Profiling the Promoter
Having booked acts the likes of Combichrist, VNV Nation, and the Reverend Horton Heat (as well as tonight’s Project Pitchfork/Ayria show at the Miramar), local promoter Gary Czaplewski has focused his efforts towards putting Milwaukee on the map as a stop for touring bands.
“In 1999, I got sick of going to Chicago for every single show,” says Czaplewski. “So I sent Metropolis Records (label of bands the likes of Bauhaus, Front 242, KMFDM, Wolfsheim, Frontline Assembly, etc.) an e-mail saying ‘I’m a local promoter and I’d like to book bands.’ The next day, I had 5 offers in my mailbox,” he continues. This was the birth of his promotions company, Elektrotrash.
More work goes into this than you might think. “I had no idea that the venue has a cost, the soundman has a cost, renting gear for the bands has a cost, you have to provide hospitality (which is all the food and booze for the bands backstage, as well as dinner, which is done by either a caterer in or doing a ‘buyout’, which is a certain dollar amount per person times how many people there are) per the hospitality rider, part of the contract.” There’s also a technical rider, which spells out all of the sound and lighting requirements. Czaplewski admits he had a lot to learn in the beginning, including all of the details that go into setting up these deals, such as getting parking meters bagged for the tour bus and van or trailer (for which you must apply at city hall for a permit). “One of my favorite rider requirements was the band that wanted an ice sculpture of the lead singer in the dressing room. I don’t remember who that was, but it was funny as hell,” says Czaplewski.
Promoting the shows is his responsibility, as well. “I call up newspapers, try to get free press, get listed in the upcoming online events sections, and perhaps run an ad (which, by the way, is very expensive).” Sometimes promotional appearances are done, such as VNV Nation when they hung out at Atomic Records (r.i.p.), signed records and talked to customers before their Milwaukee performance for the 2005 release Matter + Form.
In order to ensure that artists are happy and want to return to America’s dairyland, Czaplewski goes out of his way to offer better-than-expected hospitality. “Andy LaPlegua from Combichrist, initially from Icon of Coil, that show was insane because they’d canceled the Chicago show (supporting the album Machines Are Us in 2004) and I’d booked them at Club Anything (where Czaplewski djs, manages, and bartends), and we were at capacity,” he says. “We threw a big barbecue for them before the club opened–we were grilling steaks and had an open bar, and that made them feel good. That was the first time I’d met him and we built a partnership. You build partnerships with these guys because they understand that they need partnerships worldwide to get the shows and to be taken care of. They’ll give back as much as you give them, 9 out of 10 times,” he continues.
EBM (electric body music) band VNV Nation, currently based in Germany (formerly of Ireland and England), is another band with whom Czaplewski has worked hard to maintain good relations with. “When (VNV Nation vocalist) Ronan Harris comes to Milwaukee on a dj tour (many musicians support themselves when not touring with their bands by doing guest dj spots at clubs), he’ll stay here for 3 days on vacation,” says Czaplewski. “We go to Bastille Days, he hangs out, comes to the Club Anything, helps me open, puts out ashtrays, answers the phone, etc. And VNV can draw 700 people at the Rave.” These musicians seem to appreciate him as much as he appreciates them. “They love playing and they stay in touch with you and they come to the afterparties and get drunk and have a great time,” he says.
Benefits of the job? Booking bands that don’t appeal to mainstream audiences definitely is one of those things that you do more for love than for money. “I’ve only made a profit on probably 5 of the 50 shows I’ve booked. But you do it because you love it. Hopefully for profit, you try to do things so that you get enough people down and everything, and we’re getting closer now. It’s unpaid work but people volunteer to help out because they know it’s helping get more shows,” says Czaplewski.
Czaplewski’s credentials include his worldwide work as a dj in cities including Leipzig, Berlin, San Francisco, L.A., and Chicago. Locally, you can listen to him at Club Anything (on 5th and National, under the big purple question mark), where he manages, djs (dj Garz), and bartends on weekends along with his co-conspirators, dj $#&@! (censored) and local musician John Verbos (singer from am. Psych).