Music Opinion

Rooms of their own: Boiler Room takes things House to House

Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.

– George Eliot, ‘The Mill on the Floss’

The stationary nature of our present circumstances has made most of us question what really matters to us, what we miss the most. Denied the opportunity to go out and experience the world, it necessitates an introspection into how we want to fill our time, and what will allow us to escape our present. For me, music represents one of the ultimate forms of escapism, and thankfully throughout lockdown, new music has not been in short supply. From the dynamic performances exhibited in the ‘One World: Together At Home’ concert (see Elton John’s bizarre crazed performance of ‘I’m Still Standing’ – I think he may be struggling…) to numerous artists performing regular live streams, the musical community has certainly not gone into a standstill. Some of the most interesting performances I’ve been tuning into come from Boiler Room, where multitudes of DJ’s and producers stream live from their current situations and allow a glimpse at very different styles of live performance.

There is a huge amount of disparity between the environments of these performers, from Peggy Gou stylishly streaming from a rooftop in Seoul with an incredible panoramic view, to Helena Hauff happily grooving away in her home clad in jogging bottoms, beer in hand. One thing is constant however, their dedication to their craft. Stripped of light-shows, advanced speaker systems and all the other performance accoutrements they are usually accompanied by, there is just the performer, and their music. What has fascinated me is glimpsing how they interact with music on a regular basis, experimenting with sounds that speak entirely for themselves.

Now I am no stranger to watching online sets, in fact, it is one of my favourite ways to access electronic music short of seeing it live – listening to the artful interweaving of one track after another seems just so much more satisfying than putting their music on shuffle on Spotify. One of my favourite places to go is a Youtube channel called Cercle where artists perform in the most spectacular of locations (honestly check it out for some breathtaking quarantine escapism, I would recommend Nicola Cruz, Satori and Henrik Schwarz’s performances).

What sets apart these quarantine sessions has been their simplicity, allowing for the music to take centre stage, whilst also allowing an insight into the way that these artists experiment at home. I particularly enjoyed Islandman and Friends set where performers interacted live with one another, creating authentic and playful sounds that were filled with each of their unique styles. If you’re a fan of more chilled out, tribal-based sounds, this is definitely a great go-to, and also really nice to study to (makes a change from Lo-Fi Beats). On the other end of the spectrum was Helena Hauff’s techno heavy mix, which I thoroughly enjoyed even if it did jar slightly with my essay on the Romantic poetess which I was writing whilst listening; highlights from her set included ‘Rural Woman’ by Vladimir Dubyshkin which managed to provide me with some much needed bass-heavy energy at 2 am as my enthusiasm for said essay began to wane.

Four Tet streamed from a remote woodland cabin, but gave a similarly stripped back performance; the decks set up in an otherwise very normal looking office amplified the reality that for these people, Djing is a job like any other. As well as playing several of his own songs and remixes, he played the new heavy, genre glitching track from Jamie xx ‘Idontknow’ and a personal favourite of mine ‘Passion – Extended Mix’ by Eskuche.

I often struggle with trying to change the minds of friends who seem ardently opposed to electronic music. I think many people have a very limited concept of what it is, and believe that DJ’s are not actually that talented (“All they do is press some buttons!”) but in my mind, these sets prove the creativity and excitement of performers who express their musical interests in ways that are constantly evolving and shifting. These sets are indicative of a passion for music that I find endlessly inspiring. These are not just individuals reproducing similar sounds with little imagination but rather the opposite, dynamically demonstrating the connective powers of shared listening. If you’re one of those people who claim to not ‘get’ dance music, please give some of these sets a go, it’s worth it, I promise.

Boiler Room has provided the platform for these artists to perform in aid of The Global FoodBanking Network, link to donate here: https://www.foodbanking.org/take-action/donate/ and they have already raised nearly $25,000.

Reya Muller

Reya (she/her) is a Theatre Editor at the Oxford Blue. Outside of her degree, Reya spends most of her time involved in student theatre and is an avid writer of both prose and poetry. She was an editor for the lockdown art collective Hypaethral and has published articles at the Blue ranging from gushing about Michaela Coel to describing how best to fry bread (never too much butter). In her spare time, she can be found either making or eating dumplings.