In March 2010, Blaise Bellville, the editor of an online magazine called Platform, invited the founder of NTS Radio Femi Adeyemi to record a mixtape. They recorded it on a camera taped to the walls of a disused boiler room in Platform’s offices and uploaded it to a Ustream channel. With that, the Boiler Room was born.
Six years later, Boiler Room has cornered its own niche in the industry, live streaming performances from DJ’s and artists from a variety of cities around the globe. Now one of the most prominent places we consume electronic music and discover new DJ’s, they have over 908,000 subscribers on YouTube, close to two million social media followers and have hosted established names as well as fledgling stars. For a Boiler Room novice, here is a list of some of the finest sets to point you in the direction of some good listening.
Sven Vath 2012
German legend Sven Vath took over Berlin with what is generally regarded as one of the best Boiler Room sets. ‘Papa Sven’ hooks a receptive audience in with low jams early on before gradually building to ambient house cuts that tangles them in a trance. The highlight is undoubtedly around 12 minutes in when he plays Day After by Shed, the rhythm drops and the crowd jolts, to his pleasant surprise.
Grizzled techno veteran Rodhad drops some downright filthy tunes in a near hour long set at a Dystopian records takeover event in Germany’s capital. Wearing a flat cap and a black ‘Dystopian is watching you’ t-shirt, the Berghain resident bangs out an exquisitely chosen set featuring Moderat, Underworld and Marcel Dettman. Many Boiler Room sets are ruined by apathetic crowds who limply mope about on their phones, but this dimly lit club features some of the sweatiest blokes outside of a sauna.
Nicolas Jaar 2014
Nicolas Jaar is one of the least conventional DJs of his time, with a multi-cultural background contributing to his eclectic musical taste and experimental nature. The effortlessly cool Chilean-American delivers a murky, menacing and energetic set filled with dark electronic numbers, including some Darkside tunes. Jaar mixes the songs live and has a radio tuning in and out throughout.
Montreal producer Kaytranada’s charming enthusiasm is always discernible throughout the many projects he tackles, no more so than when he DJs. This set, at what appears to be a frat house full of college students in his hometown, is a lot of fun. Kay spins a mixture of hip-hop, 70s funk and up tempo R ’n B in 45 minutes that fly by. Watch out for the random assortment of people gathered behind the man himself, particularly the dude attempting to maintain his fro - which is almost as entertaining as the music. Kay’s blue windbreaker and beanie hat combo is also pretty special.
Robert Hood 2013
Some know him as Robert Hood, others know him under the alias of Floorpan. Either way, he is widely recognised as one of the founding fathers of minimal techno. The Detroit native throws down his genre bending brilliance before a fully engaged audience at the Mutek festival in Montreal. As the subtle chimes, snares and repetitive rhythms build, suddenly you find yourself bobbing, weaving and clapping your hands. Just watch the folks behind Hood when he blares out New Order’s 'Blue Monday'. Yep, he goes there and it works fucking brilliantly.
Four Tet 2015
With London the home to so many influential electronic music pioneers, it would only be right to include one of their favourite sons on this list. Kieran Hebden is rightly regarded as one of the most diverse and well versed artists in the genre. In this set, full of drum banging jungle, disco, minimalist house and funk grooves, he lives up to his reputation. The crowd also seem to be enjoying themselves, moving to the music and sipping on cans rather than gazing into their phones - which is a rarity at Boiler Room events. Also, shout out to the guy wearing a Burial t-shirt standing over Four Tet’s right shoulder. I'm sure he would approve.
Death Grips 2013
For anyone searching for an unconventional Boiler Room set, this one certainly fits the description. Experimental hip-hop trio Death Grips are known for their hyperactive and confrontational live performances, and this one at SXSW is no different. They unleash half an hour of furious, aggressive and cryptic tunes from their back catalogue. Full of distortion, pounding drums, tampered voice samples and fractured bass lines - the set clobbers you right in the jaw. At one point MC Ride even shoves a cameraman off the stage. Who says punk is dead?
Space Dimension Controller/Bicep 2015
Sometimes a number of elements align to create a perfect moment in time. Although not strictly a single set, Space Dimension Controller followed by Bicep might be two of the best consecutive hours in the six years of Boiler Room. The iconic location at Harland & Wolf shipping docks and a boisterous Belfast crowd only add to the special nature of this. The local duo cram in some of their trademark remixes and floor fillers, including their mega 2015 track 'Just.' But it is Space Dimension Controller who steals the show, stacking up 40 odd minutes of crunching techno before changing pace at the end with two legendary trance numbers. In the last ten minutes, Controller spins the Ayla tune 'Ayla'. It builds to a crescendo, he cheekily grins, the tune drops and a wild, communal rave ensues. He plays out on Chicane’s 'Saltwater', pleasing locals no end.