Back in 2007, the dance music industry was at a low point, possibly its lowest since the turn of the millennium. Vinyl sales were abysmal, the mega-boom of EDM was still a few years off, and issues like drug safety and gender equality were taboo topics, hardly ever discussed. There was a distinct lack of steady organization inside the industry, and the right voices that could signal positive change. But perhaps most importantly, there was little in the way of discussion, and few platforms where industry-wide problems could be talked about in a setting that spurred both sensible solutions and new business ideas for everyone’s benefit.
“[We] were sitting at Miami Winter Music Conference having spent another year, a load of hard-earned money and a lot of time, all having great fun, but”—IMS founding partner Ben Turner says, “I'll be honest—the focus and seriousness of addressing issues facing our industry was not happening. The wealthy were in hotel suits doing deals, the parties were for the DJ’s financial benefit and that special magical exchange of ideas and a common dialogue was a distant memory from the Fontainbleu swimming pool.”
He and partners including Pete Tong and Danny Whittle saw more than just an opportunity, creating the International Music Summit out of sheer necessity. It would take place as an “antidote to Miami” at the start of the Ibiza season, where the industry naturally converged each year, and encourage conversation where there previously was none.
IMS co-founders Ben Turner, Pete Tong, Danny Whittle and Mark Netto speaking at the conference in 2012. Image supplied.
In retrospect, the idea was simple: Get the “best brains in the business” together into a single room and have one discussion at a time. That founding principle still runs through the conference 10 years later, and is part of what makes IMS so dynamic.
“We live in very fractured times, in terms of media consumption,” Turner says. “We're all following different people, watching different networks, seeing things at different times. There's very few common moments, which is why I think festivals are so powerful today. And why a summit like IMS with the singular focus of one room, when you've got 700 or so captive people, can lead to a very powerful and impactful conversation. You can create a mandate for change to do things differently. And I think that's really one of our main contributions.”
The feedback for that first summit—dubbed Back To Business—was “powerful,” Tuner says. And despite the fact that they lost a “lot of money,” there was reason to keep going. IMS grew in size and diversity, becoming a marketplace rife with networking opportunities, while finally tackling some of the many concerns, large and small, that previously went unspoken and unresolved. “They can be as serious as drug deaths or as, kind of, fun as taking to task the DJ Mag Top 100,” Turner says. “They're all things that are on our mind every day, and we've tried to create a platform for those types of conversations.” That platform certainly carries influence, inciting vital conversations amongst professionals across the industry for months after each conference. But as for affecting tangible change within dance music, Turner points to Association For Electronic Music (AFEM) as the driving body.
IMS co-founder Ben Turner. Image Supplied.
Headed by Mark Lawrence and created by Turner with attorney Kurosh Nasseri, the AFEM is not-for-profit trade association born out of IMS that represents the “common interests” of anyone whose business is electronic dance music. Turner says he and Lawrence work closely together on the curation of elements of IMS to make sure the most important and talked about issues of the day get a proper platform—something they also do with the Amsterdam Dance Event and other conferences. “Actually this year at IMS, I'm doing an open talk with all the other conference heads,” Turner says. “We're all going to sit together and talk about what more we can do collectively, because it's become really clear how important these conferences are. If they weren't there, when would everybody be together, and when would conversations of any significance really happen?”
That question has been central to the expansion of IMS over the years, with conferences in China and Los Angeles happening annually since 2014 and 2013 as IMS Asia-Pacific and IMS Engage. ”I think if we all met once a year, not much would get done,” Turner says. Of course, IMS is also about music, and along with helping bring crucial political, monetary and social issues to the fore, Turner thinks some of the greatest successes of IMS have been its ability to reintroduce veteran musicians back into the dance music conversation. Especially now that younger generations make up such a good chunk of IMS delegates, and might otherwise be unaware of the contributions people like Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, George Clinton, Jean Michel Jarre, David Lynch, Chuck D and Quincy Jones have had on modern dance music.
Nile Rodgers with Eats Everything at IMS in 2013. Image supplied.
“We're much more about celebrating the new and pushing the genre forward, but I feel it's incredibly important to respect the past,” Turner says. Those keynotes have been among the conference’s most electric. And anyone who was in the room for the emotion-filled Nile Rodgers conversation in 2012, which lasted an hour longer than scheduled, will likely remember it as Turner does. “It was just magic,” he says.
Unfortunately, it’s not been as easy to weave new, emerging live electronic music into the fold, creating more of a SXSW vibe, something that’s long been on Turner’s wish list. Partly, Turner acknowledges that it’s a problem with Ibiza. Though he remains ambitious in his goal to bring “the hottest new live electronic music acts” to the island. He also admits just how difficult it’s been to wrangle tech leaders to his Ibiza conference. “We had the founder of Instagram at IMS,” he says. “We've never had the founder of Facebook or Snapchat. Getting Silicon Valley to Ibiza is harder than you would believe,” he says. “That's something I'm always trying to work on.”
Whatever its failures or successes over the past decade, Turner’s eye remains steadfastly on what’s next. He’s currently focused on making IMS a year-round service, and says the next big topics of discussion are monetization and technology. Specifically, payment methods, and how the industry deals with sweeping changes in tech that will transform our landscape until it’s “almost unrecognisable in the next 10 years,” he says. “I think it's something you'll see coming to the fore in the future.”
Ultimately though, “we're still challenged by the basics, the big issues,” he says, like drug deaths at Latin American festivals, and clubbers being poisoned. “Issues that people in a record label may feel is not relevant to them,” but have a serious and sustained impact on the reputation and credibility of the culture at large. “We've been trying to push very hard for everybody to understand that this is an ecosystem, and everything connects,” he says. He also feels that for the most part, dance music has yet to see the representation it deserves in documentaries and film, and that much more effort is needed in how the culture presents itself to the world.
“The best people to do it are the people deep within it,” he says, referencing Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton. “[He’s] a man who lived and breathed a certain culture and world, and went to make culture films about it,” he says. “We've never been lucky. Everyone's just so focused on their business and leaving it to people from outside our world to document what we're doing, when actually maybe more of it should come from within.”
The 10th Annual IMS Ibiza takes place from May 24th-26th at the Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza. For more info on how to attend, click here.