The son of two Lebanese immigrants, Amir Raad was born and raised in a sleepy town in Alaska. Add four years at UC Santa Cruz and some Bay Area flair, and now he’s a talented promoter bringing admired underground acts to the local scene. Growing up his tastes veered more towards conscious hip-hop, guys like Black Star, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. But in college friends introduced him to the sounds of J Dilla, Flying Lotus, and the genre of dubstep. An affair with electronic music and the beat scene began, and Raad started to explore some uniquely Santa Cruz ways of partying.
“Things changed when we went to our first renegade, which is sort of like a forest party. Kind of like an eight-hour festival with eight different DJs which starts at midnight goes ‘til past dawn. We got very inspired from that. In Santa Cruz they have strict noise ordinances, house parties always got shut down. We were really inspired by the renegades to take back what should be public space.”
As he and his crew got into DJing, they threw their first renegade. One turned into three and by that point they were paying for headliners and local DJs to play their events. It was their first exposure to the world of promoting and planning a large scale event. “We took pride in our lineups and tried not to have only us playing—making it a cool event for everyone involved,” says Raad.
He and his group of friends moved to Oakland after graduating and began DJing at the first place that gave them a real break—1192 Folsom, now known as f8. The venue was into them and decided to let them throw their first party. All the experience of organizing renegades for hundreds of people came in handy. On the successful heels of that first f8 show, Raad and close friends combined forces to create the humble beginnings of HGMNY, now growing roots within the Bay Area electronic music scene.
Pronounced “hegemony,” the idea for this name came from academia. Gramsci’s Theory of Cultural Hegemony discusses how the perception of common sense and cultural norms affect people in society. The name HGMNY was born from this theory in the hopes of making their shows the “new norm.” And the name just stuck.
Raad never intended to get into the music business, and is awed by how many variables go into it. “It’s a beast. You could make a reality TV show out of this shit. You’re planning an event for hella long and then something huge pops up the same night as your event. There are so many inner workings, and not to sound elitist or exclusive, but when friends ask me what I do, I say, ‘oh my god so much shit.’ I can’t put my feet up for one second, yet I’m so grateful to be involved with this business.”
HGMNY operates under a simple mission statement: Bring people together, to music we hella love, to enhance our lives. So far, that has meant bringing some massive rising stars to places like the New Parish, 1015 and Public Works. HGMNY has also aligned with SoCal label and collective Soulection crew, whose artist list includes the likes of Sango, Esta, Lakim, Sam Gellaitry, and Joe Kay.
As Raad puts it, “My homie Monique, a creative consultant if you will, told me you gotta listen to Soulection! I said damn, this shit is really fucking tight. And then we booked Joe Kay and Esta for the first time in SF and it turned out to be an amazing show. We only had one week of promoting the show and we had over 200 people show up. That’s when things really started to take off, like when we started to brand ourselves with a more consistent style of music.”
After the first Soulection show, HGMNY was able to book Penthouse Penthouse, a duo that’s part of the Team Supreme collective that includes trap heavyweights like Djemba Djemba and Mr. Carmack. “We booked these artists on the rise and developed relationships with them early on and it paid off. Penthouse Penthouse hooked us up with Mr. Carmack which was insane. Then we booked an entire Team Supreme showcase. We went with what we liked and it was working and it has been working. People like this kind of music; we’re not the only ones in this world.”
Their start as an organization speaks to the difficulties of booking internet phenomes. There has been quite a bit of risk involved in booking many of these shows with artists who have sizeable online followings but less live experience. For Raad, it begs the question of ‘how popular is someone based on the internet?’ The answer? “You don’t really know. It’s like an educated guess. I like their music, I think people would enjoy them, but are people gonna come? That’s one of the realities behind this. I’m a DJ searching on Soundcloud all the time trying to find something you’ve never heard that’s really cool. So I know all these artists that would be amazing but you can’t book them because no one will come, their sounds haven’t trickled down past the inner chambers of Soundcloud.”
This business is still a guessing game half of the time says Raad. “Sometimes you do a show and you love the music and you think it’s gonna do really well and it doesn’t, and that’s the truth of it.” Luckily, the future bass/trap sounds that Raad and his partner at HGMNY, Dylan Macturk, are into are also sounds that resonate here in the Bay Area.
In his spare time, Raad mostly likes to chill. Being around shows all the time makes him a bit numb to the excitement of live music, although it doesn’t diminish it altogether. He cautions, “Sometimes if you want something to be authentic and pure, you should maybe not have it as your main source of income. Maybe keep it on the side and have something else that’s driving you financially, so you don’t compromise something that you want to be authentic. That’s what I’ve learned from this. If you have your passion as your nine to five, you’re not gonna be able to do what you wanna do all the time with it. You’ll have to make some sacrifices.”
As for the rest of 2016, Raad hopes to keep the good music coming and enjoy the successful momentum HGMNY has seen. “Do well, prosper, bring dope new music to the Bay Area, and have people excited. That’s one of the reasons I was always into music: it’s like eating, just a simple joy in life. If I’m having a bad day and I realize I haven’t listened to music all day—I put on a record and my attitude completely changes. I think music is beautiful and we wanna bring that to the Bay Area, keep people excited and open-minded. We wanna bring big acts, as well as the smaller guys for exposure, because we know they deserve it. We’re just trying to make dope ass lineups that are cohesive and people are down for.”
Having found their sound, they threw a wild Halloween rager last year with DJ Dials at 1015 dubbed The Mad Hatters Ball. The lineup featured names like Mr. Carmack, Anderson Paak, Nina Las Vegas and Hayden James. Hgmny has since showcased a number of Soulection artists over the past year. This Friday March 11, they’re set to bring British rapper Little Simz to the New Parish.