On @LondonMusicHall and the #deadmau5 turning point

In October, 2010, many of the journalism students I teach at Western University were beside themselves with excitement. They were looking forward to a concert in downtown London by an artist whose name crashed my spell checker: deadmau5.

 In one of my classes, students write a review of some kind – movie, book, restaurant or whatever interests them. That year, roughly half wrote about the concert. So I read numerous accounts of the performance and eventually came to understand a few basic facts.

Deadmau5 live at iTunes festival London Roundhouse, Camden, 2012. 

For starters, deadmau5 is pronounced ‘Dead Mouse’. That is something closer to common knowledge today, after Mr. Maus appeared on the Grammys in 2012 among other high-profile venues. I also discovered what exactly he does on stage that excites so many fans. He’s a DJ and one of the pioneers of progressive house music, aka electronic dance music.

Like another music pioneer also named Zimmerman a couple of generations earlier, Niagara Falls native Joel Zimmerman chose a catchier name with which to launch his career.

Early in 2010, London promoter Derek Hsiung started talking to London Music Hall owner Mike Manuel about bringing deadmau5 to London and staging an event unlike anything the city had ever seen. “They had been doing this in Europe for years, but it hadn’t been done here,” Hsiung recalls.

I talked to Hsiung when I was writing about Manuel and the Music Hall for this month’s Business London magazine cover story.

London Music Hall has become one of the country’s best and most popular live music venues, gaining the respect and admiration of artists, agents and promoters across Canada. It will host 275 events this year, entertaining about 200,000 people in the process. A renovation last fall transformed an already popular venue into something worthy of its recent nomination for Top Club Venue at the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards in Toronto.

Four years ago, Manuel and Hsiung envisioned a huge downtown tent party, headlined by deadmau5. As Hsiung says in this month’s story, “It was crazy. Half the people buying tickets for $40 or $50 had no idea what they were buying.” They sold 6,000 tickets and threw a party that impressed not just the crowd under the tent that night, but plenty of influential people in the Canadian music scene.

Reading student accounts of the concert, I quickly realized how popular and innovative deadmau5 was and is. What I didn’t understand was how the event had burnished the reputation of the London Music Hall, putting it in the big leagues from that day forward. As Manuel says, it took years to build a reputation for excellence among agents and promoters. “They need more than just the space. They need perfection. They’re booking 500-1,000 shows a year and don’t have time for mistakes.”

The deadmau5 show was the biggest and best demonstration of the Music Hall’s ability to achieve perfection. Of course, it also raised expectations, something Manual and Hsiung realized immediately.

“We looked at each other that night and asked, ‘What now?’ What would people expect after that,” Hsiung recalls. What followed was an ongoing collaboration that stages an annual Block Party the first week of September and an annual Tent Party that coincides with Western’s Homecoming weekend, both of which continue to be popular among students at Western and Fanshawe College.

The original deadmau5 concert demonstrates precisely how and why the London Music Hall has achieved everything it has in the last nine years. From the beginning, when he opened the smaller venue Rum Runners next to his laser tag business, Mike Manuel has dreamed big and remained steadfastly focused on achieving those dreams. When Rum Runners was sitting empty for weeks at a time, he resisted the temptation to simply open up as a night club. “We were a venue, booking events. We stayed true to that philosophy, even when we were empty for a whole weekend.”

When he converted the larger laser tag operation into the London Music Hall, continuing Rum Runners alongside, he ran the operation with a level of professionalism that impressed everyone he dealt with. Word started to spread throughout the music community: This was a venue worth playing. Last year, Manuel spent about $1-million to renovate the venue into something rather spectacular. Check out Steve Martin’s excellent photos in Business London to see for yourself.

Or get down to the venue itself. It’s the heart of London’s music scene, and less of a secret every day.