How big? Well, Mixes DB, the online DJ-set track-list storehouse, lists a whopping 1,778 Boiler Room sets at the time of this writing. That’s not all of them, either — for instance, there’s a separate listing for a Boiler Room sub-series called Upfront. Mixes DB lists 12 of those, but there are actually 90. And there are plenty missing from that initial listing, including a number that never made it to archive. Like I said, big.
The idea started simply: Founder Blaise Bellville set up a webcam in the central heating space of an East London warehouse in 2010 and started spinning music with his friends. “It was like a teenage hangout in a bedroom,” he told The Guardian. He happened to be in the right place at the right time: London’s clubs were in an especially fecund period, with lots of young DJs beginning to explore not just a plethora of newer bass-driven styles, but all manner of house and techno, old and new, as well — and they were soon playing live-streamed sets for Bellville too, most of them archived for later listening.
From there it ballooned. Because you can put a webcam anywhere, Boiler Room began traveling, setting up shop in every major dance-music outpost, from Berlin to New York to Sydney. And because corporate sponsorship has never been verboten in dance culture (which has long thrived on it, in fact), Boiler Room has an easy time finding partners who wanted their logo disseminated to a worldwide audience of dance-music fans — by 2013, there were over a million on YouTube alone.
“It’s become an absolute essential for any artist to promote — any artist in the credible music world, whether they’re aspiring pop musicians, or whether they want to stay underground,” Bellville told Billboard that year. “Everyone has to play at Boiler Room because it offers more license than any other live or archive platform there is.”
That archive has only grown larger since, and naturally, it’s a real grab bag. For instance, the Frankie Knuckles set I witnessed in person in April 2013 remains a peak dance floor experience, but only after waiting through uninspired turns from the openers. Often, the Boiler Room sets that stick aren’t definitive so much as quirky. That’s definitely the case with the one that’s most recently held my attention.
East Londoner Gideön (né Gideon Berger) is half of Block9, which designs sets for stage, film, and TV — not to mention clubs, such as their own NYC Downlow, also based in London. Based on the 55-minute mix he played for Boiler Room London (April 11), he’s earned that name: Many of his selections have the feel of vintage Strictly Rhythm, the ultimate ’90s New York house label, full of cut-up vocal snippets over grooves that split the difference between grit and polish. Not every vocal is soul glossolalia, though. Gideön leads off with a steely-voiced recitative (is that Rakim? Sounds like it) of black heroes and institutions that might seem somber if the boom-kick chug beneath it didn’t have so much life.
But the piece de resistance comes halfway through, with Miss Thang’s “Thunder and Lightning,” a cold-ass dis record released on Tommy Boy in 1986, and a clear predecessor for later house-music “bitch tracks” such as Sweet Pussy Pauline’s endlessly remixed “Work This Pussy.” Clearly inspired by the Roxanne Wars, a squeaky-voiced ingénue talks unmitigated shit about her good-for-nothing man over a rudimentary-but-right drum machine with Latin accents. “You’re walking around like you’re so fly in that $37 rabbit coat,” sasses our heroine. “Honey, that coat had to be destroyed last week after it bit the neighbor’s child.” Sometimes, wading through thousands of DJ sets really does pay off.
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set — often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily — and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.