THE NEXT 13 CITIES READY TO RULE DANCE MUSIC
While any sonic tourist can Google the world’s top dance music destinations, it pays to dig a little deeper. For years, Berlin has led the way with its clubs, cost of living and creative community, but it’s not the only city with an electronic pulse worth pursuing.
These 13 cities aren’t the obvious hubs, but rather simmering scenes populated with local producers, promoters, visual artists, and party people offering regional takes on electronic music and culture.
While cities range in size from manageable to massive, each offers an energizing lifestyle and a thriving (but not yet over-saturated) music and arts culture, making each a prime destination for musicians seeking new inspiration. These same factors make this globe-spanning list perfect for travelers looking to circumnavigate the same old hit-list and track down something a bit weirder, a bit more daring, and far less easily found.
Photo via Oasis Festival.
13. MARRAKECH, MOROCCO
2015 saw the new Oasis Festival join a long list of reasons to visit Morocco. As the inaugural edition proved, this isn’t your average endurance weekender in a muddy field. Taking over the Fellah Hotel in Marrakech, Oasis Festival lived up to its name with a dreamy setting between the Sahara Desert and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Then there was the house- and techno-tinted lineup, which included Guy Gerber, DJ Harvey, Carl Craig, and me over three days and nights.
If Oasis Festival made you swoon, there’s good reason to dig deeper. While Avicii recently played to 200,000 people in Rabat, Morocco is also home to a thriving underground scene. Local authority Amine Akesbi, who DJs as Amine K, spoke with pride about his home at this year’s Amsterdam Dance Event. “Morocco is the crossroads of culture between Europe and Africa,” he said. “It’s close to Europe, it’s not super expensive, and you have this warmth—from both the weather and the people. If, as a DJ, you respect the people and play from your heart, the people scream and jump and shout. As an artist, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
A new generation of producers is also working to put Marrakech on the map. “There’s always percussion,” Akesbi said of the sound that Morocco inspires. “But we also love this trance-y sound that makes you lose yourself.” We can think of worse places to get lost.
Photo via The HiFi Club.
12. CALGARY, CANADA
While Montreal and Toronto contend for the title of Canada’s music capital, the prairie city of Calgary is quickly moving up thanks to its small but mighty electronic music community. In a province known for big oil and conservative politics, dance music is its alternative and perhaps reactionary culture. Accordingly, Calgary’s party slogan could comfortably be “quality over quantity.” While there might not be something happening every single night, the events that do go down deliver on multiple fronts—from venues to acts to receptive crowds that arrive with minds open and dancing shoes on.
At venues like Habitat and The HiFi Club, a revolving door of world-class electronic acts comes through Calgary. Over the past few years, a number of progressive indie record labels have also been founded here—including Modern Math, Close To Modern and Deep Sea Mining Syndicate—whose mission is to take local music beyond the city’s borders. There are a few key industry veterans who continue to pave the way for the community as a whole, including Smalltown DJs, DJ Rice, Jon Delerious and Isis Graham.
Audio gurus PK have also also become local legends, supplying sound systems for some of the biggest festivals in North America including EDC Las Vegas, Burning Man, Paradiso, and Escapade. And while the “raves” that were ubiquitous in the 90s and early 00s are long gone, Calgary’s festival roster continues to grow, with Chasing Summer and Badlands Festival just two of the recent arrivals.
11. SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
In the cultural shadow of flashier and pricier Tokyo, Seoul often gets overlooked as a go-to city for nightlife in East Asia. Make no mistake: Seoul is on the rise. With the increasing global dominance of Korea’s main musical export, K-Pop, there’s a lot of room for something more alternative.
Sure, a local appetite for global EDM has enticed events like Ultra and Global Gathering to town, but at clubs like Octagon and Arena, international artists mingle with locals Kindergarten, Lip 2 Shot and DJ Bell. At night, Gangnam is the epicenter of clubbing, but its Beverly Hills-esque posh vibes make it a less-than-desirable place to rent a creative space during the day. For that, young musicians are claiming addresses in the student-friendly Hongdae or the cosmopolitan Itaewon neighborhoods.
An alcohol-friendly culture (club cover often includes a free drink) means that many venues are open until late morning on weekends, but if you don’t mind winding things up at a relatively early 6am, Vurt in the Mapo district is where you want to go from some true techno discovery or to see artists you’d pay twice the price to hear in Berlin. We’ll say “kamsahamnida” to that.
Photo via Electronic Beats Festival.
10. BUCHAREST, ROMANIA
If you’ve Googled Bucharest recently, the top results have been grim. Romania’s capital made headlines after more than 50 people died from a fire that broke out when fireworks set insulation foam alight during a rock concert at the nightclub Colectiv. News of the fire sparked protests in the city streets against the government’s systemic negligence and corruption, prompting the resignation of Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
The lasting fallout of the Colectiv tragedy on Bucharest’s nightlife is yet to be seen. In a country where fire regulations can be haphazard, a succession of clubs have now publicly vowed to upgrade safety standards.
What’s unlikely to change, though, is the Romanian commitment to marathon partying. Anyone who rode the minimal wave around 2007 will already know about the sleepless exploits of local heroes Raresh, Rhadoo, and Petre Inspirescu, whose [a:rpia:r] label helped put Bucharest on the techno tourist map.
Eight years on, the parties are only getting longer. Case in point: a new festival called Interval, which will run for 100 hours non-stop across three stages in late November. Artists will play a minimum of three hours, with some stretching as long as ten. Appropriately, its tagline is “Got stamina?” As proven by Marco Carola’s 24-hour set at Romania’s preeminent techno festival Sunwaves, Romanian dance music fans don’t like to be rushed.
One of the top spots in Bucharest to party like a local is Club Guesthouse, while Studio Martin and Kristal Glam Club go head-to-head for A-list house and techno bookings. In the wake of the Colectiv fire, though, most of the city’s clubs have kept a low profile. When business as usual resumes, it will be stronger—and safer—than ever.
Photo by Galen Oakes for CRSSD.
9. SAN DIEGO, USA
San Diego is two hours south (on a non-hellacious traffic day) from the West Coast’s electronic music central command center of Los Angeles. While smaller and beachier than the more high profile LA scene, in the past few years San Diego’s nightlife offerings have expanded from the standard bottle service and EDM rigamarole towards more nuanced events that reflect not just evolving tastes, but also the experimental beat culture SoCal is famous for.
CRSSD festival, which made its debut in 2014 and returned to a waterfront venue this past October, highlighted the underground “trend” by featuring left of center and decidedly non-EDM headliners including Bonobo, Maya Jane Coles, and Todd Terje. The two-day event got largely positive reviews from critics and fans hungry for music not widely heard in San Diego’s clubby, bachelorette party playground, the Gaslamp District.
Local experimental beatmakers include Mystery Cave and the influential Illuminauts collective, while artists like Skrapez, Beatsmith Resist, and Infinity Gauntlet make what San Diego-born music journalist Peter Holslin calls “dirty, twisted hip-hop/noise/psych type stuff.” This scene has found a home at warehouse parties and spaces like the Kava Lounge, which for a time hosted Critical Breakdown, San Diego’s answer to LA’s Low End Theory.
And while a lot of San Diego-born artists like the Gaslamp Killer (so named for the lukewarm reception his music got in that part of town) leave the city to pursue a career in LA, according to Holslin, “there’s also this thing in San Diego where some of the most talented people intentionally stay underground and stay real tight knit to keep the music exclusive and special.”
Photo via Between 10 and 5.
8. JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
While South Africa’s famed coastal hot spot of Cape Town attracts more tourists, the country’s inland urban empire of Johannesburg is an up and coming destination for musical aficionados, particularly those who love house music and the uniquely Johannesburgian take on the genre, kwaito. In Jo’burg, house isn’t just heard out at clubs and bars, but on the radio, in elevators, busses, and other public spaces, with many locals identifying it as the sonic pulse of the city.
The majority of the Jo’burg scene exists at bars and rooftop parties, where kwaito producers fuse house’s 4/4 tempo with traditional Afrobeat. (The sound can be heard on output from South Africa’s most prominent producer du jour, Black Coffee, who hails from Durban.)
Kwaito is also played at the longstanding venue Bassline and throughout Soweto, a district that during apartheid was separated as a residential area for blacks who were not permitted to live in Johannesburg proper and which is currently home to a crew of upcoming producers. The trendy Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg’s version of Williamsburg, was born out of derelict warehouses revamped after apartheid’s end in 1994 and is now home to performance venues, restaurants, galleries, and other creative spaces.
While the massive size of Johannesburg can be intimidating to would-be visitors (a population of five million across an urban sprawl larger than Houston), locals have a reputation for being warm and accommodating, and a new train system has made navigation less daunting. You may even hear some kwaito while en route.
7. MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Taking place in a city undergoing a tremendous amount of change, Mexico City’s house and techno scene is a bit more outlaw than other North American dance havens, but that’s all part of its magic. Distrito Federal (DF to locals) is a rugged gem, discovering itself as it becomes discovered, becoming ever more radiant as it grows.
It’s a beautiful city, and a large one as well, routinely referred to by its proud denizens as a “small city of 20 million people.” DF is safe to visit, and the people are extremely warm. The city has several bigger “posh” clubs, as well as the requisite DIY venues and warehouses, tiny bars, basements and house parties that run more to our tastes.
DF boasts a healthy afterhours scene, some of the world’s best cocktail bars, and homegrown talent like Smurphy, White Visitation, AAAA, the NAAFI collective, Ñaka Ñaka, Teen Flirt, and Rhodesia Social Club resident Alec Sander aka La Royale. The local area has also proven itself to be a flourishing market for nascent indie music festivals, including events like Tropico, Nrmal and Carnaval de Bahidora.
Mexico City needs to be seen to be understood, but even then, the city is so vast, and things are changing so quickly, what comes next is up to those who are there to shape its future.
Photo via 30xthirty.
6. ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
Addis Ababa is one of those cities that consumes all your senses: from the whir of its renowned coffee shops to the white-knuckled driving conditions. Then there’s the music that bubbles up in unexpected places. Getting to the right dancefloor isn’t as simple as in other cities, but you won’t forget the ride.
A new wave of producers in Addis Ababa are making music with limited resources, taking influence from international artists while drawing on the region’s rich musical history. One of the trailblazers for East Africa’s electronic music scene is Mikael Seifu, formerly known as Mic Tek. His productions—like “The Lost Drum Beat” and “Brass”—bring Ethiopian folk music together with electronic textures, creating something dreamy and melancholic. His compatriot Endeguena Mulu, aka Ethiopian Records, also takes traditional music in unexpected directions.
“There are so many great musicians here, and it would be brilliant for them to understand the potential of the electronic medium as a very expressive art form,” Seifu told Pitchfork this year.
The city is building a loose consortium of DIY producers making the most of what they’ve got. Notably, one of the city’s prodigious teenagers Soul Keita landed on Nicolas Jaar’s Clown & Sunset label. 2016 could also be the year that the Ethiopop sound takes hold outside Africa—Santigold, for one, has tapped the sound on her new single “Can’t Get Enough Of Myself.”
Photo by Matthias Heschl for Red Bull.
5. VIENNA, AUSTRIA
While most tourists head to Vienna looking for the 19th Century, there’s more to the Austrian capital than the ghosts of Mozart and Beethoven. Just ask Hercules & Love Affair main man Andy Butler, who now calls the city home. As he put it to Electronic Beats: “People always ask me, ‘Why are you living in Vienna?’ One answer could be because it’s beautiful and a great city to live in, but for me the answer is something different: it’s the fact that there are really creative, relevant people living here.”
Austria has, of course, contributed some fine electronic music talent to the world, including Kruder & Dorfmeister, Dorian Concept, and Camo & Krooked. Outside museum hours, you could think of Vienna as a less precious Prague with an edge of Berlin. If played right, it can also be fair on your wallet.
Clubs like Flex, Grelle Forelle and Fluc_wanne boast standout programming—with a strong strain of house and techno—but you want to spend a hazy night at Pratersauna. A 1960s wellness center and sauna converted into a multi-floor club space, Pratersauna draws killer talent in the summer months. With the likes of Andhim and Dominik Eulberg booked in December, winter’s not so tough either. If you see Andy Butler on the streets of the Ottakring, hit him for some tips.
Photo via VIA.
4. PITTSBURGH, USA
Famous for forging steel, bleeding football, and loving rock music, the western Pennsylvania city of Pittsburgh is not naturally associated with a cutting-edge electronic music scene.
Steel City is in fact home to a tight-knit crew of electronic producers in underground venues light years beyond the one-off EDM nights popping up at local bars. “Pittsburgh gravitates towards a backdoor scenario,” says Quinn Leonowicz, who, along with Lauren Goshinski, founded VIA, a local festival and events series merging music, tech, and visual art. “People here like to search for the music.”
Those in-the-know gravitate to parties like the weekly Hot Mass, which takes place every Sunday at a member’s only bathhouse. Preferred genres span the gamut, with many locals who grew up listening to noise music and hip-hop incorporating those influences into their work. Techno DJ, Hot Mass co-founder and core VIA member Aaron Clark will surely push a bold agenda as the Cultural Programming Director for the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, opening this December 10.
Dubbed “the city of bridges,” Pittsburgh is nestled at the at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, and many of the thousand or so core scenesters are Pittsburgh natives, creating a strong sense of hometown pride. The city’s low cost of living makes it possible for these artists to make music without having to grind as hard as they would in bigger metropolises. Make no mistake though; Pittsburgh doesn’t lack focus. “Everyone here,” Leonowicz says, “is really hungry.”
Photo via João Anzolin.
3. CURITIBA, BRAZIL
If you’ve set your sights on Brazil in 2016, don’t make it all about the Rio Olympics. In the country’s south, an unflashy city called Curitiba is home to one of South America’s vibiest club scenes.
Because Curitiba’s climate is cool by Brazilian standards, most of the dancing happens indoors at spots like Club Vibe—now almost 15 years old—and relative newcomers Paradis and Zeitgeist. “I’m quite sure Curitiba was one of the first cities in Brazil to have an electronic music culture,” says local journalist João Anzolin, who has lived in Curitiba his whole life. “In the south of Brazil in general, you have this European influence from a huge community of immigrants.”
While international DJs frequent Curitiba, there’s a groundswell of local producers strong enough to inspire a Boiler Room showcase. As Anzolin sees it, there’s a real community in his hometown. “All the DJs and club owners want to unite and make things happen,” he says.
The city also hosts events like the Warung Day Festival, a spin-off from Brazil’s legendary beach club, but it’s a destination best experienced after dark. “I believe we will have our own sound in about five years without looking too much to Berlin or London,” Anzolin says. “In Brazil, we have a lot of different rhythms and unique styles, but electronic music doesn’t always approach these local rhythms. We have a few producers now doing it in a clever way.”
Photo via Unsound.
2. KRAKOW, POLAND
Krakow, Poland hosts perhaps the world’s most revered experimental music festival, Unsound, and while the beautiful but crumbling history-rich city has much to offer, the festival is perhaps the best introduction for the electronic-inclined.
Unsound’s events typically center around the Hotel Forum in the not-yet-too-cold month of October, with performances also taking place in hipster havens like museums, abandoned cigarette factories, and warehouses around the formerly communist city.
Lineups were announced just minutes before the events, with a rumored appearance by Burial (not confirmed, but not-not confirmed!), alongside left-of-center artists like King Midas Sound and Fennesz, Laraaji, Tim Hecker, alongside techno heroes like Holly Herndon, Shackleton, Surgeon, and a whole bunch of alleged David Tibet-led Satanists.
The festival’s attendees are largely Polish, and Unsound’s ready outsider inclusion perhaps speaks to some aspect of the city itself, imbuing the local population with a reputation for warmth and hospitality, despite this year’s issues with the church. A festival as sprawling, art-friendly and unpredictable as Unsound requires the full (or general) involvement of the city itself, which perhaps makes the best case for Krakow as an electronic music haven.
Unsound tends to make international headlines, but there’s an underground scene in Krakow that buzzes all year long. The city is still extremely affordable, even by Berlin standards, boasting cheap, good food and transportation—all prime conditions for making and hearing new music.
1. HAVANA, CUBA
When President Obama announced his plan to open US relations with Cuba, he called the long-standing policy of isolation “an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests.” If your interests include DIY electronic music and tropical climates, it’s time to let Havana advance them.
Many of us have a stock image of Havana: vintage cars, weather-beaten pastel buildings, cigars and not a lot of Wi-Fi. (There might also be a Buena Vista Social Club album lurking in your subconscious via your parents’ record collection.) Behind the postcard, there’s an urgent musical movement bubbling in Cuba’s capital, fuelled by a local population that loves to party.
While the likes of salsa, jazz, hip-hop, and reggaeton rule the island, a cluster of DJs and producers are pushing a four-four pulse. Electronic music is not a new phenomenon in Cuba. The Rotilla Festival, which started small in 1998, soon grew into an annual institution at Jibacoa Beach that even had backing from Serbia’s EXIT Festival. After the Cuban authorities “kidnapped” the festival from its organizers, electronic music has had to find other avenues.
The music of Havana has fans in high places. Tastemaker at large Gilles Peterson created the Havana Cultura project with local musicians—including Kike Wolf, who makes a distinctly Cuban strain of house and techno. Another convert is dubstep pioneer Mala, who created the Mala in Cuba album after an eye-opening trip in 2012. Several of the island’s top producers will join Mala and more international artists at the first Manana Festival in 2016, which is going down at the other end of the island from Havana in Santiago de Cuba.
Havana is today what Berlin was in 1991. Act accordingly.
By Beatport News