Bobby Barajas and James Fonda realized early that they were good at throwing a party.
During college, they emptied the rented house they shared and, in an attempt to make it soundproof, covered the windows with Styrofoam and duct-taped vinyl tablecloths to the walls. They brought in a DJ and two lasers. They told their friends about the party, which they called Rave 2010. Word spread quickly — 350 people showed up.
“The deposit was gone that night,” Barajas said.
Even so, Rave 2010 proved to be a good decision, and since then, Barajas and Fonda, both 24, have become party wizards in Omaha. Over the past few years, the two have planned huge theme parties at Barrett's, Rednecks, Halo, the Shark Club, Sokol Underground and, this weekend, at Fun-Plex.
Their events, which they call “Defy Gravity” (or “Defy Grav” to avoid confusion with the trampoline place of the same name) always include DJs playing electronic dance music, but they also tend to feature less-expected elements.
They've handed out cans of Silly String to partygoers. (The first such party was such a success that for the second one, they ordered an entire pallet of Silly String.) They've invited saxophonists and a violinist to play alongside the DJs.
They've featured aerialists and hula hoopers, and once planned a Super Mario Brothers-themed event, in which guests could hunt for prizes in boxes adorned with flowers or mushrooms, just like in the video games.
They've also allowed partygoers to douse each other with neon tempera paint. Once, they shot off a confetti cannon.
They generally have just one goal in mind when they plan an event: to make it really fun.
“At most bars in Omaha, people are flexing their muscles instead of relaxing them,” Barajas said.
Brent Crampton, a DJ and an owner of House of Loom downtown, said Defy Gravity events, with their diverse performers and activities, more closely resemble festivals than dance parties. Sometimes, they draw as many as 1,500 people.
“It's got to be one of the most coveted gigs you can score,” said Crampton, who has DJed several Defy Gravity events, and for the past year or so has helped produce them. “There's not a lot of platforms like that.”
Crampton attributes the success of the events in part to the recent popularity of electronic dance music — something Barajas agrees with, even though it wasn't really a movement he and Fonda were trying to capitalize on.
“We just kind of caught the wave,” he said. “We didn't even realize we were paddling.”
What they did have, though, were friends and ideas.
Fonda was the social butterfly of the two, the man who knew everyone. He now is in California studying to be a Navy Seal. Barajas was the one whose mind was always in event-planning mode.
Fonda, who grew up in Omaha, wasn't terribly social in high school. But when he transferred to the University of Nebraska at Omaha his sophomore year of college, he decided to expand his circle. He joined a fraternity. He was a member of the tennis team. He hung out with members of groups that didn't normally mix.
“I didn't really know there were boundaries,” he said.
Barajas' interest in the technical side of events goes back to when he was in elementary school and played Tiny Tim in the Omaha Community Playhouse's touring production of “A Christmas Carol.” During the tour, he was more interested in what was going on behind the stage than what was happening on it. He befriended members of the stage crew, asking them questions and noting both the gear and cues they used.
“I learned more than I ever could have imagined, and I had no idea I was learning it,” he said.
Eventually, Barajas and Fonda both became adept at planning, promoting and various other elements of running what quickly became a business. As Defy Gravity's events became larger, they had to insure them. They began to work with professional vendors, they attracted sponsors, and they formed a corporation.
“Everything has been a constant learning process,” Fonda said.
They'll put much of what they've learned to work this weekend at Fun-Plex, which they view as a blank slate. They're planning for three stages with a mix of live music and DJs, as well as a fireworks show and possibly skydivers — an appropriate touch, as Defy Gravity's name is derived from Barajas' and Fonda's shared love of thrill-seeking.
The events draw mostly a college-age crowd, and many of Defy Gravity's early fans have graduated and moved on from Silly String, tempera paint and late-night dancing. Fonda said he expects that Defy Gravity eventually may evolve, too; he can envision it one day becoming a music festival or similar event.
But not yet.
As the some of the original party-goers have moved on, younger ones have taken their place. And Barajas and Fonda plan to keep on throwing parties as long as they continue to show up.
“I have so many ideas,” Barajas said.