For a man who’s just brought two of the world’s biggest DJs to South Africa for each of their first tours of the country, Shaun Duvet of Anything Goes sounds pretty down to earth. In the nearly 90 minutes we spent chatting I never once encountered the type of hyperbole that sometimes lurks beneath successful people’s description of themselves. More than anything, he seems like the kind of guy you’d want to meet up with for a beer when the reality is that, for many South Africans, he’s likely responsible for that beer being something you want to drink. Its appeal to you quite possibly engineered by his “Branded Entertainment Agency” Anything Goes and its knack for developing strategic partnerships between brands and influential artists. In an age where sensational, over-the-top tales of achievement or loss seem to get the most traction on Facebook and Twitter, Duvet’s story stands out not for its unorthodoxy but for exactly how linear and organic his career’s ascent has been. It wasn’t ever easy, but it always seemed to make sense.
It was 1995 in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela was leading South Africa out of the darkness of apartheid and Shaun Duvet had recently bought his first set of turntables. In describing the scenario he notes they were belt-driven and I like him already. For a reason that couldn’t possibly be personal, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for people who came to DJing back in those days and followed that route. His gateway to the scene was House Afrika Records, a store he credits with pioneering house music in Johannesburg and South Africa as whole.
“Falling in love with all that this encompassed: buying records, bringing them home, beat matching two new songs for the first time…as a kid you get lost in this world…you’re playing for four or five hours and you start thinking of all the places it could go.”
As much as it served to further solidify his love of dance music, Club 206 in Jo’burg really was the genesis of his entrepreneurial spirit. After becoming a regular at the venue, he began to run a night that focused on broken beats. In doing so, he started to see the whole business from the inside out. Selecting artists to play his parties, arranging travel, promoting and ultimately executing the events gave him a 360 degree perspective on the industry as a whole. Likening the sound to that championed by artists ranging from Goldie to Krafty Kuts, he was beginning to generate a reputation for diverse musical programming and, in its most nascent stages, Anything Goes was born. It didn’t formally turn into the name of his club nights or company until much later but the path towards it had already been determined. What began as an easy way to describe what to expect from Duvet’s nights ultimately has gone on to describe his sound as a DJ and the overall ethos with which he approaches building partnerships, organizing unique concert experiences, and helping brands move in new directions.
After receiving a degree in marketing, he relocated to London in 2001. As a smaller fish in a bigger pond, the move was a chance to further his understanding of the industry. He was playing loads of gigs and getting to know the scene through new avenues like Flex FM. Regarded by many as one of London’s premiere pirate radio stations, 99.7 served to inform his musical tastes as well as his network of friends and contacts. He started throwing events in the 1-2k attendance range featuring South African DJs he’d fly up to play, tapping into the South African expat pool and educating Londoners on the cool sounds coming out of his country. “Back then we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter so it was all about getting out there and educating people about this stuff, handing out flyers in tube stations and all that.”
In 2003 he decided with some friends to check out Cape Town. He’s got a family there now and his unabashed description of the city’s beauty is a clear indication of why. He once again began to learn the nuances of the local electronic scene but the process was getting quicker with each consecutive city. A residency at Club Caprice allowed Duvet to familiarize himself with playing marathon six-hour sets in a beautiful beachside location. He released a compilation entitled “Café Caprice and the Milk Bar Kid” which showcased his soul, funk and dub roots that also included one of his own productions with guitarist Johnny Fourie. It was during his time there that he’d meet the people he’d need to complete the next step in his evolution, opening his first club.
“It was all a dream, it was all coming together.” It was January 2005 and there were posters all around the city announcing the opening of The Bang Bang Club. But as it turns out, “promoting and owning are two VERY different stories.” An effective promotional strategy can lead to unintended consequences-and opening night those came in the form of the Six Police Officers and the Cape Town City Council. They told Duvet in no uncertain terms that due to outstanding permit issues he’d be arrested if he let anyone into the club.
“It was a heavy, heavy time. Within eight months, no matter what else I’d ever learned in my life in terms of business, that was the biggest schooling…I had to learn to be a damn architect, a lawyer, a sound engineer, a f**king everything-an accountant…”
It sounds like a heavy time, and it’s clear that overcoming this obstacle gave Shaun a taste for adventure. If he could throw his financial resources into the opening of a club and then spend nearly a year pouring more money and time into it without going under what else might he be capable of?
Ultimately the doors did open on The Bang Bang Club and Shaun ran it successfully for over five years. During this period, “Anything Goes” began as the name of a club night and ultimately became the title for a new company he created with a skeleton crew. Moving into an office space with another company called New Vision, the idea was to create a hybrid ad agency. When the shared lease ran out however, Duvet assumed control of the entire space and dove in headfirst to the process of building AG, as a solo entity, into what it is today.
His first alignments with brands were born out of his interest in booking larger acts to come to South Africa. Without the assistance of corporate sponsorships it wasn’t easy to generate the capital necessary to attract top talent. As a club owner, keeping his bar stocked meant he held large contracts with spirits companies, which ultimately gave him some influence when pitching new ideas to them. “They listened to me I guess.” What began as a way for Shaun to bring his favorite acts to the country ended up growing into a win/win business model that simultaneously increased awareness of the sponsor brands while allowing Shaun to orchestrate otherwise impossible concert experiences for fans around the country.
AG grew to become glue that increasingly held Events, Clubs, DJ’s and Sponsors together. Through the process of repeatedly setting up large-scale promotional campaigns, Shaun and his staff became familiar with the top TV and radio stations and media houses around the country. All of his interests, music, promoting, DJing and building a business were all now growing in unison at a breakneck pace. He opened up another bar in Jo’burg and in 2010 capitalized on The World Cup’s arrival with a temporary pop-up bar in Cape Town.
The more he’d work with people in the various industries associated with sponsored concerts, the easier it became to understand what was essential to ensuring the brands benefitted in ways beyond seeing their names on fliers and at the shows. He began to consult with companies looking to broaden their market penetration and started to find strategic partnerships with celebrities and events to support that effort. One of his biggest achievements in branding came when Olmeca Tequila approached him looking for help in breaking in to a younger demographic. His answer was The Olmeca Dimension Tour, which offered concert and club experiences specifically aligned with electronic music. Fans grew to count on high caliber events coupled with forward thinking music that resonated with them. Five years later, Olmeca Dimensions has proven a successful initiative that continues to reap dividends and expand the brand’s footprint in South Africa. Shaun’s talent for branding and DJing is perhaps most clearly evidenced by his residency every Friday night at 11pm on 5FM, South Africa’s largest radio station. The show is sponsored by adidas Originals and is an outlet for Duvet’s relentless desire to find and share new music with his audience.
As success with these and other similar efforts continued, he began to train his gaze on an artist nearly everyone who’s ever heard a kick drum is familiar with, Deadmau5. “Everyone in South Africa was gunning for Deadmau5.” The 31 year-old Toronto-based producer/DJ is truly one of dance music’s heavyweights and subsequently isn’t an easy catch for a promoter of any size. It was a process that took over two years to execute and one that saw him pair AG with H2O, a large one-day music festival at a water park in Johannesburg. He also joined forces with one of his oldest mates who ran Showtime and who’s whose family had been a part of bringing high-profile rock and pop acts to South Africa for decades.
“The hardest part of doing the Deadmau5 shows was securing the gigs, the rest was easy.” If the rest, which included flying in custom equipment for Deadmau5’s performing “CUBE” along with a 15 person crew for his mammoth audio/visual stage set up, breaking it all down after Cape Town on a Thursday night and transporting everything on tractor trailer trucks to Jo’burg for Saturday and reassembling from scratch (with minutes to spare), was easy-then it sheds some light on what a process it was to actually get him to commit to the tour. “That opened the floodgates to people like Avicii.”
“It’s incredible to see it on that level.”
Over the last couple years Shaun has also taken over Camps Bay’s premium night club, St Yves and brought his own concept and programming to the high season of the summer months. Anything Goes manages all the aspects of opening the club from Wednesday-Sunday every week for five months including marketing, sponsorship, bookings and creative direction. Additionally the last five years have seen his “Over The Top Villa” concept parties continue to run in fantastic high-end villa locations in Jo’burg, Durban and Cape Town with an ultra exclusive clientele that consistently become the most talked about events of the year.
With two national tours for A-list electronic artists and countless other tours and events firmly under his belt, Shaun Duvet, as you might have come to expect, is now looking to bigger and better things. He’s interested in developing a festival property for South Africa that he can own. The trick, he says, is finding the best strategy to connect 30-40k people from around the country and get them behind the right idea. With a demonstrated history of success and a position atop a wave of momentum within the various industries he needs to make it happen, it almost sounds too easy. I ask if the initiative is part of a bigger plan to ultimately take something worldwide a la Creamfields or Sensation.
“I’m quite happy in South Africa…Right now I’m comfortable having access to big acts along with the proper infrastructure to make the tours and events a success.”
He’s ambitious but there’s a measured quality to the manner with which he addresses business that is no doubt a result of the fact that they are always undertaken entirely with his own funds. His big moves were never funded by family money or angel investment and this informs a calculated approach to enterprise that’s been a winning strategy for years.
As Anything Goes grooms its own festival experience along with more nationwide DJ tours for A-list artists, his wife is preparing to have their second child and still Shaun Duvet has impressively managed to remain an active and sought after DJ. Pop culture has always suggested the way to a successful DJ career was by moving from the bedroom through the studio and onto the stage. Duvet’s career however, stands as an important reminder that there’s more than one way to make that move, and in the process build a business that’ll allow him to work on either side of the booth for the rest of his life.
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