With over 300 shows produced in its first three years, A. Rippin’ Production has quickly emerged as one of the city’s most prolific and influential promoters. Founded by local music veteran Amos Rifkin (Death of Kings), the company’s first motto was “Atlanta musician books musicians in Atlanta,” a tongue-twisting tagline that spoke to their core values of honesty and accountability. It was a simple ideology, but one which resonated with the legions of metal and heavy rock acts that A. Rippin’ Production worked with on a weekly basis. “There was an implication that the person handling your shows knew how you’d want to be treated,” Rifkin says, “and we’ve worked hard to maintain a level of transparency with the artists we work with, making sure there’s no questions about where the money goes at the end of the night.”
Although Rifkin and his colleagues continue to maintain a strict emphasis on working with local artists and doing their part to cultivate the Atlanta metal and heavy rock scenes, the company’s profile has risen significantly since their inception, attracting the attention of regional touring bands and national booking agencies. This has led to a shift in emphasis — from booking as many shows as possible to taking a step back and ensuring that each gig generates maximum impact and attendance. As A. Rippin’ Production heads into into its third year, there are bold plans for increased expansion, including the company’s first large scale festival, Mass Destruction Metal Fest, in November.
But first there’s a party to attend. In celebration of their third anniversary, A. Rippin’ is hosting Deaf From Above, a two-night blowout featuring some of Atlanta’ heaviest bands including Order of the Owl, Lazer/Wulf, Withered, Death of Kings, and more. The festivities kick off tonight at Star Bar in Little Five Points. Despite his hectic schedule, Rifkin took the time to speak with us about the origins behind A. Rippin’ Production, the state of the Atlanta metal scene, and what we can expect from the company in the future.
What first motivated you to start A. Rippin’ Production? Have those motivations changed at all over the past three years?
After a bitter layoff from my previous job, I’d heard from a friend that she was getting ready to leave her position as a talent buyer and promoter for a prominent local venue. She insisted that with my organizational skills and experience booking my own bands in the past, I’d be a shoe-in for the job. I was hesitant at first, but wound up relenting. A few months later, I was informed the job was given to another candidate, but by then I’d gotten really excited at the prospect of promoting music, and decided on a whim to start my own thing and see where it went. After 15 years of being involved with the music scene as an artist, spreading the word about my new venture was surprisingly smooth. Between word of mouth and some rudimentary social media, I started getting hit up regularly for shows by both local and touring bands, and jumped into the fire.
Our first tagline was “Atlanta musician booking musicians in Atlanta,” which to us spoke volumes. There was an implication that the person handling your shows knew how you’d want to be treated, and we’ve worked hard to maintain a level of transparency with the artists we work with, making sure there’s no questions about where the money goes at the end of the night. We spent our first year taking every show that came our way, for better or worse, in an effort to get the name out there as fast as possible. There were plenty of growing pains, as even now, every show continues to be a learning experience.
When you first started did you see yourself organizing so many shows and working with the level of artists you’re working with?
Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started, so I had to learn through conducting as much trial and error as possible. Sometimes it’s truly mind boggling to look back and realize we’ve produced over 300 shows in just three short years, and to see that in that time we’ve managed to attract the attention of some larger local and regional bands, as well as several national booking agencies. Despite our progress, we try to stay as humble and grounded in reality as possible, but sometimes you’ll get an email from a band you loved growing up and the understandable “HOLY SHIT!” moment slips out. Even though we’ve started to book slightly larger shows than when we first began, we wouldn’t be anywhere without the incredibly talented and diverse Atlanta music scene, so we take great care to make sure our connection with local artists never withers.
How has the Atlanta metal scene evolved since you first started promoting shows? Are there any changes or improvements you’d like to see made?
The metal scene has definitely experienced some peaks and valleys since I joined Death of Kings just about seven years ago. We’ve seen bands of all sorts of sub-genres rise and fall, as well as venues coming and going. No band or venue will last forever, but it’s been very interesting to see what those with longevity have in common. I love watching new bands hit the scene, as it tends to send ripples through the community, often inspiring others to follow suit with their own bands. It’s hard to think of what changes would drastically improve the scene, although selfishly I’d love to see Atlanta finally enact a smoking ban that the rest of the country seems to have been enjoying for years. It’s hard enough getting on stage without having to take heaving breaths of second-hand smoke.
What role do you see A. Rippin’ playing in shaping the scene?
Man, this is a tough one [laughs]. There was a metal scene long before I came around, and I imagine it’ll be around long after, so clearly I’m not indispensable in what I do. That being said, sometimes I’ve wondered what would happen if I hung up my promoting shoes and got out of this thankless business. I’d have to guess if that we weren’t doing any booking, the bands would likely reach out to the venues themselves and life would still go on as usual, but having an independent promoter on your side definitely can help you get your foot in the door at times. If I had to describe my role, I’d guess it’d be some sort of quasi-caretaker. The scene won’t die without me, but my presence seems to be having some sort of positive effect on what’s going on, so I guess I should stick with it, huh?
Metal fans are often portrayed as extremely loyal to their music. Yet, A. Rippin’ has made it a point to try and diversify your bills with different genres. How has that been received by audiences?
We never set out to be the de facto metal promoter in town, but through my connections playing punk and heavy metal music for a while, most of the acts coming my way have been on the heavy or extreme side of things. Sometimes our desire to diversify our lineups has blown up in our faces, but a lot of times it’s been extremely gratifying to watch people enjoy the exposure to other styles of music that they may not have otherwise explored. Unfortunately, we can’t please everybody all the time, but one of the most challenging parts of promoting has been how to get your events in front of the eyes of people who will REALLY care about it. Like everything else, it’s a work in progress, but thankfully our closeness with the metal scene has made spreading the word about the heavier shows much easier. It’s a pretty tightly knit community, so word travels fast and saves us the hassle of figuring out the best way to promote.
What’s been your proudest moment so far? Is there a corresponding low point you’d be willing to talk about?
Every now and then we’re fortunate enough to produce a downright magical show, where you can feel the electricity in the air. Our very first show back in 2014, when we brought UK punk legends Slaughter and the Dogs to Atlanta, was definitely a magical experience, as we crammed almost 220 people into the Masquerade on a Monday night. That first show cemented our desire to continue to make a career out of concert promotion. There have been no shortage of magical nights since then… Connoisseur at 529, Absu at the Basement, Satan at 529, to name a few.
On the other end of the spectrum, when organizing ATL Deathfest in 2015, we tried to capture the same lightning in a bottle from years prior when bands traveling between Maryland Deathfest and Chaos in Tejas made for a serious overlap of talent. Ultimately, the shows went fine but the magic just wasn’t there, and it was a pretty disappointing moment to realize you’d booked 15 bands over three venues on one night to virtually zero interest. You get used to having ups and downs in this line of work, and realize very early that you can’t live and die with the results of every show. With that in mind, we’re looking forward to another upcoming proud moment in the fall, as our first large scale festival, MASS DESTRUCTION METAL FEST, is set to bring 15 of the country’s most intense black and death metal bands to Center Stage over the first weekend in November. It’s our most ambitious (and expensive) production to date, but if everything goes according to plan we’ll have established the Southeast’s premier metal festival for many years to come. No pressure, right?
You have three titles you go by: Talent Buyer/Promoter/Drummer. Which one is currently the most important to you?
Depending on the day of the week or even the time of day, I might be any one of those. Since I got into this business through booking my own bands, I’ve continued to add my own groups to our shows when we’re the best band for the bill. I’m a musician first and foremost, and none of this promotion stuff would have ever happened if I hadn’t spent the last 18 years learning how to interact with venues and other bands. I do think that being a musician gives me an advantage in knowing what bands are going to be expecting from the venues and promoters handling their shows, so I leave the “drummer” part on the email signature to remind people that I’m not just “one of them.”
How do you find balance between your job as a promoter and your duties in Death of Kings and other projects?
Before I started A. Rippin’ Production, I managed the promotional and booking duties for several of my bands (drummers are never in just ONE band), which definitely helped prepare me for the endless juggling of responsibilities as a promoter. Once we started operating at full speed, it became pretty apparent that I couldn’t manage the bands AND my company, so I’ve stepped back a bit in other duties with the bands but still handle most of the booking, which typically works out pretty well since I’m usually promoting the same kind of shows that my bands would fit on… turns out a little nepotism goes a long way!
Talk about the third anniversary show this weekend. Are there any bands that you are particularly excited to see?
Deaf From Above was born out of a conversation I was having with Casey [Yarbrough] from Order of the Owl, where he was looking to help put together a weekend-long mini-fest showcasing some of the heaviest and hard-hitting bands in town. The timing worked out in that it wound up doubling as our third anniversary show, and we’ve managed to assemble a killer group of acts, if I do say so myself. I’ll be performing with my new group, Insomniac, opening the festivities on Friday night before Athens doom outfit Marses takes the stage. Our friends in Withered and Order of the Owl close out the first night, in what’s sure to be one of the loudest nights the Star Bar has endured in recent memory.
I’m excited to catch the debut of Dead Now, a new project featuring Andrew Elstner (ex-Torche) and Bobby [Theberge] and Derek [Schulz] of Day Old Man, as they open up Saturday’s show. Another newer ATL group, Girthquake, featuring members of the Dirty Magazines and Halmos, will follow them before I take the stage with Death of Kings prior to our close friends in Lazer/Wulf closing things out. It’s going to be a wild party with a ton of my friends that I’ve met through my involvement in the metal scene, both playing and promoting, and I could not be more psyched about it.
What can you tell us about future of A. Rippin’ Production?
When I started A. Rippin, my goal was to work for five years before reassessing whether to continue or not. As of right now I can’t imagine stopping, but I know the real work lies ahead if we wish to maintain any sort of longevity in this town. There’s a reason not a lot of people want to do this kind of work. It’s extremely stressful, and often times infuriating, and the job will absolutely consume you if you let it, but oh man, when everything works out it is SUPREMELY gratifying. We hope to continue to grow our audience over the next few years and expand the types of shows and the kinds of venues we work with. You’ll likely see some more developed marketing techniques as we quickly approach the end of our DIY era. Right now it’s just myself, Lauryn Christy, Lauren Melde, and Michael Myerz busting our asses to keep it all going, but we’re always looking for people with a passion for music who are wanting to get involved.
Deaf From Above – A. Rippin’ Production Three-Year Anniversary Bash goes down tonight and tomorrow night at Star Bar. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $11 in advance or $13 DOS for either night. Weekend passes are $20. 21+ to enter.