Indie Tee Spotlight #9: Dance Party Massacre

Welcome to Indie Tee Spotlight #9! We’re back after a one-week hiatus (hey we did two of these things two weeks ago!). 

With this week being Halloween week I thought it was fitting to feature a company whose central theme is centered around horror! With inspiration from old horror flicks floating around in his head, Alex Dakoulas created Dance Party Massacre out of his love for horror and dancing. Before DPM, Dakoulas would often hold movie screenings of old horror flicks in his apartment and then follow it up by having a dance party. He explained in a recent Boston Globe interview:

“You go to a dance party, and everyone there is young. You watch slasher films, and they’re all about young people having fun,” Dakoulas explains. “They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, and then they get killed for it.” – Alex Dakoulas, Boston Globe, July 2008

I had the great fortune to chat it up with Alex about Dance Party Massacre, some of the creative things he has done to promote DPM and how he was able to mesh together his interests to create his brand.

“I mean, first you need to have an awesome product, but then half of selling it is getting it out there.” 

Coty: Tell us a little bit about your brand, Dance Party Massacre, and what it’s all about. How did you come up with the name and what does it mean?

Alex: I’ve loved horror movies since I can remember, and designing t-shirts became a big part of my life once I started “becoming” a graphic designer. It was probably inevitable that the two would come together. There came a point in my life that fighting for your life, from the literal to the metaphorical, really connected with me. Watching horror movies, doing what I wanted, living it up with friends, and not letting things beat me down was such a release.

Dance Party Massacre was a phrase, and an idea, and imagery that kept floating about in my head during that time. At it’s core DPM is about taking the bad and making it good. It’s a fun take on how we all have demons out to get us, but we just have to kill ‘em and move on!

Coty: Dance Party Massacre was launched in Boston just last year. In that short amount of time you’ve created a successful brand that revolves around knives, blood and gore. When you started, did you expect to be embraced by the mainstream so much so that DPM would be available in boutique stores in England, Australia and Canada?

Alex: I launched Dance Party Massacre with the thought that although it’s not mass marketable, perhaps it could catch on in at least some niche-like capacity. I know that the horror movie crowd (although the indie-dance and t-shirt crowds are pretty tight) is intense, so I was hoping some of that aura would latch onto this. What I didn’t expect was this slew of horror-graphics that started to rise about. I think that trend has both helped Dance Party Massacre with getting into stores, but also hurt it because the line might not be perceived as original. Trust me, if you would have told me the whole indie, DIY, t-shirt trend was leaning towards horror I would have never believed you!

Coty: What would you say has been the DPM formula for success?

Alex: Trial and error. I’m just making something I like and and trying to get it out to people. I try something out, and if it doesn’t work I stop. If it does, I continue. For advertising we’ve done dance nights, online advertising, talking with people directly, a street team, guerrilla marketing, and selling in-person at certain events. I mean, first you need to have an awesome product, but then half of selling it is getting it out there.

Design goes the same way. You try out one thing, and it sells, so continue with that idea. If it doesn’t, don’t keep doing it! I keep everything within my vision of this project, but I try to also keep in mind this is a business that needs to make money so I can continue with it.

Coty: You obviously embrace social media, considering that DPM can be found on MySpace and Facebook. How important have these online social media sites been to the success of DPM?

Alex: I think it’s been a big part. Being a really small company there’s no money to have a flagship store. Having recently started there’s not enough exposure to have boutiques coming to us begging to carry DPM. The internet is a great way to cut out the middle-man, and get to customers and fans directly. I think it also makes the customer feel connected more to the brand, and that’s important.

Coty: You already work as a successful designer for a major brand, Converse. Why did you decide to start your own brand?

Well, I had been designing t-shirts for years when I finally decided to start a line with cohesive designs and a strong idea. I interned for Converse right after school, with the idea for DPM developing during that period. When I didn’t land a job directly after the internship I had free time (and some money now) so Dance Party Massacre flourished. It came out of my brain, and it just made sense to me. I launched the line and landed a job at Converse the same month, but that’s just how it worked out.

Coty: What has been the most challenging aspect of marketing DPM? What have been some of the creative things you’ve done to promote DPM?

Alex: Definitely the content. I have friends and family who love to support each other. When I started up a line with knives, and blood most weren’t too keen on wearing it. If you can’t even get your crew to wear your stuff, who will probably like it even if it’s crap, how easy is it going to be to get it onto strangers? There’s been so many times that I’ll sell DPM at events and people look at the designs and kind of laugh or ask me questions, but then they never purchase it. People are intrigued by it, but it takes a certain person to wear our stuff, I guess.

I’ve tried a lot of things to get DPM out there to people, but I’d say the most unique thing we’ve done is start up our “What are U afraid of?” campaign. I really want Dance Party Massacre to not just be a t-shirt line, but a brand with a way of thinking behind it. Being new it’s been really important to push what our concept is about, so that people understand it. “What are U afraid of?”, which simply poses the question to people online ( and in real-life (stickers), has that double entendre of danger and fun that DPM is all about. It gets people involved, and depending on who the person is someone can answer it directly or playfully. It’s a literal question, but also one that could have people question what’s stopping them from doing something in their life.

Coty: DPM has just made a year, and is just about ready to rollout “Season 2″, your newest line of tees. What sets Season 2 apart from Season 1?

Alex: With Season 1 I was so into it. I didn’t have much else to do, but spend nights developing not only the first season of designs, but the whole concept behind the brand. It became very much about the idea behind Dance Party Massacre, and having everything make sense with each other.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if people really noticed all that underlying stuff. I put so much time into it, that for the second season I just wanted to make awesome stuff. The groundwork was laid out, and now it could be more fun. So for Season 2 I didn’t focus so much about cohesiveness or drawing inspiration from one direct source. And I think that was a good decision. After coming out with a strong statement to grab people’s attention, the line has to grow and get designs from different areas to stay fresh.

Coty: What are your future plans for DPM? Do you aspire to open a themed boutique store similar to fellow indie Boston tee designer turned mainstream t-shirt icon, Johnny Cupcakes? Or do you see DPM as mainly an online only venture?

Alex: I look at the line as a premium brand that I want to continue getting into boutiques around the world. We will continue to have an online presence, too, as we can control that so well, and it’s accessible to everyone. I would be all-for a retail store if the line ever makes enough money to produce that, but right now it’s not in the works. If a store does happen it would probably be some odd mixture of someones basement, a movie theater, dance club, video rental place, candy store, and a haunted house.

Coty: Finally, what bit of advice do you have for aspiring DIY indie tee designers?

Alex: DON’T START ANYTHING WITHOUT THE REALIZATION THAT IT MIGHT FAIL. I think people should be realistic. If you’re gonna start up a “t-shirt line”, everyone and their grandmother and uncle have started one too. It’s not going to be easy to make it succeed. You should just be happy with making it for yourself, and if it doesn’t catch on with others don’t let it ruin your life. Don’t put all your money into it and go bankrupt. Don’t beat yourself down if it doesn’t make you a million bucks. Having your own business, I think you can have it run your life from day to night, but if you just sit back and let things unfold I think you’ll be happier person.

Thanks to Alex for taking the time to talk about Dance Party Massacre! Be sure to check out this goods by going to their online store! If you would like to be featured in the Indie Tee Spotlight then please feel free to contact me!