Dávid Tóth- Almási – “I spent the worth of my flat flat on a club, how do you think daddy liked that?”
Our open-minded and meaningful conversation with the club and program director of Corvin, about the world of Contra Mundum and the importance of supporting Hungarian artists.
Dávid Tóth-Almási was organizing his very first party and was in the midst of looking for a fitting name. On opening a dictionary he glanced at the phrase Contra Mundum, meaning: Against The World. They say that the rest is history, but in his case the more so at the moment he is the head of a leading house/techno event organizer company, has his own record-label Akkult, and is managing the largest underground club in Budapest. Dávid has both supporting ambitious Hungarian DJs and raising the Hungarian house/techno scene’s standards at heart.
Contra Mundum is now the driving force behind Corvin since in the recent past the two terms really have merged. But how and from where did you make it this far?
We held our first event at Kuplung in 2013. Some talented friends of mine just started to dig themselves into serious DJing and producing music but without relevant experience and reference they didn’t really have the opportunity to shine their talent. This was the original motivation behind the initiative and it hasn’t changed since: to offer an opportunity to Hungarian talents, to let them show their inner potency to the grand audience. I have to say, that my above mentioned friends are still actively working, and are present on the underground map of Budapest: Li, the resident and founder of the Deepfields series, has been representing SzobaStudio on our fresh-pressed release for Akkult with music produced by himself, and Bepo has a full EP coming up this summer by one of the joint labels as planned, and you can hear him play as a resident of a club-series starting this August. Andras Toth has been a lead character in almost all our projects since 2014 as producer, pianist, and as a DJ too. Those who participated in this initiative have been evolving with the brand through a mutual pulling force and we are very proud of that.
The overall mission of Contra Mundum is to provide an opportunity to Hungarian artists in the mainland and abroad. With 3 years passed the definition of “opportunity” in the case of a performer can mean a gig or in the case of a producer can mean an international release, however, it can gain a much broader understanding such as: the target is that Hungarian underground artists should appear in clubs, at festivals, and at labels throughout Europe because there are plenty of talents here at home but we still have so few artists that are acknowledged worldwide. We’d like to change that.
The Contra Mundum project was starting to take a serious aspect in the beginning of 2014, when we held for the first time the party with extended raving hours at R33. Whoever was there could have felt that they were part of the birth of something very special. We believed that we didn’t need a foreign DJ playing for thousands of euros; we believed that Hungarian DJs would stand the ground just as fine, and that the party won’t stop at 6 a.m. And that’s how it was, and Around the Clock was born right there, our 24 hour party series, which is coming to its 6th station on the 21st -22nd of May.
This means that Around the Clock gave a big enough push to the initiative.
Absolutely. The concept wasn’t complicated, and since then too, only the numbers have changed but the headings remained the same, like this time: 24 hours, 40 artists, 4 scenes, and outdoor raving over all! We have been trying to go against the Hungarian trend that builds up a party based on a foreign artist because with that attitude you’re not developing the brand. In that case the foreign artist brings the people but this gives a limited value to the spirit of the event, since apart from going there to see the big name, the audience isn’t really interested in what’s going on in the background or what is it that you stand for.
It was clearly visible at the first 24 hour party that we held at R33 that there’s a real market for this. R was partly great due to the absolute freedom it provided, which is a necessity for all things associated with the world of house and techno. On the other hand, it had major technical deficiencies which we couldn’t overcome because of the capacity of the place itself and lack of support from the owners. Thank god, we had requests from other places at the time: we made a grandiose party at PRLMNT with The Martinez Brothers (even though the music wasn’t exactly a Mundum-genre nor was it correlating with the above described Mundum-concept) but it was an opportunity and we couldn’t leave that hanging. We didn’t feel remorse after, since we all had a blast there. At the end of 2014 we had a NYE after party too at PRLMNT but it was getting clear that the place won’t become dear to us.
The first massive Extend party, which exceeded Around the Clock, entered in the second half of 2014. It is the child of Contra Mundum/Akkult and All Inn Records, and it also targeted extra long hours by means of performances and the length of the event too, however, we weren’t working with a crew of Hungarian only artists anymore. At this series we hosted a lot of internationally acknowledged artists, such as Hubble, Molly, Nastia, Barac, Priku, Giovanni Verrina, or Alexander Skancke, though, we still had numerous Hungarian artists and organizers contributing.
This whole concept became our mission too: to gain partners instead of concurrence. In our circles this mentality is quite rare and I can say without hesitation that we really were pioneers in that. After this, the alliance of Contra Mundum and Corvin was beginning to take form, and, even though at that time I wasn’t imagining it in its current form, I saw an immense opportunity in the place.
This is how Contra Mundum Afterhours comes into the picture?
Yes, the party series running since 2015 is a success so far. The aim that formed in us in the beginning was to create a Sunday after party series, that matches up to our extended hours parties, and to diminish all negative stereotypes that were surrounding these morning events. We think that we successfully reached our goal and now there are around 200-300 people who are interested in our Sunday morning special, plus those who stick with us from Saturday night. In the spring/summer season the after party is in the main hall from 6 till 10 a.m. then we move to the terrace where the accent is more on community programs and continue with it until 2 p.m. This is what brought people closer to each other and this is how the audience could experience a completely different sensation than at a “classical” after party.
Contra Mundum is almost a brand on homeland market. How conscious was the road leading here?
We realized that it is much more exciting to work on improving the circumstances than to adapt to the possibilities of the not so perfect given circumstances. We didn’t want a piece of that particular cake, but more like, wanted to feed the crew. From the moment when we gave voice to these aims, the road itself became automatically more conscious and we have been walking on that some path ever since.
There are now almost thirty Hungarian artists that can be closely associated with Contra Mundum, which is a vast number on the Hungarian scale. This, of course, comes with responsibility considering that we have the ability to provide them time or place but it’s not irrelevant whom, when, and in what means can we provide opportunities. I believe that this can be called a certain type of talent nurturing and it’s not only a moving force of this whole movement but I also have a strong sense of a mission within me.
There’s a surprising interest surrounding Around the Clock in almost all cases. In what do you see the success of it, and altogether of Contra Mundum?
I think that the most important factor is, in all cases, innovation but in a wider respect than the classical understanding. A few years ago it was much easier to come up with and introduce new solutions but thanks to the exponentially accelerating technological improvement, the strong competition on the market and the vast amount of information that can be accessed without limitation (birth name: internet) nowadays it is almost impossible to show anything new in the service industry. As things go, these times innovation consists more of “never before seen solutions” other than never before seen products.
Just to translate this to a correlating practical example: house/techno music was in itself the novelty in the 80s but today it is nothing new if an event’s genre is house/techno. Just the genre in itself cannot differentiate between you and your competitors. An unusually long electronic music event at an odd place with extraordinary decoration, visuals, and atmosphere in its halls can be factors though. For Contra Mundum these were the innovations and the fact that the emphasis during promoting our events, was on the constant presentation of pioneering Hungarian underground artists.
Building on a base of Hungarian artists, constant need to improve, humbleness towards your own product, constantly and closely working on the relationship with our audience are all key ingredients I think. In this field I don’t believe it’s anything special to organize a party with more than a thousand people attending on a weekend. On the other hand, we have few competitors who have such a base of audience that they could do the same with Hungarian artists only and I believe this is the result of the attitude that we stand for.
How are you able to follow the needs of your audience?
It is very important to be able to see things through their eyes and because of this we put great emphasis on market research. In almost all cases we ask the opinion of the audience on a given event and glean feedback; and we are not sensitive to criticism, since the most important feedback is always coming from the most unimpressed guest.
Do you lead by intuition or consciously? How hard is it for you to be in a responsible position at Corvin? What are your ideas of a good leader and what is necessary to start such a huge enterprise?
I don’t think that the two styles of leading can extinguish each other. In most situations maintaining objectivity to the maximum is the most important and conscious planning gets the foreground but when you need to decide in a short period of time and based on uncertain information, you obviously just have to listen to your intuition. Here it’s not black contra white, more like yellow cab against yellow cab, given that we accept that not all cabs are yellow. 🙂
It is a great challenge for me to lead such a vast enterprise with my 25 year old self but it is not the evident jeopardy that keeps me occupied, rather, which way is forward. Previous to this I was working in an investment bank as a corporate hazard analyst and I feel notoriously lucky now that my hobby became my job and I don’t loathe getting up each morning and setting out.
In my understanding a leader’s two most important roles are creating strategy and directing people, or simply put: determine what needs to be done and who needs to do it and how, while keeping the interests of the company’s aims in mind. In view of this I believe that a good leader needs to be characterized more based on him being consistent other than based on his style of leading. Depending on the character there are more than one good leader attitudes but I don’t think that one would be better than the other in the absolute understanding. In certain situations a drooling tyrannist who holds his flock in terror can prevail yet in another a silent killer can overcome. Naturally, being an extremist isn’t effective here either, just like it isn’t effective in any other fields of life.
If the leader calls their team to account consistently, doesn’t have double standards and treats important matters irrespectively of his or her mood in the same manner then the team and leader will wear off raw edges and everyone will clearly understand the limits and will accept what is and isn’t accepted. The leader who points fingers at their team and gets their will across through their advantageous position and not through logical reasoning is not a leader for me.
Everyone can expect from me what I can expect from them.
I seek this let it be friendship, work, or relationship. I wish everything could be this easy. 🙂
Last year Akkult was created. In August you had the first release coming out, which was the EP of your founding partner András Tóth. Why did you start releasing records? What are your long-term ambitions with this label?
Akkult meant a milestone to us partly because we wanted to create a free Hungarian vinyl label, which in our hopes can remain productive on the long run, moreover, we think that this is the only way towards globalization. We’d like to provide opportunity to talented producers for international release and we are seeking opportunities for the Contra Mundum team to introduce our artists in foreign lands. As a result, we could perform more than once in Cluj-Napoca and the Extend series is also about to debut abroad: in the next season we will have Fuse in Brussels, Pacha in Barcelona and Fabric in London hosting us which means that we got it going on! Hungarian producers, Hungarian musicians but this time thanks to vinyl, on international grounds! I really do believe that this is a sign of Hungarian artists being relevant on the European scene.
To what extent did Corvin Club merge with Contra Mundum?
CM to me isn’t owned by Corvin, however it is obvious that for a long while Contra parties will be happening at Corvin. No matter how much the two brands seem to merge I still try to treat them as separates if we’re talking about long-term plans. I feel that CM can be working properly as a whole without Corvin since it is so manifold. It is completely irrelevant whether we talk about the Sunday Afterhours, the Around the Clock series happening every three months, or Extend.
What did Akkult release so far?
With Akkult we always try not to fade into the crowd. None of the two releases are typical dance floor hits. Even within the genre of techno/house it is for a very special audiophile layer. Our first vinyl was naturally an Andras Toth EP and recently we had a selection release which consists of 4 pieces from 5 artists. On the first record, on Andris’s Reallyshould, there is an acapella and a “piano tool” as well. The aim of these recordings is to inspire other artists to creativity in a DJ set or in their own producing. From this record the only dance floor friendly hit is Andrew Rasse alias Butane’s remix of the track. The second release is a selection album with two foreign names: the Belgian Ilario Liburni and the Japanese Kaitaro and the Hungarians: Li and the Andras Toth/Bepo pair. The fact that this record lines up Li and Bepo, the guys I began doing all this for, shows well that everyone could stay on their orbit and the target was reached which was that it is possible to make a serious international cooperation through the label.
What do you think is more fit for the market: a DJ set or a live set? Can these be compared to each other?
They are completely different genres: the characteristics of a good DJ and a good producer are distinct still the two trades are hard to separate. A producer must have good analytic skills, must be someone who can pay extreme attention to the smallest details as they sometimes focus on perfecting a track for months. A DJ needs to live together with the party for long hours, needs to feel the audience, the atmosphere, and practically make decisions all the time when selecting. They need a very adaptive and charismatic air since they are in direct contact with the audience for hours.
How do they still relate? They do because a DJ without their own product has zero chance to show themselves in front of the world if they don’t have a significant web of relations or weren’t conceived and born in the DJ booth of Panorama Bar.
The reason for this is that from the distance a DJ cannot really show up anything that matches the criteria, and if they can, five to ten minutes are not enough to shine their inner potential. And don’t think that promoter/booker/event planner sailing on international waters will sacrifice more that that for an artist who “is very skilled according to my mate”. It is an interesting set of questions altogether but maybe let this be the subject of another interview.
Badmouth says that daddy bought you a club, what’s true of all that?
I bought a disco with the money meant for my apartment. How do you think daddy liked that?