Embracing the metaphoric “human zoo” references about our busy metropolis, Las Vegas–based event and lifestyle media company Collective Zoo appeals to both the voyeurs and the partakers. The young brand has been throwing a purposeful mixture of large-scale and intimate events since 2015, all with a focus on immersive production, unlikely talent and community appeal.
Often focusing on dance and electronic shows, the collective had a hand in Las Vegas’ first DirtyBird BBQ last summer. They also curated the Forest House Art Car at Life Is Beautiful 2017, and their recurring events, such as Zoology and US at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, have a passionate following.
Matching the pace of the city with the music, Michael Uriarte, CEO of Collective Zoo, has a heart rate of 140 beats per minute or faster. Born and raised in Las Vegas, Uriarte came up within the electronic music community, though it took some time and a bit of education before he knew that he could turn his passion for into a career.
He attended many concerts in the Valley as a youth, but while his friends were into Yellowcard and Newfound Glory, he always preferred the rapid pace of electronic music. Back then, dance music could only be found at underground raves or in back rooms of popular venues, but it was that intimacy that shaped the shows he would later come to be a part of.
“One of our spots was Empire Ballroom,” he remembers. “We got to see Tiësto play there back in 2006.”
After graduating from UNLV with a degree in hospitality management, Uriarte went on to work in media. By day he would organize and market for large-scale events, but at night he messed around on the decks as a DJ. After years of making the visions of others come to life, he realized he could do the same for himself.
“A couple of my mentors said, ‘You’ve been doing this for a really long time; why don’t you really do this?’ And I thought about it—it was scary and it was risky,” he says. “I called two of my closest friends, who are my two partners, Jarrett and Orlando, and we formed this little nucleus. We wanted to put this company together and really make something happen.”
And with that, Uriarte, alongside Jarrett Applewhite and Orlando Medina, built a new entertainment company. First, the trio used the moniker Momentus Entertainment, but use of that name was thwarted by a Christian music and film group that filed for the trademark first. They then switched to Collective Zoo, a name that Jarrett had coined for a company he ran previously. Their mission was simple: Find the joy in the music and each other.
Rather than simply putting on shows, the Collective creates experiences.
“We want to expose people to different styles of music, different experiences, different vibes and different kinds of people,” Uriarte says.
The curation of their events is not reserved to putting together a lineup. They put their heads together with their staff to form a cohesive show that captivates the senses.
“The first step is handling the venue, then we come up with different concepts,” he says of the brainstorming process. “What are we trying to achieve with this space? Is it highlighting new artists? Are we creating a new brand, with new content layers that create something they can identify with?”
For Uriarte, creating an identity is something he’s learned from watching both the silver and small screens.
“So many films and TV shows do such a great job of creating these story lines where you feel like you’re in the story. You get to know the characters and you feel like they’re your friends,” he says. “When we create different events or brands, we think, ‘What can we do that [the dance-music community] will latch onto or identify with?’ It makes them feel they’re a part of something.”
The group also makes sure that when they’re booking talent, they’re seeking out the in-demand or elusive acts that rarely grace the city.
“What we felt was missing in our city was a kind of underground music from rising artists who don’t necessarily have the commercial appeal of, like, a Calvin Harris or Tiësto. We want to fill that void for the electronic music fan, the believers in the culture.”
Closing out 2017, Collective Zoo will do just that.
The second installment of their New Year’s Eve weekend event, US, will take over Downtown Las Vegas Events Center on December 29 and 30. The two-day, fully immersive outdoor show will feature Boys Noize, Gorgon City, No Mana, Jace Mek, Born Dirty, 530, Pauly Madrid, Token, Solardo, Matthew Anthony, Eufoeni, Skye and Roswell. The event is open to anyone 18 and older, costs $30 per night, and includes a two-hour open bar.
After saying goodbye to 2017, Collective Zoo will greet 2018 with the return of their three-day series Zoology, which embraces their animal roots in a stylized wild kingdom, on January 13, 20 and 27. Uriarte says, “What’s your spirit animal? Come as it!”
When reflecting on their past successes and future goals, Uriarte and team know who they’re doing it all for.
“Audience is everything,” he says. “And our heart is in Vegas.”
Collective Zoo Presents US
December 29–30, 6 p.m.–1 a.m., $30–$60, Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, 200 S. 3rd St., http://bit.ly/USNYEWeekend