It’s just after midnight on the first weekend in November. Lasers crisscross over the heads of 3500 people at Gasometer, one of Vienna’s largest event locations. The temperature in the hall is somewhere between the last Bali vacation and a Finnish sauna. As the sound drops out for a moment and the light of hundreds of upraised smartphone screens illuminates the room, two men scream into their microphones: “Say yeah, say yeahhh!” The audience screams. The bass drops. Three saints appear onstage.
Camo & Krooked and Mefjus – the poster boys of the Austrian drum’n’bass scene – are celebrating the launch of their new label, Modus. The Gasometer, a former gas storage facility that has been used for many years as an event location, is sold out. The hall is often host to international artists like $UICIDEBOY$, Little Simz and Jack White, but tonight it’s all about local heroes. For three hours, Mefjus and Camo & Krooked pass the headphones back and forth, zapping between breaks, drops, and hands-up moments at breakneck speed. They jump behind the DJ console as if they were on a steady drip of pure Red Bull.
The subwoofers are gasping for air, and it’s easy to see why Vienna is one of the most important drum’n’bass cities in Europe. The audience isn’t just enjoying this musical TikTok feed; it’s worshiping it. It’s a mass uplift to the pulse of beats racing along at 170 bpm over wobbling bass lines. When they’re suspended for a moment, the crowd waits for the drop with their tongues hanging out. The MCs’ moment has arrived. They throw their arms out like Jesus, then bellow “Wait for it!” into the mic. The hi-hats chatter faster and faster, a melody takes shape – “Here it c-o-o-o-o-mes!” The bass smacks into the crowd somewhere at the abdominal level, and the Gasometer explodes.
“We give everything for this sound!” a young man yells at the bar next to me. His hair is bleached blond; he’s maybe 18 years old. He orders two energy drinks, checking his Insta stories and Tinder and sending a couple WhatsApp messages while he waits. I look at the bartender and ask her how much beer she’s sold so far. “Not enough,” she shrugs. And suddenly I notice: the vast majority of the crowd here is younger than 20 – when Camo & Krooked released their first record, more than 10 years ago, a lot of these fans must still have been in diapers. The fact that everyone’s partying as if the end of the world were at hand might have to do with the fact that for a lot of them, it’s their first time.
The drum’n’bass crowd lost two years of their youth to COVID. That’s a lot of time in a scene that’s in constant flux, as Camo & Krooked’s Markus Wagner points out. “The fans are young, often between 16 and 20 – drum’n’bass is music for a moving target.” Wagner knows what he’s talking about. With his partner, producer Reinhard Rietsch, he has performed in clubs and at festivals all over the world. The duo has over 300,000 followers on Facebook, and a quarter million people listen to them on Spotify. Some of Camo & Krooked’s fans have grown up with them, but most could be their children.
Maybe that’s why, even after 3 hours of escalation and release, no one in Gasometer is tired. When Modus finally leaves the stage and Youphoria plugs her thumb drive in for the closing set, the crowd roars again. “That was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced in Vienna,” says Sema, who only wants to give her first name. The 23-year-old DJ and media technician discovered drum’n’bass at 15, when a friend played her “Dustup” by Noisia & the Upbeats. The music’s sheer velocity took hold of Sema, and she soon took on the DJ name Youphoria. These days, she’s a regular at Flex (for “The Hive” events) and performs internationally on a regular basis.
But it’s only in Vienna that the drum’n’bass scene feels like home to her. Here, people recognize her often in the crowd, but that hasn’t started happening yet at gigs in other countries, says the DJ, whose next stops are in Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Sema’s style mixes different strains of drum’n’bass, and it seems to be working – most people stick around even after the headliner has long since disappeared backstage. When the lights go on and the speakers are silenced a little after 4 a.m., Youphoria floats from the stage. She knows she’s won over a few more fans.
LOCAL HEROES, LAST DANCE
When Gasometer closes down, we head over to the Pratersauna, next to Vienna’s storied amusement park. At the end of January, the location hosted the last Mainframe party: after over 20 years of programming drum’n’bass in Vienna, the event was canceled. Disaszt, who started Mainframe in 2002 and is himself a DJ and producer, cultivated several generations of D’n’B heads with the monthly event series, which sometimes attracted thousands to locations like the Arena. This time, at least a few hundred people are waiting in line at the Pratersauna – the “last dance” is sold out.
A few days after the event, I write Daniel Fürst Zoffel, as Disaszt is known in private, with a request to talk about Mainframe’s end. 20 seconds later, my smartphone vibrates: “I’m checking out a location tomorrow. Why don’t you come along, and we can talk.” I’m surprised – that doesn’t sound like a “last dance” at all. Maybe that’s why, when I ask him where we should meet, he says only: “We have to go to Mordor – across the Danube!”
He doesn’t want to say any more at the moment, but other people will. “Daniel and his ego shaped the Vienna drum’n’bass scene,” says Katja Dürrer. “He set the bar, and all the other promoters followed suit. I’d be glad if he’s not quitting.” Katja Dürrer has been performing as DJ Pandora since the late 90s. Switch!, one of the most important events in Vienna, is her creation, and she has collaborated with Disaszt on major events every now and then – either at Frequency, one of Austria’s best-known festivals, or on chartered riverboats on the Danube.
Pandora tells me that over time, Flex has become the home base for Switch!; the event has been taking place in the club on the Danube canal since 2016. She often books international artists to spin records alongside Switch! regulars, Vienna artists like Nc:Matic and Splinta. “We never said we were hosting jump-up events, but we noticed that we were filling a niche in Vienna – and a movement developed out of that.”
Pandora has been hosting regular Switch! parties in Vienna since 2007. She used to advertise them as jump-up events, but the DJ and promoter no longer wants to reduce them to a single genre. “Not everyone that sends me demos from their banging sets is going to spin at Switch!,” she says. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed anymore, even if I did it to myself.”
She tells me that she still hands out flyers – the kids are into that kind of analog, 90s thing. She thinks banning smoking has led to DJs spinning harder tracks. And she says that there are no commonalities between the subgenres. “Still, there’s unconscious cross-breeding, because that diversity makes the scene more alive.” She knows that the Vienna drum’n’bass scene wouldn’t be what it is without her, but she hesitates to admit it. “We’re all replaceable. The thing that makes a few of us stand out is drive – a nice way to say ego, and the need to be a star.”
“FLEX IS TO THE AUSTRIAN D’N’B SCENE WHAT BERGHAIN IS TO THE GERMAN TECHNO SCENE.”
Before the doors of Flex, the waters of the Danube canal flow silently by. A few people lean on the railing, smoking. Inside, an American indie-rock band has just finished their encore – and while the sweat-covered concert audience streams out, the fun’s just starting for others. About thirty young people are waiting in front of the bouncers, some of them shivering in t-shirts. One young woman passes around a bottle of Stoli, the top of her thong winking above the waistband of her jeans. Beat It (along with the Illskillz-hosted The Hive, one of Vienna’s most beloved drum’n’bass events) is about to flex on the dance floor.
“Flex is to the Austrian D’n’B scene what Berghain is to the German techno scene,” says a man in a Metalheadz hoodie. “Or at least it was.” He’s there with his girlfriend; they’re both in their early thirties and have been going to D’n’B parties in Vienna “for years,” they say. “Flex has the best acts, but I can’t take the atmosphere any more – all these strung-out kids are getting me down more and more,” says the woman, looking sideways at a teenager with a booming Bluetooth speaker tucked under his arm. “And besides, people look at you weird if you’re over 25.”
Their destination is elsewhere tonight; both of them point north – three metro stations further along, where Vienna’s incineration plant spears the night sky. Anyone out in that area, at this hour, is headed one of two places: either to Werk or the Grelle Forelle, two canal clubs known primarily for techno – and for their sound systems. A couple dealers lurk in the dim light of the streetlamps and a kick drum in 4/4 rumbles from the Werk…but I’m headed to the Forelle on this January night. It’s Contrast night there, and the Britons Unglued and Whiney are on the line-up.
Markus Szabo has been hosting the event since 2015, always in the Grelle Forelle. “At the time, we were one of the first 18-and-over D’n’B events in Vienna,” he recently related in an interview: that automatically drew a different audience. Ever since, Contrast has stood for a certain standard of quality that he says is often missing from other parties. A lot of people come to his parties for the music, Szabo says – aware that by doing so, he’s taking an old-school stance. For a long time, ads for Contrast events read: “If you’re looking for kiddie music, look somewhere else.”
VIENNA: INCUBATOR FOR CREATIVITY
“Drum’n’bass was always an incubator for creativity in Vienna and Linz,” says Nico Mpunga, a producer under the name Kimyan Law since the early 2010s, mostly of experimental and deep drum’n’bass with a “fingerprint”, as he puts it. “The great thing about the genre is that there are so many sound clouds that you can get into. That’s what makes the scene in Vienna special.” However, he, too, has noticed changes in the scene – especially in its more “niche-y” corners. “It seems like the scene is still recovering from COVID.”
A Vienna all-female crew agrees, but stipulates that the next generation is picking up the slack – that’s the opinion of Aras, Jalen Mess, Sarah Allen and Sequent. The four women are all between 20 and 30 and founded the collective AMI∣KAL in 2021. “We stand for more visibility and diversity in the scene,” Anika Wegleitner (aka Sequent) writes in an email. The quartet has played a number of gigs in Vienna over the past two years, hosted floors at various parties and organized their first open-air event. “We’re glad to see that womxn are getting pushed more and more, but there’s still a lot to do on the road to total equality in the scene.”
János Szabó, who spins in Vienna under the name 5HA5H, has also noticed that the sound has remained diverse in spite of the many parties. “When the clubs opened again in early 2022, the parties were packed with new people.” He says it was different before the pandemic; the sound seemed to be attracting less and less people. “The hardcore ravers from then aren’t rocking the scene anymore, but young people have taken their place,” he says. “The music has changed, of course, but that’s a good thing. After all, social media is important now – people hear about new tracks on TikTok.”
Szábo came to Vienna from Hungary in 2011 and has been a DJ since 2015. After so many years, he still considers himself a “front-row soldier” – even if you can find him more often these days standing behind the decks than in front of them. Recently, bookings have led him back to his home city and to Romania, offering him a current comparison with the scene in Vienna – for instance with Flex, where he often DJs. “Vienna is a city of extremes. Whether you go to Flex, Fluc, or the Grelle Forelle, you can find the right party for every taste – particularly if you’re into drum’n’bass.”
And he’s not alone in his opinion. Almost everyone I’ve talked to from the scene confirmed that you can go to a drum’n’bass event nearly every night. International headliners may fly in more often on the weekend, before the usual off-day on Tuesday. But if you move away from the hot spots at Praterstern and on the canal, you can get lucky during the week as well – along the Vienna Gürtel, for instance. There, under the “Gürtelbogen” and sandwiched between multiple lanes of traffic, numerous small clubs and bars can be found. While the U-Bahn rattles by overhead, jazz, punk, and electronic sounds pulse from sound systems under the arches every day of the week, in between the kebap and falafel stands.
In rhiz, on the Gürtel near the Thaliastrasse, the organizers of Upd8e host regular drum’n’bass parties, where you can still see folks carrying records and wearing ‘staches and Jazzsticks t-shirts. Only about 20 people are dancing in the little venue on this February night, but the mood is good – it’s somebody’s birthday. The sound digs in, sometimes drifting off a little in the direction of jungle. “Totally back to the roots,” says a thirtysomething man with pupils the size of dessert plates, as he yanks the restroom door open. “Sounds like the old days in London!”
The distance between the sold-out Gasometer and the tiny location under the Gürtel arches could hardly be greater. But they can coexist, because drum’n’bass in Vienna isn’t confined to a single scene. There are splinter groups and subcultures, cross-pollinating among the genres. Thousands of kids salivate for the next mind-blowing drop; a handful of junglists dig through their record crates; breakbeats rumble from Bluetooth speakers. It works in Vienna, because in spite of all the egos and differences, the people are all about one thing: drum’n’bass.
Translated from the German original by Philip Yaeger.