Nesta DJing at the Garten in 2015.
If you trusted only the skewed Western news diet of Lebanese bombs and invasions, you’d be forgiven for thinking Beirut’s club scene was non-existent. As homegrown DJ, label owner and promoter Nesta points out in the next in our series of features examining local scenes, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Beirut usually only makes Western news headlines when a bomb explodes. News of its incredible and long running club scene is less likely to permeate through of course. But in a city that is scarred by war, despite the bullet holes still visible on some city streets, the seeds of club culture have been sprouting continuously for decades. Known since the mid 20th century as the paris of the North, Beirut is the party capital of the Middle East. United Arab Emirates may have the alcohol soaked glamour beach clubs of Dubai, but the Lebanon’s capital city has the rave.
We spoke to one of the city’s key movers and shakers, Nesta, a local DJ and promoter about why Beirut is one of the world’s most vital outposts for dance music.
Ibiza Voice: What's the scene like in your city?
Nesta: It’s huge right now, in terms of clubs and artists bookings. Every weekend we have at least ten international DJs gracing the decks of our clubs, compared to one trance DJ every once in a while in the early 2000’s. Sometimes it becomes too much to handle, and that’s when our party fits in. At some point people start looking for something more special and intimate, something more out-of-the box with a friendlier and more qualitative approach.
Nesta could never remember the glass door to the garden was always shut.
What's the best thing about the scene there currently?
The parties’ diversity and the clubs. We have great clubs, whether it is from an aesthetic point of view, architecture, design, acoustics or sound systems.
For a tiny city like Beirut, having that many options every weekend is quite cool, not to mention the massive lineups in the clubs.
Whether it’s Lebanese hip hop artists jamming on the mic in local clubs, or an electronic act playing somewhere else. It’s a very alternative city rich in music, arts, fashion, food and history.
What sets it apart from club scenes in other cities?
Lebanese people in general are very outgoing, positive people, generous and they know how to party. Given the instability of the country, they have learned to live day by day and make the most out of it.
So I guess that the vibe in the local scene is what makes it special, warm and proper. They are also thirsty and always excited for new names, given that the electronic music scene is relatively new (end of 90s) compared to Europe.
It is important to also note that the scene in Beirut is mostly local, unlike the Europe scene where there are much more tourists, and people from all over the world.
What challenges does the scene face in Beirut?
The main challenge faced are the sometimes huge DJ fees imposed by agencies because they think Beirut is as rich as Dubai. The average employee in Beirut gets paid ten times less than Dubai. [The other main challenge] is unfortunately the instability of the political situation.
International agencies and artists are directly affected by this, and cancel or postpone their gigs during such times (which is completely understandable); even if the situation is not as bad or dramatic as it seems on the news.
A lot of artists who never been to Beirut have a false image of the city and the country, and I don’t blame them, because this is what the media has been showing them throughout the year. But all the artists who came here are thirsty to come back for more because of the beautiful city we live in and the excellent club scene we have.
Nesta in action.
How is your party different from others in Beirut?
Our parties are more intimate, and most of the times, thrown in special (sometimes historical) venues with direct contact with nature. We don’t like to over do it so we throw a maximum of four to five super special parties a year. Whether on the Mediterranean shores or in the mountains, the parties have a strong reputation for being some of the coolest and funkiest ones to happen in the region and the Middle East.
How do promoters in your city get on with city officials? Are you supported by local government/police ?
City official and police don’t really support the scene here. They tax the shit out of club owners and make it hard to get artists from abroad with their taxes. Unlike Berlin for example, where the government and city official encourage the scene by taxing less and respecting Berlin’s music culture.
Club owners in Lebanon have no other options than to get along with the government to protect the safety of the clubbers otherwise they would be harassed.
But it’s all good. Everyone gets a piece of the cake. The party scene is big and it’s something that has been present in our city since the 50s. We are well known for being a party capital of the Middle East since forever.
What's happening musically in the city currently?
A lot of new producers and bands are breaking through. A lot of clubs are emerging as well. Beirut has always been rich and deeply rooted in oriental music, sometimes oriental mixed with funk and jazz - the good stuff such as Fairuz, Ziad Al Rahbani and so on … not the shamanic goats moaning over a track or a flute.
Today, it’s techno that is mostly played. There is also a good alternative/rock scene, but electronic music is taking over, that’s for sure.
There is not really a sound that is popular. The mainstream crowd sometimes tend to like big names like Solomun, Tale Of Us and so on, but in Beirut you get a taste of everything. If you’re looking for a big rave you can have it, and if you’re feeling more experimental, you got it as well.
A YouTube documentary about the efforts of Beirut’s The Garten club to provide a world class outdoor soundsystem without bothering nearby neighbours.
Tell us about your label? How long running and what's your background?
I come from a strong musical background, thanks to my family. My older brothers were all drummers and were deeply rooted in classical, progressive and psychedelic rock. Led Zeppelin, Lou Reed, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Eloy, Ozric Tentacles.. you name it. So I was kind of raised on that; rock, heavy metal, grunge and even old school US hip-hop. My father was more on the side of Miles Davis, Sun Ra and so on, and I’m grateful for the education I got.
My label Fantôme de Nuit first saw the light of day in late 2014. It’s a Beirut based independent record label, artist collective, party brand and podcast and it has been up and running for three years already. We have released three vinyl EPs and the rest is mainly digital.
One of the main reasons why I started this platform is to be able to express myself in music and arts, and to push local artists as well, as well as throwing parties the way I wanted to. All artworks are hand-crafted and illustrated and we work with very talented people from Beirut.
My aim from this label was never to focus only on club music, something that most of the labels are doing right now because it generates them more profit. I wanted to release music that you could listen to everywhere, and not only in clubs, and that’s what makes us special I guess. We are not just talking loops after loops and long build-ups here. We never follow trends, we just release endless and timeless music, and our crew is all about having fun and a good time.
Beirut's influential BO18, opens it's shield like roof mid-party.
Are there any other interesting new crews we should know about from your city?
There are very few labels in Beirut at the moment. But some new record shops are [opening], which is great. However the platform of local DJs is expanding, more people are being inspired and joining the scene. Ten years ago we were able to count [our local] producers on one hand. Now it’s becoming more and more present and that is very good for the scene.
Is it a good place to be an artist?
It is very inspiring for an artist to live in the city. We have 300 days of sun a year and Beirut is a city that is very rich in history, culture, music and food.
Rent is not the cheapest. The real estate is becoming more expensive with time and Beirut is considered to be an expensive city to live in. The city always limits the artist in a way because there is not enough push for them, each artist has to figure out his way and push himself because no one is going to do it for him. Back in the days, a lot moved to Europe to make a career, like Nicole Moudaber.
What does the city need more of?
More music and fresh international names – fresh blood. The music scene is infinite, one should not be focused on one direction or few big names.
And what does it need less of?
Less politics and less posers.
Nesta’s latest EP is out now on Fantôme de Nuit. To hear clips and follow the label on Soundcloud, click here.