Mekka adds life

Aug 1, 2001 at 12:00 am

(Editor's note: After this story went to press, the Metro Times received notice that the mekka festival event was canceled. We'll be following up on this story to find out more ... stay tuned to

This weekend a major electronic music festival is riding into Detroit. But the Toronto-based mekka Electronic Music Festival (, featuring artists from Carl Craig (live) and Danny Tenaglia to Common and Roni Size, is not on an all-out assault to win the hearts of millions. Neither is the 10-city tour an “auteured” festival, straight from the (bald) head of genius to the American people. Instead, mekka is a trial run for a smarter, hipper corporate world, where putting on big events is only one piece of a larger organizing principle.

Branding community

Dan Rubinoff and his partners at mekka want to help America’s adolescent electronic community “connect the dots” across regional differences and scene diversity, focusing on the culture’s similarities in style, dress and attitude. Using both physical spaces (concerts, recordings) and virtual ones (community Web sites), mekka is the next logical step in dance lifestyle promotion, built around the idea of giving people what they want (from a selected menu) while watching them very closely when they get it.

Rubinoff is both a British and Canadian citizen who has lived abroad, partied across America and even seen Richie Hawtin here in Detroit in the mid-’90s. He is a dance-culture consumer-turned-consultant who has found a way to translate his experiences into a creative outlet while pushing the culture he loves. The result is a festival with an impressive lineup of major national and international acts that doesn’t wholly ignore the Detroit scene, featuring two Detroit-based stages (a “Detroit Stage” and the “ Records Stage”) and artists ranging from the booty royalty of Grand Pubahs and DJ Assault to Clark Warner (Minus) and Jen Xerri (Women on Wax).

Though the mekkaites seem to have their hearts in the right place, they aren’t the only ones wanting to create brands or loyalty based on common consumption habits. The tour is being financed and organized with the help of forward-thinking enterprises such as Napster, SFX, Detroit’s own Motor Productions and partner-concert promoters Steven Bronfman of Seagram family fame and Michael Cohl, who have backed Pink Floyd as well as Rolling Stones and U2 tours.

The 28-year-old Rubinoff, who also admits to seeing a few Dead shows in his day, describes his company’s ad-babble angle into the world of promotions: “Mekka as a team brings a lot to the table. We are successful because we listen to the community. We go that extra mile to help our brand.”

What this actually means is that Rubinoff and his partners are not just selling a vision of community back to its members but also selling that very vision to major moneyed entertainment players. Echoing any future-thinking corporate exec in the making, Rubinoff argues that mekka “wants to move away from how European companies push content ideas onto people instead of pulling from and communicating with those people. The question always is: What will the customer think? It’s about keeping the community happy; treating the community as customers.”

Whether mekka is successful will depend on how consumed Detroit feels this weekend. But the future of the culture, with one hand sampling a dynamic pool of creativity and universal emotion and one stuck down the pants of Madison Avenue, seems already set in motion.

Carleton S. Gholz writes about electronica for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]