WORDS BY: CIARAN THAPAR
From The Network is a series of interviews that highlights some of the most exciting individuals within our network. Exploring the latest trends, insights and perspectives on the scene. In our second episode we sit down with Eri Ali founder of Yeti Out to discuss the state of the global street wear scene.
At a metal table by the canal in King’s Cross, central London, Eri — real name Erisen Ali, 31 — sits forward to explain what he does for a living. “It’s quite hard to say,” he says, wearing a smile of humble confidence underneath his baseball cap. “My main focus is Yeti Out, which has evolved over the last decade from a blog, to a party and a booking agency, to a fashion brand. I’m based at home in Wood Green, North London, handling things here, after spending the start of the year travelling with the crew. My business partners are based in Asia: Arthur in Hong Kong, Tom in Shanghai. Yeti Out was born when all three of us cemented ourselves in different cities.
Over the last decade, Yeti Out has grown to become a multi-faceted, transnational brand, specialising in throwing events and creating products which allow people to experience the intersection of global music and fashion culture between the US, the UK and Asia. First, as university students, the trio started a blog called Yeti In The Basement. They would review music and DJ sets, and use it to get into shows for free. “We soon realised we’d been to enough parties to know how to throw one ourselves,” Eri says. “So we started throwing events in London, in what you might call the post-dubstep era. Our parties would have DJs playing grime, future garage, funky house...it was all quite electronic, dreamy music,” he says, in reminiscence.
“When we used to send emails to each other we would always sign them off with ‘Yeti Out’,” he continues, explaining why they eventually decided to change their name as demand for their sociable creativity soared. After several years of partying, networking, booking music acts and throwing events in cities all over the world, from Bangkok to Tokyo, between 2014-2015 they decided to start learning to DJ themselves, so that they could play at their own nights.
“That was a catalyst for touring ourselves,” Eri says. “We’d book an act and instead of bringing over one and putting them in this one show in Shanghai, we’d create a tour out of it, and get them going to different cities in Asia. Then it made sense for us to tour with them because we could be the support act, which led to us becoming actual DJs.” Now, when you book Yeti Out to play at your event, at least two of them have to be behind the decks, no matter where it is.
“IRL is where you shake hands with someone, and make business plans, and have a drink and dance. It’s where you might meet the love of your life. Your head is fully present. That’s what music is about for us”
What has been so effective about growing the Yeti Out brand by throwing events? “When we first started, Facebook made it really easy to throw an event. Now, nobody attends events organised on Facebook. That means as a brand you’ve got to put love and money and effort to get your follower numbers up, and get people caring enough to turn up. It’s a whole different game. It’s understanding the distinction between being in real life and the internet; IRL vs URL.
“URL can only get you so far. IRL is where you shake hands with someone, and make business plans, and have a drink and dance. It’s where you might meet the love of your life. You hang at the bar, you listen to live music, you have no signal on your phone so your head is fully present. That’s what events are for us. In today’s society, they are more important than ever: getting people to the club and getting them to have fun without instagramming pictures. We believe in having a genuine offline community which empowers your online community,” he explains passionately.
More recently, over the last two years, Yeti Out have started doing more work in the fashion world, building from their longstanding interest in producing original t-shirt designs which corresponded to parties they throw.
“We always sold t-shirts. Even at our very first party we did our own t-shirt, and we got loads of demand for them. We basically found that selling t-shirts almost as souvenirs for people to buy and take home at the end of their night was quite a clever way to leverage our brand. We would do collaborations with brands — Patta, for example. Patta are known for their clothing, but they also have an amazing sound system. So when we worked with them on their tour we did a collab t-shirt. It was just a flyer printed on the back, with Yeti Out on the front, and the demand was huge for that. Off the back of those two, we thought we should do more of the same and launch an online store.”
Having already organised tours and parties during Paris fashion week before, Eri, Tom and Arthur recognised that in recent years, as streetwear has seeped into traditional couture fashion spaces as a predominant style, an increasing need to differentiate from the masses has emerged. How does Yeti Out do this?
“The way we counteract the way streetwear is everywhere is by saying to people who are loyal to our brand: you can’t get some of our stuff unless you come to our party. Brands can control their vision and identity by doing stuff like that. The t-shirt itself doesn’t matter. What matters is the hype behind it: who endorses this t-shirt brand? Who co-signs for it? What are they doing that is good and cool?”
So, what is the key learning for brands to hold people’s attention?
“It’s really just hard work, but it’s also consistency. You’ve gotta be there. If you’re not telling stories that resonate offline, too, so you create that foundation of support, then you’re not doing it right. That’s what we’re learning along the way. We want to produce moments and stories that you can tell your friend. Say you’ve got this t-shirt, and someone asks where you got it from, we want to make sure you’ve got a story to tell them because you’ve been to our event. You’ve got some social capital in that moment because you’ve been to a Yeti Out party and that means something. It gives you status. Fashion and buying is about status. Then the question is: how can you control that status? Because once you control it, you can make yourself and your brand desirable.”
“It’s really just hard work, but it’s also consistency. You’ve gotta be there. If you’re not telling stories that resonate offline, too, so you create that foundation of support, then you’re not doing it right”
Now, Eri says that Yeti Out throw “at least 30+ parties-per-year” between London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and beyond. Have there been any special moments over the last year?
“We finally hit that point throughout 2018 where we felt Asian music was so good that we could export it back to the UK,” he says. Earlier in their careers, the trio had flown UK artists out to China — now, with music culture cross-pollinating at such unprecedented rates, the reverse became possible. “We were always the bridge from west to east. Finally the music in Shanghai, Bangkok, wherever, was right, so we started doing Asian-only events here in London, with our partner Eastern Margins. We put regular events on, and we had everything from Tokyo grime to Cambodian trippy trance playing. It was nuts, and it was completely offline.”
What’s in store next for Yeti Out?
“Growing our events. There’s nothing set-in-stone, but we want to throw a festival sometime, hopefully in Thailand. And we used to avoid it, but we’ve found Spotify to be really successful because it’s access to listeners. Showing people music is easier via Spotify playlists than, say, being on radio,” he says. “We are taking a standpoint of thinking big. If someone asks us whether we want a residency on a radio station, we want to respond by thinking about how we can create our own radio station. How can we franchise “yours” here? How can we utilise Spotify to make ourselves bigger?”