One DJ’s Vision of Connection-Based Nightlife in Every Town in America
Written by Allie LaRoe
Photo by Alejandra Cadenas
“People go out for people.” It’s at the top of Phil Santos’s website, and it’s a reality I think we’ve all become aware of after being isolated from each other for so long.
Yes, we want the music, we want to lose ourselves, we want to step outside of the mundanity of our everyday existence – and we want excellent company while we do it. Even the folks who LOVE going to shows alone are going for connection. It wouldn’t be satisfying without being able to feel the excitement of the band, the energy of the people around you, or the knowledge that you’re sharing a memory with just a small portion of the population.
For Santos, an author, DJ, and community builder, if we know that people go out for people we should optimize our nightlife for more community and connection.
ALLIE: So why don’t we start with you telling us a little about who you are and why you’re so passionate about re-imagining what nightlife could be.
PHIL: Yeah, sure. So, when I was in middle school and high school, I was a total loner. Didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch. It wasn’t until I started going to concerts that I started making my first friends, or even hugged anyone.
When I got to college I started throwing parties, and I didn’t want anyone to feel alone in the corner.
I cared about transcendental musical experience. I cared about incredible art being associated with the party, but above everything else a great party to me was about shared humanity. And through building up that business I saw this incredible watermark for what community can be on the city level through music experiences.
Now, I’m interested in helping spread that to as many cities as possible. Congregational, connection focused, wellness focused nightlife. And not just cities, actually. Every Suburb. Every Town. That’s my vision: to instigate a new era of connection-based nightlife in every town in America.
ALLIE: If you could wave a magic wand and open a portal to an alternative reality where your vision for a nightlife is realized, what does it look like?
PHIL: We don't go out for drinks we don't really go out for the music we go out for connection we go out for people. And that's becoming more clear, you know, with the pandemic people are realizing that centering connection, friendship and community in our lives is really important for feeling good.
So, if I could wave a magic wand that changed nightlife I would teach people that own bars and clubs and parties and concerts to become community builders, and to focus on that just as much as they focus on the music and drinks.
Hippies do a really good job of this. Their spaces are participatory. There's lots of activities and lots of people contributing. There is not as strong a sense of hierarchy between the musician and the people in the crowd, and typically there's more openness around games.
I know that not everyone's going to go hit the events that don't have any alcohol. It's just not for everyone. So I'm interested in merging more traditional musical events with some of these hippie and ecstatic practices in a way that doesn't feel too crunchy to anyone.
ALLIE: Yeah! I noticed that you’re really open about sharing when an idea DOESN’T land the way you hoped, and how you’re pivoting for the next event. It’s obvious that you care about everyone’s experience and aren’t just imposing what YOU think should work on the crowd.
What's one of the more interesting things that you feel like you've learned?
PHIL: I was brought into a concert series as a friend and a collaborator to make it more connected. What I see as the primary thing that I could have done better, is to have primed people in the event description and on the flyer that this is part of what the intention of the night was, and to have brought that in earlier in the night before people were drunk.
ALLIE: So, you’re based in Miami, which has a bit of a different culture than Seattle (where I’m based). We’ve kind of got a reputation for being cliquey, socially. What advice would you give for someone wanting to start adding community building into their events in a city like mine where folks might have more resistance to it?
PHIL: There are overt ways that you can connect people, like getting on a microphone and encouraging people to make a new friend, or there’s more guerilla facilitation. If you know a lot of people at an event, you can introduce them to each other. A lot of leaders just focus on building their followers, not on connecting people within their community.
ALLIE: I feel like we’ve seen community build up naturally around music scenes in the past, but the scenes don’t seem to be able to sustain themselves for very long. Why do you think that happens?
PHIL: I think it has a lot to do with millennial mobility culture. We move a lot more than other generations, and every time a leader moves to a new city especially, it's like pulling out a really old plant. You lose all the roots.
I think another big part of it is gentrification. The fact that most venue owners don't have properties. So, eventually they get priced out of their own places. You create an artistic city, rents get more expensive. You either cater to different groups of people, or you get kicked out.
ALLIE: You mentioned before, wanting a nightlife where the community is treated as equally important as the music and the drinks. Non-alcoholic alternatives are becoming more and more popular, but right now alcohol sales are pretty central to the nightlife economy. What role do you see alcohol filling in a wellness based nightlife?
PHIL: I think the nightclub of the future sells alcohol, but doesn't have a culture of abuse. It sells cacao, it sells green tea, it sells kombucha, it sells Kin (a mood elevating alcohol alternative), it sells incredible non alcoholic beverages, and connection is at the center. I'm not against alcohol, I'm not against marijuana, or against any substance. It's just in alcohol dominant spaces I’ve noticed that the quality of listening typically goes down. So I'm really interested in nightlife that centers on connection, wellness, and congregation.
ALLIE: You’re working on a book right now about all of this, what’s it called and do you have an idea of when it will be out?
PHIL: Yeah, so the working title is The Art of Nightlife. The book is basically about how to empower conscious connection. It has principles on how to start something incredible like that in your city. And if you're already running something, how to increase connection and keep your people together. It’s projected release day is Winter 2021.