Matt Battaglia started Denton’s newest, and possibly biggest, music festival when he was just 23 years old. Once the city's upstart festival, Oaktopia Fest is heading into its third year with its biggest lineup yet and an opportunity to solidify itself as one of the very best in North Texas. But it's not the only thing that Battaglia and his friends are doing for Denton music these days.
Alongside an ambitious group of 20-somethings that includes Oaktopia co-founder Corey Claytor, Battaglia also oversees Monocle, Inc., the talent-buying outfit responsible for booking Oaktopia.The group share two passions: music and Denton. Scratch that, hip-hop and Denton. Together they've helped bring a slew of new hip-hop shows to the city in 2015.
Battaglia is a huge fan of hip-hop. He grew up in the Denton music scene, watching shows in the basement at J&J’s Pizza and at friends’ houses. “Being born and raised in Denton, it was music all the time. I got to know the venue owners,” Battaglia explains. He claims to be great at writing lyrics, but lacking in vocal skill — which is how he knew he would do best on the business side of music.
Two years ago, Battaglia and friends launched Monocle, Inc. as a way to bring the music they like back to the town they love, starting with the first Oaktopia music festival. (Full disclosure: Until recently, this writer was a member of the team at fellow Denton festival 35 Denton.)
“The festival kind of happened on accident,” Claytor says with a laugh. He and Battaglia were trying to book a show in Denton and accidentally booked the same night at four different downtown venues, each one coincidentally on Oak St. Rather than throw their hands up in despair, they decided to get creative: They called a couple people, booked Astronautalis and Del the Funky Homosapien, and dubbed it Oaktopia Fest.
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After that modest first go-round in 2013, Battaglia and co. made an ambitious move to upsize Oaktopia last year. The move seemed risky, with more than 100 artists including Immortal Technique and Aesop Rock converging on the square. But it paid off. Although the festival had a couple issues last year, this year Battaglia says there are better logistics in place and he's “excited to not stress as much about every little thing.”
Since last year's Oaktopia, Battaglia and his team have stayed busy in Denton. 2015 has seen Monocle host Waka Flaka Flame, K CAMP, Lil Debbie and even RiFF RaFF, who made an appearance despite his new, unrecognizable wrestler bod. All four shows took place at Rockin’ Rodeo, a venue that seemed unlikely for those artists — until you showed up. The overall space, layout and acoustics proved great for the large crowds each of the shows attracted, and Monocle's vision to bring those artists to Rockin' Rodeo has helped reinvigorate Denton.
Although it may seem that Denton’s hip-hop scene is suddenly blowing up, it has been around for awhile. Battaglia is quick to say that “other people have done more” for Denton hip-hop than Monocle. Specifically he notes Gitmo Music, who put on weekly hip-hop shows throughout DFW, Denton and other cities as well.
Monocle are about more than bringing in big names in hip-hop. They've also been focusing on other local talent. Earlier this year they announced their involvement in managing local goth-pop rocker Jessie Frye.
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“I ran into Jessie at a show at Dan's Silverleaf,” Brent Camp, Frye’s manager and another Monocle member, explains. “We briefly discussed her need for management and scheduled a time to meet later that week. She told us her direction and career plan and we were incredibly interested in helping her achieve her goals as a musician.”
Since beginning their business relationship in May, Monocle have found Frye a well-established publicist, Ever Kip of Tiny Human. The company is also assisting the singer with the release of her highly anticipated EP, Boys' Club, and has a hand in getting Frye signed to independent Dallas label Metaledge Records.
What’s next for Monocle? Well, that would be Oaktopia 2015 and then planning Oaktopia 2016. The talent-buying company came full circle in a manner of speaking by hosting Astronautalis, who played the inaugural Oaktopia a few weeks ago during a sold-out pre-sale event at first-year venue and Best Of Dallas-winner Harvest House.
When it comes to dedicated people bringing great entertainment and music to your town, it's the more the merrier, and these guys don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Monocle are focusing on Denton as a whole, and really trying to capture the college crowd (the demographic that's best represented at their shows). Maybe it really does take 20-somethings to understand 20-somethings. Who would have thought?
OAKTOPIA FEST with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Minus the Bear, Polyphonic Spree and more, 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday, September 25 to 27, downtown Denton, oaktopiafest.com, $65-$111