Leveling The Playing Field With Jennifer Marr
InterviewsWritten by Geoffrey Carter on
When I think of a true pioneer in event production, Jennifer Marr is the first name to come to mind. Her inaugural female-forward music festival, '808s & Heartbreaks' is a three-day adventure taking place in the Mojave Desert from August 6th through 8th. Headlining the fest are heavy hitters from bass to footwork such as Huxley Anne, Anna Morgan, and A Hundred Drums and alongside them is a slew of local talent that is not to be missed. I sat down with the legend herself to talk about her experiences, and her quest to level the playing field for all in the music industry.
Hi Jennifer! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me about your inaugural festival. Tell me a bit about your background and how you got into event production/promotion.
Of course, it’s a pleasure to share with my community! My entire life has actually revolved around music and party culture I grew up in Shanghai during the real wild west days of underage club kid culture, and when I came here to go to USC, I developed a one-track sicko obsession with bass music and rave culture. I went through all the baby raver phases - think less kandi kid and more “Sex, Drugs, and Dubstep” light-up shirts. I was also doing the college party circuit, soaking in my 69 seconds of fame as an American frat star. Weirdly, it was by straddling these two worlds that I came to appreciate the importance of event format and audience. I planned my whole life around parties and shows - and I never thought anything of it. I thought that was just par for the course for any basshead and/or college kid in their early 20s.
So what was the turning point that launched you into music industry work?
Everything changed when I went to Harvard for law school. Feeling dissonance with my path to foreign diplomacy, I instead trained in music law and created my own programming of events and panels. My professional life was 360 degrees music business, and my personal life became 360 degrees music events. I couldn’t shake the bass bug! And I didn’t have many bass music homies out there, so I made underground venues my home. I even published an academic paper on bass music and copyright law and threw a party under my first brand “Bass Space” feat. Noer the Boy. Still, I didn’t think of underground bass or event production as more than a hobby or side hustle.
What happened that made you leave that path entirely to pursue event production?
The fatal blow to my corporate legal career was moving back here. I wanted to dive back into bass music, but my OG fest fam had moved on. They were hiking or walking dogs or going to brunch...and I hated it. My flame for music events burned brighter than ever, and I felt a huge community loss. I was miserable and depressed at work, but being back in LA I was thrilled to be exploring new frontiers for myself like the desert party scene and the latest warehouse party productions.
It was a never-ending cycle of highs and lows. My mind, body, and soul screamed that something was wrong. So, I started DJ-ing and launched the Into Dust Gathering desert party with my two partners, Derek Nielsen and DJ Riefler (Forin), thinking that would scratch the itch enough. It didn’t. Then I got a Danley system and produced another desert stage...and, at the time, I was actually representing Insomniac on the recent deal they did to buy those DC venues. I helped oversee it, and it was signed while I was en route to the production. That Insomniac deal was my last test to see if my job could spark joy. And I felt nothing. That emptiness slapped me so hard I quit.
Without a proper event production background, how did you start Heartbreak Productions so quickly, without being scared?
I decided to do whatever it took to make event production my life. I bought my Voids, launched Heartbreak Productions, and went full force into the scene. Anything I could grab - working door, spreadsheeting, artist relations box office - I did. And when COVID hit only months after our inception, I pivoted to a live stream studio concept and focused on doing freelance remote work for music companies, hoping to get a leg in somewhere.
So to bring it back to your original question - how did I come to run an event production company? The answer is, I’ve been training my whole life for it. I truly believe that I was put on this planet in order to help build a high-quality, high ethical underground electronic and bass music culture. Heartbreak Productions exist for that reason and I refuse to rest until I see the 808s maxims completed.
The process is pretty much always the same: I observe a gap or problem in the scene, I identify it to peers, the peers agree, I assume someone will step up, no one does...so I say fine okay I’ll do it, then bada bing bada boom, somehow I’ve got myself a project. 808s and Heartbreaks Festival is no different.
I want to show the world that you can pull off a bass music event without cutting corners, and hopefully raise the bar across the board. Because this life we live? It’s not fun and games. It’s our hearts and our souls. And we deserve a real shot at making a living off of it. That’s why '808s & Heartbreaks' is fueled by the three 808s maxims I mentioned- pushing forward bass music culture, fostering sound system culture, and supporting a strong female-forward platform for artists.
What do these 808s maxims mean for the Heartbreak Productions team and why do you feel such urgency to draw attention to these issues?
For us, bass music encompasses all music in the low-end frequencies, from our usual suspects like trap and dubstep to constant beats like bassline and footwork. And bass music culture is more than the songs that we listen to - it's the memes that we share, the subwoofers we stick our heads into, and that beautiful combination of nerdy intellectuals mixed with counter-culture attitudes that we know we'll never find anywhere else. It's digging for that fire G Jones Low End Theory mix, and adamance that every room in your first apartment must have a subwoofer.
808s is also an ode to sound system culture. Even though we’re powered by Void, we love all speakers, because sound systems are the closest thing we have to magic. Through great sound systems, we build sonic worlds and start to understand music as a living thing. And to have a thriving underground electronic music scene that is based on selling music performances as a uniquely curated experience and not just 'artist as product,' we need to foster an accessible sound system culture.
And finally - our female-forward ethos is our most nuanced but socially important maxim. If the platforms in your ecosystem are not creating valid opportunities for you, then we’ve got to create them for ourselves. The name of this game is opportunity creation, and we are proud to host a roster with a 70/30 female/male ratio and which includes all female headliners. While this metric is a blunt tool to measure a complex issue and will need to be adjusted over time to be reflective of society's actual representation needs, it is an undeniable truth that there’s stark gender inequality in underground electronic music. If you narrow that down to bass music, the numbers dwindle even further.
As you mentioned just now, I know you’re proud to boast all-female headlining acts for your festival. Do you feel supported in your endeavors to level the playing field?
I am! In fact, all of our main stage acts are female-identifying artists who create low end frequency-driven music. Not gonna lie, this festival planning stuff hasn’t been easy. Budget has been gnarly. Bridges have burned. But when I think about how amazing and unique it’s going to be for this powerful group of women to gather and bask in bass - my heart is full and all doubts fall away. And for the most part, I’ve felt supported in my endeavors.
I mean - diversity issues are tough right? It’s always going to be divisive to an extent, and even if people believe in your mission they may not approve of your execution. I know for sure that there are people, people that I know, who think that looking at gender at all for bookings isn’t right because they’re ‘tired of girls who are bad DJs getting booked just because they’re a girl and that’s cool now.’
But I say screw ‘em. None of my choices have come lightly. It comes from my studies on solutions to gender disparities in developing countries, lectures examining statutes that perpetuate gender inequality, and training in macrolevel music industry norms. I don’t purport to have all the answers, but I know I am doing my best with the tools I have to fix the system.
What are your future plans for '808s & Heartbreaks' festival?
I want to be the Bass Coast Festival of America, and create a home for all the speaker-loving, forward-thinking bass heads out there that don’t have the luxury to cross a border to access community. That means by next year we want to double in size and begin our rise to the level of the giants that have carved the path before us, like Desert Hearts and Lightning in a Bottle. In particular, as we grow, I want to make unique educational programming focused on music industry career tips and production workshops at the forefront of our event. It would be an extension of my Back2Bassics artist retreat that I host every Spring and Fall. So many festivals only focus on healthy lifestyle and environmental topics, but I want to have everyone walk away dressed for success for a career in underground music and entrepreneurship.
Thank you so much for chatting with me! I’ll be sure to catch up with you later after the festival to see how things are going.
For tickets and further information check out www.808sandhbfest.com
To get a glimpse of what Jennifer and '808 and Heartbreaks' are all about musically you might dive into this mix.