Darren Foldes spent the summer of 2005 DJing for private parties for Prince whilst working full-time in advertising. The executive producer, managing director and partner for brand studio and production company Sibling Rivalry recently sat down to tell Creative Boom all about how he fell into the gig and what his time as a DJ to the stars taught him about working in the creative industries.
The night started like any other: Foldes, who at the time was working in advertising by day and DJing some of LA's top clubs at night, was doing a set at the now-defunct Foundation Room at the House of Blues in LA. When he finished around 2am, he was approached to DJ a private afterparty in the early hours of the morning. Foldes agreed – though he wasn't told who was hosting the party. It wasn't until an hour later when he was set up in a private room, that he was joined by none other than the legendary recording artist Prince.
"My jaw dropped," Foldes told Creative Boom. He'd DJ'd for high-profile hosts in the past, but this was another level.
Foldes tried to play it cool, following Prince's advice: "He said to me, 'just keep it sexy, keep it cool'," Foldes remembered. "And then he went and put the Wizard of Oz on the DVD player and left… There I was, left in the room with the Wizard of Oz playing by myself, not knowing what to make of anything right then."
Half an hour later, people started filtering into the room, and Foldes remembers that Prince returned somewhere around 4:30am, when the room was full. "It was an absolute full-on dance party," Foldes recalled, describing the night as "intimate but electrifying."
It was the first private party of many that Foldes would DJ for Prince that summer. While that first night was the most memorable, Foldes says the most rewarding aspect of the whole experience was knowing that he'd gotten it right – and kept it sexy and cool enough for Prince to invite him again and again, that summer.
Foldes stepped back from DJing the following summer as his advertising career took off (plus, how do you really top a summer spent DJing late-night LA parties for Prince?). But the way Foldes learned to entertain and delight his audience as a DJ and how he learned to meet the desires of top talent has never faded from his approach to creative work.
His musical taste and background are hugely evident in his advertising credits: Foldes was a member of the team behind Apple's rhythmic "Bounce" spot and won an Emmy for his role as Executive Producer on Nike's You Can't Stop Us spot – which is built around the mixing of footage and sound in a way that definitely plays to the strength of Foldes' background as a DJ and filmmaker.
One skill in particular that Foldes says his experience as a DJ helped him build out is the ability to push his clients' boundaries while simultaneously giving them what they want. "When you're DJing, you want to consider what's to come, but you must also be very grounded in the present and the past." Foldes liked his sets to balance fresh new sounds with classic tracks – for Prince, he once played a white-label remix of one of Prince's own songs that the artists' team had never heard before, sending one member of Prince's team chasing him down to get the record.
As a DJ, Foldes said it was important to be "future-facing and thinking about where things are going while satisfying people in that moment." Today, he applies to same rule to his work as an advertiser. "You want to try to push things forward at the same time as satisfying the goals of the brief," he told Creative Boom. "Sometimes that means getting someone to take a step somewhat outside their comfort zone only to find that it was the right step. And that's something that I frequently used to do when DJing. I played something that may have been unexpected but worked within the overall vibe of the evening."
As well as finding a balance between past, present, and future, Foldes has always been committed to finding the balance between his creative taste and preferences, his teams' tastes, and client tastes and needs – another skill he started honing in his DJ days.
"There is something to be said about having confidence in your voice, trusting what you believe is good from a craft or storytelling standpoint, and then seeing where that meshes with the other people in the process," Foldes told Creative Boom. "When DJing, you read the room by paying attention to what's happening on the dance floor. And when it's advertising, you read the room differently." For Foldes, reading the room doesn't mean going along with what the majority wants for the sake of it but rather making an effort to bring differing points of view together through creative expression. "For any creative field, I believe that trusting your core, but seeing how it works with others, and being collaborative is the way to true success."
At the end of the day, Foldes believes that the most important thing he can offer – as a DJ, producer, or creative leader – is to listen. Whether he's designing the perfect set list for Prince or pitching a new campaign to a client, or getting his team prepared to shoot a new spot, Foldes' attention is always on clueing into what's going on with the people around him, what they need, and how he can best respond and add value through his own voice.
"It's all about listening and observing, putting something out there and waiting for the reply," Foldes told Creative Boom. "You put something out there that elicits a response that allows you to understand your client, your audience, or the agency you're working with even better."