We had the pleasure to interview Donald Edward Lewis, aka Disco Donnie, the legendary figure behind Texas’ longest running EDM festival, Lights All Night and Ubbi Dubbi, the first festival back in the US after the COVID-19 lockdown. Blazing a trail throughout the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Panama, Disco Donnie is recognized for bringing some of the best electronic music events to audiences around the world.
The award-winning and recognized electronic dance music event production leader is one of the pioneers of the EDM festival movement, facilitating the expansion of the genre to electronic veterans as well as introducing thousands of people to the music & culture. His innovative ideas, dynamic approach and a relentless commitment to excellence has allowed the DDP name to evolve into what it is today. Throughout his career in organizing and promoting clubs and festivals, Disco Donnie remains humble and dedicated to his work.
In October, DDP announced the inaugural recipient of the Leon Jackson Memorial Scholarship. This new educational scholarship is a part of Disco Donnie Presents DiscoU initiative to aid students from underrepresented communities at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.
What inspired you to start Disco U and Disco U: Shadow The Spotlight?
Disco Donnie Presents has always been in the business of furthering lives with the power of music, and we’ve recently extended that idea with the formation of our Disco U program.
Disco U was championed as a way to generate greater mobility within the ranks of the music industry to help aspiring professionals build a career path within the music business.
Disco U is a combination of two programs which include the Disco U Shadow to Spotlight program and the Leon Jackson Memorial Scholarship.
The main area of focus for this program is to intentionally aid underrepresented artists, vendors, employees and fans to enter, persist and succeed in the world of Disco Donnie Presents.
Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with Leon Jackson and how he shaped the EDM scene in Nashville?
Leon Jackson worked at Disco Donnie Presents and was a beloved figure in Nashville’s nightclub community for more than 20 years, promoting electronic music events at venues throughout the city. Leon started his career as a “street team” promoter, then through his own production company, Ultimo Presents, and later in partnership with large-scale event promoters Insomniac Events and Disco Donnie Presents.
Leon worked all his life to erase prejudice and pigeonholing in the music industry by giving a voice and platform to talented artists from a wide range of communities and musical genres. This scholarship continues that legacy, by helping increase diversity of viewpoint and experience at Vanderbilt Blair.
Do you believe diversity has expanded in the electronic music scene? If so, what do you believe helped this expansion?
The concept of ‘diversity’ in electronic is a bit of a paradox considering so many of the most important dance music genres emerged from African-American and LGBTQ subcultures in the club space. Before dance music became mainstream, these were spaces for community-building for those marginalized by the mainstream.
In recent years, the interest in inclusion and diversity has coincided with current social movements and changing demographics, but it also makes good business sense. Embracing DEI&B allows for a greater depth and breadth of experiences and perspectives, which in turn allows for a greater ability for fans, artists and other partners to relate to the music and events.
The Leon Jackson Memorial Scholarship is not only an honorary award, but also aids students from underrepresented communities at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. What do you find most rewarding about giving back to communities and do you have any other charitable plans in place for the near future?
One of the exciting things about the Leon Jackson Memorial Scholarship is that it is an endowed scholarship, meaning that the scholarship will support students indefinitely.
Giving is an important part of DDP’s culture and to date we’ve donated nearly $2M dollars in the past 10 years to a variety of charitable organizations and causes around the world. We will continue these efforts in new areas, but we will continue to focus on giving to the markets we operate in and our existing partnerships with charitable organizations.
What advice would you give to young professionals seeking careers in the electronic music business?
There’s no right formula for success, per se. We see people succeed with very different stories. Perhaps one through-line is they follow their passion. Success comes in many forms. It’s also important to enjoy the process, so it’s important to savor the experience along the way. If you don’t, you can find yourself dissatisfied. It’s also important to be reliable to coworkers and nice to those around you. You tend to see some of the same people at different stages of people’s career. The industry is often smaller than you might think.
Given Austin, TX has experienced so much growth in the past years, do you plan on hosting any large scale events similar to DDP’s Texas Festivals such as Freaky Deaky, Lights All Night, and Ubbi Dubbi in Austin?
We had done three years of Nocturnal Wonderland Texas, so it’s a market of interest where we have history. We’re in conversations with others about creating something new, but you’ll have to stay tuned.
Connect with DDP