Is it time we took the focus off the DJ? Thomas Cox argues that live streaming platforms like Boiler Room have the power to reaffirm the link between dance music and dancing.


I’m very much into connecting the dots between the past and the present of dance music. Continuity helps us solidify what can often feel like random hyped sub-genres fighting for legitimacy into something more substantial: dance music’s actual culture.

Online broadcasting platforms like Boiler Room, Dommune and the Mixmag Lab have thrust the concept of televised club environments back into the limelight over recent years but the history of the format is actually quite long, and it follows the path from soul and funk through disco and into house and techno. Soul Train, while not the first to explore the idea, is probably the most obvious beginning. Clips from Detroit’s local television show The Scene and its spin-off The New Dance Show are well known to the YouTube generation and newer artists have made reference to them in their own original videos. On a more mainstream level, MTV’s The Grind was influential in spreading the 90s New York house sound around the US.

Boiler Room would seem to be a perfect step forward, utilising the internet’s connectivity to show off DJs from all over the world performing in a variety of locations. Since cementing its position as the self-proclaimed “world’s leading underground music show”, Boiler Room has, on the whole, been a force for good. Thanks largely to an interesting and wide-ranging booking policy, the platform has shone the spotlight on DJs and artists who truly represent a range of styles of dance music on a global scale. The local, regional or national limitations of the previous shows who worked through television are now gone, yet something seems to have been lost in the translation between mediums. Check out these examples, and see what’s missing in the Boiler Room:





It’s pretty clear what the difference is: all the other shows concentrate on the dancers, while Boiler Room concentrates on the DJ. Some Boiler Rooms may have more dancing going on, while others have less or even almost none, but the focus is always on the DJ. The regular setup of the Boiler Room broadcasts – with the DJ turned away from the crowd, facing the camera – is closely tied to another major issue in dance music today: DJ worship, a widespread problem, from the underground all the way to the most mainstream of EDM shows.

The local, regional or national limitations of the previous shows are now gone.

Instead of getting lost in the music and seeking the release that comes from expending energy in sync with a crowd, it seems as though many are more interested in straight up watching the DJ. At best it’s counterintuitive. Unless the DJ is as skilled as Jeff Mills, the physical act of DJing usually just isn’t that interesting to watch. And if it isn’t pointless enough to stand around in a nightclub watching a DJ, it’s the height of ludicrousness to stream video of it while you’re at home or sitting at work. Boiler Room regularly gets criticised for showing crowds of scenesters standing around barely nodding their heads; the problem isn’t only that the guests at these exclusive shows aren’t enjoying themselves but also that it’s just not visually interesting. Why should anyone watch this?!

While Boiler Room already clearly provides something that people enjoy, it could easily step up its game in a few ways. Inviting actual dancers to each broadcast is the most obvious start. House dancing, footwork, jit and many other styles take skill and years of practice to master; they’re also very entertaining to watch. The next obvious step would be to have at least one camera on the dancers for most of the time, the way it’s traditionally been done on these shows. Broadcasting these dance styles around the world and archiving them online would be invaluable to keeping those traditions alive and well. Renewing the focus on the dancers would also likely help stem the tide of DJ worship, and hopefully get nightclubs the world over back into the business they are meant for.

These suggestions tap into an undercurrent of interest in dancing , beyond the obvious dance-driven sub-genres such as footwork and jit. In recent weeks, Resident Advisor profiled New Jersey’s Joey Anderson, whose production is rooted in his own passion for dancing, and Theo Parrish announced his forthcoming album with a video featuring Gehrik Mohr, who will be part of a four-strong group of dancers supporting Parrish on his live tour this summer.

Right now, Boiler Room feels like a lost opportunity that could be used to enrich dance music culture. It seems doubtful if the performers would complain much if the cameras were aimed at the dancers; cultural shifts away from dancing already affect DJs at many gigs. Even more interesting would be the eventual rise of top dancers who would gain notoriety from participating in this, as has been the case historically; Soul Train dancers went on to be actors, musicians, talent agents, songwriters and dance teachers.

Right now, Boiler Room feels like a lost opportunity that could be used to enrich dance music culture.

In fact, the positives outweigh the negatives so far that it’s hard to even come up with any negative aspects of altering the focus to the dancers. By supporting dance culture and lessening the effect of DJ worship, Boiler Room could really become one of the biggest worldwide catalysts for positivity in the dance music community, something that will be looked back on in 40 years by the next generation’s children who could not possibly have seen what it was like firsthand.

History already shows us how these dance shows can be useful; influential shows like Boiler Room following that lead will help ensure a better tomorrow for all of us.


Thomas Cox has been causing trouble on teh interwebs since 1996 and representing Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since birth. You can find him on Twitter.

Author Thomas Cox
11th May, 2014


  • I can’t say that I’ve ever managed to watch a Boilerroom or Mixmag Lab video from start to finish. I normally watch the first few minutes and listen to the rest while doing something else. Sometimes I rip them so I can listen in the car.

    I really don’t think there is much of a point watching the crowd when these are not real party situations but as they currently are, they serve a number of different purposes.

    1: Promotion for the vendor
    2: Promotion for the DJ (introduced me to great artists I would probably never see)
    3: Genuinely interesting music for enthusiasts (mostly)
    4: A slight insight into how a DJ works (example: Cassy’s Hardwax mix)
    5: They give little bitches an excuse to be pricks in the YouTube comments

    For me they are essentially podcasts with an added visual element.
    As the article stated, watching an interesting DJ can be entertaining, especially when there is a receptive crowd but if the audience is just a bunch of invited guests, as the Boilerrooms appear to be, maybe they are better off keeping the camera on the artists.

    I think Boilerroom (and others) should try and broadcast from real clubs with multiple cameras. Editing a few cameras over a continuous audio source is easy and if they do it right, they might even capture some of the vibe.

    Regardless, I am just watching/listening for the music.

  • I kind a like the original idea : a camera on the dj-hands while he (and his friends) puts some tunes on the decks while chatting and drinking, it’s a kind of slow tv and i love to watch it strangely, I did a few of these ‘sets’ in ISDN days for galleries and it kind worked, but not as a party
    I think they are now between places, it’s not a real party (some are) at least that’s how it looks most of the time and it’s not 10 people in a livingroom having a drink while a dj is doing his thing.
    I don’t want the focus on the dancers or the club surroundings remember mtv at the palladium ? 🙂
    Best would be back to the basics: a living room with a discoball on the ceiling, some friends having a drink and a dj doing his thing…. and a set you can download afterwards on soundcloud.

  • I thought they showed some good crowd interaction in Richie Hawtin’s Enter broadcast. He was having fun, playing some less serious stuff than normal and laughing with the crowd. I think more camera angle would be a huge improvement though.

  • MTV Dance Floor Chart in the UK was ace. As was Rapture TV. Focus square on the clubbers and the music. The only time you’d see the DJ was when they were being interviewed by, in MTV Dance Floor Chart’s case, June Sarpong, and in Rapture TV’s case, two northerners on drugs dressed as nuns.

  • I just came here to mention MTV’s The Grind. That is all.

  • After reading this i realize that all Boiler room shows i’ve watched were live performances with synths, grooveboxes and lots of beautifull gear, and it were so much fun and interesting to see what they touched and when, what happened to the sound, and even the face of artists while playing.

    But even with a DJ, watching them on the same floor as the public, laughing and mingling with friends, although less interesting or visually appealing it still is an alternative way to approach the communication of a DJ work. I feel that Boiler room is clearly taking the DJ from the far away unreachable boot and putting him on the same level with everyone showing what they do, and in this way they are contributing to the humanization of the DJ by showing them as the common people they are.

    And after thinking this a little bit further i’ll say that they should put more cameras but on the detail of the performer, i think you can get to see people dancing almost every weekend at the club, at a house party, even on the streets, but you don’t have access almost never to the boot or stage of your favorite artist/DJ to see what they are doing and what make them so special for you.

    Nevertheless i loved the article, is allways appealing to read someone trying to make some constructive criticism, wanting things to get better and speaking about it.

  • I totally agree! Focus should be on the dancers in response to dance music – not the dj or occassionally so….. in tandem with a more accepting and less critical attitude about dancing we can get people moving again, not just being marhcing robots staring at some person twisting knobs :-p

  • Bring back Dance Energy I say

  • That Sharevari clip is the best video I”ve ever seen.

  • It is no wonder that new clubbers focus on DJ’s as they have now been promoted and marketed as personalities like pop stars. Think of a DJ you like, do they have a twitter account, facebook page, a professional stock photo? The emphasis on the clubbing experience has turned from the crowd providing the atmosphere to passively looking at the DJ to create ‘moments’. How many clubs are there left that are just residents and don’t rely on touring DJ’s to pull the crowds in?

  • That s what s doing!

  • YES, YES, YES, AND FUCKING YES, this post is right on the money. *shares*

  • The truth.

  • I don’t think that I would want to see dancers in a club. I agree with the article in a way. I personally like the idea of the dj being behind something. Cos they aren’t particularly interesting to watch. Dancers in my opinion wouldn’t be better. Surely dancing to hypnotic music is at once a solitary moment yet a communal one. This is the part we should be encouraging not shifting people’s attention from one thing to another. Seems a bit pointless to me to do that.

    Good article mind. I’m sure many look at boiler too and are glad they aren’t there. Which is a bit strange really. I’m sure that’s the opposite of what they want to portray but it looks dull as.

  • First and foremost, it’s up to the people attending to dance and make the focus on dance. Boiler Room has had it’s focus on the music since it’s inception. It’s also not very easy to get a room full of people moving when they know they’re being broadcast on the internet. It’s never blatantly apparent you’re on camera, it’s just nagging in the back of your mind.

    Dance music would have to get itself to a space where the focus isn’t on trainspotting with your phone. Taking pictures with your phone. Telling your friends that you’re there with [insert DJ/producer name] via your phone. Commenting on the current vibe via your phone. See where I’m going?

    When the focus finally lands on dance, we can worry about missed opportunities. But until then, it’s up to us to put the fucking phone down and live in the moment.

  • This reminds me of the people saying olympians should boycot the Sochi winter games for a cause much bigger than the olympians: you are imposing your personal view on someone else’s successful effort from the sideline.
    How are you enriching dance music culture (and saving clubs from closing) by showing dancers? One could argue that Boiler Room actually IS capturing the current dance music culture, a culture that includes DJ worship.
    Culture had changed since The Grind. Accept it or lead by example.

  • thomas cox if you want to seen an example of what dancefloors are supposed to be like and how boiler room could improve you should take a look at these videos highlighting the london underground house scene…

    the real london house scene

  • As a DJ it’s great to watch Boiler Room and Be-At-TV both have long uninterrupted views of the DJ doing his craft. This is essentially documenting how they all play and perform. I could care less about goofy dancers shaking their butts. I want to see and learn from the best in the underground.

  • I dont think i want to watch a bunch of dancers as much as i want to watch a laptop DJ. Boiler room exists for DJs to promote themselves and to play a set indicative of what they play out in a club. Like others here, I normally minimise the browser.

    When i go out to a club, everyone is dancing. People arent going to stop dancing because they saw people milling around on boiler room. Jeeze…

  • Aviation Parkway- dj’ing ain’t exactly rocket science.

    Beat-matching is really the only skill you need to knock down and unless you’re at the level of Jackmaster most dj’s are popular for their selection of tracks. If you really want to learn from the best, dig deep through those crates and put in the same work they do. Make it your own. Don’t trainspot.

    Aside from what “we want to watch” most dj’s call it a successful night when people are….

  • Tbh, I think this article makes a rather good point. I never ever watch boiler room (unless there’s one or two people dancing like crazy) as – like the article points out – it’s dull to watch. I just listen.

    I love the BR concept and I’ve LISTENED to many shows, so this isn’t an opinion against them guys, more against modern dance culture.

    I think that’s what it purely comes down to. Times have changed and so have the crowds…

    From so so many different examples, it appears to me that previous generations of clubbers had no hang-ups about how they looked for facebook photos, they also had no facebook to check-in to, your focus was entirely on the music and therefore you let your hair down – hence why they dance like crazy in ‘the grind’ video.

    Some clubbers today are just too image conscious to let go, it’s as simple as that. I’ve been looked at like a weirdo for dancing like crazy, is that right in a club? Definitely not. BR crowds are just a small replication of club culture right now.

    Of course, there are still many crazy parties and crazy people, I just think modern culture narrows crazy parties and crazy people down a bit.

    That’s just my opinion, of course. Interesting debate anyway.

  • Also like to add that, I think BR will be looked at in 10/20/30 years time because it’s heavily influential. But it’s just a shame those people looking back will think we were a generation that didn’t dance.

  • Good point BR needs real dancers not hipsters flailing around

  • I have actually watched each one of the shows used as a example while they were on tv being aired. In fact I have met or knew dancers on all the shows aired at some point.. I’m born in detroit, raised in los angeles and lived in new york. We also watched those shows from start to finish too..I have to say also the songs played were universally popular songs in the clubs as well.. Another point I want to make is that Dj Residencies also make for better Dj’s as well.

  • thomas cox why r u hating on my comment

  • They will NEVER change Boiler Room simply because it is actually VERY INTERESTING for REAL DJs to watch. All of you newcomers need to calm down, look around, and learn how to enjoy proper electronic music (which EDM is VERY FAR AWAY FROM). And if you still want “real dancers” or some other circus act, go watch David Guetta playbacking or Steve Aoki crowd diving.

  • Help. Don’t focus on dancers. People don’t ‘dance’ no more. They just stand there in a jam packed club or stadium, wobbling from left to right foot. Or sit down because the DJ asks them to jump for next ‘drop’. Everyone is focussing on the dj booth like there’s a concert going on, hoping to get sprayed with cheap champagne or see the DJ raise his hands. Oooh yes, the expectations of newcomer dj’s are huge these days. Pre-mix your set and entertain your audience. Stand on your DJ booth, do a stagedive, make girls twerk to a song that doesn’t mix in your set, play the hits, but not the hit from last week, take a selfie, take some coke, take a fan or two, drop a cheezy classic rock track from queen, sample a sax from cheap sample CD, make remixes of the remixes, play ‘live’ without headphones. Luckily we have Boiler room to see how boring dj’s do real mixes. Maybe in the future we’ll have people dancing again.

  • Interesting idea. However I like the set up for the boiler room. I feel detaching the dj from the audience allows them to play what they want. Start focussing on the dancers and then you have to play music for people to dance too. The best part about the boiler room is that it provides the opportunity for a dj to play an eclectic set which gives insight to the influences of the artist. I know this isn’t always the case, but I feel it’s what the boiler room should try and cater, which it does at the moment. Day time Berlin sessions are some of my favorites, which isn’t alway dance floor driven music.

  • I think Lance has hit the nail on the head. I’m not sure if you could have dancers be willing to just let go online the way they used to unless they were professionals. It’s stuck online permanently, people can find out who they are, the BR comments section can be nasty enough as it is.
    It’s a shame that it can’t be like it was – that shari vari clip is my single most favorite clip on youtube – I just think many folk are too self concious to let rip on a dance floor on a tuesday night in front of the whole internet

  • BoilerRoom is fine as long as they clear out all the riff raff shuffling about behind the DJ…. Otherwise it’s unwatchable. “#Look at me I’m TV!”.

  • “In fact, the positives outweigh the negatives so far that it’s hard to even come up with any negative aspects of altering the focus to the dancers.”

    Boiler Room is not a show about dancing. The focus is on music and the people who make it. So, that would be one negative. You would be completely changing the show from its original intent.

    “By supporting dance culture and lessening the effect of DJ worship, Boiler Room could really become one of the biggest worldwide catalysts for positivity in the dance music community . . .”

    Again, not a show about dancing or catalysing positivity. And the DJs and producers they book are not the kind of DJs and producers that have anything to do with DJ worship. You’re just way off base there. A large segment of the viewers who watch Boiler Room actually find it quite interesting to watch DJs and producers performing their music live.

  • I quite like the format, but yeah, the problem with it is that most of the people shuffling around behind the DJ seem to be there for reasons other than hearing the music. Go too far the other way, though, and what do you get? That’s right – The Hitman And Her. Nobody wants that.

    Well, maybe a little bit.

  • What you guys are proposing would be like hosting a talent show and filming the public only; ridiculous. Boiler Room is about watching a DJ play his instruments: what gear he uses, how many decks, how is the routing set up, what effects he uses and when, etc. etc… and it’s pretty damn awesome to watch!

  • Having just watched the Gesaffelstein mix I have to disagree, when dj’ s/producers are really immersed in what they are doing it is quite fascinating.

    spot on article … the real stars of any party should be the dancers and crowd themselves .

  • id be the first to moan about the lack of dancing in dance clubs but this article is just emotively written straw-man stuff … its true that boiler room isn’t particularly good ‘dance tv’ in the vein of those shows but that’s because it didnt set out to do the same thing. you’re fundamentally misunderstanding what the show is about.

    i dont think anyone’s sitting and watching boiler room, glued to the screen from start to finish, and i dont think that was the point.

    if you want to fit boiler room into a cultural narrative, file it under ‘dance music radio’, where it belongs

  • Teklife Boiler Room Room from August 2013 is really great

  • idea: somebody should spike the punch.

  • Boiler room isn’t supposed to be a club environment though is it……?

  • Brilliant article.

    It’s called Dance music for a reason. I’m tired of people turning up to clubs, standing on the dance floor and filming the DJ. If you can’t dance, get off the dance floor.

    I don’t even bother going to check Theo Parrish, Moodymann, Funkineven, Kyle Hall, Jay Daniel, etc. anymore. As much as I love them all as DJs, they seem to attract a bunch of soulless DJ watching nerds at their shows (in the UK at least).

  • ” seem to attract a bunch of soulless DJ watching nerds at their shows ” wait till fools demand chaise lounges in clubs. Were on that trajectory.

  • i prefer watch smtg like this..with a cool editing…

  • For me capturing the vibe and the music of a club/party is essential. Boiler room just focus on the dj, people dont need to dance or even have fun, they just want to be filmed to rub it on their friends face. For me its not interesting to watch, to listen its cool. My 2 cents…

  • Gotta agree with Babyboom, Dancetrippin is doing much more in terms of visual and audio pleasure.

  • How about we all stop watching videos of people mixing pretending to dance and do some actual mixing and dancing?

  • BOILER ROOM is something innovative, unusual and refined. It’s years and years that we don’t see something like this because laws and bureaucracy make difficult any type of completely artistic business. Now we have Berlin and the Boiler Room that are ‘bucking the trend’ together.
    I Hope that the release ‘Buck The Trend’ becomes their new anthem soon.

  • Honestly, I prefer the focus on the DJ. I fire up Boiler Room and dance around the house with my kid instead of watching TV. I don’t mind DJ worship. I think all of us do it on some level, but I can choose not to participate for the most part. What I do dislike is people watching instead of participating.

  • you have all missed the point of this music so so badly.
    Its a feeling.
    Its not meant to be shown on psuedo TV.
    get rid of the cams, get rid of the money, sponsors.
    get back to the sounds, feeling, dancing , dark spaces

  • Just hand out Es half an hour before the broadcast. Watch the audience coming up to the first few tunes and the DJs being able to read the crowd. it’s the only way to stop people milling about and thinking about how they look. Get a few of them gurning. I’m sure the DJs would enjoy it more.

  • …Why don’t they just have it split screen with a top down angle of the DJ working while the other camera is focused on the crowd?

    That way the DJs can see the DJ work while having something visually entertaining for the non-DJ crowd.

    And I agree that more dancers should be featured – maybe invite (a) local group(s) from the surrounding area to see how they dance to the featured artist?

    I feel this is really a simple fix/adjustment that should at least be tried.

  • Totally agree — this is why the boiler room with Mike Servito was so good — he’s amazing to watch as he basically does live reedits on vinyl; and people were legit getting DOWN. I wish techno culture put more value on dancing these days. The dancers bring energy that feeds the music, it’s a vital part of the equation.

  • f**k the boiler room.

  • @christopherpif Wow, somebody still dances in London — and some clubs are not so overcrowded that you still have space for dancing.. What is that, like 5% or so?

  • I do understand the point but also think that BR must keep the way they are right now. Focused on the Dj not a dancer stealing the show if they bring professionals or the Dj trying to turn a dead crowd on. As Kenny said what is the point to go nuts dancing in a live internet show? As far as I can tell most of the people in the room are enjoying themselves without the need to act as if they where on to something.

  • Bunch of rich boys not content with Gentrifying urban areas move onto Gentrifying their actual culture.


    Boiler room is a catastrophe for dance music, it is the uber of undergrounf music. A bunch of rich kids hijacking urban music, cutting its roots, and turning it into a bland consumer lifestyle choice. Clubs accross London have been squashed out and these globetrotting parasites suck on the lifeblood of underground culture turning it into just another faceless commiditie stratifying and Gentrifying the community. Honestly every one seems to just stand around sizing each other up on what they’re wearing who they know. The rich kids of instagram think they own dance music partly due to these spineless ponces as new talent that doesn’t fit the lifestyle brand which underground music has become are shrugged off. It’s disheartening to see something which was once subersive and an alternative to mainstream consumer COMMODITY ideology become just another thing that keeps us passive, materialistic and half awake. Now its just Adidas shoes, Red Bull energy drinks and flying around in aeroplanes and showing off. White car people really – antichrist barcode black clothes nikey ticks
    I rarely see them actually dance you know.


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