Has electronic music finally arrived in Wichita?
We waited in a small, triangular shaped dressing room, just a few feet from the stage. Two of the three walls were covered with mirrors; a narrow countertop running beneath them and a row of bare-bulb lights ran above. It looks like how you would imagine a dressing room in a theater of this age to look. After a small whirl of commotion, as introductions were made, pictures taken, and one or two anecdotes of fandom shared, we settled into our restaurant-style, metal chairs and tried to not say anything that gave away our excitement.
Tyler and I have been fans of electronic music since the 90’s. As pre-teens we were mocked for our music choices but as adults it was truly the first conversation we ever had. Electronic music was a shared interest and it was a rarity to find someone else that shared in this specific genre. Together we have traveled to other cities to see electronic artists perform. We’d have long discussions on these trips about this almost non-existent sector of the Wichita music scene and dream about the artists we would want to see in Wichita.
The Wichita dance scene has had peaks and valleys, but a group of local artists and collaborators have worked hard to appeal to a broader audience. The rise and popularity of mainstream electronic dance music (EDM) hasn’t hurt either. Local promoter and owner of Nocturnal by Nature, Will Wohlgemuth, has been consistent in growing annual events and shows in Wichita. Working with other local promoters and building relationships with agents has created an avenue to book larger national acts. In the last two years, Wichita has welcomed Excision, Flux Pavillion, and Mark Farina. This year will also mark the second Chroma Paint Party at Riverfest in June. Wohlgemuth, with the help of others, hit big again by booking The Crystal Method at the revamped Crown Uptown Theatre in March. Unfortunately for Wichita, it was the same night as Pink! at INTRUST Bank Arena.
The Crystal Method has been around for more than 25 years; originally a duo of Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland. In 2017, Ken made the decision to retire, and Scott decided to try a different approach to gigs. “Last year was when I said, ‘I’m just going to go. Book me anywhere.’ I'm going to go and do a tour by myself, with no road manager, no drama, and no attitude. I like going places I haven’t been before.” He and Ken remain close friends.
Crystal Method is part of the first generation of modern electronic music. “Growing up my dad had a turntable. Around 1990, I got a fake I.D. and started DJing my own parties in Las Vegas. I would go to Los Angeles and work with Ken and I’d buy records to bring back.”
“I would throw parties at sports bars. I would get a college band and a friend would bring lights. We’d have one room with the band and another with me playing techno. We’d have 500 to 700 people in the band room and I’d have 5 or so in mine,” he laughed. “In the early years, we thought we were going to be more alternative-dance. We decided to start making our own music because the reality is that we were in the middle of the grunge phase.” In 1994, bands like Nirvana were peaking.
In 1997, their debut album Vegas released. By 1998 it was gold and went on to hit platinum. “After Vegas came out in 1997, we completed four 50 to 60 date tours between ’97 to 2001. That is what you had to do,” Kirkland shared.
As a seasoned artist, Kirkland now has a different perspective. “It’s really about encouraging people to reconnect. I’m not concerned with the popularity. I’m appreciative of this unique position I’m in, to still have a voice to connect with a younger audience, and then pull the original fans back out. I started making a new album and wanted to get back to what we were doing in the beginning. I don’t feel like I’m in the EDM bubble.
With all of his travels and unique experiences he divulged, “When I go on I still get nervous. I still want to have a good show. I still care about the crowd’s response. I try to be in the moment and have fun. My motto is, ‘I can’t control who’s not there.’ When you go on, there’s no point in worrying about the people who aren’t there. I take care of the people who are there.”
Wichita has a unique challenge as many of these artists are used to traveling to Dallas, Kansas City and Denver, performing at festivals and other local venues. I asked Scott if he had any advice for the local artists and promoters. “Venues are the key. I was a little confused, at first, when I heard there were five opening acts. But I realized we’re giving the locals an opportunity to bring their audiences together and it creates something special that’s happening on a Saturday night in Wichita. My advice would be to continue to find ways to collaborate. You have to create a community that can support the scene. Hopefully, people will have a great night. You have to start somewhere.”
Scott revealed, “I have the greatest appreciation for local DJs because they are the ones grinding during the week and going and doing shows when there are 30 people. They do it because that’s what they really love.”
During our time, Scott shared other stories and some of the things he enjoyed about Wichita. “I have a great love for cities that you can feel the history. I walked through Old Town. I liked seeing the train station. I stopped into The Arcade. I like seeing people out.” He told us details of the strangest place he’d ever performed and how he feels about the current EDM scene. “I definitely have things to talk about if I ever go on Jeopardy.”
While he does still perform in large settings—like inside the Bird’s Nest in China for the League of Legends World Championships—Scott remains very grounded. He has extended family in Oklahoma and said, “I would definitely come back to Wichita.” Fans got a first listen to some of his new album during the Wichita show.
On June 8, during the opening night of Riverfest, the Chroma Paint Party will host five local DJs with headliner Jack Beats from 5-10 p.m. Wohlgemuth says he will continue working to grow the Wichita market and encourages Wichitans. “Go and experience it. I didn’t love this music until I went to a show. Bring a friend and make a night of it. The crowd is welcoming.” Time will show if these national and international acts will continue to add Wichita to their tour dates. Personally, we’re rooting for it.
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