How Birthday Boy and Strategic Group’s Jonathan Schwartz Stays On Top

When I was king of the castle, people were always surprised that I did any "day" work for my nightlife career. They actually believed I woke up at 4pm, had a swanky brunch, went to a boutique, bought a dozen expensive looks (on the cheap), had dinner at the best place in town (on the cuff), and then showed up at work (game-face on), barked some orders, and waited for the fabulous to show up. Nightlife doesn’t just happen. The few that make it look easy are the ones that rarely sleep and are completely enveloped in their work. It’s a thousand phone calls, a million texts, tweets, tumbles, and face-to-face meetings – yes, people still do that. It’s adjustments of what ain’t working, and refining of what ain’t broke. It’s a thousand small things that add up to big bucks at the end of the year. You are never alone, but you often feel isolated and detached. My ex used to say that when I opened a club, it was as if I was its heart and I had to keep beating or it would simply not work. An old adage that I always kept close said, "It’s not just a nightclub…but a way of life.”

Jonathan Schwartz is doing it, and doing it, and doing it well for the biggest game in town: Strategic Group. He is having his birthday tonight at Lavo, naturally. A super-duper, uber-secret DJ is promised. Since I DJ on Thursdays at Hotel Chantelle, I gave Jonathan my birthday wishes. I still haven’t figured out how to be in two places at the same time.

I caught up with the young Jedi Master and asked him all about it.

First of all, happy birthday. You are celebrating at Lavo… Tell me about the reason behind that choice of venue and what I might find if I could attend.
Hey Steve, Thank you for the birthday wishes, always good catching up with the man who’s seen it all AKA MR. Lewis! Ha. Celebrating my birthday at Lavo NY tonight because I think it’s the most well-rounded venue in NYC right now, and for me, it’s my Cheers. The venue delivers on hospitality, with great service, lighting, and sound, Top DJ talent such as Avicii, Calvin Harris, Tiesto, and Nicky Romero, and international crowd, image, special effects, and much more.

With that said, I can’t think of a better place to invite my oldest and newest friends to celebrate another year as the summer approaches. Thursday night you will find NYC’s elite and, what we all know as "the industry" crowd, along with friends looking to let loose to great music and champagne.

What is your role with Strategic Group and what is a typical day/night like?
My role at Strategic Group is head of nightlife marketing and programming,
My day-to-day consists of:

10am: in the office (working on promotions, talent-buying, concepts for nights, and working with my co-workers Rich Thomas and Andrew Goldberg to help curate the venues we call home (Lavo, Avenue, Dream Downtown, Marquee, Artichoke). Anything I can do on a given day to better the overall business, that’s my goal. As of late, much of my focus has been on our DJ line-up at Lavo NY –  not only booking an act, but making sure it’s the right date is equally as important.
Noon: take a few meetings, coffee, lunch, meet with people for future business and ideas.
2pm: staff meetings
3pm: payroll (make sure promoters/DJs I am responsible for are being paid properly and on time).
4pm: outreach, touch base with people, connect, reconnect.
6pm: what am I doing tonight…make plans for a given evening. I know I’ll always be with my close crew, but who do we want to let in that night to join us?
Dinner: host a dinner and go out to our venues. My favorite nights to go out are Thursdays at Lavo, and Tuesday’s new house music night at Avenue.
12:15am: arrive to club, host important guests (could be DJs), someone looking for a BIG night out, and my friends.
4am: go home (maybe stop at Artichoke pizza on the way, ha).Go through my phone and make sure I replied to everyone for that day – both business and personal. Always try to be accessible and available.
530am: SLEEP

Tell me about the Hamptons.
For the past eight years, I’ve spent a lot of time out in the Hamptons. Last summer was a very successful summer for me personally, as well as for the team I worked with out there.

I will decide about this coming season after my birthday. The Hamptons are filled with mostly the same faces year in and year out which is what I love most about it; it’s comfortable, and you know people on a very personal level.

I’m looking forward to deciding where my Hamptons outpost will be this coming 2012 season and letting people know next week, but I do know I’ll be spending a lot of time at the Stadium Red Estate house as much as I can, as I love the events my close friends Claude and Lee throw there.

How did you get into the biz and where are you headed with it?
I got into the business on a small scale when I was a junior in college. My three best friends and I started promoting parties over the summers when we were home and on winter breaks. We simply would invite our friends, and it started to escalate quickly, from 100 people, to 300, to 800 people. They eventually went on to finance and internet marketing, and I decided to stick with the hospitality business.

Post-college, I went on to direct promotions for former venues Manor and Arena before meeting Noah Tepperberg and joining the Strategic Hospitality Group family four years ago.

Today, I focus most of my time on Strategic Group and Tao/Lavo group venues, the Hamptons, and my most recent passion: Bounce Music Festival. The Festival is a college music festival touring company that brings some of the biggest acts into college towns. The most recent show was in Bloomington, Indiana for what’s known as Little 500 weekend, featuring Tiesto, Alesso, Tim Mason, and Topher Jones. My partners, Brandon Silverstein and Jared Lyons, are juniors at Indiana University and you will be interviewing them in years to come, I am sure!

Future plans are in the works since everyday something new gets thrown my direction. I’m always moving forward, never being stagnant. The hospitality industry is about staying ahead of the curve, finding trends before they occur, and putting my personal twist on them. With that, I have some fun ideas I’m working on bringing to life that I believe people want to experience.

This Week’s Miami Happenings: Ultra Music Fest, Harry’s Pizzeria, Lucali Opens

FRIDAY: Ultra Music Festival Rages On
Get ready for the ultimate freak show that mixes top DJs, herds of mask-wearing, half-naked club kids, hallucinogenics, and Miami traffic jams at Ultra Music Festival. It may be tough to top last year’s unexpected appearance by Madonna at the turntable, but that doesn’t mean that the likes of Azealia Banks, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, and Deadmau5 won’t try. Should you opt to stay home this year, the Ultra soundtrack – slated to hit digital stores on March 19th – ought to give you a taste of all that you missed. Minus the traffic, of course.

Ultra Music Festival kicks off Friday the 15th at Bayfront Park (301 Biscayne Blvd., Downtown). For tickets, visit the officialwebsite.

TUESDAY: Charitable Bites At Harry’s
Harry’s Pizzeria is the location of chef Bill Telepan and his effort to raise funds via a $150 dinner for the replanting of the edible garden at the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Overtown, a project that emphasizes locally-sourced produce and nutrition in public schools, potted by Harry’s Pizzeria and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink.

Bill Telepan hosts the event at Harry’s Pizzeria (3918 N. Miami Ave., Design District)Tuesday the 12th. For details, read the listing in BlackBook Guides.

NOW: Lucali Opens In South Beach
Sticking with the pie theme, Brooklyn’s finest has finally landed in South Beach. Heralded as the country’s top pizza maker, Lucali has opened its first out-of-borough post of this wildly successful, no-thrills eatery. No sign, no menu; just seven toppings to pick from, secret tomato sauce, and on-tap Brooklyn beers.

Lucali is open now (1930 Bay Rd., South Beach.) For details, check out the listing in BlackBook Guides.

Be the first to know about the latest openings & events in Miami by signing up for the weekly BlackBook Happenings email and downloading the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android.

A Q&A With DJ Photographer Rukes

Considered the number one DJ photographer in the world, “Rukes is like a ninja,” according to mix master, Dirty South. The shutterbug, “beautifully captured the rise of a movement and the musicians that lead it that otherwise would have continued to go unnoticed if not for his amazing photographs," superstar DJ-producer Kaskade adds.

The worldwide client list of Rukes includes Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, Avicii, Zedd, Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Porter Robinson, Calvin Harris, Dada Life, Sub Focus and even Tommy Lee. When not on tour with DJ’s he can be found photographing massive events including Electric Daisy Carnival, Holy Ship! and Stereosonic in Australia, keeping Rukes constantly on the move

W Times Square approached Rukes with the idea of co-curating an exhibit as the brand is deeply committed to music and EDM in particular. Thus, “Inside the Booth” was born. The show will feature never-before-seen images of famous DJs shot by Rukes. Next to each DJ’s photograph, a listening station will be installed, allowing guests to enjoy the artist’s music while they fully immerse themselves in the moment as if they themselves were on stage. 

How did you become the go-to photographer for DJs?
A combination of trust and good photography! I started off taking pics of DJs around 2005 when digital cameras were just starting to get big, so there were very few people using them to capture the EDM scene. When I started honing my skills as the years went on and figuring out my eye for photos, they turned out to be the type of photos that most DJs wanted to represent their work. Not to mention my ninja-like skills of being able to take photos without getting in anyone’s way or even the DJs noticing I’m there!

You’re clearly a fan of EDM since listening stations will accompany this exhibition…
Yes, definitely! Been a fan since probably the very late ’90s, well before I even used my first camera!

Who is your favorite DJ and why?
It’s hard to pick favorites, there are so many out there for various reasons! I would have to pick two for now…

One would be Hybrid. They aren’t very well known, but should be. They have produced my favorite EDM music since I started listening to them, and were the first DJs to recognize that I had some talent hidden away and I should keep on working on my photography.

Second would probably have to be Zedd. We are really close friends; so much so that I was able to hang around in his top secret studio while he worked on his upcoming album, which is a MONSTER. One of those rare albums where pretty much every track could be its own #1 hit; and I rarely come across albums like that. He’s just starting out, and we definitely are planning on doing a whole lot of work together when he gets even bigger in the future!

Do you listen to hip-hop ever? Who?
Not regularly, but I’m pretty much a fan of every genre of music. I still haven’t fully branched out into hip-hop for my music catalog (I love to just load up tons of music on my iPod and hit shuffle in the car).

Who is your all-time favorite DJ to photograph live? Why?
Again, I can’t really pick just one, there are way too many for various reasons. From Deadmau5 and his amazing production spectacle, to Dada Life and their champagne and bananas, to Steve Aoki and his crowd interaction, every DJ has their own reason why I love to photograph them.

You seem to be everywhere at once since there are so many DJs all over the world everyday of the week! How do you do it? When do you sleep?
I am always on the move it seems. Thankfully summertime I usually have a little bit of time off before tour season really starts, so I’m able to get some breaks here and there, and plan a family vacation to Tokyo.

I try to follow a “normal” sleep schedule as much as possible. I have to put priority of my health and well being over photography, as there can’t be good photos without it. I won’t be able to react quicker to capture any photos, or hold my hands stable enough with a lack of sleep. So for the most part, my schedule is sleep, eat, work on photos, shoot more photos, eat, sleep. Rarely during tours do I ever have a moment off to even explore the city; usually the best chance I get is when I’m looking for some food.

Is there anyone you haven’t shot and are dying for?
Probably Daft Punk is all that’s left on my EDM list. I saw them at Coachella and I did have a camera in hand, but since I knew I was witnessing something amazing, I felt I should actually enjoy what was going on without working. I rarely do that.

Who inspires you as a photographer?
Not to sound cheesy, but myself. When I take a picture that is amazing, it just inspires me to keep taking photos at that level and improve myself so the next time I take a photo like that, it’s even better. I sometimes reach that stage of creative depression where I think “Oh, nothing will top that picture I just took” but then I just surprise myself later when I do!

What advice do you have for the budding shutterbugs?
My favorite piece of advice is to make sure you find your personal eye for photography. Figure out your style; don’t spend all your life trying to emulate another photographer, that is a dead-end. Take photos the way you want to take them and make sure they make you happy, don’t try to make someone else happy. If people like your work, they will respect what you do.

What’s your fave software?
Adobe Lightroom is my program of choice for editing all the RAW photos I have. Can’t live without it!

Hardware?
Definitely my new Canon 1DX, it’s an amazing camera that helps get some shots I couldn’t get with earlier cameras! Every new technological innovation makes it a little easier to get those extreme low-light shots the way I want them.

Second would have to be my new laptop, a Dell Precision M6700. A lot of people are surprised I’m not a mac guy, but when you realize the MacBook Pro doesn’t have a great screen for photo editing (colors are a bit off even when calibrated, doesn’t have a full gamut of the color spectrum) it really helps having a beautiful 10-bit IPS panel with 100% sRGB color and more. No need to hook up an external monitor; the colors on my laptop are now the same as the colors as my pro monitor at home!

How has EDM’s explosion in the US change your career?
It’s done a lot to help boost it up, but not too much to change it. I’m still doing what I used to do, just a bit more now. More DJs I have worked with for years are starting to tour bigger and bigger venues, and more festivals are popping up. So pretty much EDM’s explosion has just provided me with the opportunity with more work, better “Rukes shots” (the behind-the-DJ fisheye shot with the entire crowd) and now with this exhibition at the W Hotel in Times Square, the ability for people to see what they missed the past few years, like the beginning of Skrillex when he first was hanging out with Deadmau5 in 2010 as “Sonny” and then later opening for his first Deadmau5 shows before “Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites”


For more exclusive photos, head to VIBE.com!