DJ Eric Bingham Says the Most Successful DJs Aren't Assholes

Eric Bingham plays Space Ibiza during Carl Cox's Revolution party in 2012.
Marc de Groot Photography
Eric Bingham plays Space Ibiza during Carl Cox's Revolution party in 2012.
Eric Bingham is an ordinary guy.

At fifty, he has three kids, a wife, a full-time gig as a restaurant consultant, and recently had an existential reckoning with throat cancer. These are things that everyday people deal with.

However, for the longest time, he was also an international DJ who played some of the most notorious clubs in the world, such as Space Ibiza and Amnesia. He deejayed to thousands in Mexico City and released music as Ricard on cornerstone labels like Chicago's Trax Records and Ministry of Sound's Hedkandi. These days, he continues to play in Denver with groups like P.U.N.C.H.I.S. and for events like Techno Taco Tuesday.

In between promoting new releases on the Denver label JourneyDeep Black and another on the local startup Chinito's Imprint, Bingham spoke to Westword about the secret to networking in the dance world, the future of clubbing in Colorado, and his personal and professional trials.

Westword: Rather than starting locally and working up to an international stage, you started playing all over the world pretty quickly. This was partially a result of you working at Club Med for eleven years, where your job took you around the world. However, people don't just allow people to start getting gigs for no reason, especially in new countries, where they have little familiarity with you. How did you make that happen?

Eric Bingham: You know what's funny? As boring and normal as it may sound, it's all about networking, just like in any business. You know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy, and all of a sudden you have a slot. The shows that I played over there were all through knowing people and just being introduced to different people. As you connect with that person, you start to branch out and say, "Hey, I'm going to be in that area. Are there other places that I can play?" And then they ask around, and you get a gig.

Do you remember the moment when all that networking coalesced, and you hit a tipping point that allowed you to play internationally renowned clubs such as Amnesia and Space Ibiza?

A friend of mine that I've known for years was a DJ from England. They were also friends with these people who did boat parties in Ibiza. They started years ago with one boat once a week. Then they blew up to become one of the premier boat-party events, and they'd have multiple boats every day of the week. So we were talking about playing in Ibiza, and he said, 'Yeah, I go and play with these guys, so let me connect you with them.' The company's called Pukka Up, and they did this thing where if the people would buy a ticket for the boat party, it also included entrance into Space Ibiza that night. They also had their DJs playing one of the smaller rooms at Space, and so by getting booked on the boat party, that allowed me to play their room at Space. That experience was one of the first years that I went over there, and then I kept in contact with them, and as they grew, I kind of was able to grow with them into bigger and bigger rooms in Space. Then one time I went back to play, and the room they played happened to be during one of Carl Cox's famous Revolution parties.

Any interactions with Carl?

Yeah. Carl is the nicest guy ever. The first time I ever met him was in the backstage green room area at Space, and it was his night, and he didn't know me from anybody. I mean, we're a bunch of nobodies, and he comes back and he's talking with everybody. At one point, he goes to a little fridge full of bottled waters. He comes back to grab a water. He's like, "Hey, would you like a water? Would you like a water? Would you like a water?" to everyone. He's a person who genuinely cares about people.

When you get these huge artists, that's exactly what they're like. I don't think they're nice because they're big; I think they're big because they're nice. They've been genuine, nice people their whole life, so it allows them to network, because people want to hang out with them. I've seen so many DJs who are just coming up kill their careers because they just develop this attitude of self-importance. The really big guys, the ones who are truly successful, don't have that attitude, in my experience.

So your tip for up-and-coming artists is basically don't be an asshole — instead be a genuine, kind person, and you may have some success?

Basically, yes.

Let's talk about your music for a second. You just released some music on the 21st on JourneyDeep Black, and you have another one coming out on the 31st, on another local label, Chinito's Imprint.

Yeah, the one out on JourneyDeep Black premiered at number forty in the Beatport Top 100 techno releases, so that's kind of exciting to have that happen day one.

What did JourneyDeep Black do to give it such a great push?

Staying with the theme of networking, I think that one of the things that really helps labels today is when you have people who are following what they're doing, and they're interested in what they're doing. So when something comes out, it gives them a heads up, since labels like JourneyDeep Black have a specific sound that people who want that sound are tuned into. If you're just relying on people hearing about your music, unless you've got tens of thousands of followers on social media and you can do your own kind of self-promotion, it's hard to actually sell music.

You started your own label, Clandestine Recordings, in 2014, which has released music from Agent Orange, The Reactovitz, Richie Santana, Barbuto and more. Tell us about your experience with that.

It started out as kind of a natural progression. It was part of the music industry that I had never really done anything in but that I was interested in, and I had a bunch of friends that were interested in doing stuff together, so I was like, "Okay, well, how do we make this work?" I got some advice from some other industry people who had their own labels, and they were like, "Here's how you do it." It's a bit easier now with things like Distrokid, and being able to somewhat get music easier. Back then, you had to apply to a distribution company. If you hadn't had a release before, it was hard for them to accept you, because they didn't have things automated, so they had to figure out how they were going to use their time. I finally got in with a distribution company, and unfortunately the company went bankrupt and tied up all of my releases and my label contractually in their bankruptcy proceedings. So I had this big gap of time where I couldn't even release music on the label, because it was all tied up. About a year and a half ago, that contract got released, so I was able to switch over the whole catalogue to the new distributor. It was amazing to get that settled.

You were the GM and a partner at the club Absinthe House in Boulder, in addition to playing at, and being a patron at, important clubs all over Europe, where many go way into the night, sometimes continuing for days. With Governor Polis saying that he wants to extend last call to 4 a.m. after the pandemic, do you see this changing the dynamics of a club here, like in Europe?

There's a real difference in mentality between what people are looking for in a club here versus what they're looking for in a club in Europe. I think a lot of it comes down to how clubs work here versus how they work there. The idea of early closing times here means that people show up at a club around 11 o'clock and they've got to get everything they want to do done by last call at 1:30, so the club can close the doors and kick everybody out. So there's this kind of impatience in the music where it has to be real hard, bang it out, get it done and then go home. In Europe, the clubs are open all night and into the next day. This results in a really different mentality, because there's a lot more patience involved where the vibe kind of slowly evolves over time, where here it's much more a functional thing — like get out there, have your fun and get home. There's a lot more patience involved in the music in Europe, where genres that involve a lot more patience and mood, like techno, are a lot more popular there than they are here, because people just don't have the patience to deal with it here.

Bars are gonna like having more hours to sell more. But you notice in downtown Denver at two o'clock is when you tend to have a lot of problems with everybody just exiting the club at the same time. One of the things that having a later closing time does is it allows people to finish their night and leave progressively over the course of the night rather than everybody leaving at the peak of fun, having it shut off, and then everybody's thrown out in the street.

You know some of these things, like early closing times and regulations like the RAVE Act, were meant to "protect people." This has resulted in things like fights in the street, a massive exodus of drunk driving, and overdoses. Do you think we are becoming more enlightened, realizing that those might have some unintended consequences and that the road to hell is paved with good intentions?

Yeah, I mean it's funny. I think it goes to the idea that people have a problem remembering history and repeating it. Prohibition led to the illegal alcohol industry, and it spawned the Mafia. And then you have the War on Drugs, and all that stuff just created all these other illegal industries.

What do you think DJs can do here to take it to the next level?

The clubber needs to demand more of promoters and venues to book a certain kind of DJ. Everyone knows Boy George as what he was in the ’80s as a pop-music guy, but he's an amazing house DJ, and one of the things that he says all the time is that it used to be that when you went to the club, you were going because you wanted the DJ to teach you something. You wanted the DJ to show you music that you've never heard before and to open you up to something new so that you could then explore it on your own time. It's now become this world where you want to just go and hear the DJ play the thing that you always hear them play, or you want to hear them only play their music. Nowadays, whether it's an EDM DJ or a techno DJ or a house DJ, or a hip-hop DJ, it doesn't matter — you pigeonhole them, and if they don't play what you think they should play, it pisses you off. I think that people should go to the clubs saying, "Open my mind. Play something for me that I've never heard before. Play me my favorite song before I know it's my favorite song. Don't play me what I want to hear. Play me what I should hear."

However, I get that promoters and venues have to book the big name that plays the music that people know to sell tickets and drinks. From a venue-owner perspective, that makes total sense. It's up to the listener to demand more.

Yeah, but just because it's a big name doesn't mean it's going to pack the floor. You see that all the time at clubs in Denver, especially for four-to-the-floor music.

I've lived in a lot of different places, and in Denver we're really lucky that we've got a pretty outstanding music scene for the size of this city, and I think that people take it for granted. So when someone big comes to town, they'll be like, "I'll just see them next time." When you're in another city, they're like, "Holy crap, this person's here! I will never get a chance to see them again, so I'm for sure going to the show." I remember there was a week this past year where when you looked at who was playing over that weekend, just in the underground techno house world, there were like six artists over a three-day period, over five different venues playing just in one weekend. People here don't realize how rare that is.

Let's talk about you as a person, not a DJ. You recently had a brush with mortality, with a throat cancer diagnosis and treatment. When people think of throat cancer, they might think, "Oh, well, he got that because he was a DJ partying all over the world."

There's two main types of throat cancer right now. One of them is basically from tobacco products and things like that, and that's kind of been the most traditional form of throat cancer for years. It has a very high mortality rate and not many effective treatments for it. The other one that's become much more popular is the one caused by HPV.

Popular? Like it's the EDM of cancer?

No, no. It's a more recognized type. Basically, I found out from the doctor that 80 percent of people in their lifetime, men and women, are gonna have HPV at some point, and your body generally just clears it out within a year or two, and it's just one of those things you have, it goes away, and you never even really knew you had it. But in about 2 percent of people, it sticks around in your body and develops into cancer. You could have been in contact with it a couple of months ago, or it could have been up to thirty years ago. The fortunate thing is that it's called oropharyngeal cancers, and they are much more responsive to radiation treatment, and so they have [a high] rate. Whereas the throat cancers that are caused by tobacco products have a [lower] cure rate.  When you get the diagnosis, you don't know which one it is, and you're like, "Shit." I remember going to my oncologist as they were doing the whole diagnosis and figuring out treatment plans. I got this piece of paper from the oncologist that basically said, "Here are the different types of treatments for this kind. What you can expect from them," and on the bottom of the paper it had written HPV positive oropharyngeal cancer has a 95 percent cure rate.  When I saw that, I was like, "Oh, it's good. I'm going to be good." I think my family was more scared than I was.

Speaking of your family, you are a father of three. Was it ever weird having to explain why dad was leaving at late hours to go play music until God knows when at night?

They make fun of me, because they'd have a friend staying over, pre-COVID, and I'm leaving at 11 o'clock to go play a show, and they're kind of embarrassed to tell their friends why their dad is leaving the house really late. But not too long ago, I was playing the lounge at Beta, and there was a show that my oldest son, who is now 21, wanted to go see in the main room with a friend of his. So I got him a guest-list spot. When his friend asked how he got the tickets, it was funny to hear him say that his dad got them for him. Versus six years ago, he was like, "There goes Dad, going to clubs. Who knows what he's doing there?"

Eric Bingham released Machina and Just Defy on JourneyDeep Black on August 21, and Este Momento is out on Chinito's Imprint on August 31.