While Pasquale Rotella was building his Insomniac empire during the ’90s in LA, two young impresarios 3,000 miles away in Washington, DC created what has now become an institution in east coast nightlife culture. Their names are Antonis Karagounis and Pete Kalamoutsos, and the institution they created is called GLOW–a party that’s dominated the DC nightlife scene for almost two decades.
As just one of the many projects under the umbrella of their marketing company Panorama Productions, the name GLOW resonates over a large radius, regularly drawing attendees from as far north as New York to as far south as Florida. Thousands of party-goers flock to experience GLOW at its 3,000-capacity home Echostage–an aircraft hangar-sized concert venue with cutting-edge visuals and best-in-class audio production. Every week, ardent fans pack into the belly of Echostage to see A-list DJs unleash bleeding-edge music while immersed in the incandescence of the venue’s huge LED panels and colorful light displays.
Much of GLOW’s programming mirrors that of a top-tier festival or posh Las Vegas nightclub, with acts like Armin van Buuren, Tiësto, and Hardwell making regular visits every year. However, GLOW’s flexible format has produced some very unique shows like the unprecedented New World Punx seven-hour DJ set.
GLOW’s musical offering is not consigned to A-listers exclusively–the promotion also has a much smaller scale Thursday night party where burgeoning acts take to the decks in front of a typically sold-out, albeit smaller venue. While the Thursday night party doesn’t have the same level of production as the weekend party at Echostage, the intimate venue creates a vibe all its own.
Antonis and Pete took some time for a Q&A with LessThan3 to discuss how they started, the growth of EDM and EDM promotions over the last two decades, and what’s next for the two entertainment barons.
LessThan3: How did you two meet?
Antonis: University of Maryland, College Park in, I wanna say… 1994.
Pete: We met our freshman year in the Stamp Student Union at UM.
LessThan3: What was the idea behind Panorama and GLOW–did you envision this before it happened?
Antonis: No, actually I was a promoter doing events in college and Pete was DJing at most of the events before dance music was even called EDM–it was called Euro music mixed with a little hip hop. But no, we never thought we’d do an event like GLOW–you don’t think about these things when you’re 20 years old.
Pete: We were just college guys that liked to go out. I was a music nerd. I had started DJing with vinyl at the age of 16. I just wanted to spin all the time. When I met Antonis we would go out and think “we can do this better.” His focus was always promoting (back when it wasn’t just inviting people on Facebook!) and I was into the music. We were on the same page so it worked well. I was lucky to have a promoter/partner that believed in my music and he was lucky that I had a sound that catered to the crowd. That dynamic is hard to find today because DJs have a shelf life. Back then we were “building” a sound.
LessThan3: You guys have always been into dance music?
Yes, my influences were from European dance music–stuff like Corona
, ICE MC
, DJ Bobo
, Ace Of Base
, and local stuff too. And at the time we started, you couldn’t play all dance music, but the events we were doing in the beginning were playing a lot of that stuff. At some point in the late ’90s, it became harder and harder to play that kind of music because hip hop was on the rise and that’s what everyone wanted to hear. I remember events when people would leave the dancefloor unless the DJ was spinning hip hop.
I would go to Greece every summer with my parents and I would hear dance music on the radio; I fell in love with it. In DC, I would listen to the Saturday night mix shows on the radio and would try to copy it in my basement. My biggest influences vary from Doug Lazy
to Armand van Helden
and David Morales
LessThan3: What first got you involved in nightlife promotions?
Antonis: The music–and I liked being in nightclubs! You never really envision that it will become a career or that you’d ever own a nightclub, but that’s how it starts, and little by little you become addicted.
Pete: The music for me as well. I loved going out and listening to and playing music that you would only hear in a club and not on the radio.
LessThan3: What was the landscape of the DC nightlife scene when you first started?
For the college crowd, everyone liked pop, rock, hip hop and at the time, so you couldn’t have a successful event unless you had multiple floors with different music on each floor. There was no big DJ–the only big DJ we brought back then was DJ Skribble
from MTV, and that was a sold out night with lines around the corner.
Pete: DC was very international. You would have Greek Nights, or Brazilian Nights, as well as other types of parties. Our parties had me spinning “house” in the main room, and we always had a “International Room” that Antonis started to play in. He was a DJ too!
LessThan3: What other big parties were going when you started?
There was Buzz at Nation
nightclub and Traxx nightclub had house music and huge gay parties. Also, M3 had a successful promotion who eventually opened Five nightclub.
Pete: Buzz was legendary. They were one of the first people to bring international DJs into the US. Oakenfold, Cox, Sasha, Digweed, Moby… amazing.
LessThan3: How did you see GLOW fitting in among the other big parties happening back then?
Antonis: People didn’t really know many DJs at the time–maybe just the big guys like Carl Cox, Paul van Dyk, and Bad Boy Bill. But the current wave of popular or “commercial” Dutch and Swedish DJs didn’t come until much later, so we went the other route and brought these up-and-coming European guys like Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Ferry Corsten, and Cosmic Gate. When we brought Cosmic Gate for the first time, nobody even knew who they were.
Pete: Our goal was to bring the underground sound to the mainstream. That’s what made us different.
LessThan3: How was the GLOW party in the beginning? Big crowds? Venue?
The venue that we chose for the original GLOW party happened by accident. At the time we were doing an international party with a little bit of European dance music and hip hop, but the club where we were doing the party, Spy Club, closed down. We had to move to a club close by called Zei Club. After being there for a little over a year, the party went from 1,200 people to about 700 people, so we decided to reformat the programming. At the time, I had read an article that talked about the rise of the glowstick culture in Europe and the US, and I thought that maybe this was the direction we should go. Meanwhile, I had some friends that went down to Shadow Lounge in Miami where George Acosta
had a residency and brought a cassette tape back; I listened to it and thought it was cool. Pete had already been playing similar dance music but maybe a little more on the commercial side, so we decided we would move away from international music and hip hop and more into trance and progressive house and start a new party called GLOW. It wasn’t only about the music–we had thousands of glowsticks, balloon drops, confetti machines, streamers, and we opened at midnight. It didn’t take long for the party to grow, so we started staying open later and later–I can remember opening the door at the end of the night and the sun was shining. In 1999, we started bringing in guest DJs. One of the first big DJs we brought in was George Acosta. Then we started booking Cedric Gervais who was a resident here in DC, but not many people know that. Cedric’s booking agent at the time was a part of Unknown World Management, who represented a lot of artists like Cosmic Gate, DJ Tala, and a little-known DJ at the time named Tiësto. We started booking these guys; the first night we booked Tiësto, it was with ATB and Edgar V, and it was packed! Not many people knew who Tiësto was at the time and it wasn’t like anybody would look him up on the Internet back then–people just weren’t doing that at the time. You had to educate the people, usually through flyers. We’d put palm trees on the flyers when we would bring in DJs from Miami and so on. We were just trying to get people to feel the vibe of the party even if they knew nothing about the DJ. Little by little, people started getting addicted to the sound, so we started bringing more and more trance DJs like Ferry Corsten and Armin van Buuren–who we actually had play the very first weekend he ever came to play in the US. After this, a lot of the Dutch guys started getting popular, so we started bringing them in to play.
Pete: GLOW was what you want to be. It was a “party.” Was always busy, because people came for the party, vibe, environment. You don’t ever want to fall into the trap of “oh, it’s a big DJ, we will be packed tonight” or “oh man, we have a small guy, we will be dead tonight.” The DJ should never make or break your party, just add to it.
LessThan3: At what point did you realize that GLOW was going to make it and eventually become a successful promotions company?
Antonis: We weren’t really thinking about those kinds of things–we knew we liked the sound we had, we knew people liked the sound we had because they were having a good time, and we knew a successful party was going to be difficult to maintain because DC didn’t have any popular venues like Space or Shadow Lounge and only a handful of guys could pull significant numbers. GLOW survived not because of the party itself, but because we were successful as a promotion company outside of GLOW. Although GLOW could do 2,000 or 3,000 people for specific DJs, that would only be one, maybe two times every few months. You obviously can’t book Tiësto every week, and there was a limited number of big guys that could pull crowds like that. There were some great DJs out there, but they didn’t have the name recognition because information was limited–buying dance music CDs was one of the only ways to get access to certain DJ’s music. That was the biggest issue and by far the toughest time for GLOW. However, things started to pick up around 2006 when Facebook and YouTube started getting popular. All of a sudden we could put video links in emails and people could hear up-to-the-minute music from DJs and get access to much more information for upcoming shows.
Pete: You have ups and downs, but I knew when we did Tiësto at DC Armory that dance music was taking a turn up in America. 9,000 people in DC for a single DJ was unheard of. It was such a magical experience. It was our motivation to build Echostage.
LessThan3: Around 2006, when the popularity of dance music started to simmer, was this the most challenging time for GLOW and your company at large?
Antonis: For Panorama it wasn’t a hard time because we were doing Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday events. Everybody knew about Saturday’s GLOW party, but we’d do 3,000 people on a Thursday night at Love nightclub. We didn’t bring in many DJs to Love–maybe Darude once, Armin van Buuren once, but not many more than that. The party at Love wasn’t an EDM-based event either–there were four floors and every kind of crowd came. At the same time we were at the nightclub 1223 on Tuesdays and in 2006 I purchased Lima Lounge and Ultrabar, so we had lots of things going on during that slow period for the music. A lot of parties didn’t survive that time period because people lost interest in the scene. After that, the new wave came in with DJs like deadmau5 and David Guetta, and suddenly the music started to become more mainstream. Then other guys came along like Steve Aoki, Hardwell, Avicii–I remember we brought Avicii in about four years ago to Lima Lounge and he did about 400 people. Six months later, we brought him back to the much larger Fur nightclub and it sold out. That’s how fast the scene started to pick up momentum. Now DJs are brands. Before, we used to book DJs and as promoters we had to define who they were–whether they were trance or techno or whatever. Today, nobody talks about that stuff–the lines are so blurry. There are guys like Dash Berlin, one of the biggest trance acts, who goes on stage and starts dropping electro. Even Armin van Buuren isn’t strictly trance anymore. Everything is blurring as the popularity of the music grows. We had Carnage who dropped every kind of style and it was one of the best sets I’ve ever seen. It’s all about the vibe now–not really the music the DJ plays.
Pete: Our most challenging year was that first year of Echostage. We pretty much didn’t get paid for a year, and all the money we made we put right back into Echostage to help build it as we went. But there are no regrets at all because we knew we had to do this in order to make a “next level” venue.
LessThan3: At what point did you feel like EDM was exploding?
Antonis: To me EDM has been exploding for a while. I listen to it in my car, my kids listen to it, and so on. My kids know Benny Benassi, deadmau5, Tiesto, Armin–and we’re talking about kids that are eight, nine years old. This is the way it’s been for the past few years. The kids that got into the music a few years ago at 14 or 15 years old are now 18 or 19 years old and can come out to shows.
Pete: I think as soon as David Guetta produced the Black Eyed Peas it changed everything. Mainstream music had embraced dance music and the DJ/producer culture.
LessThan3: How have things changed for you as a promoter now that EDM has become so popular? How have your costs of doing business affected your revenue?
Antonis: I don’t think the explosion in popularity has caused the costs to go up how one might think. It’s just that some markets can afford to pay a lot more than other markets, which isn’t anything new. For instance, everyone is talking about what Vegas has been doing lately with all of the EDM artists they bring in. Five or six years ago Vegas struggled during the recession, and then they realized having Tiësto down there to spin brings more people to the hotel, increases revenues in the casino, sells more tables at the nightclub, more alcohol, and makes more money at the door. What you can make as a nightclub owner has changed because you have to compete with venues that can make money out of people in two or three different ways and cover their costs more effectively.
Pete: Now EDM has taken a rock model in terms of structuring shows. Back in the day you got on the phone with an agent and agreed on a flat fee. Now they want to see offer sheets, ticket scaling, and marketing plans. It’s a lot more work, but the structure is what we needed. For example, an agent is asking for a certain fee. You can argue the case for a lower fee by showing what your expenses are and how that effects ticket costs to the consumer. It’s a two way street that helps balance things out for everyone. At the end of the day, we want to make a profit, the DJ wants to get paid, and we want the customer to be able to come to a show and sell it out.
LessThan3: As one of the oldest and most successful EDM promoters in the US, do you feel like the market is reaching a saturation point with regard to the amount of EDM events and festivals currently offered in the marketplace?
There is pretty much a festival every weekend in the US. There is a demand, but I don’t personally think it’s sustainable. At some point, some of these festivals will have to go out of business. There are a handful of good ones that have been around for a while and they’re getting bigger and better every year. However, there are a lot of new festivals that just aren’t done professionally. There are a lot of investors that think it’s an easy way of making money, a lot of people that don’t understand the business, and a lot of venues that aren’t made for this kind of thing. It’s definitely not hurting the scene right now, especially the all-ages events. We did a large, all-ages event on a Thursday when there was no school called Thank You Festival
and there were lots of kids there.
LessThan3: With so many festivals popping up, it’s surprising that you haven’t started a festival series of your own seeing that most of the east coast has at some point been to a GLOW show. Any plans?
Antonis: We’ve done some shows with Live Nation, we did the Thank You Festival, Moonrise Festival in Baltimore, and a few one-offs at the DC Armory, but we don’t feel like any of these concepts can go national. Another problem is we have relationships with many other promoters in different markets and we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Here locally, Moonrise may be something we continue to participate with. Regarding a GLOW festival–we’ve talked about it and it’s possible we will do that, maybe even as early as this year. We see the need and we see what people like, but we created Echostage because we feel like a festival can’t offer the same things that music fans like. People go to a festival for the festival environment not necessarily because they want to see their favorite DJ. Most times festival sets are limited to one hour or two because of the nature of the event. At Echostage, fans can see their favorite DJs spin up to four hours on some nights. For instance, fans can come to Echostage and see Ferry Corsten and Markus Schulz spin back to back from open to close, which doesn’t happen at a festival. People forget that this music originated from an underground nightclub culture–from warehouses and raves, something that festivals don’t capture.
Pete: We choose to do a mini festival every week at Echostage.
LessThan3: If you aren’t at a GLOW show or any of your other venues, what are you usually doing?
Antonis: If I’m not at one of my venues, I might go to a house party–at someone’s house, not house music! Have dinner with friends, relax at home with my wife and kids, watch a movie, or vacationing. After all these years you just don’t want to go to a nightclub with your spare time–even when vacationing.
I love going to Washington Capitals hockey games or sitting at home with my dog Zeus (@ZeusGlowDC
LessThan3: If there was one thing you could do over, what would it be?
Antonis: To be honest, there are no regrets–everything happens for a reason. When we were at Fur nightclub, there was one point we talked about changing the format of GLOW when we didn’t have a big DJ because it was tough to pull people, but we always fought for each event until the time we opened the doors because we didn’t want to disappoint the loyal fans. I’ve always believed that a promoter is only as good as their last event and we want our fans to have a good experience every time. When fans come to a show and it’s empty, it’s not a good experience.
Pete: I only regret that I quit DJing years ago! I should have stuck it out… these guys are getting paid!
LessThan3: What’s your most memorable moment since starting?
Antonis: I would have to say the first show that we did with Tiësto at Love nightclub outdoors–we had almost 8,000 people. We used Love for the amenities like bathrooms and whatever, then we had bars outside and the stage was on the other side of the street. Another was the first night we opened Echostage. It was a hip hop venue before, but standing in the front where people got to see what it had turned into was another moment I remember.
Pete: For me it was our Tiësto show at the DC Armory. Sitting up in the rafters and looking down on 9,000 people was amazing. All the work it took for us to put together the production, coordinate with the venue, and to have it be with an artist that has been a friend and supported us since day one made it even better.
LessThan3: At this point, you’ve worked with a lot of people in the industry, including just about every North American booking agency. So if you were an artist, what agent would you want to represent you?
Antonis: I would definitely say Paul Morris (AM Only) even though I don’t have as much communication on that side of things as Pete. Pete will probably have to play politics and say everybody!
Pete: Ari Gold is who I want to represent me!
LessThan3: What’s your favorite venue outside of DC?
Antonis: I haven’t been to a lot of venues, but probably Webster Hall in NYC and the original Space in Miami. Also Shadow Lounge or Shadow Room in Miami–can’t remember what it was called, but it doesn’t exist anymore anyway.
Pete: Pacha in Ibiza, Cavo Paradiso in Mykonos, Hakkassan, Marquee, LIV… they are all unique and great.
LessThan3: What does the future hold for GLOW and Panorama?
Antonis: Who knows? Right now we’re in the process of finding another space to host smaller-sized artists because our current venue Ultrabar wasn’t designed as an EDM venue–it was just a venue where we decided to do GLOW. We’re not looking for a concert venue necessarily, but maybe a nightclub that can accommodate 600 people or so. This would be for GLOW. For Panorama, we’re looking at maybe another restaurant or restaurant chain–as an entrepreneur, we’re always looking for new concepts.
Follow Antonis Karagounis: Twitter / Instagram
Follow Pete Kalamoutsos: Twitter
Follow GLOW: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram