Electronic music festival pioneer James “Disco Donnie” Estopinal announces he has re-acquired sole ownership of Disco Donnie Presents (DDP), the namesake company he founded 26 years ago. This historic acquisition concludes an epic eight-year journey through being the first company acquired by SFX, surviving SFX’s subsequent bankruptcy, becoming a part of LiveStyle, and delivering fan refunds in the face of COVID-19 festival cancellations. In the wake of scores of corporate acquisitions by Live Nation, AEG and SFX, Disco Donnie is the only founder wily enough to both sell his company and buy it back to return to independence. Michael Beas, President and Founder of Raver Magazine had an opportunity to catch up with Donnie for an exclusive interview, this is what he shared up for the entire Rave community.
Photo Credit: Kaitlin Parry @Shootpeople
What makes Disco Donnie Events Different from all the others?
“I really don’t like to compare our events to other people’s events. We just try to do our own thing and try to learn, grow, and continually make the experience better. We do want to have the best festival in the city that we are doing it in. So basically we are only competing against ourselves to keep improving year to year.”
When asked how wow important the fan connection is to the events that Disco Donnie puts together, especially as the issues that we are living in come into view Donnie responds, “I take what fans say to us to heart. Granted, sometimes I can’t fix everything in the moment, but, for example, someone has an issue at an event, I don’t mind shooting them an email to try making it right for them.
Usually most things can be resolved or handled if you put yourself in the shoes of the person who might have an issue. The point is, the connection between the fan and us is key to our success. First, I was a raver, then I passed out flyers, I loaded in the sound, I’ve worked the door checking people in, and now I’m the producer. Being able to wear all of those hats has shown me different perspectives and has helped me to understand how to put the fans needs ahead first.”
Family Life and Work Life can be difficult for anyone to manage, how does Disco Donnie manage both family and work life?
He answers, “It is a lot easier now that I live in Puerto Rico. There aren’t a lot of artists coming through here so I’m not out entertaining people every weekend. If I lived in Vegas or some place similar I would probably be divorced by now. That being said I still love to go to the shows, I especially love going to the festivals. Going to shows now is like a vacation for me. Everyone is so nice and brings me drinks and gifts. Then when I get home my wife is yelling at me to take out the trash.”
Lets talk Coronavirus, where do you see all of the going and what message do you want to share with event goers as time goes on?
“In all honesty no one knows what’s going to happen. There’s really no base line that will give you an indication as to when all of this is going to pass. But it will pass and we will all get the opportunity to Rave again together. How it will all play out in the end is anyone’s guess, we will probably start at half capacity, and then we will have to work our way up from there. We need to see how all of the regulations will be in the end and embrace the changes that come forth during, and after so that we can party safe.”
How important was it to you to get the name back from SFX and looking back would you have sold the name to SFX to begin with?
“Definitely, if I had to do it all over again I would completely do it 100 times over. I would have done it differently but in the end it has been a great opportunity over the last eight years to learn and improve how we do things. But, I have been waiting for the chance to buy it back so I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
Disco Donnie Presents (DDP) is an award-winning and recognized leader in electronic dance music event production, founded by veteran promoter James “Disco” Donnie Estopinal. Since the company’s inception in 1994, DDP has sold over 16 million tickets producing over 16hh,000 live events, arena shows, and outdoor festivals in over 100 markets around the world including the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Latin America. Annually, DDP is responsible for organizing and promoting nearly 1,000 club events across the U.S. ranging from Portland, Philadelphia, Houston, Tampa, New Orleans, Dallas, and St. Louis to name only a few; plus major festivals such as The Day After, Ultimate Music Experience, Ubbi Dubbi, Sunset Music Festival, Sun City Music Festival, and Freaky Deaky.
Founder and CEO, James “Disco Donnie” Estopinal, Jr. is considered one of the godfathers of U.S. electronic dance music, evolving over the past 26 years to become one of the top dance music promoters globally. From his early days in the 1990s New Orleans dance scene, Disco Donnie coupled eccentricity with ingenuity to create elaborately themed parties that charmed patrons, garnered an international following, and unwittingly became a catalyst for a national debate over the First Amendment right to expression.
In 1999, Donnie first partnered with Pasquale Rotella, CEO of Insomniac Events. In 2008, the duo merged officially, setting their sights on strategically developing the Insomniac brand throughout the world and making Insomniac a household name. Working together, the pair ushered in events such as EDC Orlando, Dallas, Puerto Rico, New York; Beyond Wonderland Seattle; Nocturnal Wonderland Austin, and co-founded Electric Forest. The partnership also produced hundreds of club shows annually in markets across the U.S.
In 2012, DDP shifted its focus to the genesis and development of SFX Entertainment, as the first company to sign with founder Robert F. X. Sillerman; a media entrepreneur with a vision to invest nearly a billion dollars in electronic dance music to bring the world’s leading promoters under one roof.