He books top talent and supports the local music scene with his company, which celebrates seven years this July.
By Linda Domingo
“It’s become a normal, full-time job,” says Brendan Thomas, founder of promotion company Modern Disco Ambassadors (MDA). Though he’s been booking talent and promoting events for local venues since his early 20s, he decided to strike out on his own in 2008 and start his own company. “It’s more than full time. You have to pace yourself; you can’t go out all the time; you can’t go to every show.” It’s spoken like an old veteran of the industry—which he is—but at the ripe age of 31.
Brendan was fresh out of high school when he took a gig with The Closet, a clothing retailer that had locations throughout Orange County. “I ended up becoming their director of marketing,” he explains. “It was cool at the time, because [The Closet] was heavily involved with music as well. We would host music events at our stores.”
Now, he sits at the helm of a lean but mean staff, booking talent, promoting events and bringing feel-good live music and DJs to the masses of Orange County. “We’re definitely looking to grow,” he says. “But we want to grow organically and that requires us to book bigger artists and move into bigger venues, while still remaining true to our production value and what we want to do as a brand.”
MDA’s client list includes Costa Mesa’s La Cave, Mesa and the Wayfarer, in addition to promoting occasional events at the Observatory in Santa Ana. On top of that, the company books talent for the Newport Beach Film Festival each year and special events for South Coast Plaza. “It’s what I love to do,” he says. “I’m lucky that I was able to start this business, grow it, and get a lot of support from the local community.”
Newport Beach Magazine caught up with Brendan, who’s preparing to celebrate MDA’s seven-year anniversary with an event at La Cave on July 9, when members from the Australian electronic band Cut Copy will DJ (followmda.com).
Newport Beach Magazine: When did you decide you wanted to be involved with music?
BT: I’ve been going to shows as long as I can remember, and I just remember at a very young age being very inspired by everything I saw. The energy at live concerts is a unique experience and I knew I wanted to be involved with it somehow; I just didn’t know where exactly to start or where I’d fit in. I certainly didn’t think I’d be producing my own shows.
How have you seen the OC music scene evolve since your teenage years growing up in the area?
BT: I went to shows when I was in high school, in the days of No Doubt and The Offspring—sort of this post-punk, early sort of pop-rock ’n’ roll stuff. Orange County was on fire. There were a lot of artists coming out of Orange County, and half of the stuff on KROQ was stuff coming out of Orange County, or people who grew up in Orange County originally.
When I did finally turn 21, I could go to places like Detroit Bar or The Galaxy [and OC] had that big surge in indie rock. Everything was indie and sort of that ’70s rock revival music, which was great. So I was going to Detroit Bar quite often and getting to see some of the guys from The Mars Volta playing in their side band … just seeing a lot of the Orange County and LA indie rock seen really thriving at that time. In the 2000s, some of the French electronic pop producers, like Justice and Busy P and those guys started making their influence over in the states. … We’ve almost been saturated with dance music, that culture, DJs and things of that nature.
There are still plenty of scenes, plenty of venues and plenty of people out there that are going out and seeing live folk, jazz and indie rock, Americana, etc. That still lives and thrives … People don’t realize it because they just don’t get out enough or they don’t realize that there are places to see that kind of stuff in Orange County.
Speaking of the Wayfarer, Detroit Bar (which closed in 2014) had a pretty storied history of musical acts. How do you feel about the Wayfarer (which now occupies the building that used to house Detroit Bar) carrying on that legacy?
BT: Detroit Bar was a big part of my early 20s. … I was definitely one of the people helping to keep that place open. I was there two or three nights a week. … I feel very comfortable in that venue.
I think that what Jeff [Chon] has done with the place is great. … He still pays homage to all the years that it was Detroit Bar, but he made the necessary changes as far as bar layout and just upgrading things. … It still has a little bit of that Detroit Bar charm to it, which is great to see. They still pay respect to local artists and they still do their residencies where they book local artists. Detroit Bar definitely packed the big acts, but Wayfarer continues to validate Orange County’s [music scene].
What’s your typical day like?
BT: I wake up earlier than people think—people are surprised when I text them at 8 a.m. I normally wake up at 7 and take the dogs for a walk, have some breakfast, am at the office by 9 or 9:30. I work pretty normal business hours in my office in Costa Mesa. I’ll have meetings, sometimes at Wayfarer and La Cave. I try to finish work and be home by 7, and have dinner. It’s surprisingly normal compared to what most people think.
What music venues will you be frequenting this summer?
BT: I’m always at the venues that I work at. I really enjoy the Observatory because they have a great sound system; the production quality is on point and they don’t cut corners. If they have a live act that wants to bring in a visual display or any sort of visuals, they’ll work with them. It’s really cool to go to shows there because every time it’s a unique experience. Wayfarer’s great—it’s obviously a smaller room, but it’s noble of them to continue to pay respect to the local artists, and give them a place to play while still bringing in big acts. So if I want more of an intimate show, definitely hit up the Wayfarer as a top pick.