Syria’s underground dance music scene is a welcome distraction in difficult times

In a disused cement factory on the outskirts of Damascus, hundreds of revelers are gathered. Braving the cold, rainy weather, eager patrons dance the night away, illuminated by beaming lasers and flashing lights in a display reminiscent of a European rave in a Vin Diesel thriller.

This, however, is Syria, and it’s the clearest sign yet that the underreported underground dance and techno scene is finding a new rhythm.

It’s a long-brewing storm, as an enthusiastic community emerges from the ashes of war.

Dummar’s factory rave, organized by up-and-coming event companies Siin Experience and UTU Nightlife, is just the tip of a musical iceberg that has been growing rapidly since 2017.

In recent months, veteran Western artists have performed in Syria, including Ilona Lica from Estonia and German DJ Nakkadia, alongside emerging local talent such as DJ Saade and Boshoco.

As well as putting the country back on the global music map, the growing popularity of techno and dance events is a welcome distraction for Syrians. In a period of economic turbulence and strong currency fluctuations, music has been a major respite.

Kinda, 22, a graphic designer who moved from Paris to Damascus in 2018, and who spent years in Syria for summers, says she hasn’t seen this quality of events since before the war in 2011. “A lot of people are getting into live music and techno now, the community has grown, I’ve never seen raves this good, even in Europe, and people of all faiths are coming to forget their problems and their struggles.

“We all face difficulties in our lives, we have to queue for petrol or cooking gas, some have less income than others, [but] techno is my comfort zone now, I don’t struggle there anymore, just music and expression.

Local DJ Boshoco, 37, who lives in Aleppo, has been a key driver of Syria’s techno scene. He is preparing to tour Europe in June, with concerts scheduled at venues in Brussels, Paris and London. Although he loves the vibe of these cities, he says the atmosphere of dance events in Syria is unique.

“After playing in many places, I feel a completely different vibe on the dance floor in Syria. It’s therapeutic to see people together, united, with smiles. Since we partnered with Siin and UTU, we had incredible line-ups. We have a refined taste for country music.”

An abandoned cement factory near Damascus turned into a rave.  Photo: Omar Sanadiq

DJ Saade – whose name means happiness in Arabic – is also one of the pioneers of the now thriving dance community. “The appetite for this kind of music has grown in a unique way,” he says. The National. “It started as an underground concept that people could join in, like a society, because that’s the type of music we like. We didn’t have a lot of avenues in 2017. People are frustrated with their lives and their struggles, so they turn to music to vent their frustration.

Saade’s real name is Saade Khoury, and his sets are among the most popular, with people flocking to his concerts. He thinks that the Syrian music industry will become more important in the future.

“I think, first of all, the limit is the sky. We are now in the space where there is a large community that can help move things forward. The country is more open. It won’t take long, with what we’re doing, to see an event with 10,000 people, we’re still building a base.

Through music, people try to create new connections and opportunities, Saade says.

It was magical. It’s rare to see this energy

Elia Crecchi, aka DJ Undercat

“People need as much space as their anger. After several years, we want to put Syria on the map, and we have done so so far. It’s the best feeling in the world when you have an idea, and people want more of it, whether it’s motivational, financial, or mental.

“For many people who have endured the worst times, it is ancient history, to organize such quality events in the country, it is a dream come true.”

Music lovers also come from outside Damascus to attend these events. Aram Habeshian, a designer who lives in Aleppo, traveled to the Syrian capital for such a rave. “For me, this is definitely a positive step, and I believe that people who attend dance and nightlife events try to live their lives and ignore their daily problems. I have a lot of friends from ‘Aleppo who responded to my [Instagram] stories cursing the lack of nightlife in the city.

Saade says he hopes through his sets to encourage others to be themselves. “I hope I can inspire those who have identity and authenticity to do what they want. The war was tough and music gives you balance. It’s a cultural thing for us.

The renaissance of dance is also propelled by the discovery of unique performance venues.

Khan As’ad Pasha, the most illustrious and important 18th-century caravanserai in the Old City of Damascus, near the al-Buzuriyah souk, has been transformed into a techno party where lasers, lights and music merged the old and the new.

“I saw people yesterday dancing like crazy and smiles everywhere,” says Italian DJ Undercat (Elia Crecchi), who performed in Syria in 2021. “It was magical. It’s rare to see that energy .”

Ilona Lica also posted about her concert on Instagram. “It’s really special to be here.”

Updated: 03 June 2022, 18:02

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