As electronic dance music festivals are flooding our summer weekends with excitement and exhilaration, one festival approaches that promises to stand out from the rest. Not sure which one? I’m talking about Imagine Music Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. Whether it’s the gorgeous, aquatic fairytale theme or insanely stacked lineup, Imagine is on the fast track to go down in history as one of the best in the United States. So who are the people behind this incredible festival? IRIS Presents is the name of the event and promotion company that dreamed up Imagine Music Festival and made it come to fruition just a couple of years ago.
I caught up with the founders of IRIS Presents, Glenn and Madeleine Goodhand to find out a little bit about their history and what has driven them in their mission to spread the word of electronic dance music. Their hands have been in everything from event production and promotion to artist management, consulting, event staffing, and media. IRIS Presents is constantly working to make Atlanta’s scene thrive with great talent and amazing shows and festivals. So sit back, relax, and get to know the founders of the flourishing company that is IRIS Presents.
Glenn and Madeleine, can you tell us a little about your history in the scene before IRIS? Were you always electronic dance music enthusiasts?
Glenn: I was born in DC and grew up in New York and was introduced to house music in the late 80’s. I was about 18 years old when we started going to clubs in NYC like Emerald City, The Tunnel, Limelight, Save The Robots, The Bat Cave, Sound Factory, Palladium, Webster Hall, Twilo, and Shelter. This is where I fell in love with the sounds and dance styles associated with electronic music and hip hop. I was mesmerized by the ability of music to bring all different types of people together, under one roof, to enjoy a short time together without worries. Electronic music moved me in a way that would impact my life forever. There was a sense of community and family within the events where everyone shared a similar love of music and dance.
In 1994, after I graduated from Penn State, I moved down to Atlanta for work in commercial real estate. It was a great job, but not my calling. I loved dance music and wanted to figure out a way to get more involved in the industry. Around that time I was asked by an Atlanta friend, Tim Degroot, if I wanted to help get the word out for a house party called Deconstruction. They were having a party in an old house that was about to be demolished. This developed into helping or producing some other events at 688 (Mad House), The House of Blues (Tabernacle), The Strand, Pyramid, West End Warehouse, different outdoor venues, and eventually a place called Celebration Hall. Celebration Hall was an old church that was being used as a banquet hall across the highway from the Atlanta Braves Stadium. We did a weekly Friday night there called ESP101 [Learn To Believe] that became a staple in the EDM community for about 7 years. We eventually rebranded Celebration Hall to be affectionately called “The Church,” which now has great historical significance in the South East EDM community.
By the early 2000s, the dance music scene was experiencing a lull. My thoughts were to help local musicians and artists would be to go to law school and become an agent or label. After finishing law school I headed to LA, but came back to Atlanta after only 1 month. I was doing real estate again to pay the bills, but still felt drawn to my passion of entertaining people through music and art.
In October of 2008 I met Madeleine and subsequently we got engaged and married. It was a match made in heaven all the way down to the style of music we both loved. She was a marketing genius and I had the promotional thing down, so we decided we needed to get back in the game. Maddy has been fundamental in the organization and growth of IRIS and Imagine. Aside from our amazing personal relationship, we have a great business partnership where one of us strives where the other may have weakness. We both have the same vision and passion for bringing the best experience possible to each and every person that comes to our events.
We brought back a little piece of the old school underground with the return of the ESP101 weekly, but this time on a Saturday. The revamped weekly event has now been successfully running for its 5th year at Rush Lounge, which we affectionately have rebranded “The Iris” on our Saturday night. The weekly is a beautiful event and was a perfect segway into producing something with a much broader reach. We discussed opening our own club and/or starting a festival. The space we were looking to purchase for the club did not work out, so we worked on producing a festival. Imagine was a blank slate for us to really express ourselves and bring our ultimate vision to fruition. It has been a dream come true for us to help provide a place where friends and family gather and create beautiful memories that will last forever.
Madeleine: I’m originally from Finland and got exposed to electronic Music at a very young age. When I first moved to the states it was very rare to hear that style of music. I was listening to a lot of Trance and Techno back then. I started going to Clubs in Miami when I was in college at Florida State and fell in love with the scene there. When I moved back to Georgia and met Glenn, he was the only other person in Georgia I had met that knew anything about electronic music. Glenn never told me he was a promoter, or anything about IRIS. I found out when we started going out and everyone knew him.
Let’s go back to day one in 1996 when IRIS came to fruition. Glenn, what was the catalyst or inspirations behind your decision to begin the company?
G: I had the good fortune to experience night clubs and parties during, what many would consider, the golden years. Music from NYC radio station Hot 97, Peter Gatien’s NYC clubs and DJs like Frankie Bone’s and his philosophy of EDM music and parties stuck with me when I moved to Atlanta. I wanted others to be able to enjoy some of those same experiences, in a similar environment, with my own twist. There were many that paved the way and did an amazing job here in Atlanta, but I thought I might have something valuable to contribute to the scene. I was able to start all of this, but Madeleine is responsible for helping bring it back and reaching the levels we see today.
After a short hiatus, and joining together with your wife, Madeleine, in 2011 for a business revival as IRIS Presents, Inc., what challenges have you faced keeping your personal and business life seperate? Has a partnership in business as well as in life helped to make IRIS Presents, Inc. more successful than ever?
M: Our business and personal life are so intertwined, it’s impossible to keep them separate. We are true partners in life and work 24/7. There aren’t many conversations we have that don’t revolve around business. Sometime’s Glenn will wake me up in the middle of the night to work on something – he couldn’t ask anyone else to do that. Both of us being so passionate and committed to this dream has truly attributed to our success – I feel so blessed to get to spend everyday together doing what we love.
What was the first event you produced after founding IRIS Presents? And comparing it to today and events like Imagine Music Festival, what is one major aspect of your company that has grown or changed?
G: My first, exclusively produced, IRIS events were after parties at an old warehouse space called The Pyramid. It was in a shady part of town, but we were able to get people to take the risk, and come enjoy the IRIS experience. The space was dungy, and decorations were minimal, but we made sure the sound system shook the earth. It was very underground.
The most significant change is the addition of, Madeleine. She has been instrumental in the growth and organization needed to continue to evolve as well as staying current with all of our marketing strategies. In the 90s, before the internet it was just me out there passing out flyers and engaging with people hoping they would get what we were about. Now, we have social media and other platforms for spreading the word and getting the buzz out there. Although marketing now is based heavily around technology we continue to rely on organic growth to keep the integrity of the festival and our vision.
Imagine is a blank canvas for us. It allows for the introduction of many extremely talented people to mold a festival in line with our vision, but with great diversity. The music and the scene continues to evolve, but it has certainly become more socially acceptable and mainstream. Some people push back on this, but we try to embrace it while maintaining the fundamentals of providing the highest quality show and treating everyone the way we would want to be treated.
Being Atlanta-based, how has the city’s scene helped you grow as a company? Did you ever dream of growing your company anywhere else or has Atlanta’s music scene been pivotal in your success?
M: We are humbled by the generosity and love shown to us by our fans. We wouldn’t still be here without the support of the Atlanta scene. There have been tough times where we thought about giving up, but the support we felt at those times kept us grounded and pushed us to continue on and believe. There has been some discussion about expanding into other markets, but for now we love being able to work from home.
Imagine Music Festival is fast approaching. With a successful 2 years under your belt and a killer theme that has made you stand out from other festivals, can you reveal the inspirations behind the aquatic fairytale theme? And how do you plan on continuing the story for this year’s event?
M: What girl doesn’t love Mermaids. I had this vision of beautiful Mermaids everywhere and the theme followed from there. This year we continue the fairytale by bringing the element of water to the story helping to further create a magical immersive experience.
What are some new changes or additions this year to Imagine Music Festival, that will help it stand out from previous years?
M: The new venue, has us over the moon! Atlanta Motor Speedway is incredible with endless space and infrastructure to develop. We could not be happier with our relationship with the Speedway and look forward to many years of creativity at our new home.
This year we are adding 3 additional stages (7 total) including: a House Stage, Drum & Bass Stage, and Silent Disco. Another big change that everyone is excited about is the addition of camping, extended hours, and an extra day of festivities to enjoy! We have added multiple amusement rides, a large splash pool with cabanas, some incredible art, live art installations, more performers, bigger production, and live feeds. Of course, we can’t release all of the fun. We are saving the best additions as a surprise.
What is IRIS’s ultimate goal for the future? Any new festival series in store, plans on focusing more on talent management, or a new direction for the company?
G: Our main goal is to continue to grow while maintaining our quality and integrity. We do have some very exciting things in the works, but cannot reveal any details.
Now for a question I always love to ask. What artists, DJS, or producers do you, as electronic dance music lovers, enjoy most? Who’s set would you never miss at a festival?
M: My favorite DJs of all time are Deep Dish and Sharam (1/2 of Deep Dish). I’m really into Deep Dark Techno and would never miss Adam Beyer or Victor Calderone at a Festival. Also would hate to miss Bassnectar, Shpongle and Pretty Lights. Leah Culver is someone I would keep an eye out for as well, she is definitely coming up.
G: It is so hard to pick only a few with all the great producers and bands out there. I am also a big fan of old school stuff. When people ask me what genre of music I like I often say “anything, as long as it is good.” I am really impressed with what Atlanta is cooking right now. Atlanta has some of the very best talent in the world. I am excited to see these musicians and artists finally getting the recognition they deserve.
What has been the most challenging thing you have experienced as a production, promotion, and talent management company? What is your best piece of advice you give to individuals who have the desire to venture into your field of work?
M: The amount of risk you take on as a promoter is insane. I couldn’t have managed it without Glenn by my side and our dedicated staff and IRIS family.
G: In my opinion, the hardest part of any business is finding, and keeping, a good staff that truly believes in the vision. We are thankful to have developed a great core. We are always working, literally, but we love what we do and when we get “the nod” or tears or happiness from an experience we helped create, it makes it all worth it. Remain humble, maintain your integrity, have fun, and love what you do and the people you do it with!