Demystifying the SUN Group (Or, What's Been Going on at Mesa?)

Categories: interview
camm-tuesdays-devendra-banhart-mesa.5196272.87.jpg
Doug Neill/OC Weekly
Folkie Devendra Banhart stopped by Mesa on the night of August 10 for C.A.M.M. Tuesdays
If you haven't heard about C.A.M.M. Tuesdays at local nightspot Mesa, you're just like most people. And it's all very strange, considering the laundry list of talent that's performed Tuesday nights at the ultra-chic bar in recent weeks. 

It's a group of artists that includes indie luminaries Devendra Banhart, french songstress Soko, LA buzz band Warpaint and last week's DJ set by Adam 12 of She Wants Revenge. 
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Doug Neill/OC Weekly
At Devendra Banhart's C.A.M.M. appearance
Let the S.U.N. Shine In
The shows, which feature a hodgepodge of visual art and music, are presented by the SUN Group--an acronym for Sophisticates United Network. People are granted admission either through a mailing list maintained by the group's founders or by e-mailing the group through their Web page.

But anybody visiting the SUN group's Facebook page will have trouble finding specific directions on attending the shows. Instead Web traffic is directed to a vague blurb about creating "opportunities for the branded to co-opt with a lifestyle and experience like no other." The cryptic missive goes on to say "join us, and help keep the A list the A list."

Mesa's Tuesday night shows aren't heavily promoted (you won't find flyers or large ads touting the events in the back of OC Weekly), and most of those granted admission aren't charged for the favor. 

Who's Behind It?
With such quiet promotion, how was it when Devendra Banhart gigged at Mesa, it was full? When Warpaint played a few weeks ago, the club was packed to the rafters? To find out, we spoke to two of the three partners comprising the SUN group: former manager of local boutique The Closet, 26-year-old Brendan Thomas, and consultant turned partner Chad Penry, 36. Their team also includes high-end tile and stone vendor Roland Barrera, 36.

The three joined forces in July of 2009 to create what Penry describes as a "boutique, marketing and events firm." In addition to the work they do at Mesa on Tuesday, the group has handled marketing for other events such as the Class Fashion Trade show in Santa Monica and San Diego. 

Thomas explains the trio wanted to start the group because of a  long-standing interest in music. "We all love music. We all want to do stuff in the music industry. And there's venues popping up in the industry."

For the past two years, Thomas has promoted the Wednesday night shows at Costa Mesa's La Cave as well as clubs at Scott's Restaurant and Bar near South Coast Plaza.

Prior to creating the SUN group, Penry coordinated seminars in various states for high school kids educating them on financial literacy. Thomas says, "(Penry) sort of has the action sports celebrity background, I have the modern DJ and music venue background and Roland has a lot of production background." 

SUN teams up with local businesses to produce events at Mesa; Costa Mesa watch manufacturer Vestal, who helped host the Warpaint show, shuttled the band's members to Mesa in the company's large tour bus. "They provided the bus, that would've been $1,500 for us."  

What's With the Exclusive List? 
And when it comes to who gets in the events and who doesn't, niether Thomas or Penry make any bones about keeping an exclusive list of patrons on the docket. "We're only going to allow so many people in," says Thomas. "If this thing gets too crazy, we might stop and do something else."  He adds it has nothing to do with elitism, and rather the creation of genuine music fans interested in a refined refined experience. "it's a lifestyle promotion, not a club promotion."

He points to the ephemeral nature of other succesful nightclubs. "You've got that six month lifespan, then it's done. It happens in LA all the time," says Thomas. "The clientele we do have, we don't want to lose, we never want our existing clientele to get over us. I don't want to sellout."

More Importantly, Who's On This List?
Thomas says their clientele are culled from a list of people who have attended music events he promoted at such venues at La Cave over the past two years.

People who reserve a spot on the list for shows at Mesa get free access to the club. Those who are not on the list are subject to a $20 "sign-up" fee which helps to pay for the bands. 

Both Thomas and Penry add that they excercise discretion when deciding the volume of people allowed in. One reason for this, Thomas says, is that he's seen the work he started at places like La Cave decline recently. "La Cave Wednesdays is nothing like it was two years ago."   

What Penry and Thomas say they want for Mesa has nothing to do with drawing the biggest crowd possible. "We want to keep it a tight crowd," says Penry. "Where people know each other. This is the perfect venue for us. We wouldn't want it to do it bigger." he says adding, "You can get a lot of uneducated people who just want to get drunk and aren't educated about the band. We don't just want a Sharkeez. We want to inspire people and bring something different to Orange County." 

Adds Thomas, "A lot of it is the ambience and the mood you set. Let them know that they're not just here to get drunk and dance." 

Making Money
If people are getting in for free, and paying customers are kept at a minimum, where is the profit coming from? Thomas says, "You can just say it varies depending on the situation. Either we reimburse ourselves through donations at the door or yeah, sometimes there's profit sharing with the venue." 

How, then, does SUN afford the top shelf talent they've been booking? Thomas says, a lot of the connections he's made with the bands appearing at Mesa have been the result of his friendship with indie rock insider Ana Calderon. "She kind of played the role of an LA liaison for us. Devendra and Adam (12) are friends of hers," he says.

Here C.A.M.M.s the S.U.N.
Each Tuesday show is presented under the auspices of C.A.M.M. which stands for Cinema Arts Music Movement. During the recent show featuring the band Warpaint, Fellini's La Dolce Vita played on the ceiling above the heads of the crowd. 

Of course cultural exclusivity isn't exactly new to Mesa, which has long served as a playground for hipster wannabes. An unassuming building from the exterior, absent are the spotlights,  or  gaudy signage advertising its presence. Inside, however, is a stylish structure with a mid-century wood-paneled aesthetic, pebble floors, $11 signature drinks and a retractable glass roof.

So what are the SUN groups entrpenurial impressarios trying to achieve with CAMM Tuesday's? "The whole goal that we're trying to attempt is to force people to actually care again. A lot of people don't care anymore," says Thomas adding. "If someone goes, 'wait a second, I could either pay $10 or $20 to get in, or just figure out these guys' e-mail and get in free,' it kind of forces people to get online and look us up. Then once they're in, they feel a little more special. Because they feel like they're part of something...in the clique if you will.



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