When covid shut down the nightlife community, Todd Mackall and Duncan Abdelnour founded a resource for those starved from live events: a brand dubbed Project 91. The live events company initially began as a hobby and a way to party with friends, but it grew to be much larger—selling out 300 person lounges to 5,000-plus festivals. Project 91 has booked the likes of Diplo, Tchami, Malaa, Devault, Sam Blacky and more. In addition, the events prove to be covid compliant as Abdelnour pivoted from live events and founded Crowdhealth to implement safe event practices.
The community-oriented brand provides different options than the standard New York City bottle clubs with the same recycled talent. Project 91 offers a different outlook on New York City parties and has established itself as a go-to promoting company that ushers in a new era of quality artists and curatorial events. Indeed, Project 91 has become a common name amongst New York City nightlife-goers that is spearheaded by two men who bet on themselves. Their next event is Spring Fest, which boasts Jai Wolf as the headliner.
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 who wish to start their own brand, their key to success and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lisa Kocay: Project 91 was initially 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 multiple turning points. I think even the first turning point was our first party. It went very, very well, and it wasn’t a business back then. It was a hobby, as you said, and we had an extremely terrific turnout. And then I think the second one is post-pandemic in May of 2021 when we really started to re-enter that energy that we left off in 2019….Then I think post-pandemic, we were able to gain traction on social media buzz. That was the second major turning point, at least in my mind.
“The 4th of July, two months later, we were able to produce our real event. It wasn’t just a party. It wasn’t just a gathering—it was 3,000 people on the Brooklyn waterfront.”
Kocay: You’ve said your community is pretty diverse.
Mackall: “It’s a diverse community, but at the same time, everyone has a bunch in common and it’s…the love for house music, the ambition to really just have a good time. And the outgoingness is definitely something we see. We’ve heard some crazy stories. We actually had one person in our [direct messages]. He met his girlfriend in a Project 91 event and he wanted to propose.”
Kocay: So you would say that the love for house music is pretty much the commonality.
Mackall: “Going out and the energy and…it’s really hard to describe. Because New York City has so many different things to do, yet we see these people choosing to spend their time with us. So that’s what I find most fascinating…is that there’s 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?
Mackall: “Good organized chaos with just love and energy. We’ve had one hundred plus events. I think we’ve had like one or two fights happen, which is something we’re pretty proud of. We draw a respectful crowd. It’s organized chaos, which ultimately is people and their energy.”
Kocay: That’s really impressive that considering how small you are, you’ve thrown over one hundred events.
Mackall: “We had last summer. It was supply and demand.”
Duncan Abdelnour: “Just nonstop.”
Mackall: “People really choosing to go to our parties. We still consider ourselves pretty 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 kind of producing just larger.”
Mackall: “Larger events. Quality over quantity.”
Kocay: What do you think has been the key to success with Project 91?
Abdelnour: “Just kind of thinking outside the box.”
Mackall: “Bringing a fresh perspective.”
Abdelnour: “But it’s kind of just a little bit curation of things. People trust us now. Some people go out once a month, and they’ll pick one of our events because they really like the deejay or whatever.”
Kocay: Can you talk a little bit more about what the fresh perspective means?
Mackall: “For me, that’s putting a twist on your average party, whether it might be a themed party, whether it may be us taking you to a new venue that just opened. We’re event producers at heart.”
Abdelnour: “We can take a regular bar and we’ll bring in sound, lighting, production, haze machines and turn it into a full club experience. Or we’ll do that on a rooftop and bring a whole large scale sound system to a place that has never had that before, so that you can have a mini concert setting in a cool location.”
Kocay: What piece of advice would you give to others starting an event company?
Mackall: It is building blocks.”
Abdelnour: “Start small and take one step.”
Mackall: “You can’t just start throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars around it and booking an event. You have to have experience doing events.”