How Boiler Room’s Portal to Global Club Culture Has Become a ‘Wildly Famous’ Form of Documentary Journalism

Even for casual dance fans, the format is immediately recognizable. A tight shot of a DJ behind the decks, with a heaving, usually very enthusiastic, typically quite stylish crowd packed behind them, going for it.

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Launched in 2010, as it so often touts “with a webcam taped to a wall,” Boiler Room has become one of the most influential brands in dance music, using a globally understood visual language to telegraph dance music from around the world to a sprawling online fanbase of roughly seven million subscribers across YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok. Based in London, Boiler Rooms claims its content reaches 283 million viewers every month.

They’re tuning in to watch DJ sets from Uzbekistan, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Osaka and other locales far from the standard-issue club circuit. This year, the platform will release a documentary on a pair of simultaneous shows it did in Damascus, Syria and in Berlin, home to a large population of the Syrian diaspora.

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“These kind of breaking ground events, like in Soweto, or Syria, or Uzbekistan, really come from the belief that there is club culture everywhere,” Boiler Room’s creative director Amar Ediriwira tells Billboard over Zoom from London. “In some cases it might exist as a form of political resistance, like in Palestine or in Syria. In other cases, it’s just a lens on youth culture, but it’s really our remit to go there and switch on the camera.”

The brand has also become an IRL juggernaut. Its 2023 World Tour hosted nearly half a million attendees in dozens of cities, drawing an average of 5,500 people to not just well-trod club culture capitals like New York City, Paris and Amsterdam, but to Seoul, Mexico City, Mumbai and Bristol. 20,000 showed up for Boiler Room’s festival at London’s Burgess Park last September, marking the platforms biggest ever show. Launching this spring, Boiler Room’s 2024 World Tour will hit 24 cities including Delhi, Bogota, Edinburgh, Rio de Janeiro and Las Vegas.

“We’re able to sell out these shows largely based on trust,” says Ediriwira. “People trust our curation, and they trust the experience and the special-ness you get our shows, which I think means we can platform more emerging artists, be more conceptual and present interesting programs.”

Boiler Room’s signature livestreams, invite-only events where the crowd is made up of people closest to the artist, have maintained the sort of underground authenticity that’s heavily valued in certain sectors of the dance scene, even while drawing its share of stars, with M.I.A. performing for 50 people in the Boiler Room office in 2022 and a 2023 reunion show from U.K. pop outfit Sugababes. A livestream from U.K. greats Chase & Status was the platform’s most viewed stream of 2023. But despite this star power, Ediriwira says the company is “fully focused on grassroots sounds, documenting local stories, spotlighting emerging artists.”

Boiler Room New York City 2023

Boiler Room New York City 2023
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To find these scenes, Boiler Room employees a 50-person London-based staff and “a giant network” of researchers, artists, curators, producers, designers, technicians, stage managers and promotion partners who offer expertise and the support often especially needed more off the beaten path locales. A 2022 livestream in Karachi, Pakistan required the team to locate CDJs and speakers when organizers ran into, Ediriwira recalls, “a complete lack of equipment.” Livestreams have also happened from a fish-and-chips shop, from beaches and from the top of a mountain.

Boiler Room’s ambitious efforts have had a huge impact in showing grassroots club culture — via programming that’s vastly more diverse and equitable than most U.S. club and festival lineups — to the world. So too has it turned local artists into global names. Palestinian producer Sama’ Abdhuladi became a star after her 2018 Boiler Room set, as did Pakistani producer Lyla. Fred again..’s viral 2022 Boiler Room set put a rocket launcher on an already rising name, with his stream generating 30 million YouTube views to date.

Boiler Room was acquired by ticketing platform Dice in 2021, and Ediriwira says the integration with DICE’s platform “has been transformative to us as a business” in how it allows for seamless ticket sales and a better connection with fans. The Dice deal also centralized operations like finance and human resources, leading to “a much happier and more aligned team.” While Boiler Room makes almost nothing from its YouTube content, as it doesn’t own any rights to the music (Ediriwira says the channel generates “significant revenues” for rights holders,) its revenue comes from brand partnerships — including long-term deals with Pernod Ricard and Ballantine’s — along with ticketed events and its apparel brand.

The rise of TikTok has also fueled the expansion of Boiler Room and its star-making power, with its easily recognizable, audio-lead format uniquely suited to create viral moments. Such moments help turn hyper-local artists into globally known names, with subsequent bookings on Boiler Room World Tour show offering a pipeline of exposure for some of these acts.

The brand has become so ubiquitous in the dance vernacular over the last 14 years that when Skrillex, Fred again.. and Four Tet announced they’d be closing out Coachella 2023 with a show in the round, many declared they’d be doing it “Boiler Room-style.”

“Boiler Room invented this type of communication that didn’t exist before, and so anyone from Fred again.. and Skrillex and Four Tet to these smaller localized streams could replicate that format,” says Ediriwira. “I don’t think we really see it as competition.”

Here, he discusses the past, present and future of the project.

Boiler Room puts on so many livestreams. With the number of events you’re doing, how do you assure each experience feels special?

The biggest conversation we have is about being cautious and protecting Boiler Room. I think we’ve gotten to this point by being super consistent and investing in this format. One of the most important goals for us is growing slowly and staying grounded in our values. We could probably double the capacity of some of our festivals next year, but we want to nurture what we’re doing.

One of the ways [we do that] is by limiting the number of broadcasts and productions each year [to] 100, which still sounds like a lot. But in the past, we’ve been doing 150 and even more. Scaling back in this way sounds counterintuitive, but it allows us to focus on the curation and experience of all these shows.

What was lost when you were doing 150-plus shows?

When you don’t have necessarily a limit, it means there isn’t competition for ideas. If there’s a potentially a never-ending supply of productions and broadcasts, you can just keep adding things in. As soon as you put a limit of 100, it just forces this idea of quality. Like, we’re only going to do one broadcast in Seoul this year, so what’s the one idea the world should see.

You mentioned Boiler Room’s values — what’s the mandate there?

Our vision for programming has always been very consistent. Our thesis has always been around championing grassroots scenes and genres, emerging artists and hyperlocal [scenes.] That’s really in our DNA. It’s what the original streams in London were about — spotlighting and opening a vantage to a community, a scene and a sound coming out of London that happened to be incredibly fertile and had lot of artists involved that went on to have really big careers. Now, it’s that very localized emerging talent approach and the stories around those artists and the immediate community surrounding them.

Boiler Room claims that 283 million people watch its content every month. Break that number down for me.

The format has been wildly famous. We’ve been working year after year, event after event with this one format in a very consistent way, building up an audience of fans.

I’d go as far as saying it’s become more than a brand; it’s become a global phenomenon and a dominant method of visual communication of club culture. Almost a form of documentary journalism, except that it’s very fun and entertaining and voyeuristic. And also, unlike journalism, it doesn’t have to impose a narrative, you’re simply putting a camera and decks in the room, and you can do whatever you want in that space.

There’s something remarkable in the way that spotlighting hyper-local scenes has become one of the most recognizable and influential things in the dance space. Why do you think there’s such a fascination with locations that one might not immediately associate with club culture?

I think the world has moved in that direction. I think it’s interesting, when you think of pop stars or famous people, a lot of them have some link back to an underground sensibility or something very localized. That’s increasingly happening. That’s something we’ve always been focused on, but the world has shifted in that direction.

We do also have bigger artists play the platform, obviously Fred again.. was a massive moment. We’ve had people like PinkPantheress, Sugababes, M.I.A. Largely when we work with them, we still keep to this concept of staging it in an underground setting, making it super intimate, invite-only… But at the same time, I think we’ve become known as one of the biggest early-stage springboards an artist can have. A lot of artists become overnight sensations with us, and a lot of artists kind of attribute that career-breaking moment to their Boiler Room moment. We saw that start happening with more frequency four or five years ago.

Tell me more about that.

What’s interesting is noticing how these breaking moments on our platform are starting to happen all over the world, and not just in Western or global northern cultural capitals like London or New York. The obvious example is when we did our first broadcast in Palestine [in 2018], and Sama’ [Abdulhadi] became an internet sensation overnight practically. That show’s on like, 10 million views.

Similarly, when we did Pakistan, Lyla’s went viral and hit half million plays in a matter of months. I think there’s just this fascination of, “What does club culture in Pakistan look like?” Especially when the dominant media narrative about place like Pakistan is very different.

Obviously social media was much less of a factor when Boiler Room started in 2010. What affect have platforms like Instagram and TikTok had on Boiler Room?

In recent years, it’s completely exploded in short form. When we started out, short-form wasn’t even a consideration — but now with Instagram and Tiktok in particular, a key thing for us has been the rise of moments. You’re seeing a lot of artists break from their moments, not necessarily from their broadcasts. Tiktok has said to us that our format works really well because it’s recognizable in the feed, and it’s audio-led. Our content was popular there before we even started our own [TikTok] channel.

Then at the same time, it’s interesting, because people’s attention spans are shrinking — not to sound like an old person — but at the same time as short-form blowing up for us, we’re one of the few platforms I can think of in the music space, at least, that’s committed to long-form content. That’s our core format. That’s the archive.

Given Boiler Room’s cultural cachet, are a lot of brands vying to work with you? How judicious do you have to be about who you’re letting in?

It’s a good question. There’s a lot of brand interest in what we do. What’s interesting about that interest is people usually come to us because they know what we do, and because we’ve been investing in this one format in a very consistent way. So usually, they’re not coming to us looking to white label something or create some new concept, so much as to just invest in what we do.

It’s a really great position to be in, because I think it allows us to stay focused and consistent in what we want to do and stay true to the values we have. For us, it’s mainly about making sure we align with the brands that are interested in us, and if they’re about championing local sounds, championing emerging artists, all of those kinds of things, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t work with them, in theory.

Are there brands that come to you looking for a partnership where you’re just like, “Nah, not gonna work“?

No comment.

Is there anywhere in the world Boiler Room is particularly interested in going?

We just kicked off a series spotlighting music and cultures in the Pacific Islands with a show in Rarotonga, so we’re excited to make our return to this part of the world over the coming months and years. We’re also currently exploring launching a similar series in the Caribbean. 

Is there anywhere you won’t go?

I don’t know if there’s an outright ban on anywhere off the top of my head. It all just comes down to what the story is and championing a local story or scene we feel is authentic and part the club culture we care about.

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