- Randy Jimenez
For the owners of the event group Blaq Void—Brandon Gebo, Randy Jimenez and Drue Olsen, plus their Artist Relations partner Malynn Nelson—this past pandemic year was more of a pivotal year than a pitfall. Though it's been a barren year events-wise, the dance- and party-focused cadre still put on events like one "Enter the Void" party at Soundwell in October, that besides COVID regulations featured rules like "rage responsibly," "consent consent consent," "plan a safe ride home" and other very heartening advice. Nelson also had a hand in Blaq Void's presence at this summer's Juneteenth march and block party, for which the group helped with sound set ups.
But those were pretty much it in pandemic 2020. "We haven't been doing much since COVID hit, and honestl,y we didn't want to do a lot of live streams, because it's just not the same," Gebo explains.
That's a fair call, considering that Blaq Void specializes in curating live experiences in unique venue spaces, the kinds where bodies crush together and the night creeps toward morning before one ever considers leaving the music. Before such events became impossible, though, Blaq Void was pulling in some money from those events, and the owners' minds turned towards a Blaq Void that could go beyond sporadic concerts and parties.
"We wanted to dive into artist management and relations, becoming a record label and releasing music," Gebo says. "We really want to focus on building the music side of it, the community."
Part of what makes their interest in creating a community-minded label unique comes from their unorthodox approach to putting on events. Blaq Void resists the woeful modern tradition of hyping up a big touring act, only for the local or small-time opener to get snubbed by showgoers arriving purposefully late for the headliner; instead, they use mystery to build hype and a sense of trust between Blaq Void and their followers. "We don't ever release who's playing on a lineup—just to like, spice up the events," says Olsen.
"A lot of people said it would never work," Gebo adds, "but we've doubled down on it and we've pretty much never announced any artists. We're selling out events and people don't even know who's playing. We were starting to really build lines, so it [was] incentivizing our crowd to get there early to see the local artists we put on, who are amazing."
Gebo also notes that sometimes those artists were playing for bigger crowds at Blaq Void events than at shows organized by bigger companies—and, that those crowds were diverse, full of "rave kids, hipsters, rap music kids, metal heads, all conglomerating at our events like they never have before because they don't know what's going to be there." From that soup of strangers, the Blaq Voiders contend, comes creativity, idea exchange, people meeting people they wouldn't otherwise—and that that is the spirit of what they want to do as they expand Blaq Void into a collaborative label.
"We've got friends that are in bands that have really good music, indie rock bands. So we're trying to expand our horizons in releasing music as well as incorporating them into live performances as well. We want to keep the people guessing, we don't want to pigeonhole ourselves," explains Olsen.
Jimenez adds, "On the record label side of things ... we really are here to help produce more content for the artist and help them do it in a more independent path that's very different from how labels are traditionally set up right now." That means shirking the exploitative royalty model that most labels use to make their money, and placing an emphasis on helping artists build personal relationships with their fan bases, evolving their identity in accessible ways through online media and content creation.
"The goal of it would have been the same, pandemic or not," says Gebo. The way he tells it, the fact that Blaq Void-qua-label was already a potential project was not only the perfect thing to focus in on with the loss of live events, but—now that it's in motion—will perhaps help bring back some hype around local artists for when stages open. Gebo points out that even though people will obviously already feel very compelled to go to shows after the pandemic, "the hope is that a lot of people start to recognize who these [local artists] are by the time things do open up—through us and the content we're releasing."
One of the first artists they've collaborated with are the SLC-based duo Eternal in the dropping of their single "No Expectations,"and they've also helped put out a single by Olsen himself, "Same City," which dropped Jan. 6. It's all one step closer to Blaq Void's goal to be a local-focused "powerhouse."
"We think Salt Lake City needs that," Gebo says, "We think it's always needed that and it's been kind of a void here, which is why we created what we did. We really want to try to build a community, a music hub in Salt Lake City. People are moving here from out of state, they're looking for that and where is it?"
Here's to hoping that in 2021, Blaq Void answers that question. Keep up with their label developments on Instagram @blaqvoid or at facebook.com/blaqvoid.