[Op-Ed] Building a Bolder and More Vibrant House Music Ecosystem, For All

[Op-Ed] Building a Bolder and More Vibrant House Music Ecosystem, For All

Gray Area founder Michael Julian Kovadlo discusses the launch of Debut, a new event series aimed at creating value for the entire dance music community.


No single person or descriptor captures the breadth and beauty of the house music community. For a relatively young genre, born in Chicago some 40-odd years ago, house has permeated many corners of the planet in less than half a century.

House is a feeling. It speaks to the soul. Our community is a vibrant, vast, and wonderfully diverse tapestry woven together under the sonic banner of the genre that we love.

Gray Area’s mission has always been to unite the international house music community, bringing together all its sub-genres and sub-cultures to unify the dance floor. In doing so, creating an authentic, sustainable, and close-knit global house music community means building an ecosystem of value for everyone. From promoters to venues, fans to artists. All from the ground-up.

So, we’ve launched a new venture to help us further that mission.

Brought to you by Gray Area, Debut is a new series that expands upon our commitment to creating an even more exciting and curious community. The concept? Debut will bring established and up-and-coming artists to new cities they have never performed in or headlined. It will help expand their fan base and, in turn, allow fans to discover some of the most unique and energizing artists making a name for themselves worldwide.

Gray Area team at Electric Zoo where they debuted brands like elrow, Awakenings, ANTS, and other international house music brands

Gray Area team at Electric Zoo where they debuted brands like elrow, Awakenings, ANTS, and other international house music brands

Why are we investing our efforts in launching this series? Because we’ve seen the beauty, symbiosis, and immense value created when the house music community comes together and opens itself to collaboration.

Debut, by design, is meant for discovery. It’s a timeless concept. An artist always remembers their first time playing in a new market. And fans often remember the first time they see a new artist live who they’ll eventually come to love.

I’ve been working in the music industry, helping “debut” artists for over 25 years. I still vividly remember the raw energy of the dancefloor for Gabriel & Dresden’s first big show in New York at Club Spirit in 2005. Or, in 2001, when Tiësto placed a DJ booth in the middle of the dancefloor at Exit and took the crowd on a powerful journey, culminating with his remix of Sarah McLachlan’s “Silence.” I was fortunate to be a part of the organizing team for these, and many other shows throughout the years. Besides a long list of artists we’ve introduced to new fans, we were also honored to be trusted debuting the very first proper editions of event brands in the U.S, including our beloved elrow and Awakenings.

I believe that exposing people to new experiences and music is just as exciting and relevant today as it was in the 2000s and 2010s—and it creates value for everyone involved.

First and foremost, Debut is a vessel for artists and venues to take risks and experiment. Artists and their teams sometimes prioritize booking shows at “soft ticket” venues (venues with a natural and consistent audience), only touring to new cities and playing at new venues when there is a guaranteed crowd to fill the show. Debut, backed by the power of the Gray Area network, creates an ecosystem of support that will help catalyze and cross-pollinate creative talent in new cities.

Gray Area team at Awakenings, New York

Gray Area team at Awakenings, New York

Secondly, Debut provides a unique value proposition for “hard ticket” venues that may not have as naturally sticky of a fan base. The more first-time artists a venue can book and sell out, the more its natural fan base will grow—bolstering its reputation, helping sell more tickets, and building a broader and stronger base that helps the venue fill out its event calendar.

This is the intrinsic value of Debut. It’s not a marketing tactic or arbitrary name, it’s core to who we are at Gray Area. I genuinely believe that when you bring new experiences and artists to new cities, it matters. By helping artists find new fans, we are building a bigger house music ecosystem for all.

Though we’re just now formalizing the Debut concept, Gray Area has already been debuting artists in new cities this year, including Miss Monique and Illyus & Barrientos. Over the next three months, we have upcoming Debut shows in New York with incredible artists like SHIMZA, Jaguar, PARTIBOI69, Shermanology, and a tastemaking Dutch label, PIV Records. We plan to collaborate with our friends in other markets to bring Debut to many cities around the world.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a world where everyone “wins.” Venues launch new parties weekly. Promoters fight over ticket sales. DJs jockey for a bigger font size on the flyer. But as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. We must remember what the dance music community has always been about: unity.

When we build a bigger dance floor, everyone wins.

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