A tale of a fist-pumping North American lost and found in the European underground
I came to Sweden as a typical North American with an iPod bustling of commercial house. Swedish house to be exact. I was completely content in my mainstage ways, fueled by a little bit of naïveté and a little bit of hesitation. The underground was simply an unknown, untouched element in my progression, mostly because of my social circle and influences. My only experience with underground was a confusing, fuzzy night at Space Ibiza back when I had only begun my dance music quest. Minimal Sunday was too much of a sharp contrast from the scene I was used to, and at that point in my life I could neither understand nor appreciate what it had to offer.
After moving across the Atlantic, I knew I was going to be exposed to new sights and sounds previously unknown, and was anxious to jump on new experiences. My first club experience (a mere few days after my arrival) was with Stockholm’s notorious F12, known for having the best music in the city. Nu-disco presented itself to me in a raw and dynamic fashion leaving me craving more. I quickly wiggled my way into a friendship with a local underground deep house producer who convinced me I just had to come see a German producer named Solomun, the apparent King of Ibiza. He was the first headliner in a string of six F1-6 parties taking place at Fotografiska, Stockhom’s notorious contemporary photography museum
Walking into the party was a moment that will stay with me forever. Two exhibition halls had been transformed into a club fit to hold 1200 well-dressed, sophisticated blond men and women with a mean age of about 25 (as the minimum age to get in was 23). People were intoxicated yes, but in a more mature fashion. Plexiglass display cases were stacked in cubes glowing with neon light. LED lights bounced off the walls in elegant displays, while fog machines drowned the room. A VIP booth or area was nowhere to be found. In fact, the entire back section behind the booth was open to everyone. I literally walked up right into the booth behind the German to snap a picture and no one seemed phased. Celebrity culture ceased to exist, but the music was alive.
As a consequence of habit, I ran up to the DJ booth as soon as Solomun came on ready to stare in his eyes and pump my fists with the rest of the revelers. I managed to get to the front with shocking ease and rapidly began flailing my arms, while trying to take as many pictures and videos as I could manage. At that point my new producer friend pulled me aside and told me in the most sincere fashion I was “doing it wrong,” quickly ushering me to the sidelines to shield me from further embarrassment. I joined his group of underground “experts” noticing they were subtlety lost in their own groove, not paying attention to what Solomon was doing. The sophisticated Swedes were moving their bodies, particularly their shoulders and feet, not their fists in perfect timing with the beat. At that point, I more or less had a group of five Swedish producers who were determined to teach the lost North American how to dance.
Losing myself in the music seemed so easy with progressive house as I could focus on belting the familiar vocal or bouncing during the drop, but deep house was trickier. I had to focus on the backbeat, the constant loop, and the subtle waves. I started out with the ubiquitous foot-to-foot side tap while trying to relax my shoulders and prevent my fists from having a heyday. Clearly self-conscious and over-thinking, my new Swedish friends uttered to me in unison “stop thinking so much about how you look, listen Leah, listen!” So I closed my eyes and tried to relax into the pounding rhythm. At that point Solomun transitioned between “Benediction” and his Noir & Haze remix of “Around” and my body at once gave way. I felt like I was feeling music for the first time, actually feeling not listening. At that point something switched off in my head and I was full heartily converted to the deep. Although I figured I had done myself justice, my Swedish friends applauded me with beaming smiles laughing that there was still much room for improvement.
While everyone has a different story on how they transitioned to the so-called “underground,” mine was a multitude of factors colliding at the right time. I was eagerly ready for a change, and quite easily found fellow revelers to support me. Breaking out of my music comfort zone felt (and looked) awkward at first, but has now unleashed an exciting new world upon me that I can’t imagine living without. I will never forget those brash Swedes and the sincere advice they gave, only hoping I can one day help my fellow lost fist-pumper at the front who doesn’t have a clue.