Imagine Music Festival 2014

Imagine Festival’s new vision for EDM - Iris Promotion ups the ante on electronic music

Over the past several years, Atlanta’s nightlife scene has flourished as the Southeast’s EDM (electronic dance music) oasis. In September 2013, more than 140,000 festival junkies from around the globe descended upon a small piece of Georgia farmland to dance themselves to oblivion. The location had been handpicked to stage TomorrowWorld, a North American offshoot of one of the largest EDM productions in the world, Boom, Belgium’s Tomorrowland. From three-day festivals such as TomorrowWorld to countless weekly showcases of local and touring DJs, Atlanta is fertile soil for promoters looking to capitalize on the city’s bustling EDM scene.

This year Iris Promotion, a longtime fixture of Atlanta’s electronic music scene, has organized its own wildly ambitious EDM vision, Imagine Festival. Spread across the Masquerade Music Park and the neighboring Historic Fourth Ward Park, Imagine promises to bring a scene that could have been plucked from the pages of a P.T. Barnum biography.

Glenn Goodhand, founder of Iris, had a vision to bring more than just the best EDM for the fest. He wanted to create an all-encompassing sensory experience by blending music, three circus troupes, fire-breathers, break-dancers, and more. Imagine is a holistic presentation of EDM that strives for total immersion in the festival experience. “The festival has been consuming my life,” Goodhand says.

Despite the added theatrics, Imagine draws strength from the diversity it brings to its three stages. As EDM has become a sprawling catchall term, most festivals fight for just a sampling of the genre’s figureheads. Big names equal big crowds, and smaller acts representing EDM’s fringes are often overlooked because they lack immediate name recognition.

Imagine’s biggest draw is the range of eclectic music Iris has lined up. Trip-hop producer Emancipator performs alongside a violinist, and the Middle Eastern-influenced outfit Beats Antique embodies electronic music’s worldly evolution, alongside acts such as Fedde Le Grand, Destroid, Adventure Club, and dozens of other acts.

The fest also offers a personal look at the production side of popular synth-pop acts such as Neon Indian, Crystal Castles, and Purity Ring; all are performing rare DJ sets. “It’s an intelligent lineup, with some of the best musicians in the world,” Goodhand says.

Imagine’s synthesis of talent and sensory stimulation represents a vision of electronic music that Goodhand has built toward for more than a decade. “I started out wanting to emulate what Peter Gatien was doing,” Goodhand says.

Once dubbed the “King of New York Clubs,” Gatien became famous in the late ’70s and ’80s for his incarnations of the Limelight that he opened in Hallandale, Fla., Atlanta, and New York City. The Limelight’s top-notch production attracted a host of celebrities through its doors, including Andy Warhol and Tom Cruise, and set a high standard for what a dance club could be.

Goodhand launched Iris in 1996, when drum ‘n’ bass dominated Atlanta’s nightlife. During that boom, a combination of brutal club competition and a highly publicized drug culture undermined the sanctity of electronic music. “It was fierce,” Goodhand says. “It was back in the day when people would call the fire marshal on you, and call in fake noise complaints.”

Promoters would undercut each other by hosting free events on competing nights, turning a rich breeding ground for club talent into a free market battleground. Iris bounced between venues. Facing stiff competition and a dwindling market, Goodhand briefly hung it up around 2005 to focus on law school. By the mid-aughts, Atlanta’s dance music scene had degraded into what he describes as “events that had terrible sound, one RadioShack light in the corner, long lines, and a $30 cover.”

Inspired to provide a better club experience, and charged by new energy from his business partner and wife, Madeleine, Goodhand revived Iris in 2011. By then, EDM had become a household name. Iris’ weekly event, ESP101 Learn to Believe, settled in at Rush Lounge and developed a large and devoted fan base.

In recent years, EDM’s exponential growth has raised questions: Is all of this interest just a bubble that’s waiting to burst? Will competition drive ticket prices to unreasonable heights? How does a promoter turn a profit when hiring three circus troupes? “It’s been a challenge, but the fulfillment that we get seeing all the smiling faces has literally brought tears of joy to our faces,” Madeleine says.

No one knows what the future holds, but Goodhand remains optimistic. “If there’s a bubble, it’s only going to evolve,” he says.

For now, Atlanta’s EDM battlefield has enough room for Goodhand to curate a vision of EDM that transforms the vague genre into an interactive wonderland of electronic bliss.