Interview: Kevin Bracken

Kevin Bracken - Dust T.O. Dawn

It’s hard to put Kevin Bracken into a category when trying to describe him. Is he into music, nightlife, culture, art, or technology? The easy answer is “all of the above,” but a better answer might be that he ensures that he can always be found at the intersection between all of them.

Often described as a party hero with a Peter Pan complex, a nightlife impresario, and a sellout – often in the same breath – Kevin is most widely known for Newmindspace, his DIY event empire that culminated in an event where thousands of people around the world beat each other with pillows in public. His latest project, Speakeasy, aims to liberate the party-loving masses from the club monopoly through the power of technology; I sat down to speak with him about this new project on one of his frequent forays through Toronto. Take a look!

So you throw parties, eh?

I’ve thrown parties in the street, sold out nightclubs, and even persuaded the Ontario Science Centre to let me throw the first dance party there in over a decade. All told, I have been directly and indirectly responsible for about 200 events in the last 7 years.

Tell me a little bit about Newmindspace:

I co-founded Newmindspace with Lori Kufner in March of 2005. At our peak, we were orchestrating one event per month that attracted hundreds to thousands of people in New York and Toronto. Our events are an urban take on favourite childhood activities: fighting with cardboard tubes and pillows, blowing massive amounts of bubbles, playing huge games of Capture the Flag in the street, and throwing parties on subway cars.

Pillow Fight!

Pillow Fight!

What made you decide to start doing that?

At the time, we were bored, underage university students, who felt trapped by the stodginess of academia at the University of Toronto. We started writing little messages of joy and leaving them in public. When Easter of 2005 was approaching, we decided to turn it into a bit of an urban easter egg hunt. That evening, dozens of photos of the easter eggs poured in, accompanied by queries of “What’s next?!” We hadn’t really planned to become an events organization, but we caught the bug and have been putting on events ever since.

What have you been doing since then?

Somebody once told me that the way I express myself is by moving to a different city. I have moved 5 times in the last 5 years, usually between Toronto, New York and San Francisco. About six months ago I quit my job at a New York marketing agency to start my own company called Speakeasy.

What’s the idea behind Speakeasy?

Speakeasy is for people who love to create and discover unique events. The idea behind Speakeasy is really a story about fun. It turns out that the average 20-to-30-something’s way of having fun on a Saturday night is something in the vein of going to a bar or a nightclub. When you ask people to be really honest, it turns out they don’t even like it. Most bars and nightclubs are bad experiences. We want to find a way to connect people to something they actually want to do – house parties, loft parties, and other unique celebrations that are the kind of places you really meet people, enjoy yourself, don’t spend hundreds of dollars on bottle service, coat check, and cover, just to sloppily cab it home a few hours later. We have figured out a way to connect trusted strangers to interesting events.

How has it been going?

It’s been going great! The feedback has been amazingly positive and encouraging, and we are gearing up for a Valentine’s Day launch. We have some amazing experiences planned, from a “flavour tripping” party by a gourmet chef, to a mimosa brunch afterhours at a downtown Toronto apartment, to a secret garden party in Brooklyn.

What’s the biggest challenge facing you and Speakeasy?

For me and my co-founder Dustin, it’s figuring out the needs of event hosts and learning how to convert them in a simple and repeatable way. Once we figure that out, we need to scale it, and get our numbers of event hosts from the dozens range to the thousands range.

Okay, what’s the best party you’ve ever thrown?

It’s definitely a toss-up, but most people in Toronto will agree that it was a Zelda-themed party that took place in an abandoned nightclub in 2007. We broke into the place, cleaned it up, decorated it elaborately and brought in a sound system powered by a generator on the roof. We snuck in about 400 people under the cover of night, narrowly avoided the police, and partied until dawn. Unforgettable night!

What music really gets a party kicking for you?

House and techno are really the sounds of my soul, but I have a huge soft spot for electro and dubstep. I love technology with all my heart, and I feel like music made by machines is the truest expression of humans as a technological race.

What other interests do you have?

Forgive the cliché but my favorite thing in the world is travel, especially around North America. On this continent, I have been to 48 US states, a great deal of the populated parts of Canada, and Mexico a few times. I’m not in it for the natural beauty, though; I am in love with people and how they work and play. I also spend a lot of time thinking about politics and government, philosophy and futurism.

To follow Kevin on his word travels, keep up with his Twitter feed or keep an eye on the Speakeasy blog. Of course, if you’re just looking to party, then sign up for a Speakeasy account and start hosting or finding events near you. Happy raving!

Words: Tim Ellis