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In mid-July of this year, Steve Aoki, fifth on Forbes’ list of top-earning DJs, was one of the top names headlining Tomorrowland, a 400,000-capacity music festival in Belgium.

On Sep. 21, Aoki will headline Socotra, a 4,000-capacity festival at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

How did a one-day Missoula-based Electronic Dance Music festival grow to the point where they could even get Aoki? Why’d he say yes?

“It’s a little ridiculous that he’s playing shows that big and he’s coming to Montana,” said Ryan Staninger, of Missoula’s Royale Entertainment Co. “He’s a special artist.

“We have something special too.”

This marks a watershed year for Socotra, now running its fifth EDM festival. Previous iterations have been held in the Wilma. Last year, Staninger said, it became clear they were outgrowing the 1,500-capacity space.

The fairgrounds turned out to be a good fit, more so than some of the other well-known venues in town, Staninger said, largely because it’s so centrally located. That easy access and the fairgrounds’ ongoing remodel were attractive, especially as the festival looks to keep growing in coming years.

“We really wanted to bring the festival environment and the festival experience in to the heart of Missoula,” Staninger said.

Staninger also reached out Kalika Moquin, Missoula native and owner of Blackout Artists and Director of Parq nightclub in San Diego.

Moquin’s spent the last 15 years booking electronic and hip-hop shows in Las Vegas and Southern California, and was happy to work with childhood friend Staninger (the two rode the bus together to Hellgate Elementary) and help with his goal of landing a big-name headliner, though she didn’t have to bend over backwards convincing Aoki.

“It was really crazy, actually, how easy it was,” Moquin said. “When I said what it was, there was immediate interest in getting it done.”

Socotra will mark Aoki’s first time in Montana, Moquin said, and Staninger credited Missoula’s burgeoning name as a national touring hub for making people like Aoki take notice when the offers come his way.

Other DJs include Kap Slap, Ikon, DJ Stretch and Deformaty.

Kap Slap's moniker, according to thedjlist.com, comes from a shot in the Kappa Alpha society, where the participant begins funneling beer, then the "slap"—a shot of Bacardi 151 is added. 

And having Moquin and her team involved (a colleague from Parq nightclub is managing Socotra’s production) is helping raise the Socotra experience.

“It’s going to be a Vegas experience for anyone who comes,” Moquin said. We’re definitely not cutting corners.”

“It’s going to be bigger, it’s going to be brighter,” Staninger added.

The festival stage will be in the 4-H pavilion, the open-air structure next to the ice rink. There will be vendors and other attractions outside the pavilion, to give festivalgoers some things to do in between sets, Staninger said.

This is a step up from the Wilma, where merch and food options were very limited.

Stilt walkers, aerialists and dancers will be mingling in the crowd, adding another layer to the festival atmosphere.

“Having the interactive experiences … it’s just a more full experience,” Staninger said, adding the fairgrounds offer space enough to grow, from more stages to more non-music offerings.

 “We obviously have pretty grandiose ideas for the future,” he said. “Let’s take things one step at a time.”

But, for now, Staninger and Moquin are proud enough of the fact that they’re bringing a unique music offering to Missoula, one that would previously require EDM fans to drive to Seattle, Boise, or Las Vegas.

The fact that it’s being run by two Missoulians who grew up together before both getting involved in concert promotion, adds to the homegrown value.

“Everything has been such a community effort,” Staninger said. “People should know this is a culmination of art and local passion for music.”

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.