The Verse’s Autumn Micketti interview Alexander Berdugo of ABOMM promotions.
In late February of this year, I had the opportunity to attend my first ABOMM show at The Prince Albert. The headliner was Sonny, an up-and-coming Newcastle native whose beautiful voice and catchy lyrics make him a very real threat to the likes of Ed Sheeran. It was here that I met Alex Berdugo, owner and owner of Alexander Berdugo Original Music Management (ABOMM). Alex and my shared passion for music created an instant bond and I left the show feeling excited for future ABOMM shows and opportunities to work together.
Fast forward several months, and I found myself walking into The Hope and Ruin to cover ABOMM’s first Disruptor Nights gig, an event made up of student bands that were channelling the likes of The Clash, IDLES, and The Arctic Monkeys. The differences between the two shows were astounding and I found myself itching to know more about ABOMM and the man behind it.
I was lucky enough to have a chat with him surrounded by the sounds of a busy coffee shop rather than a cheering crowd and found Alex more than willing to dive into his passion project, ABOMM, and why he does what he does.
The Verse: How did that idea come about to create ABOMM?
AB: I’m from a tiny town in Surrey where there’s a very little music scene, if you’re in a band or an aspiring artist this town is not where you want to be. I was always in bands all through secondary school, and the one thing I wanted to do was to start gigging, but you can’t really do that if there’s not much of a music scene. So the answer was, if you want to have a gig you have to do it yourself, and so I was always collaborating with friends to hire a pub, and did all the learning that you had to do when you’re putting on a gig for the first time.
It was such a great experience because you’d have everyone come along that you knew, it was this great kind of community feeling, and we’d get other friends that were also in bands to play as well so it was like a special occasion. I came to university in Brighton, which has such an incredible music scene, it’s basically the dream if you’re in a band. There is one downside, which is you don’t know who to talk to get a gig and if you do know they’re probably going to try and screw you over in some way, they just want your money.
You might even have to pay to play a gig, which I’ve done before. It doesn’t make any sense, but what they’ll do is promoters will offer you a venue and they’ll say ‘oh yah you should play and it will be great’ and they flatter you and butter you up a bit and before you know it they’re asking for money. And you can earn it back, but there’s a chance you’ll lose money and you’re under lots of pressure and there’s lots of these promotors about.
My band at the time, we were actually lucky enough to be made the house band at the University of Brighton, so, whenever we played a gig it was organized by us, and we were basically organizing gigs every three weeks. It was very intense juggling that with Uni work as well, but this eventually became something that I really enjoyed, I found that I was in my element and we were giving opportunities to other students that they didn’t necessarily have. They didn’t know who to go to before, but now they always had a contact, and they could talk to us and we’d put on a gig, and, eventually, I knew I wanted to take this a step further.
I want to keep giving people opportunities, I want to get people fantastic gigs at great venues, and they can earn fair money as well. And that’s essentially how it started, so it’s actually a very young company. I just graduated myself and ever since it’s been so much fun, we’ve been organizing gigs at amazing venues, like The Hope and Ruin and The Prince Albert. And the bands that we’ve had to play have been awesome, and people wouldn’t necessarily have seen them unless they’d had gigs [at other places] and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.
V: Can you tell me more about your own musical background? It’s clear that you have a very open mind when it comes to listening to music. What allowed that to happen for you?
AB: I think I’ve got the most eclectic music background of all time, because the first band I was in was a screamo band, and we had the best time. I was still in school at the time, and it was all about bands like Avenge Sevenfold and Rage Against the Machine, like proper heavy metal. I then moved onto indie rock around the same time, so there was a big variation there, and then later on I joined a jazz band and we were covering popular songs but doing jazz arrangements. And then I started my own band with my own songs, playing indie rock tunes very much Oasis inspired. So, I’ve really done everything under the sun because I played with acoustic acts as well.
I love everything from jazz to metal and I think that helps as a promoter. You don’t want to play just one genre of music, you don’t discriminate. And there’s so much music that you miss unless you look at the local scene, because everything starts there, and so much goes under the radar. So, to give that the chance to share space and stand in front of a crowd that’s never heard you before, and let them hear something new, that’s the best thing in the world. That’s where all the big bands come from you know?
V: And that must feel really good as well to give that to people who are just starting out.
AB: I’ve had some amazing feedback! I’ve heard bands telling me that they’re over the moon that their second gig was at The Hope and Ruin for instance. Bands that are so happy to get paid and not have to pay to play. It’s been so wonderful! People have let me know about other bands that they enjoy and that they think deserve a gig as well, and the love passes on essentially. I can’t wait to see what the next academic year holds.
V: Do you have future plans for ABOMM?
AB: We do have quite a few plans. Once we’ve established [ABOMM in] the Brighton scene a bit more we definitely want to start moving to London and start a network there which will go hand in hand with the Brighton network. We hope that then Brighton bands won’t just be playing the same circuit, they might get a chance to play in London as well.
V: What are you doing now that you’ve left Uni?
AB: Currently I’m working full time up in London, so I do the commute every day, 7am and get back at 7pm, but the commute gives me time to work on ABOMM. I’m always talking to people whenever I’m not napping [laughs]. It’s a busy life, but it’s very fulfilling and I’m super passionate about it. [ABOMM is] a passion project that I want to turn into my full-time role and give jobs to other people as well who are freelancer sound engineers or photographers or people who just want to be on the door. Especially with students, they’re always looking for jobs and we always want to be able to provide them with that. Where ever there’s an ABOMM gig there’s going to be opportunities for them to earn some money.
V: Is it just you that’s doing everything with ABOMM?
AB: Currently it’s just me. I do all of the organizations of the gigs, but I’ve got people I know and trust who can be a doorman for example. And I’ve got a really talented guy who is my photographer, and someone who will be doing the live music recording as well, if a band wants to do that. So, I’ve got like a small kind of informal team. They’re all freelance people and they’re always up for the gig and I definitely want to expand the team and get some more people and grow the network, and make ABOMM something known within Brighton, as a place to go if you’re a freelance person or a band.
V: Are you in a band at the moment?
AB: I’m a few different bands right now, bit of a band slut actually [laughs]. I’m in a band with some old mates that are all students, and it’s great to see the culture of everyone and the starting of new bands working together. It’s great to be a promotor amongst that scene because I’ve been in band practices and my friends will say ‘oh we got this other band going, but we don’t know how to get a gig’ and then I can be like ‘well you know what, I’ve got another gig coming up soon do you want to play?’ It’s fantastic to give them that opportunity!
V: And from that perspective you get to know the bands even better because it’s not just someone sending you music and you’re like ‘oh this is a great song’, you get to know what they’re like live. I would assume it’s not like ‘oh they’re my friends so I’m going give them a gig’. They’re good! The ABOMM shows that I’ve been to, the bands obviously know what they’re doing, it’s not just dudes hanging out in a garage playing music, of course there’s nothing wrong with that. But for the people who are paying to go to these shows they want to go see something good and you’re giving that to people.
AB: It’s one of the main aims of it. I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many amazing people from organizing gigs that I’d never met before, but I’ve checked out their page or I’ve got a recommendation from a friend that they’re good, so I start listening. And one thing leads to another and before you know it you can see there’s this enormous network of student bands that are all playing together and getting gigs. I’m totally open to people sending me their music as well, it’s happened a couple of times before on the ABOMM Facebook page.
And then it’s just so great to let them know that we’re going to be listening to them, we’re not another faceless corporation at all. You’ll know exactly who we are, you can meet us at any time if you’re living in Brighton. Your mate probably knows me and I’m not that faceless guy, I want to be amongst the scene. I’m someone you can trust and the last thing I want to do is exploit you and I want to give you opportunities and everyone who’s played with ABOMM so far has been paid.
V: The first ABOMM gig I went to was the Sonny show, how did that connection come about?
AB: Sonny was actually an artist who I’d been listening to for a couple of years, so it was really a fantastic dream come true to get him to play one of my gigs. The reason I got Sonny was because he’s not from Brighton, but he’s established himself and he’s got some hype around him. I wanted to make a statement with the first gig, and one of the best things was to give student bands from University of Brighton and Sussex the chance to support someone like Sonny, who’s an amazing talented songwriting and is really blowing up.
V: I listened to Sonny a little bit when I agreed to cover the show, and then interviewed him and he’s a delight! While I was watching the show, I felt like I was watching the new Ed Sheeran, but a little bit better. Because Ed Sheeran is ok, but I’m kind of over him and now I’m like ‘Sonny! Yes!’ I’m excited for what he’s going to be doing next.
AB: And he’s so young as well, I think he’s in the same age bracket as every other student who plays ABOMM shows. It was really great to have him along, and I think he inspired other people as well.
V: The gig that I went to earlier this month was for Disruptor Nights; can you tell me more about that and how it differs from a ‘regular’ ABOMM gig?
AB: At ABOMM we want to do different brands of nights essentially, so there’s going to be Disruptor Nights and it is very early days, so we haven’t found names for the other nights yet. [Disruptor Nights] are going to be very regular throughout the academic year and there will be other ABOMM events as well showcasing different genres of music. The Disruptor Nights will basically take the best of the student bands and it will be at fantastic venues, such as The Hope and Ruin, which something I really like about The Hope and Ruin is that even though it’s an intimate venue it really feels like you’re at a concert.
We had Pickpockets playing at our last show and the sound was immaculate and it was a great atmosphere, the lighting was great. And as a student, to go to a gig that’s not necessarily in the Brighton center and it’s not an arena or anything you’re still getting a high-quality experience. Something that ABOMM always wants to do is give people the chance to play at great venues and you know you’re going to be playing alongside top-quality local student bands as well.
V: And Disruptor Nights is going to be hard-rock/punk music?
V: Punk isn’t usually my go-to genre, but during that show, especially when Jenny and The Husbands were playing, I remember thinking ‘yes, this is what I need right now,’ because I had had such a stressful past three weeks; it was so good! Every band that was on that line up was unique in their own way, but still pulled the same amount of like excitement and talent that the next one did.
AB: Something that pleasantly surprised me about the student community in Brighton especially, was the love for heavy rock music as well as indie rock, and even metal. And I think it’s something that’s very therapeutic, and it will be mid-exam season and if there’s a Disruptor Night on you know you can go blow off some steam [laughs].
V: That’s perfect! I mean there was a mosh pit in the middle of the audience, so what more could you want? [laughs].
AB: I saw someone drop a whole pint in the mosh pit. I felt terrible for them, but I think they got another one, so they were ok afterwards [laughs].
V: If someone was just starting a promotion company and they asked you for advice what would you tell them?
AB: I would say, believe in yourself, it’s a lot of work but if you’re passionate about it you’ll always find time to do it. It’s going to be late nights, and if you’re working full time like me, it’s going to also be early mornings, but you can do it and no matter how much of a burden it might be in terms of stress it’s all worth it. The feeling after an ABOMM gig makes it all worth it, when you see the impact you’re having on the bands and the impact they’re having on you, that’s what makes it worthwhile. I’d say, get to know the right people, that is one of the most key ingredients.
And don’t be disheartened if you’re struggling to find bands or book venues in the beginning; you start to learn how to play the game a bit more and you start to learn how people work. You find the right venue that suits you, you build up relationships with the venues, and after that things get easier, but there’s always going to be an initial teething period. You learn how to talk to the band about your promotions company after they’ve played a set. I’ve done that a couple of times with ABOMM, and in the beginning it’s very nerve wracking, but after a while you go up to them full of confidence and they can see that, and they’ll trust you.
People can do it, it’s not for everybody, but if your heart’s in it you can do it. It’s daunting, but it always pays off and you get the bug for it and you want to do it again and again.
V: Following that same vein, if you were to meet your 10-year-old self what would you say to them?
AB: Well when I was 10-years-old I think I wanted to be a ninja not run a promotions company [laughs]. I’d tell him you can move to Japan and live in the mountains and be a ninja. And I think 10-year-old Alex would be surprised because I didn’t really have any interest in music until I was 14. I think it’s nice to get a glimpse of the future sometimes and see it’s all possible, even if you’re 10-years-old you can set yourself on the right track. Because you don’t suddenly get to where I am now, you have to find a path and stick to it. So, it doesn’t happen immediately, but if you start early, you’ll end up there.
V: You didn’t pick up a guitar until you were 14?
AB: Yah, I was always intrigued by music, but I was never crazy about it, and then I started, like I think every teenager does, getting into edgier bands and it completely changed my life. I was suddenly playing the guitar, and it had 4 strings on it and was completely out of tune and sounded like heaven to my ears, and everything kicked off from there. All I wanted was to be a Rockstar, and it turned out the way to be a Rockstar was to put on your own gigs and that’s how it started essentially.
V: Did your family play/listen to a lot of music growing up?
AB: My earliest memories of music are probably hearing The Beatles in the kitchen while my dad was cooking, and thinking ‘oh wow, I don’t really understand music and how it works, and I don’t know who these people are, but I know this song sounds incredible.’ And to this day I’m still listening to The Beatles, it hasn’t gotten old. My mum played piano, my sisters used to play more classical instruments, and I picked up a guitar and wanted to be a Rockstar. I think it definitely helped having instruments in the house, otherwise, I don’t know where I’d be now, but I like to think that I’d still end up right back here.
V: Do you remember what the first gig was that you ever went to?
AB: Oh god, it’s so embarrassing. I went to see Glee live [laughs].
V: That was on my bucket list for years! How was it?
AB: I mean, maybe I had the best time ever, but I cannot confirm or deny it [laughs]. I was mind blown because it was at O2 and it’s such a huge venue, and as soon as I sat down someone spilled ice-cold water down my back from the seat behind me. But I had a good time in the end.
V: Were you a fan of the show?
AB: I was definitely a fan of the show. I was watching people who were in school as well, who were wanting to be successful musicians and, as much as it might be a cliché, I do think that that did inspire me to want to be a singer and play the guitar.
V: Are there any bands currently that are in Brighton that you’re really into at the moment?
AB: Oh wow, definitely. Every band that’s played an ABOMM show. I feel like they’re very early in their careers so their either like first year students or they’ve just started, and they haven’t got an album out yet, because that’s obviously a huge barrier for young artists. So, everyone who’s played it’s been a pleasure to see them play live, such as Pickpockets and Hyla Brook.
V: Hyla Brook was amazing! And so fun. That was one thing I loved about them, they had amazing stage presence.
AB: Stage charisma is a huge part of it, so when you’re seeing a tiny show and you’re face to face you can make eye contact. That’s one of the most magical things. There are loads of local bands that I’m hoping to get in the future, so we’ll see what happens with that.
V: What is the best way for people to get a hold of you?
AB: Best thing to do is to message the ABOMM Promotions Facebook page. I’m still knocking about Brighton, you might run into me or come along to an ABOMM show, I’ll always be there. You can always bump into me and say hi, I love speaking to new people and hearing new music. I will listen to everybody that sends me a message on Facebook.
There is also an ABOMM Band Facebook group, so if you go on our Facebook page there will be a link to the group, and you can join that and there will be loads of opportunities that you can be a part of. It’s a closed group with lots of different bands, and they can all talk to each other and I let everyone know when there’s going to be another gig which they can sign up for. It’s an independent system, where we find the bands and the bands join us as well, so there’s a strong ABOMM community going on.
[End of Interview]
For students who want to attend the gig but may not have the funds for it, you can join the Facebook group, ABOMM Opportunities. It’s here you can apply to be a ticket agent and bring people to ABOMM gigs or sell tickets and get paid for it! Ticket agents will also get a chance for free entry themselves and make money just by bringing their friends. ABOMM wants everyone to be able to attend their shows and they understand how financially demanding student life can be, so head to ABOMM Opportunities to jump on this amazing offer!
As a student myself, it feels very reassuring that a company like ABOMM exists and is catering towards the student population. Every band that we love today had to start at the beginning, and for many that was in pubs and bars in their hometowns, and to see that community growing in Brighton is really exciting. ABOMM is truly all about the music, no matter what genre, so I highly recommend that people get involved in this community in any way that they can. Maybe the next band that will be on the bill could blow up across the world, and you could say you saw them when they were just starting out.