When you walk into an electronic dance music show, don’t expect a traditional concert experience. LED screens display other-worldly scenes or patterns, lasers and lighting frame the stage and the bass can be felt in your bones.
But many don’t think about who is behind the curtain facilitating these unique experiences in the Twin Cities.
Sound in Motion, known commonly as SIMshows, has been bringing electronic artists to the Twin Cities for 20 years. The promotion company was founded by John Tasch — known more often as Jack, JT or by his DJ alias, JackTrash. For 20 of his 29 years in the music community, he has been working to build and provide for the local electronic dance scene through SIMshows.
Tasch started by hosting raves in warehouses and First Avenue, and later in the basement of the Xcel Energy Center, which he said drew crowds of thousands.
Today, SIMshows has grown into a local electronic dance promotion powerhouse, operating between local venues and artists to book, market and produce about 60 EDM shows in the Twin Cities per year.
In the past two years, SIMshows has booked world-class talent such as Steve Aoki, Martin Garrix, Zedd and Armin Van Buuren. The company partners with popular venues including The Armory, Rev Ultra Lounge and Skyway Theater.
Despite having a full-time job as a fifth grade teacher, Tasch’s passion for music has kept him in the music industry.
“The reason I’m still in this is because it’s here,” he said, gesturing to his heart.
In the 1990s, Tasch was a resident DJ at First Avenue while attending school at the University of Minnesota, where he studied architecture and art before earning a master’s degree in education.
There, he witnessed firsthand the opposition to the genre and the resistance to recognize it as a respected form of music. But by the early 2000s, the dance music culture was starting to gain a foothold, moving from the underground into nightclubs.
At the same time, Tasch’s first promotional endeavor dissolved and SIMshows rose from the ashes. The very first SIMshows event took place in a warehouse in Northeast and drew a little too much attention.
“[Cops] literally pulled up with buses and they took everyone and put everyone in buses,” Tasch recalled. “They had scanners. They took everyone’s ID — it was really scary,” he said.
Twenty years later, he can now laugh about the experience. While his shows getting busted is a relic of the past, the company was not immune to other hardships.
Tasch said remaining profitable has historically been a challenge for SIMshows. But Tasch’s teaching job has given him and the company a unique advantage.
“I’ve never had to worry about making a certain amount of money to pay my mortgage or to take care of my kid,” Tasch said.
The work that SIMshows has been doing for the past two decades is paying off. Today their events sell out the Armory, with crowds sometimes exceeding 7,000 people.
Cristian Baca manages events and social media as well as DJs for SIMshows. He noted that the growth of the EDM fan base can be measured by the venues that artists are selling out.
He said that years ago Deadmau5 sold out the now-defunct Epic Nightclub which had a capacity of 2,500. Last August, he nearly sold out the Armory and is on track to sell out when he returns to the cities in December.
“It's been a long journey,” Tasch said. “There were years where it was very, very up and down. Right now, it's great. On the EDM side, it’s stronger than it’s ever been, by far.”
Tasch said SIMshows has seen success largely because his employees have a genuine love and dedication to the industry.
Rebekah Hanson, operations manager for SIMshows, found SIMshows as a concertgoer and started working for the company in 2015.
“I took something that I really enjoyed doing and I immediately turned it into a career. I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” she said.
Ian Ferrer is a University graduate and the production manager for SIMshows. For him, the most gratifying part of his job is working behind the scenes to create memorable experiences for fans. In addition to playing an integral role for SIMshows, Ferrer enjoys supporting the local music scene.
“I would consider my role in the community as a music fan first,” he said.
Tasch has a history of relying on his musically well-versed staff to help make booking decisions. Tiesto made his North American debut in Minneapolis nearly 20 years ago for a SIMshows event.
“One of my street guys… was like ‘check out this Tiesto guy,’” Tasch said. “So I looked into it, we booked him and probably 500 people came — all based on a suggestion that one of my guys made.”
The work SIMshows has done in the cities has earned them a loyal fanbase.
Nicole Reid has been an avid EDM fan for 20 years. After being introduced to the local scene by a friend, she now attends SIMshows events biweekly, if not weekly.
For Reid, shows are a sober event — for getting lost in the music and making music-loving friends.
“I went to a show at Rev [Ultra Lounge] Saturday night and I probably knew 30 people there,” she said. “It’s like a family.”
Stephanie Xu, a University student in the College of Biological Sciences, makes sure she finds the time to attend electronic dance music events.
She said nearly all of her friends share a passion for the music genre.
“We all go to shows, that’s like what we do,” Xu said. “It’s just nice having that common interest.”
Remembering the early days of EDM, Tasch said the genre was often written off as “nightclub music.”
“The irony is that years later, electronic dance music is a full fledged culture. It’s a lifestyle — from the festival side of things, to the big shows, to the small shows,” Tasch said.
To truly understand this culture, Hanson said it’s best to attend the immersive experience yourself.
“We can provide opportunities for people to escape their normal life and experience something bigger than themselves,” Hanson said. “We get to do that all the time and that, to me, rules.”
The range of artists that SIMshows has brought to the Twin Cities has helped foster the community.
This September, SIMshows brought Martin Garrix for his debut in the Twin Cities — a rare American appearance outside of Las Vegas nightclub residencies and headlining festival slots.
Rezz, whose dark, industrial sound has launched her to fame, has dedicated her past three Halloweens to playing for thousands of fans in the Twin Cities.
These opportunities are no coincidence. Tasch said knowing and caring about music and the artists he books is a key part of what helps SIMshows arrange the impressive events they do.
“When you can sit down and have a conversation [with artists] about the music they make, they get that,” Tasch said. “These artists, at the end of the day, know that it’s different than if someone just books a concert because they know it’s going to sell tickets.”
Over the course of 20 years, Tasch has booked about one thousand shows, from small to large, profitable to insolvent.
But despite the money lost, personal sacrifice and time spent working after he has already put in a full day’s work, Tasch said the reward of what he does keeps him going.
“There’s a tremendous amount of payback in the experiences that people have [and] in the friendships that people make,” Tasch said.
“People come up and give me a hug and thank me. There’s so much irony in that because I can’t do what I do without them.”