The Year That Was: 2016
It was a struggle for just about everyone, but we'll no doubt look
back and consider 2016 a pivotal year for dance music
Damian Lazarus’ Day Zero Party Sets a Very, Very High Bar for Parties in 2016
In North America, the year kicked off with tech house shaman Damian Lazarus’ Day Zero party in Tulum, Mexico. The day-long underground circus deep in the Mayan jungle was held the day before The BPM Festival commenced in nearby Playa Del Carmen, and couldn’t have been a starker antithesis to the increasingly corporate vibes of the 9-day, multi-venue festival.
Joining Don Lazman were Crosstown regulars Acid Pauli, Serge Devant, and Felix Da Housecat, an ethereal, flame-wielding cast of performers, and a laser box that Dave Gilmore would have been satisfied with, Day Zero completely blew our minds and set an impossibly high standard for 2016 just eight days into the year.
BPM Has Its Biggest Year Yet
The BPM Festival maintained its importance as an essential node in the worldwide underground dance circuit in 2016 with a 9-day calendar of the world’s best house and techno.
While the festival is definitely starting to show signs of infiltration by the norms, it is still where the year’s table-of-contents is written. The likes of Richie Hawtin, Solomun, Tale Of Us, and Marco Carola set the standard for the year with beachside day parties, a whole host of club settings, and a series of festival-style blowouts in the jungle.
Marches in Sydney to Protest Casino Mike’s Lockout Laws_
Momentum for Sydney’s anti-lockout movement picked up in January and February, after both Matt Barrie’s critical essay and social media backlash to a defensive post from the premiere went viral.
Incensed by the restriction of personal freedoms and alarming spate of venue closures brought on by the draconian laws—which included 3AM last drinks, 10PM last takeaway alcohol sales and 1:30AM last entry—an estimated 15,000 protesters hit the streets in a peaceful march accompanied by music and speeches from Australian artists and industry figures.
Pulse Reports on Evolvefest: The Tiny Hippy Festival That Turned Into an Online Hate Group
Late in 2015, a Facebook page called Evolvefest was brought to our attention. Beginning its life as a tiny transformational festival in New Jersey, Evolvefest’s charismatic founder David Bryson had taken control of the festival’s Facebook page and grown it into a soapbox for his heinous “Alt-Right” views.
With over 300k followers and an increasingly homophobic, xenophobic and Trumpian rhetoric, the Facebook page was at stark odds with the scene it grew from, and had even spawned a countering page called Boycott Evolvefest, which was largely populated by dismayed former Evolvefest goers.
Pulse contacted a number of people that attended Evolvefest and some that knew Bryson personally to tell the story of how a tiny hippy festival espousing love and peace could transform into a formidable online hate group.
Singaporean Scene Up in Arms About Prime Minister’s Son Muscling in on DJ Set at Zouk
Norashman Najib, the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s son caused quite a ruckus when a video of Fadi Wassef Naguibone—one half of trance outfit Aly & Fila—addressing the crowd at Zouk Singapore towards the end of his set went viral in March.
The video clip showed Fadi telling the crowd that he had to cut his set short to make way for Norashman to take over. The clip ended with the Egyptian declaring that he will not be playing the club anymore because of the incident.
Short-lived but Influential New York Nightclub Verboten Closed Amid Accusations of Fraud
Williamsburg nightclub Verboten was forced to close at the end of March after being seized by New York tax authorities due to unpaid taxes totaling $360,000.
It was a sad end for the nightclub, which was just recovering after accusations of sexual harassment by staff members against owners John Perez and Jen Schiffer.
Along with nearby club Output, Verboten developed something of a clubbing renaissance in Brooklyn, but by the time of closure, the party scene had moved to warehouse and after-hours dotted around the borough.
Verboten was soon bought by Pacha’s Eddie Dean and re-opened as Schimanski, opening in October 2016.
(Photo: Oliver Correa for VerbotenNewYork.com)
Dance Music Officially Overruns Coachella
Although it has been threatening to do so for quite some time, 2016 may actually be the year that dance music took over Coachella. With three dedicated stages for dance—Yuma, Sahara, Do LaB—and an electronic assault on the main stages, Coachella has become a club kid’s dream in the dust in Indio, CA.
Even though dad-rock all-stars Guns ‘n’ Roses headlined, everyone from Calvin Harris to Disclosure to Major Lazer featured on the biggest stages in the world. But, truth be told, we didn’t see any of it because we were in the Yuma Tent all weekend gettin’ down to Maceo Plex and DJ Koze.
Five Drug-related Deaths Reported at Time Warp Argentina
In April, the dance music scene was rocked by more drug-related tragedy, this time coming from South America. Time Warp Argentina was cut short following the death of five patrons on the first day, and the Buenos Aires government promptly sought to issue a temporary lockdown on all live music events.
While the event was reported to have been considerably overcrowded and without adequate ventilation, the notorious PMMA-laced “Red Superman” pills—whose lethal levels of toxicity were well documented in Europe, but presumably unknown in Argentina—were thought to have been taken by those that died and the five more attendees that were hospitalized.
The official statement from Time Warp read: “We are dismayed and deeply saddened by the death of five young people at Time Warp Buenos Aires. Our thoughts are with the relatives of the deceased and the five visitors who are still under medical treatment. We pray for their quick recovery.”
The tragedy quickly became politicized in Argentina, with the memory of the 2004 fire at Buenos Aires rock club República Cromañón, which killed 194 people and injured a further 714, still fresh in the nation’s memory. Promoters and city regulating officials were called into question for a lack of oversight, while cases were made on either side of the harm reduction vs. prohibition drug debate in order to safeguard patrons whilst being careful not to demonize the culture of nightlife.
Ibiza Season Opens: Beach Parties Cancelled, Opening Hours Cut Short, Booze Sales Banned
The Ibiza season kicked off with a whimper instead of a bang this year, starting with Amnesia’s flip-flopped opening party hours, running from 4PM to 6AM with hardly a soul in the club till Ricardo Villalobos finally took to the decks an hour after his scheduled 10PM start time.
To be fair, the warnings came last year, when the government announced they would be strictly enforcing 6:30AM closing times for clubs across Ibiza this summer. And with 15 complaints against them in 2015, Amnesia’s normally extended opening party hours were cut short, forcing the club to do what they could to stay open long despite the restrictions.
Things only got worse, as beach parties were effectively cancelled by the local government, forcing parties like tINI and the gang and Guy Gerber’s Rumors to quickly find alternative solutions.
The sale of booze after midnight was also banned in San Antonio this year, further adding to the “party’s over” vibe that persisted all summer long.
(Photo: Lonely Planet)
Berghain Video Game Released — We Hit Peak Fetish
The dance music world has long obsessed over Berghain, but this year saw it hit peak fetish, with an entrance simulator, card game, festival mock-up, and its inclusion in a videogame — to say nothing of the latest round of entry guides by the likes of the BBC and The Sun.
Though it was perhaps the ferociousness with which the Just Berghain Things Facebook page creator was attacked for starting the “illegal Berghain pics” Instagram account that really underscored the fetishisation’s intensity. Much like it seems the creator wanted, the fiercely negative reaction captured the almost religious fanaticism its cult-like fan base can sometimes exude, and set the venue apart as an anomaly in clubbing for more than just its music and door policies.
(Photo: Electronic Beats)
The lowest point of 2016—in dance music or otherwise—was the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12th, 2016.
Omar Mateen, a 29-year old security guard, charged into the venue with an automatic rifle and killed 49 people, wounding 53 others in a terrorist attack driven by homophobia.
It was the largest mass shooting in American history.
Glastonbury Offers Safe Space Area For Female Attendees
This year Glastonbury added the ‘Sisterhood’ venue to its myriad of offerings, a female-only stage designed to provide a safe space for women to connect, network and celebrate, whilst showcasing a quality roster of female talent.
“The producers of The Sisterhood believe that women only spaces are necessary in a world that is still run by and designed to benefit mainly men,” the organizers commented, though some critics have questioned if The Sisterhood’s separatist policy is beneficial to the equality cause.
Either way, it was a pioneering move.
Rumors involving dirty money and Ibiza’s nightclubs had long circulated amongst the island locals. But it was a dramatic helicopter raid this July that outed Amnesia’s secrets to the world, as millions in cash were literally pulled out of the club’s walls. Four men, including owner Martin Ferrer, were arrested in the raid, and it was uncovered that Ferrer "avoided paying significant amounts of corporation tax and value added tax for several consecutive years," and that Amnesia "declared an income of 13.1 million and a profit of only 18,822 euros," marking a dark chapter for Ibiza clubbing that has yet to reach its conclusion.
(Photo: Diario de Ibiza)
The Secret Garden Party Becomes First UK Festival to Offer On-Site Drugs Testing
While London clubbing institution fabric awaited its fate from the Islington council for issues relating to drug use on the premises, 70 miles up the A1, The Secret Garden Party was conducting the first on-site drug testing at a UK festival.
Lead by drug charity The Loop, over 200 attendees had their substances tested throughout the weekend, which lead to the discovery of a batch of extremely high strength pills in circulation, as well as anti-malaria medication being sold as Ketamine and ammonium sulphate being sold as MDMA.
“Around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs then asked us to dispose of them when they discovered that they had been mis-sold or were duds,” Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, told The Guardian. “We were taking dangerous substances out of circulation.”
The Secret Garden Party, along with the Warehouse Project in Manchester, are stark examples of how UK promoters and public health officials are working with regional police to take matters.
(Photo: The Secret Garden Party)
On August 8th, London club Studio 388 caught fire, destroying the much of the building.
One employee of the club, 28-year-old Tomas Ceidukas of Lithuania, died trying to put out the fire.
He was described as the "bravest, happiest soul one could hope to meet" in a statement made by Studio 338, who at the time asked for donations to help get the deceased back to his family, along with burial and memorial costs, and for financial support for his family in the months following his loss.
The clubbing community rallied behind Tomas, raising thousands of pounds for his family. And through further fundraising efforts, more money was raised to help rebuild Studio 338, the restoration of which is now fully underway.
Dance Tunnel Closes
As owner Dan Beaumont said back in April: “sadly the licensing climate in Hackney has made it impossible for us to get the hours we need to make Dance Tunnel sustainable in the long term," and with that, the story of another beloved London nightclub was about to come to its untimely end, after four years as a top clubbing destination in the UK capital.
But not before a misty-eyed closing celebration full of tearful goodbyes, sentimental classics and hands-up euphoria—a fitting end for a club closed much too early.
Read our review here.
For many in the clubbing community, the news that longstanding underground club fabric was to have its license revoked with immediate effect was a cataclysmic blow.
Following two drug related deaths that year, the Islington council determined that the club’s security staff had been “inadequate and in breach of the licence”, citing a damning yet dubious undercover police report that suggested drug use in the venue was ubiquitous.
In the early hours of the morning on September 7th, the Islington council concluded that the club was to no longer remain operational. And just like that, after 17-years of operation, in which they served over six million patrons and were widely considered one of the best run nightclubs in the world, fabric was shut.
“We are in shock. I am feeling a mixture of disbelief and anger and sadness…” Jacob Huesby, promoter of fabric’s Sunday night and administrator of the #savefabric petition, told the Guardian. “It would be a devastating blow for London and culture, and clubs across the UK. It sets a precedent.”
The immediate outcry from fans, DJs and industry figures was unprecedented. Huesby’s petition gained over 160,000 signatures, London mayor Sadiq Khan weighed in to pledge his support, and started a scene-wide unity behind a cause that affects all clubbers, regardless of their direct connect to the club itself.
After a decade that has seen the UK lose an estimated 50 percent of its night clubs, the closure of fabric has been taken by many to be an ominous death knell for the once world-beating London club scene.
But there were some in the industry with a more optimistic take, viewing fabric as a martyr; its demise shaking awake the dance music scene, and engaging clubbers in an impassioned dialogue about the vital role that nightlife plays in a city’s cultural output.
Carl Cox Says Goodbye to 15 Years of Revolution at Space Ibiza
After 15 years at the helm of one of Ibiza’s biggest parties, Carl Cox said goodbye to Revolution at Space Ibiza with a massive final party that included an all-night Discoteca set from the big man himself.
Coxy has been especially critical of Ibiza’s rapidly changing values as he’s transitioned away from his residency, but has assured fans he won’t be leaving Ibiza completely, returning next year to play several other parties around the island.
The final closing fiesta of Space Ibiza was billed as “THE party of the decade at the world’s best club.”
And while both statements may be somewhat hyperbolic (it was one hell of a party), the transfer of one of the world's longest-running and most loved clubbing institutions from owner Pepe Roselló — a gay, politically active octogenarian who’s been a part of Ibiza clubbing since the ‘60s — to the all-powerful Matutes Group, is a clear sign of where the island is headed.
At the time of this writing, the world is still in the dark about the fate of the club Space once occupied, and for the most part, the future of the brand on the island. All signs point to a reopening (or perhaps even a takeover) elsewhere around Ibiza for Roselló’s club.
As for the now-vacant building across the street from Ushuaïa, the likeliest scenario is a carry-on club for the thousands of partiers who flood the streets of Playa D’en Bossa as the daytime poolside venue wraps up festivities each night.
Though only time will tell.
ADE Shows Solidarity in Clubland, and Gives the World a Lesson in Sustainable Clubbing
Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) took over the Dutch capital for five days in October, bringing with it over 2,200 artists and 375,000 attendees to 140 venues.
Being a post-mortem of sorts for the 2016 festival and Ibiza season, it felt like this ADE was particularly pivotal, with many of the important issues that had plagued the global dance music scene being discussed.
With fabric’s closure being extremely fresh in everyone's memory, and dance music’s drug problem being front-center of the conversation, the industry-lead panels had taken a more serious tone. Gentrification was a much-debated issue, and the mental health of DJs was also a large discussion topic.
Amsterdam has always been a city that has taken pride it’s progressive values, and therein lies its distinction from just about every other club scene in the world.
While London is struggling to keep its clubs open, and the Los Angeles scene is under threat because of drug related deaths at EDM festivals, the Dutch have a more pragmatic, data-driven approach to dance music’s drug issues. Merge reasonable laws on possession and a storied history of harm reduction initiatives, with ADE’s on-site drug testing, warning notifications via the the app, and city-wide safety posters, and you have one of the safest and well organized dance events in the world.
There’s no question that 2016 will be remembered as a milestone year for dance music, but it remains to be seen if the vital topics discussed and the examples set at ADE will trickle down to the rest of the scene.
London gets a Night Czar
London finally joined cities like Amsterdam and Berlin with theappointment of Amy Lamé as the city’s first night czar, a part-time job that will see the comedian, activist and broadcaster take on what London Mayor Sadiq Khan called "the toughest gig in City Hall," with keeping more venues from closing their doors and turning the UK capital into a 24-hour city at the top of her agenda.
How Lamé will accomplish her goals remains to be seen. But the appointment is a big step forward for night life in a city that’s taken several backward in recent years.
In what feels like a rare win this year, the crown jewel of London's club scene was given a second lease on life, when fabric announced it had come to an agreement with the local Islington council over new steps it would take in order to have its license reinstated.
While some of the new licensing conditions—which include a new ID Scanning system, enhanced security procedures, covert surveillance within the club, and lifetime bans for anyone found in possession of drugs—are harsh, losing the club was an outcome nobody wanted. And the ability of the global clubbing community to rally together in support of fabric should be applauded.
Fire at Warehouse Party in Oakland Kills at Least 33
In one final blow to the global club community for 2016, a fire at a warehouse party in Oakland killed at least 33 people on December 2nd.
The blaze broke out at around 11:30pm on Friday night at the "Ghost Ship" warehouse-turned-artist collective/squat space in the Fruitvale neighborhood, and quickly tore through the cluttered venue, which one clubber described as a "tinderbox". The venue is alleged to have been without the necessary permits for the event.
The party was a label showcase of sorts for LA-based imprint 100% Silk, and their founder Amanda Brown told the LA Weekly that DJs Cherushii (Chelsea Faith Dolan) and Nackt (Johnny Igaz) were still missing at the ti;me of writing. Golden Donna—the party's headliner—made it out safely, and told alt-publication Isthmus that he was alive, "but far from okay".
"It’s a complete tragedy, but I absolutely understand what led these people to that particular venue," Brown told LA Weekly, referencing the difficulty that faces artists like Golden Donna in finding legitimate venues to perform. "We’ve all tried to find interesting and open-minded galleries around the country for our community to play in...[It] has nothing to do with these artists being unsafe or these artists wanting to be dangerous or to be put in dangerous situations. This is about these artists needing to find a place to play."
The fire at Ghost Ship will likely loom large over the Bay Area club and arts community as a painful reminder of how their once-thriving counter culture scene has been pushed into increasingly unsafe spaces in order to survive. But in the scene's around the world, it should serve as a warning to prioritize safety of patrons.
With a lot of extremely pressing questions facing the electronic music industry in 2017, it's a great shamethat we are forced to also confront the vital-yet-complicated issue of fire safety. With so many of the events in our scene happening in clandestine and improper venues, it's a problem without an obvious, tangible solution, and for as long as large swathes of the scene are kept in the shadows, there will always be the risk of another such disaster.