18 Years Of inthemix The Oral History Of The Greatest Dance Music Website Ever
After 18 years, the party is ending. inthemix, long the online home and the voice of Australian electronic and dance music — and the site that birthed Junkee — is taking the needle off the record for the last time and turning on the lights.
To mark this momentous and frankly melancholy occasion, and to give the site the sendoff it deserves, we’ve compiled an oral history of inthemix, chronicling almost two decades and featuring the voices of the people who founded ITM, nurtured it and made it into an online behemoth during one of the most exciting musical epochs in recent memory.
You may not know who Andre Lackmann and Libby Clark are by name, but you wouldn’t be reading this if not for them, and it’s not a stretch to say the Australian media landscape would not be the same without their pioneering efforts.
The story begins in 1999 — in the wake of the dot com crash, when high-speed internet was still new and long before the world of social media, online news and omnipresent mobile access we all take for granted. Working from their spare room, Lackmann and Clark started a website so they could post photos from the raves they were attending and stay in touch with fellow partygoers. To their surprise, the site very quickly grew into an online music community and focal point of the Sydney and then the national underground scenes, and drew huge traffic despite its DIY nature.
Soon Lackmann and Clark were joined by Neil Ackland (now the CEO of Junkee Media), and the three of them became the core management team of ITM and built the site into a massive success. ITM (and its notorious forums) served as both tribune and tastemaker for the heaving mid-noughties Australian electronic music scene as it began to make noise on the world stage — and hosted many a raucous party.
Over the years ITM was shaped and lovingly overseen by a team of talented and innovative writers and editors that at various times included Matt Callender, Tim Hardaker, Angus Paterson, Jack Tregoning and Katie Cunningham — all contributors to this history. The story also features local music legends Mark Dynamix, Mark James and Kid Kenobi, whose careers and huge successes were intimately associated with ITM and its community.
But it wasn’t just about festival galleries, flame wars in the forums and disastrous interviews with deadmau5. Eventually the site’s success spawned the Sound Alliance, a group of pop-culture sites modelled on ITM’s success, and then Junkee Media, reaching audiences far beyond ITM’s niche market and helping change the way young Australians engage online.
But we’re not just celebrating ITM because it’s the godfather of Junkee. These oral accounts form an intriguing story that mixes together life in Sydney at the turn of the millennium, the anarchic founding era of online media and the debauched glory years of dance music — not to mention insights and anecdotes about the stars of the club galaxy, from Daft Punk to Diplo. It’s a funny, sometimes raunchy and ultimately inspiring epic that’s the best way we could think of to mark the end of an era.
“There Was No Masterplan”
Andre Lackmann: It was my baby initially, and then I dragged all sorts of people in along the way.
Matt Callender: It was definitely Andre’s baby.
Libby Clark: inthemix was my first child.
Neil Ackland: It was Andre’s vision at the start. He was the technological brains behind it, and really saw the opportunity with online media.
Andre Lackmann: Let’s see, going back to the beginning. So back in ’99, I was working in IT and teaching myself some web development skills. Libby and I lived together at the time.
Libby Clark: Now this will be a flashback for you — he was a frustrated Lotus Notes developer who wanted to do something creative.
Andre Lackmann: And I built out a rudimentary website that allowed me to publish some of the photos I was taking at club gigs.
Libby Clark: What had brought us together with our friends was going to clubs, so we just thought, we’ll start this little thing that’s a way of us keeping in touch with each other, because it would just be an interesting outlet.
Andre Lackmann: I built a really crappy CMS that allowed me to publish news stories and reviews. And I put a call out to friends saying hey, if you’re at an event and something happens or you’re talking to a DJ, you can come publish it here — I’ll give you a login. And so it kind of went from there.
Libby Clark: So Andre created this website, and we just started posting to it for our friends. It was quite surreal when people started reaching out to us and saying, hey, you should come to this event or you should review this album.
Neil Ackland: It all started so organically.
Libby Clark: It was truly organic, and the fact that it sort of scaled as a business was by accident really, not by design. We just found ourselves in this place where people we didn’t know were interested in what we had to say. There was no masterplan, that’s for sure.
Andre Lackmann: 2001 was slap bang in the middle of tech wreck, so at the same time all the dot coms were falling apart, we launched one. [laughs] Maybe a prescient move, maybe just stupid luck, I don’t know. I like to think a bit of both.
Neil Ackland: It was an incredibly exciting period, both in terms of what was going on in the music scene in Australia, but also the explosion in digital media. It was those two huge cultural waves coming together at that perfect moment, and us being there to ride that wave.
Andre Lackmann: There was 3D World magazine here in Sydney, and the different street press in every other town that showed there was a need for this type of content. And there were a couple of websites that were doing club sort of content — Spraci in particular. It was a very rudimentary website, but it was getting a bit of traction, people were using it. And I was like, that can be done much better, let’s make something that’s easy and fun to use. And Spraci covered super underground events, but I thought there could be a need for photos and news of bigger events. So that was what I was aiming for at the time and, look, it kind of worked out. [laughs]
Matt Callender: Before us, there was raves dot com — RDC — and Spraci. They were message boards that were I think pretty much completely unmoderated.
Andre Lackmann: There was another website in Melbourne called The Scene.
Matt Callender: So the community was there talking, sharing and meeting up to a certain extent, but I think inthemix did it in a slightly more polished way.
Andre Lackmann: The electronic music scene had a fairly strong crossover with digital. People who’d either worked in the technology space, or were aspiring to, or in digital creative. Whenever you went to clubs, you’d speak to people and they’d be like, oh yeah, I’m a programmer, or I work at OzEmail, or I’m a designer. I think part of the reason you were into electronic music is because you were also into computers. Those things kind of went hand in hand.
Libby Clark: We had this beautiful serendipity because people who were really into that kind of music were at the forefront of adopting digital communications. It’s a gross generalisation but it kind of happened to be true. It wasn’t a weird thing that you’d be into electronic music and then you would also be more digitally savvy than average.
“Social Media Before Social Media”
Matt Callender: I think one of the things we did, which nobody else was doing for the dance genre, was to create a news service. We would do an article on how police busted a whole bunch of people that had drugs in a nightclub. That sort of news. It was like a more immediate version of street press. And that definitely united people.
Angus Paterson: What’s important to remember is the idea of online news was really in its infancy at that stage.
Neil Ackland: We were quite far ahead of our time in terms of what we were doing. I often think of it as social media before the term social media really existed.
Matt Callender: It was amazing. I guess it was like social media before social media.
Everyone does this now, but at the time it was an unusually lively community in the online space — and it spread out to real life as well.
Andre Lackmann: At the time, it was a bit of a sweet spot from a digital perspective. It was just as broadband started to get a bit of penetration here in Australia, so you started to have an actual quality experience online, where beforehand it was all modems.
Libby Clark: We have those frameworks now, like user-generated content and things like that. There was no UGC, this was half a decade or a decade before that.
Tim Hardaker: It always felt really special and different. It wasn’t until the late 2000s, early 2010s, when anyone could launch a website on a WordPress theme and start regurgitating press releases. That’s when it felt like some of that real uniqueness got eroded.
“It Sucked People In”
Andre Lackmann: You put a website up and put a call out, and people will tell each other. Matt was one of those people who came across the site.
Matt Callender: When I stumbled on it, it looked like it was already established, because Andre had made it look so sleek. I hooked up with Andre and Libby and we just hit it off. I started as a contributor. We got on well and we could see shared opportunities to grow the community.
Andre Lackmann: During 2000 it was basically me, Libby, and a couple of my friends. Matt came in pretty early. Neil was there I think towards the end of 2000.
Neil Ackland: I can’t remember the timeline, but I came into it probably a few months after Andre and Libby set inthemix up.
I came out to Australia in ’98, and I’d been heavily involved in the dance scene back in the UK. I was really excited by what was going on in the scene here. I had this business idea of creating a website for dance music news and ticketing. And I came across inthemix when it had literally only been live for a couple months.
I became a contributor and got to know the guys. And because of my dayjob working in sales and marketing I saw this big opportunity to help them.
Libby Clark: It was pretty neat in the end, because Neil was always very sales-focused, very commercial, Andre was always very technical, and I love editorial.
Andre Lackmann: We pretty much worked as a team, and any major decision, everyone had input into.
Neil Ackland: It just kind of sucked people in. It was really quite something. We had all these incredible young people who were giving up their time to go and review shows and take photos and take part in the community in any way they could. And we all used to gather at Andre and Libby’s apartment in Chippendale and have community meet-ups.
“A Bit Of A Lark To Get Free Tickets”
Matt Callender: Initially I wasn’t aware of much of a commercial imperative, and that was never my strength either.
Neil Ackland: It wasn’t really a commercial enterprise, it was very much a community enterprise.
Andre Lackmann: To be honest, initially it was a bit of a lark to get free tickets to events. We were in the scene anyway, and we were like, wow, if we can run a website and on the weekend not pay to go to these cool events, and be backstage and stuff — all right, cool.
Neil Ackland: We had very modest expectations. We probably would have summed up our expectations as, if we can get into clubs in Sydney for free, that would be pretty sweet. [laughs] And also just the idea that we might be able to pay for some of our hosting costs so it wasn’t costing us money.
Matt Callender: We quickly worked out that inthemix gave us good credentials. At its simplest that meant you could get into nightclubs.
Andre Lackmann: It seemed low risk — we didn’t have kids at the time, no one had mortgages or anything. As long as we could kind of get by, we thought we’d just roll the dice.
Neil Ackland: The dream or the idea that we could make a living out of this thing was beyond our comprehension. It was very much for the love of the music and the scene.
Tim Hardaker: I contributed to inthemix for probably about a year or 18 months before I worked there, just doing the volunteer thing, writing reviews and doing interviews. I was pretty obsessed with doing as much as I could.
Matt Callender: It was all pretty indie at the time I suppose. To me it didn’t really feel like a challenge. I wasn’t comparing myself to Fairfax Media, I was comparing myself more to independent radio or street press.
“What You Do For The Cause”
Libby Clark: We had day jobs for a long time, and kept the fires burning by doing another full equivalent day job at night, when we would get home and work on inthemix. But it just became bigger and bigger, and ultimately we were able, one by one, to take the leap and make it our focus, which was such a privilege and kind of unheard of at the time.
Andre Lackmann: Once I put a forum up, the traffic started growing. And then, sort of early 2001, it was really starting to show some traction. We weren’t making any money, but we were starting to get some decent traffic.
Neil Ackland: So then it did accelerate really quickly. The big moment where it all changed was when I lost my job — mainly because I was spending so much time working on inthemix.
Andre Lackmann: Well, the way it was described to me, Neil was asked to go and chat to his boss. And his boss was like, what’s going on? And he explained to him about this website he was working on, and his boss said, okay cool, well pack your stuff.
So the next week he started coming to work with me in our spare room, and we worked together out of that space for six months to a year.
“The big moment where it all changed was when I lost my job — mainly because I was spending so much time working on inthemix”
Neil Ackland: I said to Andre, well I’ve got nothing to do, I can work on it every day — and he was like, ah fuck, I’ll quit as well. So he quit his job.
Andre Lackmann: Libby and I had a conversation at some point and we decided I would quit my job and would focus on it while she would continue working — which was amazing of her. And we thought we’d see where it goes.
And then Andre and I were working on it every day from his spare bedroom. Within a matter of months Libby went, nah, I’ve got to do this as well.
And then it was like, fuck, you know, there’s three of us here who need some food on our plates, and we need to get busy on this thing. And that’s when it really took off and went to the next level.
Andre Lackmann: To be honest, in retrospect I think we didn’t really know what we were doing. Knowing what I know now, I would never have done it. It was so hard for so long. For a good three or four years it was a super uphill slog.
Libby Clark: We were really struggling in the early days, like any startup would, and I had quit my job. All three of us were just kind of desperately trying to make it all work.
So I decided I would go on a game show. It was a crappy show called Burgo’s Catch Phrase. I did my homework and found out you could retain that cash you’d accrued even if you lost. So I went on a couple of nights and accrued the cash, brought that back in and paid a bunch of bills, and kept the ship afloat. That’s what you do for the cause. [laughs]
Neil Ackland: It did grow really quickly in terms of the traffic. The traffic just went bananas, and we were out there trying to explain to people how to advertise on there, and also trying to figure it all out ourselves.
Matt Callender: When we were based out of Andre’s apartment I worked remotely out of my house in Surry Hills. Eventually, we moved to share offices with a local radio station at the time, Rhythm FM.
Mark James: We had a radio station in Sydney called Rhythm FM, and we gave Neil Ackland and his team a space in the studio. Armed with chairs, desks and laptops they created inthemix.
Matt Callender: I felt it was so cool and I’m pretty sure the others did as well, to be in a radio station. They had a Red Bull fridge, you could smoke at your desk, it was very fun. And a constant stream of international artists, as they would come through the country, would go to do a spot on the station. And we would be right there, so we could get in on the action.
Neil Ackland: I think the first time we got our first proper office was when we moved into a shitty little office on the corner of Oxford and Crown, opposite where Reachin’ Records was. We worked out of a little room there. That’s when it became a little bit more legitimate, and some of the first people that we were able to hire came on board over the year or two from there.
Andre Lackmann: As we started to turn into a business, we got to a point to where we were actually at least making enough money to kind of feed ourselves.
Neil Ackland: I was 22, 23 around that time. I had no experience in media, no experience in advertising, no experience in the music industry, really, of any note. So I was the perfect person to try and help commercialise this business. [laughs]
So I tried to go out there and knock on doors and find people who wanted to advertise.
Matt Callender: The medium of selling ad space and banner ads and so forth was breaking new ground.
Neil Ackland: You have to put it in context. Around that time, the dot com crash had just happened, and everyone thought we were batshit crazy. Online advertising wasn’t even really a thing back then. We were teaching ourselves how to do it.
Libby Clark: It was hard to convince brands to advertise — online advertising was so nascent. Because we were so niche, it started off with a lot of industry support, which was great. Event promoters, record labels, who had specific campaigns.
Neil Ackland: We got our first-ever advertising campaign, I think it was in 2001. I remember it distinctly — it was for Gas nightclub. They had a new night called Made 2 Measure — M2M. I remember the booking was $250, and I remember we printed it off the fax machine and we were all jumping around going crazy. That was the first time we’d ever done a deal that kind of validated our existence.
Andre Lackmann: I had emailed Mark James in Melbourne to see if he would let us come down to Two Tribes, which was basically the precursor to Future Music Festival, a ridiculously huge event for the time. And I got the email back saying yeah sure, no problems. It was the first time that someone’s going yeah, yeah, you guys can come down. That was a turning point. I can still remember Libby and I jumping around in our apartment in Chippendale.
Neil Ackland: It was Matt Callender and Libby who were out there building that community and meeting the contributors and bringing new people in. Matt was kind of that people person. He was the managing editor and was bringing all these new people into it.
Matt Callender: We had a Melbourne managing editor and a Canberra editor, a Brisbane editor and an Adelaide editor and Perth editor. So that they could each develop their own local communities a little bit more.
Libby Clark: Thankfully I had an employer at the time where I had to go to all the capital cities of Australia fairly frequently, so that was kind of handy. So we could strike up these relationships with people around the country.
Matt Callender: That was definitely Libby’s strength, she had an HR background and she was good at that.
Libby Clark: And communities grew up around that in their various cities, through the forums and local events. It was how it blossomed.
Katie Cunningham: I started as a contributor when I was at uni in Canberra.
Matt Callender: When I was there, at one point we had 600 volunteers writing for the site. They were like a big family. We had teams that were meeting up all over the country, we had people who were contributing from Europe and the UK.
Tim Hardaker: I discovered clubbing and dance music about two years before I started working at inthemix, and I just became completely and utterly swallowed up in it and obsessed. I was just like a sponge trying to absorb as much knowledge and information as I could. I remember some guy telling me, you should go to this forum and have a look at it, you can chat with people who are into this stuff.
Angus Paterson: For a long time the community around ITM was really incredible.
Mark James: There certainly was a community spirit associated with inthemix, especially the forums where people voiced their opinions.
Angus Paterson: I was a teenage raver going out to hard trance nights. You would get home and post on the forums and discuss who was good and who you liked. And the site really grew organically out of that kind of community base.
It worked well because a lot of the scenes in Australia were relatively small, so ITM was like a glue that bonded everyone together.
Andre Lackmann: You would go to events and you’d know half the club. You could say, hey what’s your inthemix username.
Neil Ackland: You’d go up to people in a club and you’d introduce yourself with your inthemix username. People were known by their usernames.
Andre Lackmann: You could go to an event and not know anybody, and within an hour have four or five conversations with people you knew through your interactions online.
Neil Ackland: Facebook kind of killed that. All of a sudden everyone’s who they actually were. I think it was much more interesting when people were crafting their own personality around their username.
Matt Callender: It definitely felt like a community. While I was living in Sydney, almost all of my people that I had anything to do with were inthemix people. When I moved back to Melbourne, it was like a ready-made posse of amazing people that spoke the same languages that I did, even though I’d had very little to do with them face to face.
Mark James: The forums were also a great guideline to get a feel for what the punters liked and disliked about certain events, DJs or acts.
Mark Dynamix: inthemix allowed a place for established as well as aspiring DJ and producers to present new music and mixes to a loyal audience of many hundreds of thousands — something that you would now have to do over many social media.
Neil Ackland: Everyone talks about influencer marketing now. If you looked back then, there were these core personalities who were very vocal on the inthemix forums. They really knew their shit about their particular area of music, and they could carry a lot of of sway. For a lot of the club shows and smaller events that were happening, it was all about if you could get the inthemix forum community to come, then you could build the rest around that.
Tim Hardaker: Before I worked at inthemix, I was working at a job that I found pretty boring, so I spent way more time on the forums during work days than I probably should have. I actually feel like I learnt a lot about dance music and the history of it and all the artists and genres through the forums.
Neil Ackland: It was a moment in the history of the internet where people would just be sitting there all day at their job, with a screen open, just refreshing the page.
Andre Lackmann: For everyone who posted there were nine people who would just read. It had quite a lot of reach. And it ended up having a topic or a discussion on everything, like every topic known, it wasn’t just limited to music.
Mark Dynamix: Pre-Facebook, the inthemix forums were the main place to connect with artists directly and to share with and message other dance music followers. For me, as a DJ and artist, it was a place to gain feedback, good and bad. You could gauge how things were going from reading the responses on the forums — which was a little dangerous!
Neil Ackland: You can’t understate the influence it had at that time — and that wasn’t really down that much to us, it was more the community, and the community aspect of it was just so strong.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Angus Paterson: I’d get involved in these forum brawls where you’d just kind of fight to the death over some completely irrelevant topic, you know — whether this DJ sucks or he’s awesome or whether this DJ’s too commercial or not. These big online stoushes.
Neil Ackland: There were always run-ins, and people had to get banned and stuff like that. There were characters, and there were trolls before they were even called trolls, who had pseudonyms and no one knew who they were — but it kind of made it fun.
Tim Hardaker: There was a real fucked-up side to heaps of what went on in there, and all sorts of trolling. Like you’d have promoters trolling other promoters and you’d have people not being particularly nice to artists.
But there were lots of people who were just genuinely funny, and they were probably sitting there in really boring jobs, like I was at one point, just looking for something to distract themselves with.
Libby Clark: For all of the darkness that we talk about with trolling right now, there was a huge amount of humour and goodwill. Of course there was lots of negative sentiment. There was the good, the bad and the ugly. But there was this amazing way it would self-regulate. You wouldn’t go in and police it, it would do that for you, because certain members of the community would step in and play a role. We had kind of tribal elders, and they would come in and speak for us.
Tim Hardaker: There was this ongoing joke about how the worst day of the week in forums was always Tuesday. Because everyone had gone out all weekend, and completely caned it, and then Tuesday it all kind of came crashing down. And that’s when people were just absolutely vicious.
“ There was this ongoing joke about how the worst day of the week in forums was always Tuesday. Because everyone had gone out all weekend, and completely caned it, and then Tuesday it all kind of came crashing down. And that’s when people were just absolutely vicious.”
Katie Cunningham: I remember just being totally boggled by the forums when I lived in Canberra. I didn’t really understand them, and everyone on there was a bit of a cunt sometimes.
Jack Tregoning: A particularly withering comment could annoy me for days.
Katie Cunningham: But then when I started working at inthemix and spending a lot more time on there, I grew to love them in a twisted way. They were like an ex-boyfriend in that you knew you shouldn’t care what they think, but you still kind of want their approval anyway. It took me about a year to prove myself to that hardcore forum community, but I got there in the end. They could be very critical, which was a bit daunting as a baby writer logging on every day and not knowing whether someone was going to tear you to shreds for getting a track title wrong or whatever.
Mark Dynamix: The bruisings were fierce sometimes.
Kid Kenobi: There was a bit of a love/hate relationship between me and the community back in the day. On the one hand I received a lot of love via the awards and tours. On the other hand a lot of people used to slag me off on the forums for being popular. That did hurt a lot back then.
But now I look back on it I think, damn, remember those days when people actually felt that passionate about local DJs? It’s crazy how much has changed. I just miss the whole thing now, haters and all.
Katie Cunningham: There was a whole thing once where the forums were slagging off deadmau5, so he made an inthemix account and started fighting with people on there.
Tim Hardaker: I always had this real love/hate relationship with the forums. When I got into the editorial role and I became really fixated on this idea of turning inthemix into a credible news source, I felt there were periods where the forum would really kind of undermine that. I kind of started to resent that over time.
But they drove a fuckoad of our traffic, which drove a fuckload of our revenue. That was how a lot of people discovered the site, and so you couldn’t hate them too much because they were sort of the reason why we were all there. They just caused all sorts of drama sometimes. But now that I look back on it, it’s all pretty funny.
Katie Cunningham: You’d constantly see things like “anal bleaching” come up as a Google search term referrer because someone had made a thread about it once. There was truly some smut on those forums. Other search terms we saw included “what does ass to mouth taste like?”, “it’s only stalking if they don’t like you” and “effects of ecstasy on sperm.”
Andre Lackmann: There would be like 100,000 posts across the site in a month. Just a huge amount of interest. My hosting company used to come to me and say, you know, you’re our biggest bandwidth user, you’re pushing like five megs a second in peak times. It was a ridiculous amount of traffic we were driving — more so than much bigger brands and sites, because we just had a stickiness where people would be on there all day every day.
Neil Ackland: We were doing many millions of page impressions every month, and our hosting costs were through the roof. The website used to crash all the time because there was so much traffic. It was crazy.
Andre Lackmann: We had all sorts of scaling issues. We didn’t have a lot of money — there was a small tech team, a handful of us. We were constantly testing the limits of the technology we either had access to or could afford. There were all sorts of dramas along the way.
“I Would Just Write And Write And Write”
Libby Clark: We had a fantastic editorial team, and I was always pretty proud of the talent we attracted to that team. Sometimes I wondered how the hell they stayed with us so long and were so amazing and so loyal.
Matt Callender: What I tried to do with inthemix was make it more national than a Sydney-based thing. There was already that intent there, but it wasn’t being executed very well because everyone was in Sydney. I had come from Melbourne, so I tried to make sure that anything that we wrote didn’t make you feel like, oh I’m not in Sydney, this isn’t going to work for me.
Tim Hardaker: I always had this view that we were talking to a niche audience, but we had a mass reach. So it felt like we were pretty special, because we spoke to a lot of people in what’s arguably a pretty small market — you know, dance music in Australia.
Angus Paterson: When I started Tim had really built up the editorial. It really allowed the site to switch from being responsive or reactive to kind of proactive. Tim had a very strong understanding of what worked.
Tim Hardaker: I started working there in February 2002. Libby, who hired me, kind of convinced me to quit uni. I was only a year into my uni degree. I kind of gave up on that and decided that I would try out this inthemix thing, and then ended up working there for 12 years.
I was pretty obsessed for quite a while, and I would work a lot, and really really hard. I think by the time I left, I’d written something like five and a half thousand news stories.
Matt Callender: Right from the start we would track down an artist that we were interested in and interview them. Sasha and Digweed, stacks of drum ’n’ bass acts, techno acts, what have you. It was fun, and it was win win because the record labels and the touring managers and what have you were happy to get the exposure to their artists and we were stoked to be talking to these people who were like gods you know.
Angus Paterson: It was this delicate balancing game of not annoying the promoters too much, because they’re your partners and they’re paying for advertising, but also breaking all these scoops all the time.
Tim Hardaker: I would just write and write and write. Tour announcements and new music releases and all that stuff. I got so fucking sick to death of writing, hey Krafty Kuts is touring! I interviewed every single DJ that was even vaguely interesting at least two or three times. It became kind of absurd. These DJs would tour at the same time every year, so you could almost copy/paste and use it again.
Angus Paterson: I interviewed hundreds and hundreds of artists. I was basically interviewing four, five, six artists a week.
Tim Hardaker: We were really obsessed with making it work, and just did absolutely everything we could do.
More Content More Quickly
Jack Tregoning: When I started in 2007, inthemix was the forums first, content second. Our content was very linear: news, photo galleries, reviews and artist interviews. All our interviews were audio then too — you clicked into the feature and then played the audio.
Tim Hardaker: I started doing the audio interviews as a means to an end. I wanted more content and I could produce more content more quickly if I didn’t have to transcribe every interview
Jack Tregoning: In my second week, Tim asked me to take a phone interview with Armand Van Helden. I had barely done interviews before, so that was scary enough. But the fact that people would be able to hear and judge my shitty questions was terrifying. I had to walk around the block three times to get in the zone. Great first interview, but listening back to it wasn’t. I ended up doing a lot of audio interviews in those first years.
Tim also put together an inthemix podcast, which wasn’t a common thing then.
Tim Hardaker: We did the first legally licensed music podcast in Australia. All the tracks had to get licensed from record labels. This is at a time when record labels still didn’t know how to deal with the idea of music online — completely before the idea of streaming. Just going to a label and saying hey, give me a song so we can give it away for free, that took a lot of hard work.
We tried lots of things, probably before there was clearly a market there for them. Like we spent a lot of money and time and effort producing video for a while, but people probably just weren’t ready for that at that point. We used to do these live chatroom things where we’d get artists who were touring to come in, and the community would ask them questions, but that was obviously before any of this Facebook live stuff now. People kind of just didn’t get it, and it was so much fucking effort.
But it was fun, trying new things, it kept it interesting. I don’t think we ever did it consciously like we were trying to break new ground. We were just doing stuff that felt interesting and organic.
The Bible Of Australian Dance Music
Jack Tregoning: A contingent of the audience was always highly engaged with our articles, which I loved. They’d tell us when they thought something was shit — frequently — then really interact with articles that deserved it. It was something really unique and vital about inthemix that inevitably lessened as comments moved to Facebook.
Katie Cunningham: It felt like we were constantly being policed by readers, advertisers and the industry, who all wanted us to be what their definition of a perfect publication was. It was impossible to keep everyone happy all the time. But when I look back on that now it’s obvious how important it was to so many people — it was really vital as media to a genre that didn’t really get coverage elsewhere.
Kid Kenobi: inthemix was almost like the bible of Australian dance music. It was both an important network for the people within the culture as well as the voice of the culture to the general public.
Katie Cunningham: The mainstream media was there to run beat ups on drugs or festivals and we were the voice of reason. Dance music fans often feel like they’re misunderstood, and inthemix was a place where everyone there was on the same page as you. And you couldn’t really get that elsewhere. So I think that sense of community came from the fact that dance fans were outsiders to regular people. inthemix made them outsiders together.
Angus Paterson: Before Facebook people would go to the front page of inthemix repeatedly all the time. There was huge interest in all the lineups and the photos that would land on Monday morning. You’d have this clique of photographers running around, and each one going to every single club, taking like a hundred photos, and putting them online so you’d have multiple galleries online during the week.
And when festival announcements didn’t land on time people would write all kinds of abusive angry comments. “Where’s the Tiësto tour announcement?” “Where the fuck is the Parklife lineup!” “Fuck you inthemix!”
It was a very engaged audience, a very engaged community. It was prior to social networking and a lot of these communities existed on sites like this.
Jack Tregoning: For my first years there, it was hugely important to jack up the page impressions as much as possible because of all the banner ads.
Angus Paterson: By that point, editorial was even more important, because the site wasn’t getting its page impressions from the forums or the photo galleries anymore. That all basically moved over to Facebook.
Katie Cunningham: When I started in 2011, the forums were still going, but over the next year everyone really shifted to Facebook. And you just got utter gronks on Facebook. That was when it felt like we were really speaking to two different audiences: there was the old guard of fans who were generally a bit older and had less commercial tastes, and then there was this new wave of festival bros who’d just discovered pills and Skrillex. And how do you keep them both happy at once? You couldn’t.
Jack Tregoning: As well as club and festival photo galleries, we started these editorial snap galleries — like bad DJ press shots — which some people fucking hated. A perhaps unhealthy amount of editorial brain power was put towards coming up with snap concepts.
Katie Cunningham: I think a lot of people don’t realise that websites have traffic targets they have to meet, and for us that meant writing a lot of Daft Punk newspieces. But you’d always try to fit in stuff you actually cared about around the sides of that day-to-day newswriting, and that made it all worthwhile.
Angus Paterson: We did an interview with Busy P from Ed Banger, and he dropped in there the fact that Daft Punk had gone back into the studio. People went bananas for that, and it actually got picked up by 60+ outlets around the world. This was prior to the days when you’ve got a billion different sites that are all publishing a variation on the same kind of news angle.
Jack Tregoning: A lot of what we did was pretty janky by 2018 standards. We did things that were irreverent or knowingly dumb, alongside much more straight-laced coverage. The sillier stuff tended to do better. We were often experimenting to see what stuck.
In 2010, my fellow editor Dave Ruby Howe put up a loose, conversational opinion piece titled Why do we hate the Bloody Beetroots? It was outside the straight-ahead interviews we’d done up to that point, and it whipped up a lot of discussion. That was a tipping point for a different kind of feature on inthemix, which really improved the site in the early 2010s and drove different conversations outside our bread-and-butter of news and lineup announcements. Angus wrote Is America killing dance music? in 2012, which might’ve been our first truly viral feature.
Angus Paterson: Yeah, that was an interesting one. Somehow it seemed to tap into the zeitgeist at the time. It really went nuts all over the world — so many people feeling validated in its discussion points — and also irate Americans commenting too who were obviously visiting the site for the first time, which I found hilarious.
It’s weird how the stories that you put the least effort into sometimes have the most impact.
Jack Tregoning: I remember having the lightbulb moment to ask Andrew Wowk to review Pauly D in 2013. That one hit months’ worth of traffic targets in one day. It was irreverent, sometimes rough-around-the edges content that reflected the personalities of the editors and writers more than some tailored vision. inthemix was never meant to be a niche site.
“I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This”
Andre Lackmann: Electronic music peaked in Sydney between 2005 and 2010, from an underground perspective, and the inthemix community peaked then too.
Neil Ackland: Probably the biggest growth we got was in that sort of ’04 to ’07 period. That was probably the most exciting phase as well musically. You had the early stages of Modular stuff coming through; and we launched the inthemix 50 DJ poll and that really exploded. It wasn’t what people think of today in terms of DJ polls — it actually really meant something. Kid Kenobi won the first ever inthemix 50, then the next two as well. Later Ajax won it, and we launched our own CD series and tours around that time.
Kid Kenobi: People still refer to those awards to this day. It was such a wild ride! I am deeply indebted to inthemix, it gave me a lot.
Mark Dynamix: Some would say that was the best period of Australia’s dance music history, where freedoms weren’t curtailed by authorities and artists were allowed to express themselves on this new digital platform.
Andre Lackmann: You could go out in Sydney on a Saturday night, and you might go from one club to another club to another club, and there’d be three internationals on, and there’d be no lockouts or sniffer dogs. Things are a bit different now.
Neil Ackland: We started to do these inthemix parties, and Andre built this incredible viral RSVP engine. You register to go to a party and then you input all your friends’ email addresses in and it would invite them. And then to register you had to become a member of inthemix.
Andre Lackmann: So we created this kind of feedback loop — one of the first friend-get-friend or member-get-member-type systems, and it was really successful.
Neil Ackland: I remember us doing an event at Home nightclub once, and there would have been five or six thousand people queuing all the way down past the IMAX, probably a kilometre-long queue of kids, and it had all come from this online invite system that went completely viral.
Andre Lackmann: It was a ridiculous queue.
Neil Ackland: That was a big moment where you realised that it had kind of transcended that kind of inner-city crowd and had gone into the suburbs and all around the country and it was a thing.
Libby Clark: Despite the fact that I lived in the inner city, I wasn’t one of those snobbish kinds, like, oh no, they don’t belong here. If someone was really interested in the music and formed an opinion then they had a place.
Neil Ackland: We started to get some bigger brands involved. Smirnoff was the first advertiser to really jump on in a big way, and they funded a lot of the stuff we did. We used to do about 40 or 50 events a year all around the country, where the community would come together, and that became quite big.
Andre Lackmann: So the club would get people in, they’d sell drinks like crazy, we’d do a bunch of promotion, and the punter would get in and have a good event. We just tried to get more people into clubs more often, basically.
Neil Ackland: Probably the moment where we stopped and went, wow, this is fucking huge, was when we did the Tiga and Ajax tour in 2006. That moment was just so incredible musically as well, in terms of what was coming out of Australia; and Ajax was totally on his A-game at that point. We put the Australian artist and the global artist on the same pedestal, and they were both in the zone. And it still stands up today; if you listen to those mixes today they are next level.
I went on that tour with Tiga and Ajax, and at the Sydney show there was probably three thousand people; and we went to the Melbourne show and again we had two or three thousand people there. I remember the Cut Copy guys coming down to see it. Even Tiga at the time was like, oh my god I’ve never seen anything like this.
The Melbourne leg of an inthemix tour we did with over 1000 people in attendance to see local DJs who had no music on commercial radio was pretty awesome. It was a great time for local dance music.
Jack Tregoning: When I started at inthemix, the scene was in incredible shape. Daft Punk ended their world tour in Australia in December 2007, which was this huge blockbuster moment for the scene and inthemix too. With all the forum hype and photo galleries, traffic went through the roof.
That tour felt like a significant milestone, because it also dovetailed with the height of the electro-house sound. Those years are best remembered for the Bang Gang/Presets/Ed Banger/Modular sound. And Australia was ground zero for a lot of that music.
Tim Hardaker: It was a pretty exciting time. I couldn’t imagine a more exciting job for a twenty-something-year-old who was completely obsessed with music and nightclubs and festivals and DJs.
Katie Cunningham: The vibe in the office was pretty freewheeling in those days. There were a lot of wild staff parties that got inthemix banned from various Sydney venues. Editorial started work at 10am, which was to allow for people having been out the night before.
Angus Paterson: The mass-market sound at the time was electro house and that was fucking huge. Clubs in Kings Cross were just packed, like rammed week in week out.
Heroes And Dickheads
Katie Cunningham: My favourite part of the job was always interviewing people, and we got to interview basically everyone. We really did get incredible access to artists which facilitated some cool stuff.
Angus Paterson: We used to do inthemix TV content, where we would go to the festivals and do all these interviews. We interviewed deadmau5 once, and there was maybe five seconds that was usable. He was just the most obtuse, difficult, abrasive individual you’ve ever met in your whole life. So that was tough.
Jack Tregoning: I interviewed many of my heroes and a few dickheads — hi, Afrojack!
Tim Hardaker: The worst interview I ever did was Pendulum — they were so difficult and belligerent.
Andre Lackmann: Just taking photos with some of your idols, or massive artists like John Digweed or Sasha.
Matt Callender: Too many drugs to tell you exactly which ones, but all of the big international artists.
Jack Tregoning: Amp Fiddler and Santigold. Underworld and Sven Väth. Also, 24-year-old year me interviewing Ice Cube, which I’m sure would sound hilarious if I was brave enough to listen again.
“We interviewed deadmau5 once, and there was maybe five seconds that was usable. He was just the most obtuse, difficult, abrasive individual you’ve ever met in your whole life.”
Katie Cunningham: Avicii spoke to me about his struggles with alcohol, which is obviously very sad to think about now — and was very sad at the time too.
Jack Tregoning: Jeff Mills was incredibly gracious after I lost the audio and had to do our hour-long interview again, although I think he thought it was just some other Australian dude.
Katie Cunningham: I remember being at home at my parent’s place one Christmas Eve and spending 2.5 hours on Skype to deadmau5, which was a total trip. A few months later I interviewed him at Future Music Festival and he didn’t make eye contact the entire time we spoke.
Tim Hardaker: Over time I learnt that DJs just aren’t really that interesting and don’t have a lot of really interesting stuff to say.
Katie Cunningham: I interviewed Diplo a couple of times, and he was definitely a highlight because he’s smart and never watered his opinions down.
Tim Hardaker: The best was probably Diplo — he gave such good soundbites. I’m sure he was completely aware of what he was doing, but it came across as unrehearsed and not at all contrived when he’d say stuff like Goldfrapp played “grandma music.”
Katie Cunningham: I remember working at the first Electronic Music Conference, which we’d all put so much work into, and Tiësto was running late for his opening keynote. I had this moment where I was like, who were we kidding thinking we’d get motherfucking Tiësto to come speak at our little event? And right after that, in he walked. Moments like that were pretty surreal.
Jack Tregoning: Some of the real-world things inthemix did, like the house parties with Swedish House Mafia and Eric Prydz, were so strange and loose and of their time, right before EDM jumped the shark.
That was crazy — Swedish House Mafia just playing to like 30 people in someone’s backyard. Someone called the police with a noise complaint and when the cops got there, it turned out they were huge SHM fans — so they just stayed and watched and didn’t shut us down.
The Festival Era
Neil Ackland: The EDM thing came later. The club scene was massive and then the festival scene took off, and inthemix was pretty integral in bringing that whole thing together.
Mark James: inthemix played an essential part in the growth and the expansion of the club-music domain into a festival environment.
Tim Hardaker: We were there when dance music festivals started to become a thing, and then got to the scale of Stereosonic and Future Music Festival — you know, hundreds of thousands of people going to these events. We were there alongside it and that was really exciting.
Jack Tregoning: Festivals ruled inthemix from that period of 2008 to 2012, before the touring-festival model started to break. You had Big Day Out, Stereosonic, Future Music Festival, Good Vibrations, Parklife and others, so traffic went gangbusters over summer.
Andre Lackmann: It just became a lot more corporate and professional at that time. You start having festivals that cost millions of dollars to put on. Some of the promoters in the scene became big companies, and also bigger companies became involved. So it became a lot more corporate and harder for us to stay connected.
Libby Clark: We just had to go where things were transitioning. Genres peak and fade, DJs and producers go through different arcs in their careers, so we just had to be reflective of that. Those things do change. But we just felt like we were able to put a uniquely inthemix lens on things.
Andre Lackmann: I was never too concerned about the music becoming EDM. I think there’s a place for all of the different styles of music. When someone’s getting into electronic music, they’re not going to be into the most underground music. The only way you get there is to start somewhere, and I always looked at the EDM-style stuff as a starting point.
So for me, just that the scene was getting bigger and there were larger events and for us, from a business perspective, there was more money and more sponsors coming in — that was a positive.
Tim Hardaker: I didn’t hate EDM, but I didn’t like it. [laughs]. I could appreciate the energy and excitement it created, and some of my favourite memories of that period were like when we used to go along on the Stereosonic tour. You can’t help but feel it’s pretty special when you see tens of thousands of people just completely losing it.
But as far as the kind of music I was into by that stage, I probably didn’t really listen to much dance music at all by then.
The Beginning Of The End
Andre Lackmann: Once you start having events of thirty, forty, fifty thousand, you’re no longer attracting just electronic-music lovers, you’ve gone out to general public at that point. So you’re no longer such a tight-knit community.
Tim Hardaker: I guess maybe the beginning of the end for inthemix was when those events obviously started to wane. That’s when we knew maybe it wasn’t sustainable, and we’d kind of hitched our wagon to this sort of mega-scale event, EDM-spectacular kind of thing, and when audiences clearly weren’t into that anymore it was like, all right, well where do we go from here.
Andre Lackmann: Our site lost something there, and the community as a whole lost something. It’s well understood that clubs aren’t what they were.
Neil Ackland: There was kind of pivot I guess. Around that time we just started to realise that the music scene was changing.
Katie Cunningham: We really were riding that wave. It was great when dance music was such big business and there was so much going on, so much to write about, so much to do. It was a bit sad when it started to peter out quite quickly from about 2015 onwards, and we realised that dance music boom was over. But such is life. Tides change. Eras end. It was so much fun while it lasted.
The Decision To End It
Neil Ackland: It’s a strange thing really. I’ve been coming to terms with it since we made the decision to end it. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, because a lot of our identity and our lives have been intrinsically tied to inthemix over the last almost 20 years now.
But you know, it just feels the time is right. I think the sorts of forces that inthemix has been facing over the last few years, and just where the market’s at, where the scene is at, where digital is at — it just feels like the right thing to do right now is to give it a respectful and gracious exit from the market.
Andre Lackmann: The industry and the media landscape has changed, and it’s much more difficult for the site to lean on the social aspects that were really the beating heart behind its success in the 2000s. It’s changed a lot with the rise of Facebook and Reddit and the other sort of mega-communities. It’s been harder to run a more focused forum and community.
Angus Paterson: The digital landscape — the reality of it is it’s been in constant evolution the whole time, so it makes sense that these sites will sort of come and go. Music media in particular is very unstable. It’s the nature of the beast.
Libby Clark: Everything has its time. The thing that does make me sad is, I do feel like it reflects this broader trend towards Australia being very conservative. There are fewer and fewer outlets for this kind of speech and this kind of engagement. So my sadness is more about what it’s indicative of. I feel like there’s this overwhelming trend towards conservatism in Australia, and that things are becoming fairly one-dimensional.
The flourishing of countercultures is a good thing. That’s an important point. It’s how we progress, and it’s how we innovate. We don’t innovate from being incremental. You have to throw stuff around. You have to break things.
The vehicles by which people communicate now are far more generic, far more corporate. That to me is kind of sad. So it’s a loss of culture that I lament, rather than a loss of inthemix.
Andre Lackmann: It’s something I started 18 years ago, so there’s always some melancholy I suppose. All things come to and. Maybe it’ll have a life in another format.
Neil Ackland: I often think back to the people who’ve been involved in the dance scene and around the industry, whether as promoters or record shop owners or DJs or creatives working on the flyers — all the different people involved. They’ve gone on to be some of the most successful people that you see in advertisting, TV, film, music. Everyone got their start and their creative kick from being in and around the dance community.
Libby Clark: Something I think about quite often is the relationships that have emerged and the people who are still in my life as a result of inthemix.
Andre Lackmann: Looking back on it, the amount of people we’ve all spoken to who’ve met lifelong friends or via the website, or have gone on to have children or that type of thing — I think we really kind of made a difference in the scene.
Matt Callender: I went to my brother’s wedding a couple of weeks ago and was sitting next to someone who is almost like family to me now. She was the Melbourne editor of inthemix, and you know, there she is at my family wedding.
Libby Clark: I was a bridesmaid at the wedding of a person who’d become my best mate, and she and her husband met in the forums. There’s inthemix babies out there. You know, there’s inthemix divorces now I think. Possibly inthemix affairs. [laughs]
Neil Ackland: It was a really special time and I’ve incredibly fond memories of what we did there. Just kind of jumping out of bed in the morning and dancing into the day with just this crazy enthusiasm and excitement.
Katie Cunningham: I loved ITM. Loved it. With my whole heart. It was so wrapped up with my identity. It was so wonderful having this thing that I got to really feel proud of.
Libby Clark: There was never a dull moment for me.
Andre Lackmann: The whole 10 years was the hardest I’ve ever worked. Any job I’ve worked in since where people are like, oh wow, we’re working hard now, I’ll be like yeah this is nothing. [laughs]
Katie Cunningham: We did some really cool shit over the years, and a lot of boring articles about Stereosonic to keep the lights on. It was great to be part of that Australian dance music scene and feel like you were really contributing something. I loved that music and those people so much and I was so proud of how much our little scene punched above its weight.
Libby Clark: It was so much bigger than us, and at the risk of sounding trite, that’s the thing I’m proudest of.
Angus Paterson: inthemix was bigger than inthemix itself, if that makes sense. It was bigger than the site and the company — it had a life of its own.
Neil Ackland: The way I think of it, inthemix was kind of the cultural zeitgeist and the big impulse. What happened on inthemix in terms of the stories or the forums could literally make or break a show or an artist or a festival. It was that influential in terms of what it could do.
Libby Clark: We were just enabling this much, much bigger beast — which is an interesting thing for your ego, when you think you created something and you’re like, actually, no, it was a spark. And then this amazing community rallied around this thing because there was something in it for them.
Jim Poe is a writer, DJ, and editor based in Sydney. He tweets from @fivegrand1.