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How Boiler Room changed underground club culture

Written by Sam Walker.
Posted September 18, 2023.

The platform that brought underground club culture into the 21st century is coming to Manchester therefore its only right that we take a look at Boiler Room’s phenomenal rise.

DJ EZ and Boiler Room are coming to Manchester in a what will be an unforgettable night with Warehouse Project. We take a look at where it all started, the history of the brand and what it represents in the clubbing scene.

Founded by Blaise Bellville, Boiler Room in his words is ‘an independent music platform and cultural curator’. The success of this brand has gone strength-to-strength from taping a webcam to the wall in a boiler room, to streaming sets from the biggest artists in over 200 cities across the world.

The premise for Boiler Room is a simple one; pay a DJ to play a set, release a very limited number of tickets to create an atmosphere and stream it for the world to see. Simple, but effective. It was the first platform of its kind to do this and limiting the number of tickets to sometimes fewer than 100 creates the demand and even desperation to be one of the few selected. The rest, well they watch online anyway to see what they could have been selected for.

It was this small, intimate style event which brought the audience closer to the DJs than ever as they mixed through their genre, creating energetic mixes which showcased music subcultures on a broad, accessible platform they’d not previously had. It also created viral moments – none more so that DJ EZ’s iconic drop of ‘Baby’.

Beginning in 2010, the brand focused on growth, releasing a select number of tickets and it soon gained a cult following, eliminating the need for an aux cable passed between friends whilst sipping on a few beers before a big night of raving. You could now just put on a set from your favourite DJs from your own home, dim the lights and act as if you are in the front row of a rave.

In 2013 is when things really took off, making its way to Australia, and then to festivals a year later with a set by Caribou at Dimensions Festival in a Roman-style amphitheatre. It’s safe to say the brand was making waves across the world, people desperate to watch, people desperate to attend – especially to feature FROW beside the DJ.

A necessary switch-up in 2015 worked to its favour, the chatrooms had become an unpleasantly racist, misogynistic and transphobic breading ground. A move to Facebook Live as the new social media feature was being released played massively in Boiler Room’s favour, eliminating the toxicity of its chatroom whilst being able to gain a wider audience and pulling in an immensely higher number of viewers.

By 2019 audiences grew and grew, allowing them to popularise a Boiler Room festival in Peckham to a sell-out crowd focusing on jazz, rap, bass and club music. Covid took a turn for the brand as it did for the rest of the world, from packed shows to a new Streaming From Isolation series which showed artists like Disclosure and Four Tet streaming from their home to Peggy Gou streaming from an isolate Seoul Tower, the highest point in the city. In a period of time unlike any before, Boiler Room adapted and made DJ sets in lockdown cool and relevant.

Over the years, copycat platforms like MixMag’s The Lab have popped up, but just couldn’t crack the livestreaming code that Boiler Room has created. Too polished, in a clean office space, and too heavily branded with the likes of Coor’s Light. It’s not quite the underground feel you get from Boiler Room. Who needs it when you can listen and watch sets by everyone from veterans like Carl Cox and A-Trak to relative newcomers like Fred Again.. and PinkPanthress all on Boiler Room channels.

As Bellville said in a 2015 Evening Standard interview, ‘I want to reinvent music TV’, and it’s safe to say he has done just that. Many brands come from humble beginnings, but none quite like Boiler Room. From the first day Bellville taped that webcam to the wall of a boiler room, to running one of the most famous brands in music with festivals across the world in just 13 years in mightily impressive. Roll on the next chapter of Boiler Room and roll on October for DJ EZ – see you on the dancefloor.