Jeff Leclair: Going from a Fan to “The Man”

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If you are part of the electronic dance scene in New England, you most likely know Jeff Leclair. Maybe not on a personal level, but you’ve probably danced to one of his DJ sets, or gazed at a flyer he designed, or attended a show he put on. If you still don’t know him, we put Jeff through a question and answer session so everyone can get to know this DJ/promoter kingpin as reflects on the past and looks toward the future.

1) Describe your evolution from partygoer to major player.

I started going out around 1996. At the time, I had very limited knowledge of the music and where to go. I would go by Club Hell on random nights and went to a couple afterhours at East Providence Lanes. The first big event I went to was Whistle 3 in New Jersey, and then I started regularly attending Energy at the Living Room and Twist at Bootlegger’s, both run by Volume Productions. I was in college at the time, taking courses in graphic design and web development. I was trying to develop a music and media website, so I approached Volume Production’s DJ Dirty Ol Frank and began redesigning their website. Soon after, I was given the promotions director’s job, flyering cars downtown for Volume as well as a dozen other clubs. With the money I made, I was able to throw my own events and book headline DJs, which led to the weekly Plastic on Thursdays at Kamp, and eventually the Therapy events. I think what helped me progress further was working with so many clubs. I was able to meet a lot of DJs, promoters, venue owners, staff, etc. It allowed me to see it from different angles. Over that time, I was given the job of running Volume events and then Therapy.

2) People see you posting shows online or handing out flyers and think, “Throwing events is easy.” What is it that people don’t see?

You need to have the right location, right time, and right performers, all for the right price. There is very rarely a “book it and they will come” event. I take a lot of time to book appropriate talent for an event — artists who will fit the theme we’re doing and will appeal to the crowd we’re looking to attract that particular night. Aside from bookings, there’s the foundation of having the right equipment, sound, and lights. You have to have the right setup for all the artists you have in, and a lot of the time it’s a contractual obligation to do so. There’s a huge financial risk involved, which a lot of people just never seem to understand, like it’s not real money. There’s a danger of potentially losing a lot of money, and most of the time with my events, it’s my own personal money that I’m risking. A lot of times the risk does outweigh the reward in strictly financial terms, but in the long run, with reputation, and the perception of the event in general, the payoff comes in other ways. There’s a lot of different ways to be involved in throwing events, but I like to be involved with most aspects. It’s a little more stressful and time consuming, but in doing it that way for so long I feel like I’ve learned a lot more about all the elements involved.

3) What’s the whole Therapy story? How did you get involved with the club, what did you do there, and what happened at the end?

I got started at Therapy just passing out flyers for the events that were there. After doing that for a while I inquired about doing an event and threw RELEASE in June 2004. It was successful in getting a different audience to the club, but didn’t quite make the grade financially. I continued to do shows there for a couple of years, and gradually became more involved with the operation of the club, though I wasn’t a named part of the staff. I brought needed equipment, did decorations, setup and breakdown, and continued to do promotions (for the club in general in addition to my own events). I took some time off in 07-08 to reevaluate my role there, as I was growing frustrated with being (as I felt at the time) a freelance consultant and equipment provider. After some discussion and negotiation, I was given the management position and it progressed from there. In my opinion, Therapy had become stale over the past years, and anyone coming in seemed to just inherit the past opinions and judgments of the former attendees. What changed the club were the promoters and DJs who came in. There were a lot of audiences even within the electronic scene that the club wasn’t tapping into and DJs who wanted to play there. My goal was to involve as many interested and excited promoters and DJs that I could. Over time, more and more became aware and it grew to what it became through the end.

The way Therapy closed was a horrible way to go out. Everyone seems to think it is a big secret or there’s a hidden reason even though I’ve explained it publicly a countless number of times. Therapy was on a 10-year percentage lease. The lease payments increased every year for 10 years, and they were based on the amount coming into the business. If it didn’t close in 2011, a new lease would’ve had to have been negotiated. However, the lease holder (Therapy owner) and the landlord did not see eye to eye and the doors were locked abruptly. It wasn’t an easy time for anyone and I had to hire a lawyer to get my own personal equipment back. The ‘Therapy’ reopening posts that came soon after were the result of others trying to take advantage of the reputation and capitalize on it. It was the landlord seemingly coming into an agreement with ‘new’ owners and promoters and trying to push it through as quickly as possible. It wasn’t us, it wasn’t Therapy. They were unable to do so, as the business and the licenses didn’t roll over with the venue as they predicted or hoped. A lot of people, both involved and just fans, were hurt by that whole process as well, not knowing that it wasn’t as legitimate as they were told. Regardless, at this point we are looking forward to opening .:therapy in Miami just in time for WMC in March, and I’m also involved with Afterlife in New Haven.

4) Describe your new club Afterlife in New Haven and your vision for the spot.

Afterlife is a coordinated effort between me and three partners. The location has been an afterhours spot for longer than Therapy had been open, and we’re looking to bring in a new and bigger audience. We’ve done a lot of work in terms of aesthetic and layout, and brought in new sound and lights. The outlook for the venue is similar to Therapy; we’d like to involve different scenes and promoters on a regular basis. We’re also bringing in acts that haven’t ever been to the area or are long overdue for another appearance. Diversity is key as well; we want different genres and different crowds, in addition to a loyal audience. The one thing that’s been the most difficult is that it’s two hours away from where I live, so I can’t really spend as much time getting involved in the local scene as much as I’d like.

5) If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

I would probably still be involved in the entertainment industry in some sense. I’d love to devote some more time to music production and possibly get involved in movies and television.  I would still be doing graphic design, regardless; I’ve been doing that longer than anything else.

6) Describe and predict the future of the EDM scene in New England.

I’ve seen three upswings in popularity since I first got involved with the scene. This is by far the biggest it has ever been. What I foresee happening is a number of things. I think there will be a number of people whose tastes will mature and they’ll develop specific tastes in particular styles. The music will grow overall, but these individual preferences will lead to a number of niches. Fans of EDM will eventually prefer a particular genre and/or a crowd that they like to be a part of. What’s interesting, and positive about the scene today, is that fans are very aware of the producers. In the past they had limited knowledge of CD compilations. Mixes were put out and they knew the tracks and the DJ, but not the names of the artists actually making them. Unfortunately, the negative aspect of this is that there can be a watered down version of the delivery to the audience and the art of the DJ can be lost. Some producers are getting booked and don’t really have a method to play live, with some of the audience not caring how they’re playing their favorite tracks, as long as they hear them. New DJs are coming up seeing this and hence, believing they can do the same thing. This is why you hear a lot of the same music with sets of peak hour big tracks, and why there’s a lot of articles lately dealing with the lost art of the opening DJ and rants about laptop and push button DJs. I have no problem with DJs using whatever method they choose, as long as there’s an actual awareness of what they’re playing, and how/when they’re playing it. And a respect for other DJs and most importantly, the audience in general. The audience that is being exposed to the same regurgitated music and methods will just grow tired of it and move on to something else. For those playing to that type of crowd, there should be a balance of appealing to the audience and exposing them to new things; it’s the only way it will develop. I think that because of these more specifically geared shows, a lot of promoters and venues may back off because they can’t pull the overall numbers that they used to, leaving those who are knowledgeable about those genres to book and promote the shows. There will always be a place for the multi-genre event, but it will also be left to those who are a part of and know the audience they appeal to and are not a distant entity looking to capitalize quickly on what they see as a trend. I also see further separation of the EDM concert and the club and rave scenes. The shows are all so different in feel, but there’s a lot of crossover now. Eventually, that too will dissipate as fans determine what they like most.

 

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