[INDUSTRY INTERVIEW] Building A Sustainable Sonic Paradise: Co-Founders Joel & Blake Atchison Share The Vision Behind Deep Tropics

Deep Tropics

| August 16, 2023

Hailing from the vibrant city of Nashville, Tennessee, brothers Joel and Blake Atchison are pioneering the future of the event space. With Joel as the executive director of Deep Culture and a master of regenerative design, he is a major catalyst for positive social, cultural, and environmental change. Meanwhile, Blake is an expert and role model in the talent buying and event organizing realm. This is in addition to being the innovative mind behind the unrivaled experience curator, Full Circle Presents.

Together, this inspirational duo has forged one of the world's top music, art, and style festivals in Deep Tropics. Bridging sustainable practices with diverse musical talent and immersive visual production, Deep Tropics has set a prime example for the live entertainment industry. Ahead of this premier festival's fifth edition, coming to Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park from August 18-19, we had the honor of chatting with Joel and Blake. The brothers dived into their journey surrounding Deep Tropics, shared valuable wisdom, reminisced on past festival highlights, and more!

Check out iEDM's exclusive interview with Joel & Blake below.

Deep Tropics

iEDM: What are each of your main roles and strengths when it comes to the inner workings of Deep Tropics?

Joel: Blake is on the talent buying and production side, while I mainly focus on the cultural side and sustainability. In regard to championing the community, we will have a variety of interactive workshops curated by different leaders. 

One of the activations I’m responsible for is the Deep Culture speakeasy. It is going to be a tent featuring amazing human beings and acting as a place where attendees can catch a workshop, do some movement, meditation, breath work, and more. We have curated an awesome lineup of activities in this space. 

We will also have a healing sanctuary, where you can get a massage, Reiki, chiropractic adjustments, and read oracle cards to have your dreams interpreted. This is complemented by our therapeutic refuge, designed to provide comfort and aid to people who may be having a challenging moment psychologically or just want to have a deep conversation. It will be led by Stephanie Blick and her team of professional therapists.

Additionally, there will be an elixir bar and nourishment lab with some of the best herbalists in the state, such as Cedar Hill Homestead, High Garden Tea, and The Flower Key. They have collaborated on a menu that encompasses alcohol-free, feel-good alternatives.

We have a creative reuse dome, where we will be upcycling fabrics and running live sewing workshops. And of course, there’s the Zero Waste team and sustainability components. Hopefully, this gives you an idea of the scope of Deep Culture’s role within the overall event.

Blake: To expand a little, Joel and Deep Culture enhance the community experience on certain levels that go beyond the lineup, production, and logistics of Deep Tropics. As brothers and the organizers of this festival, we have a really dynamic relationship.

 

iEDM: Why do you think that Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is the optimal home base for Deep Tropics? What benefits does it provide that help allow Deep Tropics to flourish?

Blake: Geographically, it is central in Nashville. The State Capitol and downtown skylines are the backdrop. It is very picturesque and has a lot of infrastructure, which makes it easier to host events. Also, it is a special kind of sacred gathering space, and has been so throughout time.

Bicentennial Capitol Mall State ParkWe tried for years to get into the park, which wasn’t an easy task. After a ton of effort, we were finally able to find a home there.

Joel: There’s an article that talks about Bicentennial Mall and William Henry, an investigative mythologist and author of the book, City of Peace: The Holy Grail Secrets of Ancient and Modern Nashville. Throughout it are references to how we got the name for our stages. Some of the design and experience at Deep Tropics is based around Henry’s philosophies. 

The park itself represents a whole chakra system. It is a recreation of Mount Maru, which according to Tibetan mythology is an ancient Hindu temple. Henry’s philosophy is that the park is a super antenna of spiritual energies within our planet.

 

iEDM: Boosting the immersive nature of Deep Tropics is a myriad of incredible stage production, visual art, and website design that reflects a psychedelic and groovy jungle atmosphere. What was the process behind bringing together a team of creatives to forge the artistic vision you had for Deep Tropics? Just based off scrolling through deeptropics.org or Deep Tropics’ Instagram, what are some of your favorite graphics for this year’s festival, and why?

Blake: The art has been an evolutionary process. In 2017, we worked with Berk Visual and Paper Diamond to create our initial look. From 2019-2022, Aaron Martin updated the look and feel of everything. He is responsible for the illustratration below and the current art installations.

Deep TropicsWe also have Jackie Thomas, the CEO of Starfaker, who has been on board since the beginning as our website designer. This year, she has taken on the role of our full time graphic designer and creative director. 

I love all the art; it has this fun, esoteric feel. It is playful but deep at the same time, and there’s a lot of meaning behind it. To me, it feels like you enter into another world, which is exactly the idea and energy that was put into it. 

This carries onsite with the different characters. The whole ethos around it is the heroic journey of a tropical traveler, present in every attendee. I like how the artwork truly represent s the narrative.

Joel: For me, Deep Tropics is a state of mind. Obviously, we are not literally in the tropics, but with this time of year in Nashville and the humidity, it sure does feel like it.

We actually have a ton of tropical plants that are cultivated in greenhouses around Tennessee. Partnering with a farm called The R.A.N.C.H. Project (part of Ancient Nutrition), we move many of its tropical plants into the festival so it feels like a jungle. That is a key part of our aesthetic.

The R.A.N.C.H. ProjectiEDM: Do each of you have any personal highlights from Deep Tropics 2021 or 2022? What are both of you looking forward to most in regard to the upcoming Deep Tropics?

Blake: ‘21 was cool to have Joe Kay, and some of the Soulection guys, who played a couple sets at the festival and late-night events. We had a curated Q&A with Jared Jackson (Soulection) and Joe Kay; that was a special moment. As far as artist highlights, Sango and Jared Jackson.

This year, I am really looking forward to Major League Djz, who are the first big amapiano act that has come through Nashville. That sound is moving me the most right now. 

I’m pumped for Lunice over at the Lotus stage. His live performances are just so energetic and unmatchable in the bass world. 

Gorgon City, Hayden James, Coco & Breezy... we are excited for all of it. There is a nice progression for the way the set times are going to flow, taking everyone on a journey through different tempos and energies.

Joel: Tchami was a major highlight for me last year; he is the reverend. I will never forget Ben Böhmer’s after-party set. It was at an amply immersive venue where every square inch of the wall was projection-mapped.  

This year, I’m excited that we have artists from six continents, representing a full palette of sound within house and bass music. I second that Major League Djz is probably my most anticipated set. They have a rising sound that is picking up in a lot of places but is still new to Nashville. 

I am pumped that we are going to have a fashion show this year and emphasize the style component of Deep Tropics. Also, we always had a reusable cup program with plastic cups for a couple of years. Now we are stepping it up with our ‘Infinity Cup Program’, providing everyone with a stainless steel cup. And yeah, we are having zero trash cans on site; giving people that experience is always a highlight for me.

Deep CultureiEDM: What sparked the idea to add the Lotus stage to Deep Tropics? What does the stage represent, and can you hint at anything surrounding the stage’s artwork and other features?

Blake: The Lotus stage’s purpose is to round out the palette of music at Deep Tropics. We have gotten a little more house heavy but the bass acts are just as important. While the Meru stage is representative of a temple, the Lotus stage has a bit of an aquatic theme mixed with the dense part of the jungle. 

Each stage is going to be extremely unique this year. We are totally revamping Meru. From a production standpoint, there will be a lot more special effects at Meru, such as CO2, flames, and projection-mapping with lasers. 

iEDM: What does it mean to you to see that Deep Tropics has been such a beloved experience that you are now returning for your fifth edition? What are the biggest changes or evolutions that have been made since the inaugural Deep Tropics festival?

Joel: Deep Tropics has been a cool indicator of watching Nashville itself evolve. The influx of culture and people coming from different places has led to massive growth in the EDM scene.

For changes and improvements surrounding production, each year we get a little more dialed in and there is more attention to detail. This collective mindset of how our team interacts is what sets us apart. 

It feels like we are adding on more layers of culture and captivating individuals each year. Our fanbase has continued to expand and Deep Tropics is now something people look forward to constantly. It has become one of the best weekend’s of the year and the ultimate party experience in Nashville.

 

iEDM: How did your partnership with Radiate come about? What makes Radiate unique to other event-based or social connectivity apps? Why is it a solid fit for Deep Tropics to collaborate with?

Blake: They reached out to us, and I am super glad they did. There is nothing like Radiate as far as being a community where you can meet people and go to events together. Joel and I have been going to festivals for 25 years. We have realized that there are a lot of long-lasting genuine friendships that come from festivals. 

So, when we learned that Radiate was an intentional space for people to link outside the music and at each festival, we loved the concept. Having a partner like Radiate creates more opportunities for people to connect before and after Deep Tropics.

iEDM: There are such a diverse selection of musical talents and soundscapes across the forthcoming Deep Tropics lineup. What techniques or pointers do you utilize when planning out a roster of artists that represent the entirety of dance music and are balanced into different tiers in terms of the size of their audience or influence?

Blake: We are committed to not overspending on talent. That is not to say we don’t have some big acts, but we really try to catch people when they are on the rise and bank on timing. We book pretty far in advance and tend to see a lot of momentum build from then until the festival. We are already working next year on our headliners to try to stay ahead of the curve.

Also, we play into what is appropriate for Nashville. For EDM standards, we are not exactly early adopters. There needs to be a balance of what is relevant for the city and what’s going to attract people from all over. Austin Knight and I are the talent buyers for the event. We work all year on it, and we book a lot of acts that we think are timeless and culturally relevant. 

Joel: We do a ton of traveling, going to festivals and getting a feel for the artists. What I love about the integrity that Blake and Austin have is that it is not just based on the popularity or number of listens… it is based on the quality of music. 

Blake: The central vibe of the people that each artist draws in is important too. Artists like LP Giobbi, who are doing more than just the music and have a higher calling, is something we look for as well.

Deep Tropics

Click to see our top 10 can't-miss performances at Deep Tropics!

 

iEDM: One thing that is special about Deep Tropics is that beyond being a music & arts festival, it has the ‘style’ component as well. What are each of your top rave fashion trends right now? What are your top general fashion brands? What is the coolest jungle or tropics-themed fit you have seen at a Deep Tropics event?

Joel: For festival fashion, there are some West Coast brands that I love, such as WhoCaresWhyNot, Blamo, and Peace Fits. The goal is to evolve this into where the fashion isn’t just sacred geometry and black-lit designs. We encourage people to wear costumes, high-fashion, or even more traditional fits. 

Several of the best vintage curators are going to be at the festival this year. Some of the dopest outfits that people come up with are thrifted or handmade. We have an upcycling artist who shows her collections across the world. She makes all of her clothes out of discarded garments. Her name is Melissa Lockwood and we are stoked to have her!

There were a couple random astronauts last year that I kept seeing, and they were having such a great time.

Blake: In general, it is bold and colorful prints. Stuff that makes you feel like you are on vacation. It has turned into a fun element where people are planning out these very tropical fits. I love to see how attendees embrace and interpret the theme of Deep Tropics.

 

Click to see our top jungle-themed fits to rep at Deep Tropics!

 

Memorable outfits that stick out in my head are from this tropical insect theme that was done in the past. It was sick! There have been so many cool tropical goddesses and gods too.

Deep TropicsiEDM: What are each of your top genres and top artists?

Blake: My four pillars are hip-hop, liquid drum & bass, downtempo, and the Grateful Dead. Radiohead was a huge influence for me early on. I have been to at least ten of their shows.

Joel: I could name a sh*t ton of EDM artists that I love. It simply depends on what I am leaning into at the moment. Right now, I have been digging Jon Hopkins, Julianna Barwick, Nils Frahm, and Ólafur Arnalds. I like really soothing ambient soundscapes. The amapiano sound is getting me hyped up, along with African-inspired house music. 

Liquid d&b is always my favorite thing to work to. That is the kind of energy I need to put out during this time of year.

iEDM: What has been the toughest challenge you have faced since launching Deep Culture and producing a climate positive event? How were you able to overcome it?

Joel: Learning how to track all the data and all the work that goes into it. Every fan, artist, and production staff have to submit a travel survey. All the power used throughout the festival and water usage need to be calculated. Collecting the data was definitely a challenge and getting people on board with this program to begin with. It was solved mainly by trial and error.

We are not perfect, but with the system we have now we are happy to share with anyone who asks. We certainly want to create a playbook for any large event organizers to implement. 

Deep Culture is becoming more of an experiential wellness and immersive education brand. We are trying to give a stage to authors, writers, and biohackers. Another objective is to spread tools and techniques across our community, creating sacred spaces with high production value. This will enable people to evolve and grow. We are starting a weekly event series this fall or winter to build community year-round. That is something that we are super thrilled about. 

iEDM: Of the five core values that make up Deep Culture, which one does each of you connect with the most on a personal level, and why?

Joel: Self awareness, self discovery, and refinement, aka personal development. Music festivals have changed my life in so many ways. The first time I ever did yoga and breath work was at a festival. I have learned how to be a better person and how to have healthier relationships. 

Championing values like this, at an event where peoples’ minds and hearts are maybe more open than usual, is such a prime opportunity. Additionally, we are planting 30,000+ trees in Tennessee, taking field trips to farms who are engaging in sustainable practices. Moving beyond sustainability, we are focusing on regenerating ourselves, our community, and our planet. That is what gets me fired up the most!

Blake: Personal growth is a big one for me. Sustainability and championing these types of values in this industry can be challenging, but it is always worth it.

iEDM: What predictions do you have about Nashville’s EDM and live entertainment scene over the next five years?

Blake: It is already growing so much and I think we will be just like every other major city in the EDM space. We have been starving for the scene to be sustainable enough to support the level of artists that we want to bring in. There are great venues opening soon that will be a part of this growth as well, joined by advancements in production value. Traditionally, we had to go into these rock & roll rooms and create the production atmosphere ourselves.

 

iEDM: What is the most important thing that each of you has learned from the other during the Deep Tropics chapter of your lives? What is the best part of creating this project and community together as brothers?

Blake: This is the most challenging project either of us have ever taken on. Learning perseverance and accountability have been key, especially making sure the things that truly matter don’t get lost. It can be tempting to cut things because we are not always choosing the easiest path with Deep Tropics, but the right one.

Joel: Our sustainability budget is probably higher than most festivals. Making those tough choices to stay aligned with our values has been a difficult obstacle, but it is something we are both committed to. We are learning to make this a regenerative experience for ourselves. On a number of occasions, the happiness of others keeps us going. At the end of the day, it is such a privilege to have the opportunity to put on an event like this for our city.

 

Photos courtesy of Deep Tropics and @casey_mabry on Instagram.

 

Stay up to date on the latest festival announcements and music news HERE!

 

Upgrade your rave closet this 2023 with iEDM apparel and accessories. Check out our entire collection HERE!

CONNOR PHILLIPS

Read More...

Fueled by his passion for EDM, Connor’s life revolves around dance music and its ability to bring people together. Raised in upstate New York, Connor was deprived of festivals and raves until he attended Florida State University, where he was instantly hooked. Fast-forward to today and Connor has become a house and melodic techno DJ, an avid EDM-based interviewer and writer, and has worked PR for the likes of Matroda, Bleu Clair, and other new-wave house icons.

Outside of music, Connor loves pretty much any sport (huge Knicks, Yankees, and NY Giants fan), going on hikes, traveling, and food. Based in Florida, there’s a good chance you will eventually run into Connor at one of the popular festivals and clubs throughout the state.

Related Posts

[LISTEN] Ray Volpe Unveils Infectious Bass House Track, ‘SONG REQUEST’
[LISTEN] Ray Volpe Unveils Infectious Bass House Track, ‘SONG REQUEST’
Ray Volpe, the mastermind behind chart-topping hits like “Laserbeam” and “HAPPY SONG,” continues his streak of cuttin...
Read More
[FESTIVAL REVIEW] EDC Las Vegas Remains Industry Leader in Dance Music Events
[FESTIVAL REVIEW] EDC Las Vegas Remains Industry Leader in Dance Music Events
The marathon weekend of EDC Las Vegas has ended as quickly as it began– a 72-hour blur of lights, dancing, and countl...
Read More
2024 Festival Season Lookbook: Curated Rave Fashion And Accessories For Every Type Of EDM Event
2024 Festival Season Lookbook: Curated Rave Fashion And Accessories For Every Type Of EDM Event
2024 is shaping up to be one of the biggest years ever for dance music and music festivals. It is time to revamp your...
Read More