Feature: Biggest-ever Global Dance Festival marks a milestone for immigrant Denver promoter Ha HauBy Ricardo Baca | July 14th, 2011 | 1 Comment »
Ha Hau is an affable guy, a first-generation Vietnamese-American with an intense stare, a thin build and a receding hairline. Working in his Golden Triangle offices, wearing a fitted T-shirt and jeans, he doesn’t look like a club kingpin, a trendy promoter, an electronic-music tastemaker — until the music of British trance legend Carl Cox starts pumping through his satellite radio.
Hau’s serious, 32-year-old face changes. Gone is any sign of concern — the gaze of a man with a lot on the line. He has loosened up, locked in. He is content and at home, and his head starts to nod to the beat.
“Carl Cox used to be huge,” says Hau, owner of Triad Dragons, a Denver-based music production and promotion company.
“He was playing the first big party I ever went to. It was Moonshine Over America, in Colorado Springs in 1999 or 2000. That show changed my life. It was the craziest thing to walk into a big event and see thousands of people going crazy.”
Hau is a businessman, but first and foremost he’s a lover of electronic music. And his immigrant story tells a compelling tale of how family, education and friendship helped him find a life — and a living — in music.
The Triad Dragons headquarters is modest but well used. A tiny lobby leads into an open main room, dominated by a table full of five or six interns rocking on laptops a la “The Social Network.” A couple of small studios are off to the side, and behind the open room is Hau’s office, a warm, yellow oasis that often has its door open to the alley between Elati and Fox streets.
Hau’s team is abuzz and focused, but he’s comparatively calm — although he has a hard time not looking at his HTC smartphone every few minutes. His unease is understandable. Hau’s career will reach a new level this weekend when his Global Dance Festival takes over Red Rocks Amphitheatre for the ninth time.
“When we started Global, we got 3,000 people,” Hau remembers of the first festival he threw with business partner Kostas Kouremenos in 2003. “The next year, we got even less. It was a building process. . . . Anytime you do something new, it takes time for people to get adjusted to it.”
But adjust they did.
Last year’s Global sold more than 17,000 tickets over two days at Red Rocks. “Something new” for this year means expanding Global into a three-day fest — running Thursday through Saturday — and introducing live bands for the first time. In addition to the DJs/producers that are the event’s main draws — including 2011 performers Benny Benassi, Major Lazer, Skrillex and others — Thursday’s live lineup includes Aussie electro-pop act Empire of the Sun, hip-hopper Kid Cudi, dance-rockers Innerpartysystem and others.
“Ha is passionate, and he brings consistency to everything he does,” says Kouremenos, Hau’s business partner in Global, who DJs under the name Ecotek. “He knew we had to keep growing, and now we have a Thursday night for Global Dance Festival.”
Big dreams, familial ties
Hau attributes his ability to think big to his family, who moved from southern Vietnam to Denver when he was 6 years old. His mom tells the story of how her father refused to let his grandson go. It was a dangerous journey by boat, and a stateside move surely meant less familial contact.
“My mom took me from my grandpa without telling him and left the house,” Hau says. “He woke up and chased after us, and my mom eventually won the argument. I was never meant to be here.”
Hau remembers his first English word, “pan,” though he doesn’t remember why. Growing up in the rough-around-the-edges neighborhood near South Federal Boulevard and West Mexico Avenue, Hau’s mom spent the money they barely had to enroll him in tennis lessons in another area of town — hoping to keep him out of trouble.
With his father supporting the family with a job at McDonald’s, Hau’s mother pushed for education, starting with the International Baccalaureate Program at George Washington High School. His mother also pushed him toward business school, and with an assist from various first-generation immigrant grants and academic scholarships, Hau hurried through the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business in 3 1/2 years.
“I rushed through college,” Hau remembered. “I should’ve got my masters, but I decided not to. I just wanted to move on. There was so much in life I wanted to do. It might be a flaw.”
Hau might be impatient with himself, but he’s known around Denver as an easygoing guy who builds bridges and maintains relationships in an industry where the opposite is more common.
“He’s good with people,” says Kouremenos. “He has more patience than I have.”
Tad Bowman helps manage the city-owned venues Hau sometimes rents, Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the Denver Coliseum included.
“He’s enthusiastic about what he does,” says Bowman, the director of venue utilization and event services at Arts & Venues Denver, the new city agency housing the former Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and Division of Theatres and Arenas. “He’s really been able to build this brand up.”
Bowman and his colleagues thought of Hau when they noticed a gap in programming at the Denver Coliseum in early 2010. They called him with the idea of co-promoting a dance-music event at the old arena, but Hau was busy with his existing properties and club nights, which still include NRG Thursdays at Beta nightclub and Global Fridays at The Church. But then Hau was moved to action.
“He came up with the concept of doing it as a benefit,” remembers Bowman.
At the time of the city’s call, Hau was glued to the televised coverage of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that leveled much of Haiti in January 2010. Hau quickly developed the idea of an all-local dance music benefit, Global Dance for Life, that would help UNICEF efforts in Haiti.
“I was watching live footage on CNN, and it just broke my heart seeing the devastation,” Hau told The Denver Post in advance of the benefit in February 2010. “It became apparent that the people of Haiti needed help quickly. I realized that I was in a fortunate position to join this effort.”
Services were donated by many organizations, the city and the participating DJs, and the event sold more than 10,000 tickets and raised more than $84,000 for UNICEF.
“It was overwhelming, the amount of support we got,” Hau says. “It hit home, because Third World countries need our help. What if that ever happened to Vietnam?”
The benefit came together in less than a month — a natural extension of the high-school parties Hau threw with childhood friend John Le, now better known as DJ Dragon, with his parents’ karaoke system.
Lowdown on downloads
In addition to Hau’s work in clubs and festivals — which includes the Caffeine Music Festival at the 1stBank Center, Skylab at the Denver Coliseum and a New Year’s Eve event due to be announced later this year — he is also spreading the good, electronic word on the Web.
Taking a cue from his pal Brad Roulier, who runs the popular Beta nightclub and also co-owns music downloading service Beatport, Hau opened globaldancemusic.com — another Colorado-based portal for electronic music downloads — last week. But whereas Beatport charges, Global Dance Music is a free site. Currently the site offers eight songs from local producers, but its creators envision it eventually offerings thousands of songs from around the world.
“It was Ha’s idea, of course,” says Suk Na, the site coordinator and one- half of the producer/DJ duo Axis of Evil. “We’re trying to advance the growth of electronic music in our community.”
Sure enough, the site is a sharp outgrowth out of everything Hau and his team have done in the past. It’s sleek and professional. It’s easy to use, and it sounds good. Axis of Evil has a banging track on the site, “Pineapple Express.” Ecotek has a couple of downloads there. Hau’s childhood pal, Dragon, also makes an appearance.
“We’re not trying to make money from every download,” Hau says. “We’re trying to get exposure. Who doesn’t want free dance music?”