Imagine Festival Founders Share Their Story And What To Expect This Year In iEDM Exclusive Interview
When I was introduced to the EDM scene, the first show that I went to was a weekly event that is held by Iris Presents every Saturday, at Rush Lounge in Atlanta.
There was a family vibe that made me feel comfortable and I always had a great time. The owners of Iris Presents had also just started throwing their annual EDM festival, Imagine. I’ve been to every Imagine Festival since, and the experience has been life changing.
Imagine broke into the festy game with an impressive line up and has continued to surprise people with something even bigger and better, year after year. Artists such as Above & Beyond, Deadmau5, Tiesto, Big Gigantic, Pretty Lights, STS9, Claude Von Stroke, and Black Sun Empire will be performing this year, along with many more.
Coming up on it’s fourth annual, Imagine Music Festival has grown a substantial amount in its early years. Last year the festival moved from an inner city venue to the Atlanta Motor Speedway accommodating its current and future growth. Camping and many more installations were introduced giving it more of an artsy and transformational feel.
There has been something new each year. iEDM had the pleasure of talking with the founders, Glenn and Madeleine Goodhand, to see what is in store for this year, the years to come, and what it takes to get there.
iEDM: Imagine is under three months away. You have something new every year and must be getting things together. What can we expect this year?
Madeleine: We're improving a lot of last year. So, a lot of things. We surveyed a lot of our customers last year and got a lot of feedback on the event.
It was our first year at the speedway, as you know. So it was a huge, just a learning curve for us. We’ve made a couple of mistakes and had some growing pains. There were a lot of things that came to light and we're excited to improve on them. We’ll have a lot more signage and water stations. Not just water stations, but water stations that are top of the line water stations with high pressure cooling.
Glenn: We've got different crews from some of the best festivals in the world, that we look up to, coming on board. An all new camping team that does Coachella, a VIP director, and a performance director both from EDC series. We’ll have some of the people from Electric Forest as well.
We really look up to them and try to emulate some of the things that they do. So we are bringing on some of the teams that have done so well and proven to be so successful on those other properties.
We're excited about bringing those people on board, trying to fill our home team, and increasing the aquatic theme through bigger, better art, bigger, better performances, and just overall creating a better experience for everybody. That's been the goal from the very beginning of Imagine. To build from a customer's perspective always.
As Madeleine mentioned, we took our survey to see what we could improve on. We tried to address every single issue that people mentioned. I think people are going to be really excited about the improvements that we made, and the differences they're going to experience this year compared to years past will really be a wow factor.
iEDM: How does it feel for Imagine to be at the level it's at now?
Glenn: It's definitely humbling. Originally, Imagine was supposed to be somewhat of a smaller scale, inner city festival. Then we were going to duplicate the formula in multiple cities across the United States and maybe even the world. It was supposed to be somewhat of a smaller field, more intimate festival.
That plan somewhat changed when we started growing a family. As you know, we have one boy who is a little over one-year-old. And we have a girl on the way that's due July 8th. We look forward to introducing everybody to the babies this year. It makes you want to stay home when you start growing your family, and not necessarily wanting to be on the road all of the time.
For us, it made sense to try to do something a little bit bigger here in Atlanta. We had to find a bigger property because we had grown out of the beautiful space we had been in for the two years. So, the next step was either to sell out early, or to expand the size and scope of the event into somewhere we could call home and grow into over indefinitely.
Photo Credit: Adam Oliver
iEDM: Where did it all begin?
Glenn: The promotional tool behind Imagine has really been Iris, which began here in Atlanta around 1996 when I originally started promoting. I grew up in New York and was a b-boy. Back in my day we went to places like The Tunnel and The Limelight and these huge dance clubs that a guy named Peter Gashin owned. He was somewhat of the inspiration for me because I thought that his clubs were amazing. He was able to bring a lot of different people and a lot of different environments all together in one night. Everybody would sort of forget about their worries and just really have a good time.
He was really good at creating these cool environments within the club. Always had a lot of stilt walkers, trapeze walkers, and beautiful dancers. Just all different groups of people from all different communities coming together, enjoying themselves, being able to have this somewhat of a 360-degree experience while you were at his clubs. I always appreciated it. So when I moved down to Atlanta, I wanted to bring a piece of that. That's sort of how IRIS started, very small and organically grown from doing little teeny after parties to eventually starting a weekly. For me it was always about high quality and customer service. So high quality production and customer service were always the key components on making a good night. We just kept using that formula. It seems to fairly simple, sort of traditional, but for us it's all about giving the people a great product at the most reasonable price that we can.
We started the weekly back in the 90s. Everybody seemed to love it. Eventually we landed at a place called the The Church, which is somewhat legendary in the southeast. The event was ESP101 - Learn to Believe. That weekly event was one of the most successful dance music event through 90's and early 2000s, really throughout the country. We rode that for a while until there was a little bit of a lull in the dance music community in the United States.
Photo Credit: Adam Oliver
There was a lot of mainstream bias against what they were calling "raves". We would always call them parties, but they would call them "raves". Just a lot of bad publicity on them.
So, I met Madeleine in 2008, and she's from Finland. On our first date, she was kind of giving me the quiz just trying to find out more about me. I knew her family was somewhat traditional, so I would sort of not necessarily brag about being a big rave promoter because it was not necessarily the most conservative type of occupation. I didn't want to spring that on her from the very beginning. From the first date, she asked what kind of music I liked. I said, "Well, I like house music." She was like "What kind of house music?" Right then, I knew she had some kind of knowledge of electronic music.
Because back in the day you would call, at least in New York, you would call all electronic music, house music. Then the next question was "Well, what kind of house music?". Then you'd go into more detail whether it was techno, or deep house, or breaks, or a hard style, whatever it might be back then, what ever genre it might have been back then. She had a fundamental knowledge of the music and I could tell she liked it and liked my response. One thing led to another. It was actually her idea.
She eventually found out I was a promoter in town, basically because we would go out all the time. Everyone seemed to know me and all. I kept having IRIS everywhere. I had an info line still. I still have my info line actually, which is kind of old school. Everybody I ran into would be like, "Oh, I used to love your parties." All this kind of stuff. Then, she was like, "What is IRIS?" Well, actually I used to be a promoter and told her the whole run down of The Church. And she was like, "Why don't we do another party?" I said that wasn’t sure about it.
Madeline and I would go out every once in a while here in Atlanta. It was right when we first started dating. We both liked electronic music. When we were going out, the parties around Atlanta were just really poorly done. There were lines down the street. Security was overzealous. We'd walk in and there was like a Radio Shack light in the corner. The sound was horrible. We somewhat felt, almost obligated to give the kids a better understanding and experience. I wanted them to see what I felt the club, party, and rave experience should be.
We both together decided, "Let's do a reunion show." It happened at The Church, which is where we kind of grew up doing stuff. That’s where the weekly became so popular. It went over well. We had a bad experience with the owner in the end. He turned on the lights early, are right when we thought the vibe was getting where it should have been. It was about to be somewhat of a magical moment for that show. The owners cranked on the lights and were kicking everybody out before they were supposed to. It was just a disappointment. It was really discouraging, but Madeline and I kept our heads down and were trying to figure out what we should do.
We kept looking online and talking to people. Madeline started a group called The IRIS Girls and that was somewhat of a brand ambassador program of all the "IT" girls, not just really pretty girls, but nice, engaging, and we thought that would be a great way getting back to being relevant again. We somewhat expected to be relevant immediately, but what I didn't really realize is that everyone that had been coming out to the parties in the 90's and early 2000's had somewhat grown up. So, there's a whole new generation of kids coming out. We had to figure out a way to let them know what we were doing and how we were different.
Photo Credit: Adam Oliver
iEDM: What are some of the differences in IRIS 1996 and IRIS 2017?
Glenn: One of the biggest things for sure I'd say is that my wife, Madeleine, is involved now. She’s helped tremendously in getting organized and being a proper business. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, I was just somewhat of a young kid, b-boy. I had passion for what I was doing, and really enjoyed giving people an amazing experience.
The difference now, is that we take it very seriously. And everything we do is on the up and up as far as the bookkeeping and accounting. We want to be able to bring this experience and the best memories that will last forever to as many people as we possibly can. So it all is certainly a lot of hard work. The main difference, is definitely Madeline's involvement and her marketing abilities. She's an incredible marketer and does all the organization to make it right. I'd say we're definitely a good team.
But as the scene goes, I'd say the difference between back then and now, is that I don't really see a lot of people dancing like they used to then. I'm not one of the people who harp on "Oh, it's never like it used to be." That's not really me. I'm really trying to stay current and understand why people like certain styles of music or why people don't necessarily dance anymore....
It's more like a concert these days where everyone faces the front and shakes their head or hand. I love shuffling. At least its something. They’re moving and getting down. When I was going out in the late 80's and early, very early 90's, I was going to big map point parties and those type of things. It was all about getting with your friends and showing them the new dance moves. When we were doing a trick, it was throwing a piece of linoleum on the ground. Everyone created a circle, and was just getting down. It was all about the music.
Now it seems a little bit different. It's changed, but I also see bits and pieces of those kids that understand and have a good understanding of why we're there. The music, I think, dictates the event more than anything. Another huge difference is how mainstream it is now. Some people say it's not good. Some people say it's good. I like it. I don't think there's anything wrong with it being mainstream. It's a lot nicer than trying to throw renegade shows and being shut down by the police half way through. You know, it's nice to have proper permits and licensing.
Things are done right. Being accepted by the mainstream community and the press is a great feeling. We have the city behind us, and the state behind us, and all the press that we've been blessed with, who we have such great reviews from, and all of the people that come out. That's a significant difference between back then and now. Every single commercial on TV has electronic music or some kind of electronic influence on it for sure.
Photo Credit: Adam Oliver
iEDM: Throwing a weekly event for as long as you have, you’ve played a huge part in the development in Atlanta's EDM scene. How will you maintain the strong family vibe while growing to be such a big production?
Glenn: We've managed to. I touched on it earlier about sort of feeling obligated to bring people a little bit of a taste from the old day’s vibe and energy. That's something we've tried to bring back somehow, in some way. It's contributed to the success of the weekly when we brought it back, and it's done well. People understand and appreciate it and are there every week.
Madeleine: Part of it too is that they feel like they can contribute to and be a part of something.
Glenn: Yeah, we have such a good team and everybody contributes to the look and the feel. Not just the people that are in the production, but the people that come every week wearing, or bringing new kandi, or wearing a new outfit. It's really everyone that comes, and is just sharing the best memories and the great times and meeting new family and friends that will really last forever. Those are the type of experiences that we work so hard for.
As far as keeping that type vibe in a larger event, it's a challenge. The main focus of what we're trying to do is from the hiring process trying to bring on people that we feel have that same energy. It's been interesting, and a lot of the people who are excelling in this particular industry now have actually come from the old rave scene. When we interview people, we can share those stories. So it's really fun to bring those type of people back into the team again. It's almost like a reunion. You know when you talk to people like that, they get what it used to be like. So when you bring all those people together and create an event some of it sort of trickles down. The energy that's put into an event, it trickles down from the top down into an experience all the way through to all the guests that come.
We're still independent. That makes a tremendous difference, too. There's a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into each and every one of these events. There’s a lot more riding on the line for everybody. Being independent, we can still make decisions on exactly who works for us from the top down and we’re trying to be particular about those. And even on the production side, or the security, or the camping, or whoever it is, we want to make sure when we talk to them that we get a good feeling from them that they have the same vision that we do or at least will work to attain the goals that we want to, which is really just the ultimate experience for all our guests.
Photo Credit: Adam Oliver
iEDM: When did the idea to build a music festival even come about?
Glenn: After a few years of being at Rush Lounge, which we affectionately rebranded The IRIS, we were a little bit hindered by the fact that it wasn't our club. We were just a promoter there on Saturday nights. We rebranded it The IRIS so that if we ever wanted to move, that event could move anywhere it needed to. We've been there for six years now, so it's been great.
However, there are restrictions on things like being able to have fire performers, the prices of water and it's their security.
Madeleine: We’re not able to complete our entire vision there
Glenn: For Madeline and I, the next step is either open up a club of our own that we have complete control of and we can create the environment and the vibe that we want to or the other option is to create a bigger event that is basically a blank canvas that we can create our vision with. We looked at doing a club and it didn't work out. So, we decided to do a music festival. That's sort of how Imagine was at least initially born.
iEDM: What are your biggest inspirations for Imagine Music Festival?
Glenn: Madeleine, of course, is saying that we will always bring back the Aquatic Fairytale and mermaids. More mermaids.
We definitely get inspiration from Electric Forest, EDC Vegas, Coachella, Shambhala. There's a bunch of festivals that we feel, are doing things right and you can tell that the owners of the property or the producers of the event care about their customers. Those are the type of festivals that we really like to look at. We make our own lane, but certainly a mixture because we have camping, but we're a speedway. And we're somewhat Burning Man because we have some burning elements in there. We're definitely our own festival, but we certainly look up to and admire some of the things that those other larger festivals have been able to accomplish.
Eventually, when we’ll have bigger budgets and can get to that point. This is still only our fourth year. So relatively speaking, we're being compared to these festivals that have been around for 20 years.
They're the biggest in the world and here we are, just Maddie and I trying to compete. We've done our fair share, but we certainly have big visions and huge dreams of making the entire infield of the track a huge fishbowl.
Just massive art displays and burning areas, themed camps, and all kinds of really interesting and fun stuff. This is just the beginning. We're super excited about the direction it's going. Especially as we kind of make our turn into our fourth and fifth years. It's when you start to, at least traditionally, make a nice turn and that turn for us will all immediately go back into the festival to make it an even greater and more fantastic experience for everybody.
Photo Credit: Adam Oliver
iEDM: What are some of the biggest highlights of the journey so far?
Madeleine: I guess the biggest highlight is growing as quickly as we have. Honestly, I remember the day that Glenn and I drove over to Atlanta Motor Speedway. I had to pinch myself because I never could have imagined that we would be moving into such a huge venue. The size of it is breath-taking. Also, for us, it was a huge project. I just thought, wow, that's a huge space to fill, and I can't believe we're the ones who have the pleasure. I guess people have the confidence in us to do this and pull it off. There have been a lot of festivals that have come through, a lot of great festivals that have come through Atlanta. For us to still be around, we feel like we have really big shoes to fill, but it's really an honor to remain and for people to have that faith in us.
Glenn: We’ve been through some tough times for sure. We've lost tremendous amounts of money and somehow figured a way to continue to keep moving forward and keep going. One of the biggest factors with us continuing to move forward is just the tremendous outreach we've gotten from the people that have come out to the festival. We’ve been completely down and out, where we were so depressed. We didn't know what we were going to do. We had all this debt.
These people would just come up to us and say "I went to Imagine and it changed my life" and "I went to Imagine and it was the best experience I will ever have" or "I went to Imagine and I met my wife there and now I have kids." Those types of compliments with tears coming to their eyes, validates what we're doing. It just makes all the hard work and the suffering to make it all work, the journey I guess, make it all worth it. We cherish those moments. When you get those kind of compliments, it changes your perspective on life almost.
iEDM: What have been your biggest challenges?
Glenn: The biggest challenges for us, well one was the moving. Moving in general is a tough task. Being independent is certainly hard. We have financial struggles and hurdles that we have to get over because we're trying to compete with the biggest and the best in the world. Those guys have endless budgets, corporate budgets, and we're still just independent, trying to make it. When people are online and they say, "Why aren't you like TomorrowWorld's lineups?" or whatever, we're just like "We're trying". We want to get there. We just don't have that budget yet. We're working on it. We certainly have those dreams to be the best that we can and have our own lane of course.
The challenges have been financial, trying to create the best experience we can possible, and getting the best staff in place.
Madeleine: For a long time, just Glenn and I, were trying to do everything, wear so many different hats. Then, what has been nice, this year we've finally gotten to a point where we can actually hire more people. It shows we're growing. We brought on, we think, some of the best. So, we're super excited just to show everyone the differences, and our growth this year, and give everyone an amazing experience. There's more teams involved, which makes everything operate better.
iEDM: In 2015, you ended Imagine with the announcement of your first pregnancy. Now about to have your second, being the power couple that you two are, how do you balance business and your personal life?
Madeleine: We don't have a personal life. We love what we do so much. Our business is so much a part of our passion and personal life that the two are the same. The two are one. You could say we don't have work/life balance, but I feel that we have a great life. It's just amazing to be able to do what you love. It doesn't really feel like work when you love what you're doing. The fact that Glenn and I get to work together being a married couple is absolutely magical. It's such a blessing. Glenn and I have literally spent every second together.
That's been a blessing. We're not even sick of each other. I still can't get sick of him. I miss him every minute he's gone. It's been really rewarding and nice.
iEDM: So, TomorrowWorld wasn't prepared for the rain. Counterpoint was unsuccessful. What precautions have you taken to prevent Imagine from problems that could be avoided?
Glenn: We knew we were going to have to move because we outgrew the old space. We looked all over the southeast, mostly in Atlanta, but we looked all over the southeast to try to find a place that made sense. And some of those issues were of course, somewhere that would be able to sustain inclement weather. We saw what happened with TomorrowWorld. We looked at that venue. It's a beautiful site, but overall we felt like the place that was best suited for any inclement weather was the speedway. They've got roads, and paved roads. They've got irrigation. They've got beautiful campgrounds that have irrigation in them. They've got shelter, plumbed bathrooms, water, nice staff, and power, and infrastructure not only to deal with and be suited for inclement weather, but creates some luxuries in life that you may not get at a lot of, at some of the other festivals.
iEDM: How does it feel to be the number one EDM festival in Atlanta?
Glenn: Of course, it feels great. We're certainly humbled and feel blessed to be where we are. We couldn't be more thankful for all the love and support that we've encountered from the very beginning, from the first year. It's really what has kept us going and made us keep working and staying with it, not giving up, and being persistent.
Madeleine: We have big dreams. Like Glenn said earlier, this is only the beginning. We definitely have a long way to go.
Glenn: We couldn't have done it without the beautiful fans and the guests that all come out and enjoy the experience.
We're excited, too. When people say, "Oh, oh my gosh, I love the line up. I can't wait." We're like, "Oh my god, I can't wait either!" We're just as excited if not more, like kids in a candy store.
Madeleine: We both put on our favorite artists that we've always enjoyed and listened to. It's really amazing to go and book them yourself. What a milestone.
iEDM: Who are you most excited to see this year?
Madeleine: I like DeadMau5.
Glenn: I like Pretty Lights.
iEDM: I like Tiesto.
Glenn: Yeah, in fact, Tiesto was one of Madeline's favorites from when we first met. She used to run on the treadmill to Tiesto.
We're just excited about the whole lineup in general, even the under card. We've always been known for having a really strong under card. I think it happened again this year. Even the weekly at IRIS has always been supporting our locals. Support your locals, the very best locals in the land has always sort of been one of my mantras. We continue to do that with Imagine and it's extremely rewarding for us to give some of the amazing talent that's coming out of Atlanta a platform to perform on with some of the very biggest and best production gear, sound, lighting, laser center, and staging that's out there. When we're able to give them that kind of platform, it makes us happy. It's just really rewarding to be able to help others that are coming up from Atlanta to make it too.
iEDM: What does it take to get to where you are today?
Madeleine: Persistence. Obviously, the hard work, a little bit of luck. You have to believe and never give up. Just believe and if you can envision your dreams they will manifest themselves in this type of work.
Glenn: You have to love what you're doing. You have to have the passion for it. If you don't love this, then you'd never make it. You don't make it if you don't love it. There's too much heartache in it. You have to be completely passionate about it and we are.