Editorials Features

Techno Is King: The State Of The Underground In NYC

January 8th, 2016


NYC Underground

About five years ago, there was an outbreak of dancing in the music world. EDM flooded pop airwaves of top 40 radio stations and dubstep was the coolest genre since metal. Frat brothers and sorority sisters, who saw club nights as a chance to party, herded themselves into concert halls by the thousands and blasted dance music at house parties. With the vast commercialization of electronic music, naturally, people wanted to get a piece of the pie. DJs sprouted like spring flowers, but as years passed and the field grew ever larger, many of these once promising flowers wilted with a changing of the seasons. It became harder and harder to create unique music.


According to many, electronic music had officially sold out. But, as wise as ever, the great Carl Cox famously said, “EDM is an entry level to dance music, and I’m very happy about that…EDM’s a sound that America has latched on to, but once people start going left and right of that, they’re going to find their Art Department’s, their Loco Dice’s and their Sven Vath’s – and that’s a really good place to be.” And sure enough, here we are: the underground has been exposed.


But nowhere in America has this been more of a defining statement of a city’s culture than New York City.
Over the last few years, New York City’s formerly underground techno events have begun to surface at nightclubs with permanent locations. Clubs like Output and Verboten in Brooklyn are leading the vanguard right now, with other Brooklyn venues including The Good Room and TBA flexing their muscles, too. Manhattan has been pushing the techno agenda as well, with Space Ibiza NY and an entire decade of Pacha nights before its eventual closing (which consistently booked acts like Adam Beyer, Victor Calderone, and Nicole Moudaber sprinkled in among their increasingly common EDM nights). Semi-regular parties, including Cityfox, All Day I Dream, Blkmarket Membership, and Verboten’s StageOne series have steamrolled the city and opened the doors to an entire subculture of music that the majority of young clubbers have never experienced before.
The gentrification of Brooklyn is largely to thank for this cultural emergence. The borough has become a bubbling center of the arts, with its very own, semi-sarcastic name for its residents: the “hipster”. I say semi-sarcastic only because there is some truth in it; the residents of Brooklyn are hip. It would be ignorant to deny the fact that it’s the trendy thing to dress in the Brooklyn way, or eat at a Brooklyn-inspired tapas restaurant, or – in our case – party at a Brooklyn nightclub. This isn’t even a secular phenomenon – people all over the world are traveling to New York to experience it for themselves. (There is no hard data to prove this, but as someone who frequents these clubs, trust me when I say that large numbers of foreigners party in Brooklyn clubs. I fully welcome the diversity, as well as their friendliness.)
Even with the increasing number of high-production events taking place now, the underground warehouse parties that New York has survived on for decades continue to rock it in Brooklyn. Yes, NYC had Hardwell at Madison Square Garden – but for every pop EDM mega-show, there have been five times as many warehouse nights in Williamsburg. New York City is unique in that it’s one of only a handful of cities capable of balancing both of these followings.
Nothing proved this as fact more than the announcement of Time Warp USA in 2014. Housed in a warehouse and transformed into a cave, this premier techno festival offered a window to the beating heart of New York techno. Acts from all over the world (who basically invented the genre) came here to play because the city was ready. Small club nights and underground parties are one thing, but in order to host Time Warp, a city needs to be a living, thriving, global hub for techno. The acts that are being booked aren’t amateurs; mess it up, and their impression of the city is changed forever. New York passed the test. Time Warp USA round 2 closed out November with great success.
The emergence of techno is not exclusive to NYC. It’s no secret that Detroit is the originating point of techno (and styles of house), launching Hawtin and Troxler from its bosom, as well as Matthew Dear, MK, Jeff Mills, and dozens more. It’s the home of the Movement Festival, one of the world’s iconic house and techno gatherings. But all over the country, the fellowship is growing. Major festivals, including Electric Zoo, TomorrowWorld, HARD Summer, Electric Forest are booking artists who would never have played outside of a basement party until recently. Boston, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and even Houston have all become cities where techno can draw a crowd. Festival culture has exposed the US to music that was once exclusively underground. For better for worse, the underground is now accessible.
The real questions pop up when we think about the sustainability of underground music in the spotlight. The nature of techno is inherently private and exclusive; you don’t find out about a party unless you know the right people, and you don’t get to know the right people unless you fit those peoples’ criteria. These secret parties will probably continue long after the next musical fad is invented. But as EDM inevitably fades away, people will still look to dance. It’s only a matter of time until those who’ve recently discovered electronic music by way of the most mainstream sounds will begin to dig deeper and explore their own, maturing musical tastes without the massive EDM genre.
I doubt that the path this city’s music scene takes matters much. History has proven that, like many things, the hype cycle gives birth to innovation. The advancement of technology has allowed bedroom DJs to create music at their leisure, but the true masters of this craft came out of the basements of nightclubs decades ago. This is a scene that feeds off of respect for the originators, where every artist is an historian. EDM opened a door for the world to see into this subculture, but when EDM fades away and a new sound dominates the radio waves, that door will close. And, as with all things, techno will cycle back to where it belongs, where it originated: the underground.
Except now, the word is out – so who knows how this will all play out.



To find out what is going on in New York City, check out our ever-updating calendar.


Matt Reynolds is a music enthusiast on a mission to share his musical knowledge with the masses. Born and raised on the hard streets of suburban North Jersey, Matt was diagnosed with an irreversible addiction to electronic music in 2009. Since then, he’s pledged to discover and share his experiences with clubs, festivals, and the world of electronic music. Situated minutes from NYC, Matt has traveled from Massachusetts to Miami and everywhere between chasing music and making memories. When he isn’t writing for MASS EDMC, he’s either reading, writing fiction, or (most likely) booty-shaking on the dance floor.

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