BEIRUT: Electronic Music (EM) was brought to Lebanon in 1992 when two British bank employees decided to throw private non-themed commercial house parties at their Villa in Mansourieh.
Today, the EM scene has come out of the Villa and into the capital, home for more than ten regular techno clubs.
Last weekend, the three-room Ballroom Blitz, one of the most sound-advanced music venues in Beirut, collaborated with the iconic London platform, Boiler Room, where they featured 23 local performers that were broadcasted live and gave Annahar the opportunity to really get inside the infamous Beirut EM scene.
Joe Mourani, the owner of the Ballroom Blitz told Annahar that “the decision of collaborating with Boiler Room, was mainly to give the chance for our local DJs and artists to be broadcasted to the world. Hopefully, one of the local performers will reach international recognition, it’s all about the love and the music.”
Alain Zovighian, global touring team of the Boiler Room, explained that “their mission is to push the local scene, so instead of importing talent into Beirut for two nights," they used this event as a platform to export local talent to the world. He added: "that’s our main mission, we believe Beirut has a tremendous amount of talent that deserves to be broadcasted.”
JACK THE FISH
Moe Choucair, also known by his stage name “Jack the Fish,” is a Lebanese electronic music DJ, and the co-founder of the Ballroom Blitz. He's also the music director and a resident DJ. He played a DJ set during his Boiler Room performance.
"I like Beirut, I love the people. Every time I play in the Goldroom, I feel like I’m playing for friends, not strangers," he told Annahar.
The Goldroom at the Ballroom Blitz is the first hi-fi studio-like club room in Lebanon that transmits top quality audio, but that’s not the only thing that’s unique about the Ballroom Blitz, noted Choucair. “The main Ballroom is really a crowd pleaser, the lobby is like a house party, and the Goldroom is very experimental, and the crowd is full of beautiful people that are open to new music," he said.
Mostly known for his afro-groove, house, tech-house, funk, and a mixture of records that have a nostalgic New York, Harlem jazz, funk vibe to it, was DJ Tadafonk, who played a live vinyl set for the Ballroom Blitz x Boiler room collaboration.
Ribal Rayess, aka Tadafonk, is no stranger to the underground scene as he spent most of his life in New York, and began playing for bands until he started collecting records. He subsequently created his own imprint with his label, Diggers’ Delight, collaborating with some of the best music producers and local artists in Lebanon including Jack the Fish, Jad Taleb, Pomme Rouge and others, on ten tracks that capture the essence of what the Lebanese music scene sounds like.
Although he has played different venues, he was “very excited to play at the Ballroom Blitz,” as he told Annahar, adding: “I think the vibe of everyone going together is my favorite thing about this place, there's a sense of brotherhood, and the design on the place is pleasant and smart. It looks like your apartment when you walk in, and then you notice there's an actual club inside.”
Playing under the stage name, “Telmiz,” Mario Gharios has been making music alongside his younger brother, and independently, for almost 10 years. He's both a DJ and producer that hosts parties and plays records from different genres, languages, and origins, most of which are from the 80s and 90s.
Aside from playing and producing, Gharios also founded “Pocket of Light,” an alternative space for music lovers, with sound quality and a record selection spanning decades of dance music, played on vinyl exclusively.
Gharios usually plays on machines from the 80s and played a live set from the Goldroom using dated synthesizers. Coming out of a sound check, he told Annahar that “It sounds unbelievable. We are playing the Goldroom, and just being in that setup, in the middle of the room, people around you, up close and personal, I can’t wait for that!”
One of the most unique and impressive things the Goldroom has witnessed last weekend was a modular, live, plant-based set played by Jad Atoui.
Currently living in Lebanon but based in New York, Atoui told Annahar that his favorite place to play is at the Ballroom Blitz. “The rooms have really good sounds. It's something really honest, the best sound I’ve played in Lebanon,” he said.
Atoui explained that he makes sound art and improvised music. He combines electronica, techno, and ambient. Being a sound researcher, he presented a combination of modular system performance that was based on plant electricity. “So basically, I use the electricity from plants, to control different perimeters in my machine, so I combine three or two different approaches in one performance,” he added.
Seeking music as an escape to a Zen world, Atoui explained that to him, music is where he can be by himself, but he was more than excited to play at the Ballroom Blitz. “The crowd in Beirut, whenever you play or produce new ideas, you feel that they discover stuff, and you have this very advanced scene in Lebanon compared to other Middle Eastern countries.”
Starting his career in 2006, Ronald Hajjar, or DJ Ronin, had just come back from playing a consecutive five hour set at an event in Berlin, yet he seemed more than alive and energetic for the night. “My muse is the people, their energies, that what keeps me going during a set,” he told Annahar.
Playing a wide range from house and techno music, Hajjar always has the crowd on their feet and waiting for his sets. He expressed a deep connection to the Lebanese EM crowd, and described them as “different in a nice way, in a sense that they know what they want to listen to, but they like to be surprised, and sometimes they don’t know if they like a certain style, or vibe, or groove, but once you play it to them, they’re receptive.”
Etyen is a familiar and known face in the Lebanese music scene. Samer Etienne has almost played in every club in Beirut, and many venues in Europe. He is also a producer.
Ranging from downtempo, ambient, indie to electronica, and techno, Etienne plays various genres and is inspired by many music directions. Growing up in Beirut, he found his muse in the chaos of the city.
For the Ballroom Blitz x Boiler Room, Etienne performed a live set in the main ballroom.
“I’m psyched about playing for Boiler Room, which is very intimate. The setup brings everyone around you, and close to you. So I’m most excited about playing in the crowd for once,” he told Annahar.
Presenting a DJ set of Neo-Arabic, obscure, electronic music selections was Paris-based Lebanese producer Hadi Zeidan.
“In the Ballroom Blitz, I’ve seen that there's a movement of fostering education on electronic music. This is really the first time I see it in this amount, ten years ago it was like 50 people," he told Annahar.
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