Every single person who attended Sub.mission’s eighth birthday party featuring Dark Tantrums, Vivek, and Truth on Friday night understands intimately what it means to be moved by the raw power of sound radiating from a banging system. “Moving people through sound, not hype” is more than just a motto to the Denver-based production company: it’s an ideology. For the collective that pushes underground dubstep sounds with relentless dedication, the motto is also the .mission.
Nicole Cacciavillano created Sub.mission in 2007 for one simple reason: dubstep. As year nine begins (with a bang, for the record – Kahn headlines April’s final Electronic Tuesday; Youngsta will play on May 9th), the same original vision remains at the heart and soul of Sub.mission. Much has changed since the company’s inception, but the passion behind it perseveres. Through Sub.misison, Nicole carved a safe place for underground sounds to survive and thrive at the foundation of Denver’s now-booming bass scene; with eight years under her belt, she won’t compromise it for anything.
In today’s cutthroat, profit driven music industry, Sub.mission is an anomaly. Denver is spoiled silly when it comes to bass music, and Nicole is the woman at the roots of it all. As year eight came to a close, we sat down for this interview determined to share a piece of the “Sound, not hype” movement with anyone who’s yet to experience it. Read on for a special peek into the unique journey that defines Denver dubstep.
What does the Sub.mission 8 year anniversary mean to you? What are we really celebrating on Friday night?
Sub.mission is a celebration of dubstep. Eight years is a celebration of how long we’ve been making it happen. It’s a celebration of starting something that you’ve watched grow, change, adapt… well, grow and adapt, but not really change. Eight years of passion and love and finding people who care about the sound the way you do. That’s what it’s about.
How has Sub.mission evolved over the past eight years?
When we started, a group of us sat down – me, my boyfriend at the time, my friend Mike who’s now passed away, and his girlfriend Bonnie – we were so gung-ho dubstep. This was in 2006, or maybe even 2005. We were already waist deep at that point. Mike was a DJ and I was basically the number one fan girl of the sound. Sub.mission started with the four of us chipping in every penny we could to throw shows and finding like-minded people who wanted to help us. During the first year we went to every venue possible… usually it only lasted one night. Most venues didn’t want us back because we brought a sound system. I was like, “well we just want to rent the venue and we’re gonna bring in a sound system”, and they weren’t quite ready for that. So that’d last one night, then we’d go somewhere else. We had the opportunity to use the basement of Vinyl, rotating with a drum n’ bass night. That was the first time we had a consistent venue. When Beta opened we took over the lounge, and we immediately started selling out every single event, so they moved us to the main floor on Wednesdays. They didn’t do Wednesday nights– they tried it for us. We brought Distance, and we did Hatcha, but at that time Beta didn’t have soundproofing and the neighbors were like nope, Wednesday nights aren’t happening, and we had to leave.
That’s when we came to Cervantes. That’s the point when things changed. Part of it was finding the right venue – home. Also, at that time dubstep was still so new and fresh, and at every event we met new people who loved it in the same way as us and wanted to help make the events happen. Everyone was in it together, no matter what. I was funding all the shows myself because I was teaching, but everyone was there to chip in. We were all going the same way, and we were so excited about the direction the sound was headed. We felt that needed to do it, and we did it together. Not only in Denver, either: we worked with New York, and Houston and LA, and all the guys internationally. The artists came for much cheaper then compared to what it costs to bring them out now. The goal was simply to push a sound.
2010 hit and things exploded. In Denver, we started selling out 1600 person shows. That escalated to shows at the Filmore, which escalated to this and that, and quickly it escalated to corporations getting involved. They wanted to take the artists who were selling out Cervantes to bigger venues for bigger events. At that time it was sick. My friends were moving on to the next level, you know? But this became a business then. It wasn’t a passion or a hobby that we were involved with together. It was business. Some people went along on their own way, which is amazing – it was all great at the beginning when people still truly cared about music… I was like, wow, I have the opportunity to bring my friends to this next level, they can get paid as professional musicians, and be taken seriously. I also had the opportunity to bring a different sound to each event in order to expose people to sounds that they’d never heard before. That was cool, but the mainstream changed everything. Up until that point people went to shows to hear the music. It wasn’t about being a part of the scene, or whatever people want now. From the artists and promotors down to the fans, it was all about the music. When big business got involved, and the mainstream got involved, music became more of a job for some artists and that attitude trickled down to the crowd… so some things changed. I guess that’s business.
As far as Sub.mission goes, we reached a point where we needed to participate in certain events and with certain companies in order to be able to grow our brand and expose people to new sounds, or let them experience parties that they might not ever think they could enjoy: to appreciate walking into a dark room with a big sound system when they’re so used to lights and spectacles. That’s why at the 5 year I started with that font. I knew it was important to differentiate underground shows from the more mainstream shows and I thought that font might clue people in on what to expect from those experiences. I figured that was a simple way to do that. And we were able to grow a scene. The scene itself has completely changed. The original people who I started this with are replaced by a whole new scene of people. It’s cool, to watch people experience what we did already. It’s just different.
Now, the most important thing to me is that I don’t want to put the Sub.mission name on things we don’t represent. Bottom line. It started to get that way for awhile, but I’m not in this to make money and to have my name slapped on events that I don’t believe in. If Sub.mission’s name is on it, it’s because we approve of what we’re doing. So here we are now, eight years in and I’m back to doing what I did in the first year: only paying to book artists who genuinely represent Sub.mission, and reflect the goal of moving people through sound.
What are some of the biggest accomplishments and challenges that you’ve overcome throughout your years with Sub.mission?
The biggest thing I’ve had to overcome is probably my expectations of other people. This industry is a really difficult place for someone who’s in it because they love something- because they have a passion and a desire. Big business forces you to make business decisions that don’t always seem right. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I can’t set the same expectations for other people as I do for myself. I know the way I feel about dubstep, Sub.mission, and this scene, but I can’t say that that’s the same for everybody else. I have to meet others where they are in order to move forward.
As far as my biggest accomplishment… what first comes to mind is all the things that people tell me all the time: Oh you did Red Rocks, oh you did this event and that one, that but that’s not even it for me. I could give two shits about all that stuff. My biggest accomplishment is that I was able to book Mala for 300 people in the middle of the fucking mountains. My biggest accomplishment will probably happen this November when I can finally book a DJ that I’ve tried to book for eight years. Those types of things are accomplishments for me, and that’s the stuff that makes me want to keep going. There are still challenges out there that I haven’t taken on, and I’m doing ‘em.
On a personal level, when artists that I booked as a promotor ask me to be their agent it’s the most humbling thing – probably the biggest compliment that I could ever receive. They trust me enough, they see what I try to project and many people don’t. The fact that I get to book some of my favorite artists and producers’ tours around the world is amazing.
What motivates you to keep pushing your original .mission through all the changes and difficulties in the music industry and the dubstep scene?
Dubstep! I won’t give up on it. It’s amazing. I don’t believe that all music is to be heard by everyone – I believe that there are certain types of music that you find for yourself. Music is an individual journey for everyone. Dubstep changed my life in more ways than I can even begin to imagine. The community feeling of dubstep from the very beginning is incredible, it’s a family environment, and it fosters a special feeling when you have a group of people who love something the way you do… that feeling is why I want to keep doing it. That’s how it felt for me since the beginning, and now I see that kind of family forming in a whole new group of people. In five years – maybe even less – I might see it in another new group of people. At this point that’s the main motivator.
If you could instantly change one aspect of the music industry/scene/dubstep, what would it be and why? And what would the consequences be?
Skream and Benga saying they don’t want to play dubstep anymore. What would that change? Every fuckin thing that happened after that. Everything. And nothing. But it would change a lot. It would change dubstep.
What sets Sub.mission apart from other promotion/production companies?
We started this. Sub.mission was always about a sound and the feeling we got from that sound. The sound wasn’t available in Denver, so we brought it here. To look at where that sound is now in Denver compared to how it began is something else. We did it, and I think that sets Sub.mission apart. We started this scene from the bottom up, all built around a sound, and we were able to create something so huge that it just… I don’t know, everybody got involved, things are messy sometimes, but we’ve stayed true to our motto the entire time. “Moving people through sound not hype” was the motto before Sub.mission started, and that vision still motivates us now. Not every decision has been the “best” for business: leaving Beta, not doing some of the big shows hurts financially, but I wake up every day happier and happier that when I look at my calendar it’s filled with sick show after sick show after sick show- all artists I want to go see.
What’s in the vision for year 9 and beyond?
Bigger sound systems than Denver has ever seen before. Darker rooms. We have a new spot for Bass Invasion, so that’s looking to be pretty rad this year. Ultimately I want to move people through sound and I need to do that in other places in the country besides Denver. A festival in Hawaii, Sub.mission Chicago, Sub.mission San Francisco: we’re looking to spread the “Sound, not hype” vision across the country while keeping Denver popping.
Infinite thanks to Nicole for everything she’s done for Denver, dubstep, and beyond. For more about Sub.mission, check out the Sub.mission website, Sub.Files blog, SoundCloud, and of course toss ’em one of those invaluable Facebook likes.