Cosmic Opera: Axwell, Justin Cohen And A Stable Of Creatives Seek To Redefine Live Performance
Angels are expected to descend from the ceiling, along with a custom-built, chandelier-like truss offering a barrage of lasers and lights.
On Feb. 23, event organizer and entrepreneur Justin Cohen, and Swedish house music DJ and producer Axwell will raise the curtain on the extra-sensory dance experience, "Cosmic Opera."
Cohen, 24, said the event will feature about 50 live performers, including opera singers, dance performances, acrobatics, aerialists, live musicians and DJs. The event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York will pay homage to the venue's musical roots and impressive scale -- Cohen estimates the ceilings at 80 feet -- by bathing the capacity crowd of 3,000 guests in 3D- projection.
Cosmic Opera is best described as a hybrid of extremely theatrical Cirque du Soleil-like performances and high-tech DJ shows like Miami's Ultra Music Festival or Las Vegas' Electric Daisy Carnival. But Cohen promises the two performances on Thursday and Friday will be unlike anything audiences have seen.
"The concept in my mind was not necessarily for a DJ event, it was for a new form of an event," Cohen said. "I looked at the event industry and researched everything I could, from charity events and galas to DJ shows to festivals and found that there was a gap in the space."
To fill that gap, Cohen started with the music. "Electronic dance music -- based on downloads and digital sales -- is 4.2 times as popular as rock-and-roll, the second-most popular genre," he said. "This isn't just a fad, it's actually the most popular genre."
The electronic component of dance music is largely irrelevant, since all dance music shares a participatory nature, he said. "Normally, you have three options: a nightclub at which you'd need to know a promoter or buy a table; a festival where there are 150,000 or so people; or mid-sized venues which don't have the same large scale production feel. So what do we do? We create a huge, carnival-like event in an intimate setting."
To do so, Cohen assembled a striking team of experts for "Opera," which is three acts. Major partners in the production include Axwell, a producer with more than 200,000 Twitter followers who while part of the DJ trio Swedish House Mafia, sold out a recent Madison Square Garden show in a few minutes; Peter Witting, Axwell's tour manager and the former tour manager for bands such as Incubus and 311; Guy Smith, a nightclub designer behind clubs like The Box in New York who has worked with performers like Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake on live shows; Melanie Armer, the show's theatrical director for the non-DJ performance aspects; and Adam Gelman, the director of event strategy.
Rehearsals have been going on for weeks, but the actual build-up of production elements at Hammerstein will be the day of the first performance. According to Rolling Stone, Axwell will not only DJ but also conduct the other performers as the event's musical director.
The "Cosmic Opera" team also includes Robert Montenegro, a former aerospace engineer who will manage high-tech production, and John Finen, a 20-year veteran with expertise in cruise-ship productions who will run the build-out and break-down.
Cohen's brief yet dizzying career is a testament to his ability to capture popular movements and throw them into new environments. When he was 19, he booked the late DJ AM for a party he was throwing in Washington. As a student in Bloomington, Ind., he converted what he described as a "frat boy cover band venue" to a nightclub featuring prime DJ talent.
When he graduated, Cohen said he was faced with a dilemma. "Like anyone graduating, I had to decide if I wanted to find a job or create one."
Last year, Cohen organized Summit at Sea, a $4,000-a-person entrepreneurs' conference and party on a cruise ship. The Summit Series, where Cohen was COO, already was well established as a premier watering hole for entrepreneurs, investors and innovators. But Cohen's event was the first Summit party on a boat.
Forbes called it a mix of Davos and TED with lots of flashing lights and top musical acts. Virgin's Richard Branson, Paypal co-founder and hedge fund magnate Peter Thiel, Zappos' Tony Hsieh, designers Rebecca Minkoff and Russell Simmons, and pop music mega producer Dr. Luke all attended the cruise, where they were treated to performances by The Roots, Pretty Lights and Axwell.
More Cosmic Opera events are slated for April and May, Cohen said. Axwell will not headline the other shows but will remain a business partner and musical director.
Watch: Teaser Clip For The Cosmic Opera: