Lists, Reviews

Essential Boiler Room Sets of 2015

Boiler Room has had a massive 2015.

The UK-based roaming streaming party platform had already built a solid reputation for their taste-making line-ups, garnering millions of fans and views since their 2010 launch. Sure, they cater to decidedly underground artists, but by having the focus of their offering on the online videos and streaming – as opposed to physical parties – they have been able to collect fans from smaller, disparate global subscenes.

What really changed this year was the fact that they started being able to visit and showcase some of these global scenes, giving a glimpse into both the local stars and the club culture all over the world. It’s an exciting time for music discovery, especially if you’re interested in knowing what’s happening beyond the traditional western outposts of dance culture in the world, which we are (obviously).

What follows is a list of essential Boiler Room sets that have inspired, informed and moved us throughout 2015 (in no particular order).

Culoe de Song
(Boiler Room x Ballantines Stay True South Africa – Johannesburg)

Boiler Room sets are a multi-media experience. Their medium is as important as the music, and thus the visuals are as important as the music is. In this regard, Culoe De Song’s set really stands out. Yes, he plays excellent deep house cuts (as can be expected from him). What’s special here, is the documentation of people’s reaction to the music, giving a snapshot of how it is consumed and appreciated. Early on, a wide angle shot reveals numerous cell phones recording De Song, a underground deep house DJ. The biggest moment, at 23:00 mins in, give a perfect synopsis of the scene he operates in. Groups of friends who have partied so long and so hard together that they now have synchronised dances that lasts entire minutes (infinitely more intricate than whipping before a nae nae). Hands go in the air for music that is the opposite of modern EDM; there are no big drops, no topical vibe or ingratiating vocals. It’s a slow build of ecstasy and a joy to both listen to and watch.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
(Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London)

Seun is the youngest son of Afrobeat Jazz legend Fela Kuti. That’s a huge legacy to follow and shadow to live under, but instead of hiding from it Seun embraces it, making music his father might have made in his position. He even starts most of his sets off with a cover of one of his father’s songs – which he does again here, launching this intimate London set with ‘Opposite People’. If this is all sounding far removed from everything we’ve grown to associate with Boiler Room that’s because it is – and if this is what defines a direction their future journeys could take then we’re all in for an engrossing ride.

Egypt 80 do Seun’s (and Fela’s) music more than justice, and they all somehow manage to find space for two dancers on stage (who also double as backing vocalists). More than just re-rendering already composed songs, Egypt 80 imbue the music with a sense of Funk swagger through their guitar work.

The setting is also amazing and strange for a Boiler Room, as far removed from its usual Boiler Room venues as the music is from their usual fare. Be prepared for an engrossing listen and a politically charged – if sometimes misguided – tone (Seun launches into one of his famous diatribes soon into a set, and this is all just a part of his show).

DJ Lag
(Boiler Room x G-Star RAW Sessions – Johannesburg)

DJ Lag refers to himself as the king of GQOM. While kinship in any genre is always debatable, he does have some credentials: he has a growing reputation as a tastemaker within the scene, tens of thousands of track downloads on KasiMP3, and a consistent playing schedule. All this within a genre there has seen a palpable growth in recognition both locally and abroad.

Here the 20-year-old drops an extremely tasteful Gqom set, in a setting true to the origins of the music itself, much darker and more sparse than other BR locations. It’s a perfect tour of what’s happening within the Gqom scene, and it’s truly a delight hearing him drop a VIP edit of Rudeboyz’ Get Down (at 9:20). Not only is the song banging, it also hints that the music’s makers have created the type of in-house exclusivity that other genres of producers have had for a while already – sharing ideas and products between themselves that the rest of the world has no access to.

Watch in a dark room and let the toms take you.

Black Motion – Johannesburg

Black Motion straddle the line between pure DJing and ‘live’ performance with the grace of a tightrope walker. The setup is one that could lead to well meaning yet discordant chaos – a DJ Setup with additional hand percussion – but here they use it to create tension, increase energy before breaks, and virtuosity. It’s a small wonder how danceable the set is even though Dj Murda spends a large proportion of the set with the low-end cut off so you can’t hear the tracks’ drums. It works to amazing effect when combined with the live percussion, transforming tracks.

At the peak of the set (21:50) they reconstruct the already slow burning guitar edit of Culoe de Song’s ‘No Contest’ into something even more destructive than before. The song here acts much like Goku’s Spirit Bomb attack in the Dragon Ball Z anime, you watch it slowly build for what seems to be much too long before it finally unleashes its destructive power. Even they can’t hold back the dancing any longer

DJ Maboku

The links, both in history and especially in contemporary culture between Lusophone Africa and the language’s motherland are as deep as they are overlooked in the rest of the world. Particularly when it comes to music. Portugal (and Lisbon in particular) has absorbed so much musical content from the continent that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to chart the number of new genres that spring from the symbiosis. Styles are springing up faster than we can name them, from kuduro to batida, batucada and tarraxa to kizomba and tarraxinha – it’s a dizzying and exciting landscape.

Originally from Angola, Lisbon’s Maboku operates primarily on the more club-friendly end of that spectrum, and this set is a perfect tour. Drum rhythms tumble, fludes and accordion sounds replace synths, vocals are in the chant-like kuduro style. It’s house through another country’s lense, and affects one in the same way that Pretoria local DJ Spoko’s Bacardi House does.
Watching the set is pure FOMO. None of this is strange for anyone in the venue – it’s just how they get down.

DJ Nigga Fox
(Boiler Room X RBMA – Lisboa)

One of the more enigmatic and respected proponents of the Lisbon scene is (the strikingly named) DJ Nigga Fox. One of the more senior members of the Principe Discos label (that also gave us DJ Maboku), he had a bender in 2015. He expanded on his local fanbase through regular showings at Principe’s club nights and released one of the best and most bewildering EPs of 2015, Noite E Dia. The music on that record, a take on the Tarraxinha style and much like the music in this set, is like dance music from the twilight zone. The tempos are slightly too slow, the percussion is furiously off grid and unquantized – sounding as if it might collapse on itself at any moment like a house of cards – and the melodies are anything but conventional. To watch this set and see how Fox massages this music into a club setting is eye opening.

It takes a while for people to get into Nigga Fox’s mid tempo vibe, but a few minutes into the set the crowd resembles a pot about to boil over, and 10 minutes in, the heat becomes too much. By 15:20 there are no doubts left, as the music moves further into more synth oriented work and the tempos are upped. Fox’s first EP was called O Meu Estilo (my style), and it truly is only his.

(Mexico City)

The word global has become quite the buzzword in bass music recently. Disappointingly though it’s often come to mean bass producers in Europe and America (we see you too, Australia) adopting what they see as “traditional” sounds from around the world and shoehorning them into whatever it is they were making before. It’s how many Dubstep producers ended up working with Moombahton (a fusion of house and reggaeton) and pushing it towards simply being dubstep-at-a-different-tempo. If Bass music is to ever become global, then it needs to happen the other way – global residents of the world absorbing bass music standards and applying them to regional micro genres.

This is exactly what Mexican resident and NAAFI affiliate Lao specialises in, and his Boiler Room set plays exactly like what would happen if the internet landed in his back yard. This is more of what bass music needs – ‘outsider’ voices adding to its genetic diversity. The music here is tangentially influenced by Night Slugs-style grime and techno, moombahton-esque rhythms, and by gritty raps, though it never acquiesces to those genres demands. It’s a particular treat hearing tracks like MC Bin Laden’s huge Funk Carioca song ‘BOLOLO HAHA’ in this context, with its screwy rhythm and too-gruff vocalisations. Lao should be the future.

Luis Flores

Mexico is a country with a deep respect for Dance music. Of the sets Boiler Room has shot in the country, a vast majority have come in the form of either Vinyl house sets or experimental live techno and IDM. This hints to a form of purism that stems from a country having a scene with a deep and long history, as is the case with Mexico. In Guadalajara in particular, techno luminaries such as Luis Flores have been operating for nearly two decades, founding record labels and performing internationally. Here he brings a set that harks back to techo music’s more hard-nosed days, with a heavily improvised set. This is music that nihilists chill to and the rest of us dance to only when coerced into it late in the night, so it would be slightly surreal and unnerving just sitting and watching the set were it not for the crowd. Rarely do they stop dancing or try leave, smiling through even the most distorted and twisted moments of the music.

Special mentions:

Some artists produce amazing music in their own capacities but don’t quite make the list for their sets. That being said, these sets should still be watched.

Have we missed any?

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