Festival All-Star: Plexi PR's Betty KangArticle by: Marcus Dowling|@marcuskdowling
Thu March 26, 2015 | 00:00 AM
The best dance festivals are great because of what Plexi PR’s founder and president Betty Kang refers to as “dance floor moments,” those times when – as the highly respected dance and festival industry publicist says – you “fall in love [with a DJ],” because you “get to experience their music live in a communal experience where you’re dancing with your friends.”
What separates Betty Kang from so many others in her line of work is that at every significant moment in the past 25 years of dance music’s growth in America as a live experience, Kang is always in the right place at the right time.
For native New Yorker Kang, a passionate love of dance music began where it did for so many early 90's club-goers: at Manhattan’s one-time legendary Limelight nightclub . Regarding those days, Kang waxes nostalgic.
“[Limelight] was an overwhelming nightlife experience," she remembers. "It was about more than just the DJ. It was the culture, the music, the dancing and the fabulousness of the club kids.” However, Kang allowed school and the corporate world (where she worked as an IT consultant and computer programmer doing web projects) to take her away from the bright lights and late nights. But, as then-new Manhattan club Twilo began expanding expectations both in music and presentation for dance fans in America in the late 90's and early 2000s, Kang was attracted back to the dance floor, this time forever.
Betty Kang and Claude Von Stroke, photo by Steve Han for ElectricZooFestival.com
“[Twilo] was this amazing club bringing in European DJs and it had become this Friday night pilgrimage with Sasha and Digweed, Paul van Dyk, Carl Cox and Richie Hawtin,” Kang reminisces. “I think it was the dance floor [that was so exciting] then. It was the great equalizer. People from all walks of life, black, white, straight, gay. And it was a weekend release. There was an escape on the dance floor, a way for people to lose themselves in the music. To me, there was a freedom in dancing with your friends that was super-exciting.”
Kang’s move from the corporate world into a full-time nightlife career involved a bittersweet mixture of regularly attending Twilo and the sad, shocking events of September 11, 2001. “I was only writing for a Dutch clubbing website about my adventures in New York City,” Kang says. “I had interned at a PR company [too], but 9/11 made me re-evaluate what I was doing. After 9/11 I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to PR. That was the path I had chosen. I could always fall back on my corporate work, but I wanted to see if I could follow my passion.”
Starting out in her studio apartment, Kang describes herself then as a “one-woman PR machine.” It was that level of determination that amazingly allowed her to reach yet another cultural touchstone for dance in America, Sasha and Digweed’s iconic 2002 “Delta Heavy” tour.
“That was a landmark tour,” Kang says. “Thirty-one cities and the first time that a DJ tour had incorporated lasers and video production on the level of a rock concert tour. It was an early prototype to what you're seeing today, and a precursor to festival main stages with LED screens. It brought Sasha and Digweed into all of these other cities outside of Miami, New York and LA. We were bringing dance music culture into so many other different cities. It was an early moment when I realized ‘this is amazing, and we're doing something really important here.’"
Betty and Dixon at The BPM Festival, photo by Doug Van Sant for TheBPMFestival.com
From 2002 onward, Kang’s rise (as well as America’s cultural evolution from accepting dance as just a club event to being a major festival activity) has been nothing short of meteoric – it's been an amazing mix of hard work and happenstance that has allowed for the incredible to become commonplace. 2005 found Kang assisting with America’s version of Berlin’s Love Parade , with “50,000 people parading down Market Street,” and “30 or 40 floats parked around City Hall as part of a celebration of dance music” in San Francisco. 2007 saw Kang in Detroit for the Movement Festival wherein 75,000 people gathered in Motor City and was “another moment where the massiveness of the movement could be felt.”
By 2009, the explosion of dance in the United States allowed Made Event’s (the producers of Electric Zoo ) desire to bring the dance festival cultures of Miami, Detroit and elsewhere back to New York City to come to fruition. Kang’s Plexi PR still assists with Electric Zoo to this day. Now more than just a “one-woman PR machine,” Plexi was now a major player in the industry headed up by someone who has literally seen it all and wisely “met and supported the right people” who shared the same mindset about pushing EDM into a new era.
Electric Zoo enters its 7th year of operation in 2015, and will likely see 100,000 people in attendance over Labor Day Weekend. The festival also now has global outposts in Mexico and Japan, the notion of once global-to-American EDM now reflecting influence in the opposite direction – likely, in many ways, related to the hard work of Kang (and numerous others, too). Intriguingly, this plays right into Plexi PR’s motto: “Dance local, think global.”
In considering the future, what Kang and company are doing with the Mysteryland at the one-time grounds of Woodstock in upstate New York is significant. A space where dance in America never expected to be 25 years ago, Kang describes Mysteryland as “a spiritual experience.” Continuing, she says, “[y]ou can imagine what it was like 45 years ago. It's a different generation and a different time, but people getting together and dancing to celebrate music, that's not new. That's been around forever.”
When considering 25-plus years aiding and participating in the evolution of America’s attitude towards dance music, Betty Kang is quite optimistic (as she should be) about America’s dance festival future. “When you stand on a main stage and look out, and you see the level of passion and energy, it's mesmerizing. It's a cultural movement for a new generation.”