When covid shut down the nightlife community, Todd Mackall and Duncan Abdelnour set up a resource for those hungry for live events: a brand called Project 91. The live event business initially started as a hobby and a way to party with friends. , but it grew to be much bigger – selling lounges for 300 people to more than 5000 festivals. Project 91 has booked Diplo, Tchami, Malaa, Devault, Sam Blacky and more, among others. In addition, the events are proving to be covid compliant as Abdelnour ran from live events and founded Crowdhealth to implement safe event practices.
The community-focused brand offers different options than the standard New York City bottle clubs with the same recycled talent. Offering a different take on New York City celebrations, Project 91 has established itself as a company that advertises and ushers in a new era of high-quality artists and curatorial events. Project 91 has indeed become a common name among New York City nightlife-goers, spearheaded by two men who bet on themselves. Their next event is Spring Fest, headlined by Jai Wolf.
Here Mackall and Abdelnour share with Forbes the turning point where they saw Project 91 as something more than a way to party with friends, advice for those looking to start their own brand, their key to success and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lisa Kocay: Project 91 originally started as a hobby and a way to party with your friends. What was the turning point when you realized this was more than that?
Todd Mackall: “I think there were several turning points. I think even the first turning point was our first party. It was going very, very well, and it wasn’t a business then. It was a hobby, as you said, and we had an extraordinarily great turnout. And then I think the second post-pandemic is in May 2021, when we really started to reintroduce that energy that we left in 2019…. Then I think after the pandemic we could get a handle on the buzz on social media . That was the second big turning point, at least in my mind.
“On July 4, two months later, we were able to produce our real event. It wasn’t just any party. It wasn’t just any gathering, it was 3,000 people on the Brooklyn waterfront.”
Kocay: You mentioned that your community is quite diverse.
Makal: “It’s a diverse community, but at the same time everyone has a lot in common and it’s… the love for house music, the ambition to just have a good time. And the exuberance is definitely something we see. We’ve heard crazy stories. We actually had one person in our [direct messages]† He met his girlfriend at a Project 91 event and wanted to propose.”
Kocay: So you’d say the love of house music is pretty much the commonality.
Makal: “Going out and the energy and… it’s really hard to describe. Because New York City has so many different things to do, we see these people choosing to spend their time with us. So that’s what I find most fascinating… is that there are hundreds of clubs to go to, hundreds of bars, but people choose our events because they can rely on a sense of community.”
Kocay: For those who haven’t been to one of your events, how would you describe it?
Makal: “Well organized chaos with only love and energy. We have had over a hundred events. I think we’ve had one or two fights, something we’re pretty proud of. We attract a respectful audience. It is organized chaos, which is ultimately people and their energy.”
Kocay: That’s really impressive, considering how small you are, you’ve hosted over a hundred events.
Makal: “We had last summer. It was supply and demand.”
Duncan Abdelnour: “Just non stop.”
Makal: “People really choose to go to our parties. We still consider ourselves quite small, but at the same time definitely recognized in New York. I don’t know if we have a scale for how many events we want to do this year, but we’ve already had at least 10.”
Abdelnour: “It’s more like producing, just bigger.”
Makal: “Larger events. Quality over quantity.”
Kocay: What do you think has been the key to success with Project 91?
Abdelnour: “Just think outside the box a little bit.”
Makal: “Bring a new perspective.”
Abdelnour: “But it’s kind of a collection of things. People trust us now. Some people go out once a month, and they pick one of our events because they like the DJ or whatever.”
Kocay: Can you tell us a bit more about what the fresh perspective means?
Makal: “For me, that’s a twist on your run-of-the-mill party, whether it’s a themed party, or we’re taking you to a new location that just opened. We are event producers at heart.”
Abdelnour: “We can take a regular bar and we’ll bring in sound, light, production, haze machines and make it a full club experience. Or we do that on a rooftop and bring a very large-scale sound system to a place where it has never been before, so that you can have a mini concert setting in a cool location.”
Kocay: What advice would you give to others starting an event business?
Makal: They are building blocks.”
Abdelnour: “Start small and take one step.”
Makal: “You can’t just throw hundreds of thousands of dollars around it and book an event. You have to have experience doing events.”