Boiler Room is one of dance music’s most recognisable brands. In this month’s Business Of Music feature, we speak with Boiler Room host and general director of Boiler Room Germany Michail Stangl about Berlin, legendary moments and the power of live streaming.
While some may know Michail Stangl simply as the host of Boiler Room, he insists picking up that mic is only ‘the smallest part of the job’. And that job is one of many he has: as general director of Germany Boiler Room he oversees the production of Berlin shows and international shows that have taken place in the likes of Uganda, Ghana, Cameroon, Mexico, Serbia, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Seoul, New Delhi, Hanoi, Shenzhen and more in the last two years. Besides this, he co-curates Berlin’s CTM Festival – one of the world’s biggest and oldest annual festivals for experimental music, newform club music and the related arts. And besides that, you’ll find Michail running and DJing as Opium Hum at his own night, ≠ (Equal), at Berghain.
Born in Moscow, after moving to Germany in the early 90s, as a 15-year-old he managed to get online thanks to his father, connecting to an online music scene in a way other teenagers in rural areas who had no access to record stores could not. It was at this young age that Michail started hosting events.
“I came from the middle of fuck nowhere where there wasn’t anything much other than cows and Nazi skinheads,” He begins. “I started organising anti-racist, Antifa kind of punk concerts, extending them with electronic elements; I was really into drum & bass so I had to get the only guy with a sizeable drum and bass record collection in the second room. That was just child’s play.”
After seeing a flyer for a Berlin show featuring all the breakcore, experimental electronic artists Michail listened to at the time, he made an instant decision to move to the city. Soon enough, he began organising parties exploring breakcore and industrial sounds, mixing it with UK dubstep.
Why does he think Berlin has such a unique aura about it? “Berlin, due to the history of the city and the socio-economic structure that comes with it,” Michail explains, “always had a lot of space for a lot of things to co-exist and cross-pollinate. It’s not a city that is good at creating its own thing; way more culture starts in London but Berlin is good at enriching existing things with new perspectives.”
“It’s a place of transit. A lot of people just cross through the city and leave things behind and you can trace that in the history of electronic music. There were DJs and collectives in Berlin that would drop dubstep with the Berlin techno community. Collectives would get the DJs from the UK and they would often perform for the very first time in a real club space side by side with Berlin-style eclectic techno. That would change the trajectory to a point that’s it’s now a completely new thing. Things like that happen everywhere but because Berlin has a high density there’s more potential for that.
“The same thing happened with footwork. I used to run a fairly big footwork/juke night. Berlin DJs were playing it knowing the tempo but not the genre, so ‘Okay it’s 160/170’ let’s play it with jungle. Machinedrum, who came from an IDM/jungle sound, would mash it together with Rashad and Spinna in a way Rashad had never thought about their own genre of music before and suddenly footwork took a new trajectory.”
Sounds from all the world funnelling themselves into Berlin, mixing with the local music, people and the context of the Berlin spaces, then being launched out into the world with a new identity is a fascinating image. As a co-curator for CTM Festival, Michail is passionate about not only bringing artists and collectives into Berlin from far and beyond but throwing an element of ‘Berlin’ into the mix, offering a standalone live experience.
For CTM in 2020, Michail reached out to the Nakibembe Xylophone troupe, a Ugandan ensemble – one of the last remaining groups to still play the ensemble embaire xylophone – as well as Indonesian duo Gabber Modus Operandi – producers of gabber, footwork, grindcore, and noise mixed with Indonesian sounds – to perform together.
“Instead of a theatre we did it at peak time Berghain, packed to the fucking brim.” Michail sounds proud of this head-turning combination. “At 1 am, rather than a DJ blasting techno, a ten-man xylophone group from Uganda performed experimental gabber with an Indonesian techno punk outfit. Nothing about that sounds like it should have worked out,” he laughs. “It was one of the most amazing things of the festival.”
While physical events seem a distant memory and don’t look to be on our horizons any time soon, live streams have sky-rocketed in popularity during the pandemic. The power of an online community based around live streaming DJ sets and live performance is an area Michail clearly has knowledge in already due to his involvement in Boiler Room. He oversees the production of shows from Berlin, eastward to Asia and Africa – highlighting countries that usually don’t really get to participate in Eurocentric, Anglo American music markets.
“I’ve been involved with Boiler Room, not since day one, but pretty much day one and a half, since late 2010, early 2011,” Michail says. “We produce out of Berlin office up to 70 shows a year globally a year for Boiler Room, so I’m involved in the aspects of all them in one way or another. I set up Boiler Room China, Boiler Room in Uganda, in Brazil, in Georgia. I have a special focus on a very big part of the world.
“I’m doing way more than just holding a microphone. It’s a proper office job. I see the production of a show from beginning to end with my team which means that I identify something worth highlighting. Let’s say a music community in a country that’s not been featured a lot but we think that our audience will like it and it’s a community that needs exposure to be able to grow – from identifying who we could work with to the point of how to execute the show, it’s for me to work with my team on what the logistics are and what the funding opportunities are in terms of what Boiler Room can invest.”