide that you were going to take on the industry?
Alex: Wow, it has been a good 6 or 7 years now. It started with Don’t Party and a few smaller gigs in Cape Town and continues with sub_urban. I got into it because my life was fully dedicated to the music industry back then and we – Don’t Party – wanted to create real experiences with South African artists through a continued conversation or narrative. We’d use the website to expose our local readers to South African talent that was juxtaposed to international artists – trying to kill the stigma of the time that international is always better – and then create experiences where our readers could experience these in real life. It was a cool time and I learnt a lot back then.
DYD: You used to throw events under DON’T PARTY. This hasn’t happened in a while. Why?
Alex: Because of sub_urban really and also because Don’t Party is changing, I have a new business partner on board – who is also in the digital industry – and we have a new vision for 2015 and beyond. Our plan is to captivate our audience with experiences that add value to their lives or at the very least inspire them. That said, plans are afoot for future experiences, we’re just ironing out the strategy.
DYD: We’re all getting old. Has DON’T PARTY and your audience grown along with you? Have you ever struggled to communicate with your younger readers?
Alex: I believe the audience has grown with us. What we publish now is completely different to what we were doing two years ago, we keep trying to change and evolve. Rowan Wallace, the editor-in-chief has been a super guy to have on board and has really worked his ass off to get us where we are today. We’re still getting 50, 000 unique readers per month – which we cherish – and want to show them that we care about them. That said DP is set to change this year in a big way. We’re tired of the sector of intelligent South Africans online being patronised and treated like a News24 commenter. We believe South Africans and Africans have something very special to say and should be encouraged to say it. For now I can’t say much more, but you’ll find out soon enough what I mean.
DYD: We often come across individuals that are not involved in careers that they chose for themselves at a university level. Do you fall into that category? Did you study something related to anything that you’re currently doing?
Alex: I started out in BComm Accounting then moved to BA Law at Wits as accounting just put me to sleep. I loved Law and thought that it’d be what I might do one day, but when I moved to UCT they suddenly put it to me on the day of registration that they wouldn’t carry all my credits (after they initially said they would) as the courses “might differ” and I would then be lumped with another 1.5 years or extra 4 or so subjects to do in a year to complete my basic degree. It deflated me and I dropped out after passing that year and pursued music, which has led me onto where I am today. It was a risk but it seems to have paid off.
DYD: This feature falls in our “Do It Yourself” series. We’re trying to get young people to see different ways of handling their futures. What advice would you give to young people about starting their own projects and/or businesses?
Alex: I would say don’t wait, take a risk. If you have an idea, try it out – the younger you are the quicker you recover. Experience is the best teacher and there is nothing that will help you to mature more than that – I’ve seen over-qualified people unable to deliver on basic tasks.
When I started I risked all the money I had, which wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do but it kept me on my toes. South Africans are driven to play it safe, it comes naturally from a society trying to get out of a third world state and it makes sense for personal security, but sometimes individuals are left wanting. We have such amazing opportunities here that are unique to where we live and in many respects better than those overseas. Be proud of being South African and bloody own it. It’s not for everyone, but you’ll know if you have a niggling idea that just can’t sit and you will go for it eventually.
Photos by Yetunde Dada