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Shaking the Foundation & Democratizing Pay with Keota [Interview]

As festival season kicks into high-gear, discussion around artist pay and industry compensation is also firing on all cylinders. From disparity between artists, to pay for venue staff and media, there’s a new focus on how to better support everyone who makes opening the doors possible.

Enter Keota: a radical, passionate artist who is taking the opportunity to shake the foundation of industry pay with a system in place giving everyone involved an opportunity to provide input. Joined by Restraint, Backleft, Slomato, & Seer, this is event is set to be nothing short of spectacular.

We Live in a Society

It only takes one brief gander at this one-of-a-kind flyer to conclude the mastermind is also a one-of-a-kind artist and a one-of-a-kind person putting together a one-of-a-kind night. Hailing from New Jersey, and current Denver resident, Tom Brennan, a.k.a Keota, has continued to, with flying colors, push the boundaries of several flavors of electronic music.

From offering lessons, pro-bono producing tips, playing shows and producing, and showcasing versatility across several tempos, Keota has emerged as a prominent figure in the underground & experimental bass scene.

Up to now, they have played some very prominent events, including: Kings Theatre, Wakaan, Submersion, and others. Now, they will be headlining their own curated show, “We Live in a Society”, April 25th at Cervantes.


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They say it takes a village, and for this Thursday at Cervantes, that’d certainly appear to be the case. In an unorthodox, yet remarkable move, Keota and their crew have decided that they will be democratizing the pay between the team involved in the show, including the DJs, VJs, photographers, and the rest of the village.

As a true testament to the theme of the show, the performers voted on what they think they should get paid, a trickle-down indication of humble soup and fairness stemming from Keota themself. As per this theme, it seems only fair to recognize the entire cast involved.

Arrive Early & Stay Late

Synth-wizard and music production guru Restraint will be making his long-anticipated return to playing live shows, at none other than the same venue he played one of his last shows at before his hiatus. With an imminent return coming so soon, we can only hope he continues to announce other performances after this one.

Denver’s own Backleft is coming off the heels of his biggest year to date – that includes performances at Meow Wolf Denver, a massive debut at Infrasound, and finishing the year playing the Kings Theatre pre-party with Resonant Language and Keota. Earlier this week, he also delivered a masterclass of an EP, Gene Driver, out now on Bandcamp!

Slomato, also a Denverite, fresh off of a stacked show at Ophelia’s, will also be a part of the supporting cast. Similarly, he also enjoyed an exceptional 2023, releasing his single “HMMM” and a handful of special performances, including Shakedown Productions’ debut show at Kulture, a headlining gig at Club Lexi, and also a tremendous Infrasound debut.

“Selektah” Seer, who we have seen perform at The Black Box, will be topping off the list of supporting DJs. With the rise of UK Garage (‘Garrij’, as pronounced by many including Keota) in the States and their expertise in the genre, we are elated and excited to see her open the evening.

Supporting Cast

Visual appeal will be provided by Morgan Hotchkiss, Keota’s partner, who will be live sketching during the evening. Visual duty will be completed with Seity (coming off yet another Infrasound Debut) and Nox Lumina from Apex Collective.

With the additions of Mindbeam Productions bringing in the lasers, Funktion-One Sound provided by Lost Horizon, and photographer Ethan Klement heading the media efforts, it is sure to be an extraordinary evening to remember.

In anticipation of their headlining show to date, we got the chance to sit down with Keota and learn a little more about a wide range of topics – spanning from high-fidelity sound systems, their introduction to music and versatility between subgenres, the learnings and findings of both the music industry and sociopolitical concepts, the composition behind Thursday’s show, childhood upbringing, mentorship, and much more.

RB: Evidently you’ve been vocal about tying in your sociopolitical and economic beliefs, especially as it relates to this show, and it’s become a part of your brand – is this more of a modern shift in your tone? Or have you always had this nature?

Keota: I guess I’ve always been like that, even when I was younger, however I was more reactionary and less analytical. Up until the last 2 years, I was operating with a similar sense of mental framework as most Americans: strictly partisan, “this guy over that guy” kind of mentality.

If we aren’t expressing any sort of opposition to these issues, the issues compound and the only way to address it requires more stress than it could and should.

I’ve confirmed a lot of those beliefs I’ve had growing up with experiences I’ve had as an adult – yeah it sounds privileged to be upset with certain services and companies in this country as part of being a consumer, but I kept having those experiences in those last few years where they aren’t just existing in society, but after having them one after another after another, I’ve identified the least common denominator, which is in my eyes: capitalism.

RB: You’ve clearly brought along a village of very talented people and friends for this Cervantes show – could you talk a little bit about how those beliefs tie into the cast?

Keota: So the pay is democratized – the way it works is we had a budget, and we gave each person a number, and typically each person’s pay is going to be up to the headliner. Jack Ternion has been pretty resourceful for me on this notion: think about how much more interesting festival lineups could be if there weren’t a handful of artists taking a majority or half of the entire budget for the festival.

Each person on the Cervantes show got the total budget number, which was supposed to be 50% to me, and then the rest split in a number chose by me and of course there might be some negotiation; however, each person was given that number we divided that number 9 different ways.

They each then made a number for themselves and for the 8 other people involved – it might be tough to visualize and it doesn’t typically click right away, but 8 different people plus myself voted 9 different numbers for what i should get paid, we added those numbers together and divided that fully by 9, and thats what each person is getting paid.

RB: We noticed that high-fidelity sound equipment is a crucial component of your live sets, and we see people playing a hundred or more shows per year, and you fall on the other side of that spectrum where you only play so many shows. We were thrilled to hear you bringing the Lost Horizon team on for this show – besides high-fidelity sound, any other elements that you take into account when being selective about what kind of shows you’d like to pay?

Keota: Actually my thoughts on high-fidelity sound systems are changing and I strive not to be a ‘high-fi purist’ – perfection is a boujee thing I’m actually trying to ‘unlearn’. High-fidelity is only possible with expensive hardware, but yes it’s important to me that the sound system is on point and the team knows what they’re doing.

But I don’t have any brand loyalty; I actually can’t say with any certainty which sound system or company I like the most because there’s so many variables. However, I don’t want to be so picky that I’m essentially not giving small promoters that might have some DIY or no-name sound system a chance.

Because those smaller systems and the culture deserve a certain level of respect over someone who simply had the capital to afford a big sound system. Furthermore, for other qualifying factors, looking into promoters and talent-buyers before accepting a booking and making sure they’re not on any weird ideology, I try and make sure the people I’m working with are great people.

I have a .pdf I send out with these variables, and #1 and #2 are the sound system being on point, and that the people I’d be working with are decent people and know what they’re doing. I never want to be a diva about this, but I want to play any show where the crew is doing what they love with passion, even if they don’t have a top-tier soundsystem, if they have a subwoofer and know how to position the speakers, that’s good enough for me!


Want to find out more about Keota and events in the future? Follow the links below and don’t miss a beat.

Connect with Keota

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Written & interviewed by Omid Eghbal

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