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Utica native Clark Warner feels the beat of EDM
When he was growing up in Utica as a fan of electronic and dance music, Clark Warner's fascination went beyond the turntables, samplers and the performance part of the craft.
"I was pretty enamored with being behind the scenes," says Warner, "creating projects, figuring out what a (club) residency or DJ night would be, helping people get their vision out. That, for me, was more satisfying than being locked in a (recording) studio or something."
And though he has done some of his own DJing, Warner has indeed made his mark on the business side of the EDM scene, including a 12-year association with Richie Hawtin and his Plus 8 and M-nus companies. These days Warner is the executive creative director for Beatport, a Denver- and Berlin-based online music retailer that specializes in EDM and during 2012 registered worldwide sales of a reported $18 million.
Warner calls himself "a bit of an ambassador" for Beatport, and his job entails everything from artist relations to overseeing scores of events the company sponsors or presents all over the world -- including a stage at this weekend's Movement Electronic Music Festival in Hart Plaza.
"It's a culmination of all the things I did, at least in my 20s and 30s," says Warner, 41, who's been with Beatport since 2007 and resides in Denver with his wife, former WDET air personality Liz Copeland, and their two young children. "It's a unique opportunity, and I feel very natural in the role. It's about relationships and being able to translate someone else's vision and ideas to a broader audience.
"So I feel pretty touched to be able to put all my experiences together and do something like this and really serve both the music and the audience."
Sam Valenti, founder of the Ghostly International label in Ann Arbor and co-founder of the drip.fm web site, says that Warner "has been a key actor in in electronic music. He really has been on the frontlines for all artists and labels and remains a hugely influential figure. More importantly, he's the best person you can imagine."
Warner -- an Eisenhower High School grad who spent some time at Eastern Michigan University -- says the "futuristic and kind of sci-fi, alien sounds" of electronic music appealed to him as a youth, picking up on it first from the Leonard Nimoy-hosed TV show "In Search Of...", John Hughes film soundtracks in the 80s as well as radio stations in Detroit and Windsor. An avid skateboarder, he would get music recommendations at skateparks, and he began frequenting record stores and teen nightclubs where the music was played, eventually finding his way into the largely underground network of parties at lofts and warehouses.
"It wasn't too tough to get that experience, at least in the mid- to late-80s, if you just knew where to go," Warner recalls. "I spent a lot of time at the Shelter (in Detroit) and quite a bit of time in Pontiac, at Industry. At the same time Detroit's underground started to really, really blossom and come alive.
"But for me it was really just hanging out in clubs and then starting to throw club nights and DJ for those as well. I got involved with it in that way."
Warner worked for the first incarnation of the Made in Detroit apparel company as well, but he dove full-tilt into the music when he started to tour manage for bands such as the Final Cut. He became part of the Detroit band Charm Farm's posse, helping to organize its regular Love Club nights at the Shelter that, Warner notes, incorporated "everything from house music to techno to disco" and "evolved into starting to become better friends with some of the techno elite" who were impressed with Warner's breadth of familiarity with the music.
"He's a guy that's able to speak a lot of (musical languages)," says Charm Farm co-founder Dennis White, now an electronic artist known as Static Revenger. "He's got that kind of personality that can help everybody makes sense of whatever the core thing is that they're dealing with. He can talk to a new DJ or a veteran DJ with the same vocabulary, and the old guard has respect for him 'cause he was there at the very beginning."
White laughs as he recalls when Warner decided to make music his full-time occupation. "He took me aside and asked me, 'Dude, is this an actual job? Can this turn into something?' I remember saying, 'Yeah, there's a lot of us and there's gonna be more of us -- and we need a guy like you to make sense of all of it."
During the mid-90s Warner started working with Detroit techno pioneer Kenny Larkin, first helping him set up an overseas tour and then as a tour manager. During the Tribal Gathering festival in Germany he met Hawtin and Italian artist John Acquaviva, who recruited Warner to help them expand their Plus 8 label. Not long after that, Warner co-founded M-nus with Hawtin, overseeing a wide roster of international artists and turning it into one of the world's most successful independent electronic labels.
M-nus became one of Beatport's top clients as well, which provided a natural transition for Warner when Hawtin decided to spend more time in Berlin.
"There was no ill will or anything," Warner says. "Beatport came up as an option to stay stateside, and I was kind of looking for a change. We figured, 'Well, why not? Let's give it a shot,' and it worked out great."
Warner has helped Beatport build its operation from independent labels to majors and elevate its digital platform, and the company has been an integral part of EDM success stories such as Daft Punk, Skrillex, David Guetta and Ellie Goulding. Warner estimates that he's away from home 10-12 weeks a year and "could be on the road every weekend of the year attending festivals and other events. "That would not be great for my family," he acknowledges, so he'd adopted a "pick and prioritize" strategy.
The up side, however, is his continuing immersion in a music who's impact has been exploding exponential with each passing year.
"There's a new generation that is building another revolution of music, pure and simple, that has this tidal wave effect right now," Warner notes. "There's so much momentum and movement, creatively -- amazing artists, amazing productions, amazing clubs and loft parties going on in different parts of the world. To see it blossom to the point where it's become mass-market and multi-generational is just incredible.
"But for me it's also been one big, continual movement that even pre-dates my time listening to the music. And now the experience of the music is so special for so many people, I feel totally privileged to help people find the right records or the music they enjoy. It is kind of a mission, I think. I'm very serious about it."
The 14th Movement Electronic Music Festival takes over Detroit's Hart Plaza Saturday through Monday, May 25-27. For schedules and ticket information, visit movement.us. Clark Warner will DJ at Jak Attak, an official Movement afterparty taking place at 11 p.m. Saturday, May 25, at the Leland City Club, 400 Bagley St., Detroit. Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Gaiser, Matthew Hawtin and others will also appear. Tickets are $40. Visit www.movement.us
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