Epic Productions brings the electronic-dance party to Chico
Two years ago, Chico State students Matt Whitlock and Shawn Steele were talking about music over lunch in the school’s student union—typical college stuff. Specifically, they were talking about electronic music in Chico, or the relative lack thereof.
As Whitlock and Steele grew up in the Bay Area and Sacramento, respectively, they were familiar with huge electronic shows and their widespread appeal. They, too, were captivated by the throbbing, unrelenting bass, dazzling laser lights cutting through manufactured fog, glowsticks, ultra-cool DJs and, most important, the sweaty mobs of club-goers paying top dollar to dance their asses off.
“We knew there was a crowd, because all our friends were into it,” Whitlock said from his current home in Lafayette during a recent phone interview.
Whitlock and Steele decided to try to bring the crowd to Chico by starting Epic Productions, a promotion and production company specializing in electronic-dance-music events. The pair hosted their first show in February of 2011 at Peking Chinese Restaurant in downtown Chico and were surprised by the strong turnout.
“We rented the place out and ended up having like 150 people come,” Whitlock said. “Right after that, we realized that this is something we’re interested in and want to do.”
Epic began hosting DJ shows at house parties and smaller venues around town, eventually enlisting the help of a “street team,” about 25 Chico State students who volunteered to pass out fliers and spread the word in dorms, fraternities and sororities. Not so gradually, attendance swelled, the sound and lighting systems got fancier, and bigger acts began making Chico a tour destination.
And Chico has been forced to notice the mercurial rise of the fledgling production company, which sold out the Senator Theatre on Jan. 22 with internationally known electro-house DJ and producer Steve Aoki and dubstep DJ Datsik—not household names to most, but full-blown superstars in the electronic scene.
“Once we threw the Steve Aoki and Datsik show at the Senator and sold out a thousands heads, I feel like that made people realize that there’s electronic music in Chico and it sells,” Whitlock said. “They came with over $100,000 worth of production lighting, LED and LCD screens. To be able to go to the Senator in little old Chico and see all that crazy lighting, that was really big.
“Whether you like electronic music or not, everyone’s talking about it,” he continued. “People who have lived in Chico for a long time and are not used to seeing these kinds of events, it’s something different for them. It’s crazy how it exploded all of the sudden, just like that.”
While electronic music achieved moderate popularity in the United States in the ’90s, the past few years have seen a nation-wide surge—now, hardly any mainstream pop song lacks some electronic element. And while the clubs of San Francisco and Sacramento have long drawn huge crowds to the dance-friendly beats of electronic music, Chico now seems to be getting in on the party.
To be fair, while Epic is obviously onto something, Chico has long nurtured an electronic-music scene: from the infamous ’80s house parties and huge ’90s events at the now-defunct Zocalo Room and Brick Works to the 2000s resurgence that started with the many Future/Now events and eventually led to the popular monthly BETA parties that have been packing Lost on Main for the past couple years.
Now, a few months after graduating Chico State with a major in communication design, Whitlock is back in the Bay Area attempting to expand Epic Productions beyond hosting shows.
“I’m trying to push Epic as a brand,” he said. “We’ve got a couple shirts we’re working on, we’ve got some sunglasses. I’m working on expanding in all areas, whether that’s promoting events or finding a bar that needs to upgrade their lighting. A lot of production companies don’t have their own light rig like we do, so we get outsourced for events. It’s all stuff we’re looking forward to doing, just the promotions aspect.”
No matter how big their production company gets, Epic will remain firmly rooted in Chico.
“First and foremost, Epic will stay in Chico—it will never move to the Bay,” he said. “I will honestly never let go of this foothold in Chico, ever.”