Adult Swim has grown from a late-night programming block on Cartoon Network to become its own media empire. With its hands already in everything from music to video games, Adult Swim is expanding once again by joining the festival circuit.
The inaugural Adult Swim Festival begins this Friday (October 5) and runs through the weekend at ROW DTLA in Los Angeles. Ahead of the multi-day event, HipHopDX caught up with Adult Swim’s SVP and Creative Director Jason DeMarco to learn how it became a reality.
HipHopDX: Jason, can you tell me about when you first got this idea for the Adult Swim Festival and when the plan of action began to make it happen?
Jason DeMarco: It was about a year ago. To be clear, I didn’t come up with the idea for the festival, someone else did. They just said, “Could you do a festival?” And I said, “I could try!” And basically, over the last year – really before that, a year and a half ago – we had some internal meetings. Some people did some looking at the market, looking at what was out there in terms of festivals and research about how much they cost to put on.
When looking at it, I think they thought, “Well, we have a lot of infrastructure. We have a lot of good artist relationships, and we certainly have a brand already that places us ahead of a lot of festivals, particularly year one. So, why not give it a whirl?”
We’ve always had live events that have done really well, and so we thought, we’ve had bands and artists at events before, but we’ve never done one that’s totally focused around that. Why not try to replicate what we do on the air in a live space?
DX: IDK, you’ve released music through Adult Swim and are very associated with the brand. What’s it like being part of the Adult Swim family and this festival?
IDK: I mean for me, it’s always good. Adult Swim has always been part of my whole life. It’s a brand that has a lot of value. They built such a prestige. So, to be on this festival, especially the first one, it’s dope. I think they got so many different types of acts. I don’t think you’ll ever see this anywhere else.
DX: Jason, can you tell me about your game plan when you’re booking this lineup? You’ve got comedians, rappers and all types of musicians. Was it your goal to encompass everything in Adult Swim’s taste under one banner?
DeMarco: That was sort of the idea. Obviously, there are a lot of musicians that are connected with Adult Swim and have been over the years, whether it’s in shows or promos or packaging or the free albums we’ve done. But, there’s also comedians connected to Adult Swim in the same way, so we just thought let’s pull everything together in a way that feels like our air.
So, you’re gonna hear the type of music that you would hear on our air, which is mostly Hip Hop, electronic music and metal. Then, you’re gonna hear artists like T-Pain or Neko Case or Mastodon who have actually been in our shows. You’re gonna have Rick & Morty doing a live concert experience.
Then you’re gonna see the actual comedy — comedians and artists that are the show creators in some cases. So, you’ll have Joe Pera, who we just did a season of a show with him. We’ll have Tim Heidecker, who of course did Tim & Eric.
For us, we’re just trying to hit all those buttons. If there’s a reason you like to watch Adult Swim, whether it’s for the creators, whether it’s the music, whether you wanna see new animation, whether you wanna see pilot episodes of shows, whether you wanna buy merch that you can’t get anywhere else, we’re offering it. The whole goal is to put all of that in one place and see if we can replicate what people like about Adult Swim on TV in a live space.
DX: Adult Swim is synonymous with Atlanta, so I wanted to ask why was Los Angeles the right location? Was it a logistics issue with the A3C Hip Hop Festival in Atlanta preventing you from running this weekend or was Los Angeles a better fit for getting all this talent in one spot?
DeMarco: I think it’s a little of both. It’s a little that Los Angeles just has the infrastructure to do something like this. There are festivals in Atlanta, but like you said, A3C is right here at the same time. We knew this was going to be an outdoor festival, and October’s a little more temperamental in Atlanta in terms of rain and weather.
And yeah, a lot of the artists, a lot of musicians live in L.A. Plenty of artists live in Atlanta too, but a whole lot of musicians live in L.A. and it just helps us in year one with stuff like travel costs. It was just more of a logistical decision. It was just going to be cheaper, believe it or not, to put the festival on in L.A.
Now, if we get to year two and three, I definitely hope we get to Atlanta because this is our home and we want to represent our city. But, we gotta figure out how we do Atlanta. In L.A., a lot of things were already taken care of, so we could just concentrate on making it as good as possible and not worry about logistical stuff.
DX: I’d like to get both of your perspectives on this: Adult Swim has been a major source and curator of Hip Hop for almost two decades now. Jason, what kind of artists do you get behind? What inspires you to put the Adult Swim brand behind someone like IDK and help them with an album release?
DeMarco: For me, I’ve been lucky enough to be at Adult Swim since it started. In terms of who we choose to work with, we’re all very lucky ’cause we’re not told we have to work with a certain kind of artist. The Adult Swim music programs are pretty much my taste, so I work with who I want to work with because I admire their music. So, if I hear someone and their music speaks to me, then I can reach out or they can reach out to me if I haven’t heard of their music and there are connections. And if I like it, then we just do stuff together and see how it goes. If we like working with each other, we just keep doing it more.
So, the ability I have to be to set up a long-term relationship and not have to do things a certain way allows things like Run the Jewels or our relationship with Flying Lotus or our relationship with IDK to develop because it can grow organically. It’s not just “Oh, this guy’s hot, license this guy!” It can be someone no one’s ever heard of at the point that I’m working with them.
As long as I like them, that’s all that matters to the network. The only thing the network cares about is “Do the people like it? Great. And did you spend a ton of money on it? No? OK, good. Then you’re fine.” [Laughs] Those are my parameters. But I’m very lucky that, unlike a lot of music industry people, I don’t have to show results. I don’t have to show how many people downloaded or streamed something. All I have to do is show that people liked it, and so far, that’s been easy.
And as far as IDK, the reason we started working together is because I heard his music and thought it was great. It sort of flowed from there. We’ve been lucky enough that, as he’s still continuing in his career, we’re able to keep working with him ‘cause I just think he keeps getting better and better.
IDK: I appreciate that.
DX: I wanted to get your perspective on what it’s like to have Adult Swim behind you on a release like IWASVERYBAD. What do they provide you that a label wouldn’t?
IDK: Well, first of all, Jason helped me get MF DOOM on my song. I don’t know what label could help me do that. [Laughs]
Second of all though, for me and Adult Swim, I just feel like exactly what he said. It’s like they work with artists that aren’t necessarily the most popular people. They work with a lot of people that I’ve never heard of before, but they put me onto them and I think, for me, in the state that I’m developing, I’m trying to build more of a cult following.
I want to have big records and all that stuff at a certain point, but I want to have a legitimate following that doesn’t follow me because I have big records but more so follows the lifestyle. I felt like Adult Swim, they’re pros at doing that. For me, it’s the perfect way to get a co-sign without necessarily signing to some big artist and all that stuff.
They were literally the biggest brand that could align with what I was doing. They’re where I could just be myself, and they let me do that. And that’s just the long story short.
DX: SubTrap was a pivotal project and you kept that momentum going with Empty Bank. But what has IWASVERYBAD meant for you in terms of recognition? Did you see a dramatic increase in fans that came with the rollout and having your videos being released through Adult Swim?
IDK: Of course. A lot of people said to me like, “I heard about you through Adult Swim.” Even right now, the “Electric” song I just put out, a lot of people noticed it through Adult Swim. It just seems like they had a certain type of fan base that may not have heard about me because of the type of music that I did.
For me, Adult Swim is supposed to feel episodic and each song is supposed to be an episode of my life. I wanted to have some type of unique component with that. They paid the most attention. We’re able to talk to them and they were able to see my vision when I said to them about what I thought would work. So, the visual component mixed with the branding for the style I wanna do, it was perfect for Adult Swim.
DX: Looking toward your next album, is it going to be another Adult Swim release?
IDK: Well, I’ll put it like this. I’m still working on it. This is going to be what I call my debut album. I don’t know exactly what makes sense yet ‘cause it’s not done, obviously. I’m sure we’ll circle back on something, though. It’d be great.
DX: Jason, what are your goals for this first festival. What would you consider a success and what will determine if you’re able to move forward with it in future years?
DeMarco: I think what would determine if it was successful is a couple things. I think the first is that when we look at how the festival did, we can see it ultimately made money or at least broke even in overall terms. You know, when you look at ticket sales and merch and all the things you sell at a festival.
Then, I think the other thing is do people come back and say they liked it? Audience feedback is what we do, so we’ll know by the time we’re done how smooth it went. Did the artists have a good time? Did the people who went have a good time? To what degree did anyone talk about it or was it reviewed? Did people speak well of it? I think all of those things are important for something like a first-year festival. So, it’s going to be all those factors together that are gonna determine whether we are gonna want to do this more.
DX: What can artists do to get on your radar and build a relationship that might lead to them working with Adult Swim?
DeMarco: I think that’s easy. There are two things: one is make good music. [Laughs] Two, let us know that you want to work with us.
I’m on Twitter and I’ve talked to a lot of artists that way. It’s just an easy way to communicate with someone for the first time without having to share emails or any real personal information.
That’s a good place to hit me personally and send me any links to music or anything. But that’s really it. I’m always looking and always talking about music and always looking for new artists in various genres, particularly those we sort of specialize in. And if anybody wants to send me music and it’s dope, then I’ll get back to them.
DX: To wrap things up, I wanted to get your thoughts on just how important Hip Hop has been to Adult Swim. I think back on all the years and how many artists you’ve featured, even back to the Space Ghost days with Chuck D and Busta Rhymes as guests.
DeMarco: It’s been important because Hip Hop is one of the lifebloods of Atlanta, and Adult Swim is very much an Atlanta-based network. But besides that, it’s the most popular music out there today and has been for what, at least a decade? I think we’re just reflecting the reality that our fans experience. We all listen to Hip Hop, so it’s been part of our shows.
And it’s not just because we at the network like it, but also a lot of our creators too. It’s still an exciting vibrant form of music. For us, it’s going to remain something we want to have on Adult Swim because it’s just the sound of young people and that’s who we’re supposed to be talking to at the end of the day.
Purchase passes for the inaugural Adult Swim Festival here. Gates at Los Angeles’ ROW DTLA open at 4 p.m. PST on October 5 and 12 p.m. PST on October 6-7.