For Robert Uzzilia, the electronic music revolution in Tampa Bay hit its peak in September, when Swedish DJ Avicii played the Venue in Clearwater right around the time his song Levels was breaking huge around the globe.
"It was madness," said Uzzillia, formerly the Venue's chef and partner. "We were at max capacity. We turned away 300, 400 people. We just could not put them in the building. The day of the show, we were at a $100 cover, and people were begging us to take their $100 and let them in."
If 2011 was the year electronic music broke in America, 2012 is the year it's setting up shop right in your face. Three electronic festivals are slated to take place in Tampa Bay between May and August. For the first time, a DJ — the aforementioned Avicii — will headline the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Two more shows will take place at the Florida State Fairgrounds, of all places, in a building that can hold 4,000.
"The electronic music scene is now, in my opinion, becoming the mainstream music of the world," said Uzzillia. "All the major artists right now, they're singing over house tracks. Rihanna sings over Calvin Harris beats. Flo Rida sings over Avicii beats."
Funny enough, it was never Uzzillia's goal to turn the Venue into an electronic-music mecca. He came on simply for the food. But when he saw how successful the club's DJ nights became, he spun off his own booking and promotions company, Music Owns Me, which now has a stake in several big DJ shows coming to Tampa Bay this summer, including Avicii, Kaskade, Afrojack and Steve Aoki.
Uzzillia and his partners recently left the Venue, which has since renamed itself The V (Uzzillia says he's already talking to the new owners about booking shows there). But his success there — as well as that of John Santoro with Sunset Events and the Amphitheatre in Ybor City — has emboldened other promoters to get into the game.
In St. Petersburg, the inaugural Downtown Digital festival will take over Jannus Live and several nearby clubs on June 2. Unlike Santoro's Sunset Music Festival — which is bringing big-name DJs like Pretty Lights, Morgan Page and Alesso to Raymond James Stadium on Memorial Day weekend — Downtown Digital is focusing on underground artists from a multitude of genres.
"We still feel like it's kind of the wild, wild west with electronic music," said Downtown Digital production manager Zach Koche. "It's not that we're going against the mainstream so much as we're trying to bring a lot of emerging acts to the show — a lot of people that you might not know of, but we think they're going to be bigger down the road."
The big question now is, can Tampa Bay handle so many electronic acts one summer? Uzzillia said it does feel like the scene is getting close to oversaturated — and still, he's already working on bringing another three or four big-name DJs to town this summer.
"I'm not sure the Tampa market can handle that," Uzzillia said. "But we're gonna find out."