Thom Svast’s arrival in Las Vegas to work at Pure Nightclub resulted in what he now calls “a short-lived marriage, but a well-celebrated divorce,” but it’s one he seems to have taken in stride. Svast—yes, he of the “DJ Rules”—got his start as a DJ 18 years ago, and “Like most DJs, I was off and running, doing my own thing,” he says. “Instead of fighting upstream, trying to throw individual parties, a group of friends and I decided to start throwing parties together. We became successful and landed some big residencies fairly quickly, so I saw the power of working together, rather than as an individual.” About three years later, he dipped his toe into promoting with the advent of Family.Chicago. And in Las Vegas, you might recognize his name in connection with parties such as SEN5ES, Coll3ctive, Violet Reign and UNDR. But Svast has clearly found his niche with the afterhours party AFTER, which launched in 2014 at the former Utopia/Empire Ballroom space and will celebrate its three-year anniversary on February 11 in its new home at the Sahara Lounge with a 4-hour headlining set by techno, trance and house DJ/producer Max Graham.
What’s the AFTER origin story?
Three years ago, I was the director of nightlife for Artisan, and although we showed rapid growth and successful numbers, we just couldn’t see eye to eye. So they released me from my contract, and my friend Sia Amiri pushed me to start my own afterhours company. That was how AFTER started. Artisan tried to sue me several times for a non-compete that they released me from; they didn’t win that battle, and it just stoked the fire under me to succeed. I still have great friends there, and I wish them continued success. They have a great product.
Is Amiri still your partner?
Sia was my original partner, but he knew that the brand had become a passion, almost an obsession, and released his side to me. I’m extremely grateful to him for such a gesture. The Sahara Lounge and AFTER are in a partnership; it’s a very long-term deal. So people may hear it referred to as either, and see signage for both brands on the front of the venue. The current partners at The Sahara Lounge and I have been friends for years, so the partnership just made sense because they understand, support and respect my vision. Weekdays, we do all “walks” of music. On the weekends, that is when we push to the AFTER side of things and keep it underground on Fridays and Saturdays from open to close, with a concentration on the afterhours. During the week, The Sahara Lounge is open 9 p.m. – 2 a.m. and Friday and Saturdays, AFTER is open 9 p.m. – 8 a.m.
Who are some of your influences?
I went to art school in Chicago, so much of my life I’ve been surrounded by art. I find beauty in the most dejected and melancholy of things, the things that most people tend to pass by, because that is a place where most people hide their greatest achievements in life, for fear of judgement. And others are scared to visit that place or open up to it. Commercial artists and commercial musicians have never inspired me—there is something unoriginal and unemotional about their work. It’s difficult to find inspiration in a song that you know the singer or artist didn’t write themselves. I’m not a person who looks to the charts for something to listen to; I enjoy digging and discovering new and hungry artists. I’m inspired by anything in life that evokes emotions and makes me stop and think. We are so drowned out by bad art, bad music and bad people nowadays that when something shines, I stop and stare. I take in that moment, and I live for such moments in culture and in art.
What genre of music did you start out with?
I was one of those industrial kids with leather pants, stacked black boots, black eyeliner and black fingernail polish. I listened to My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Sheep on Drugs, Nine Inch Nails, Nitzer Ebb and so on. So it was a natural progression into techno. It seems like many of us from that old scene tend to gravitate towards techno—it definitely inspired the genre. I used to make a joke that, growing up just outside Chicago, we used to put house music in our Cheerios for breakfast. I was fortunate to be brought up next to such a rad cultural city that was at the forefront of something new and inspiring. You can say, it’s in my blood.
Do you feel challenged in Las Vegas as an afterhours/underground promoter?
We are absolutely locally challenged in the underground scene. For one, we don’t have suburbs like other major cities, so our reach tends to be limited. We aren’t backed by big casinos and big marketing budgets. There are some new events in town that are very successful because they are backed by big casino money—I don’t have that luxury. Everything we do is out-of-pocket and grassroots. What they do is great for us, though, because it spreads the sound and the culture. The style of music we push is challenging in itself, because it’s not for everyone, and I realize that. Even if you don’t care for the music, we provide a dope atmosphere where people can simply be themselves, and that is what we are really about, what the underground is about.
Find that one thing in life that makes you want to wake up in the morning and quit your shitty job to pursue it. Listen to that little voice inside over what other people think; that voice is real, fuck what anyone else thinks. – Thom Svast
How does one maintain a good party in Las Vegas?
Consistency in your product and treating people like they are gold are extremely important to me. We have been a bit of a gypsy company since our inception, but people have stuck with us, and I can’t thank them enough for that. People work hard during the week to earn their money; they should be treated with respect if you are lucky enough to have them pass through your doorway. There are really only a few companies bringing the true underground to Las Vegas right now, and those are AFTER, MNTRA and Cymatic. Some of the other guys stopped doing shows, or don’t do them on a consistent basis. So people will always know that they will be getting a good show, and a rad lineup of headliners that rarely—if ever—come to Vegas.
Do you rely on tourists?
We currently aren’t in a position to rely on tourism. It’s different when you are in a casino with a million-dollar marketing budget, and have more hosts at your door than ants in a hill. Being that we are three stop lights away from Las Vegas Boulevard changes everything. We have gotten our fair share of tourists simply because they don’t want to hear the shitty music in the big clubs. They usually find us on Resident Advisor, Bands in Town, or follow our social media.
What do you think about bottle service?
As a business owner, and being in nightlife for what feels like forever, I get the whole bottle service thing. It has its place in the clubs, I just don’t think it has its place at the price that they are charging people. But more power to the clubs. If the sheep want to pay an exorbitant amount of money to have a place to sit down in an attempt to get laid and flaunt their money, go fuckin’ take their money. Anyone who pays $1,000 for a bottle that costs the club $25 is a complete moron, but that’s my opinion and, again, good for the clubs that are taking their money. If I had that type of money, I can think of a million other better ways to spend it and enjoy it.
Assuming one of those ways is on talent, how many headliners a month do you plan to bring to AFTER?
Right now we are starting off with two headliners per month; hopefully business will dictate [that it be] every weekend come late springtime. Headliners have always been the best investment and best source of marketing. The local supporting acts for this show will be Spacebyrdz, Justin Baule, and DJKCray—the crew that has been with AFTER since the beginning.
Why work in the underground scene when you can work on the Strip at the larger venues?
I worked at one of those venues for an ownership group that didn’t give a flying fuck about their managers, employees, customers, or quality of life. I like living my life, not wasting it making money for someone who doesn’t give two fucks about you. It’s obviously also not in my personality to be a “yes man.”
Do you believe in the importance of building a local following as well as developing new artists?
Developing and mentoring new artists is so important for our scene, and for the craft … if there is a craft left to it. I understand that I’m already the cranky old guy on the porch telling kids to get off my lawn when it comes to technology, but I’m always semi-intelligent enough to understand that this is the way things are, and I have to embrace it. It’s easy nowadays to go to the Apple Store in Town Square and tell them to sell me a new Mac laptop ready for Traktor and a DJ gig. Open up the tablet, watch a tutorial, and now you are officially a DJ. It no longer takes much talent to be a DJ; that’s why the ones who sound different, or create their own sound rise the fastest. Or have a rich dad to buy you marketing and hire a ghostwriter—I highly recommend having a rich dad. At least if I am mentoring some of the up-and-comers, I can offer insight on topics such as integrity, programming and how to create an experience for people.
How do you feel about the local electronic-dance music community?
I have a great love for all involved in the dance community. The scene is growing really fast, and I’m blessed to be a part of it. I do have some concerns about the amount of shows that are starting to pop up. The scene is growing, but still very small here. There are inconsiderate promoters and DJs who hurt shows by spreading too thin on certain nights, when simple text messages can resolve these issues, and not double-book nights with larger investments. There’s enough to go around, and success for all involved, if there was a bit of courtesy but, hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog business. I know that since we partnered [with Sahara Lounge], one particular venue started throwing its wallet at DJs and promoters, and I take that as a compliment.
How do you feel about the mainstream Las Vegas Strip versus the local community?
The Strip community is great for us. At some point everyone will grow up and listen to proper music. It’s a feeder system.
What advice would you have for this burgeoning industry?
Be your own beautiful ever-evolving, ever-changing piece of accessible, but seemingly intangible, art. Let your life flow on the canvas as you’d want to be seen on the wall in the Louvre. Inspire to inspire. Save someone’s life by simply stopping and listening. Find that one thing in life that makes you want to wake up in the morning and quit your shitty job to pursue it. Listen to that little voice inside over what other people think; that voice is real, fuck what anyone else thinks. And remember that this is music, the aural art. Put all of the emotion that you have into it. The end result will be unforgettable.
AFTER at the Sahara Lounge
1000 E. Sahara Ave., afterlasvegas.com
Feb 11: Max Graham
Feb 17: Dosem
March 4: Loco & Jam
March 11: Anthony Attalla
April 8: Jon Charnis
April 29: Christian Martin
Ted E. Pugliese—The Party Hunter—makes it his life’s mission to seek out incredible new music, wherever it may be.