Shot back in 2022, Boiler Room Syria and Sadaa Sound Syndicate captured a moment in the diasporic Syrian music scene. It’s an image of techno’s new, political, “disobedient” significance to people in exile and perhaps a glimpse of where techno may go in 2024.

Let’s skip straight to the music with some dear friends of mine in the mix from Berlin – Qكيو, Elayn, Samara H, Majdolen, Kayal, then part of the c1 collective, since disbanded.

Techno still has commercial value across the region; let’s not mince words. But the Arabic world is also queer and rebellious in ways western media too often gives short shrift. (“Beirut is queer as f***” as I overheard Ayman Makarem of Politically Depressed.)

So when Berlin was granted UNESCO status for its techno music and folks asked why not Detroit (apart from the fact that the USA exited UNESCO participation), I’d turn it around. I’d ask – what does it mean that Detroit techno was in Berlin in the first place? What happened when those two cultures mixed? What has been the migrant impact on Berlin techno, not just in the 90s but in an ever-changing, fluid dynamic? It’s not the easyJet Set anymore – not just some privileged young tourists coming for a good party. Some people are here because their government made it impossible to stay at home. For anyone wanting to “whatabout” Syria and Assad when talking about protests of Israeli policy, for instance, here are people who were, in some cases, actively exiled by the hostile Assad regime for their activism.

The scene is dynamic enough, of course, that this 2022 video is both a window to another time and an echo that’s meaningful now. The c1 collective, like the cross-border Sadaa Sound Syndicate, was self-organized – a chance for artists to forge a place for themselves rather than hope one was made for them. You can read SSS’ statement from 2023:

I can’t speak to the Damascus side of this project – you can watch that “motherland” portion separately. The Boiler Room producers even saw fit to make sure to add a tagline clarifying that they’re not endorsing the catastrophic violence in Syria or the Syrian state in its present form. (It seems these platforms, born for commercial consumption, have to do some extra interventions to deal with weightier topics. Uh… yay, Heineken presents, erm, war?! Not so much.) But the Berlin side I know better and can connect to my own experience, so I’ll focus on them. (I hope, Qusay, we get to meet and play in Beirut again, too!)

The C1 collective spoke up on the 2024 occasion of this release of their 2022 work:

Dear community

We are reaching out to share a moment of gratitude as we reflect on our journey with the Cl collective, which began in September 2019. This marked a profound moment for a group of us from the Syrian diaspora-artists, electronic music producers, and DJs

C1 was not just a platform; rather, it was our refuge amidst significant life fluctuations and challenges, a way to reconnect with our identity, to reshape and question it. We came together, self-organized, and were determined to find solace and a path to share our creative vision

Together, we navigated unexplored waters, learned through trial and error, and crafted a vision previously unseen. We ventured into our dreams by organizing events and fostering a new sense of community

The Cl collective became our sanctuary-a haven for healing from loss, war, an opressive regime, displacement, and trauma, and discovered a purpose and strength that kindled a glimmer of hope

Like every journey, ours had its beginnings and, inevitably, a point of transition that opens the gate to new visions and experiences. This was our chapter’s end

Now, with the release of the Boiler Room Syria event filmed back in 2022, we seize this opportunity to express our heartfelt thanks to the members of the Cl collective and to each friend who stood by our side, believed in our vision, and contributed to this shared narrative. Your presence has been a beacon of light in a sea of darkness

With all our love and gratitude


See also the deck (with Arabic):

We can talk about the music and not just the politics; there is a case to be made for the content of the music. Dark industrial techno Berlin style provides a unique combination of brutality with swing, ideal for dancing with conflicted feelings, and the heavy kick. It can give you a sense of strength; there’s a physical sensation. It doesn’t always work – I wrote here in the days after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine about how the sound can even become triggering. But there are moments when it’s there for you, when it can channel some of the interior darkness but open you up to moving, shake you out of depression. The persistent beat also means it’s not so hard to mix, which means it can be centering when your focus and emotions are elsewhere and welcoming to people exploring DJing anew. Here I don’t want to project too much – I can say all of that from personal experience.

But maybe that’s why this music, in its current form with this full-spectrum power meeting flourishes of dance gestures, can be so healing. Despite its association with only hedonism and consumption, it can be healing.

Music aside, it’s ultimately really the people involved who were able to make a place for healing with one another. While C1 may not have continued, all these connections between people (in the video, outside the video, hopefully) are helping life to go on through the unending pain produced by the last years. Listen to the source directly: this whole video (despite the party thumbnail) really gets at the core of that experience, and is worth watching in its entirety:

What’s especially poignant to me now in 2024 is the moment at 25:30 – that this group has done enough escaping. It makes me deeply concerned that Germany 2024 is bringing its brand of political repression and actively tormenting communities who came seeking solace. The delayed release of this video comes the weekend after Berlin’s police department and mayor dispatched hundreds of police officers to stop a conference on Palestine – see reporting in the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, and Deutsche Welle (English), just to name three mainstream outlets. Without any apparent legal grounds or logical explanation, banning a doctor with experience working at Gaza’s al-Shifa from speaking the weekend before the discovery of mass graves, Germany’s federal government now labels activist as “Islamist.” That tag will surely surprise participants who were left-wing Jewish activists and, in some cases, Arabic folks who have literally been beaten in the streets protesting Islamist politics. The federal government will also add questions about Israel’s right to exist and German “special responsibility” to the state of Israel to naturalization tests, which means it’s very possible that someone who grew up in territory occupied by Israel, who fled that territory, will now be quizzed to see if they support their former occupier to get a passport.

If these communities stay, though, this video may give you a hint to why – people who have survived the regime’s war in Syria are unlikely to be impressed by Berlin’s current CDU mayor Kai Wegner.

There’s been what seems like an eternity between 2022 and 2024. That makes it harder than ever to predict even next week, let alone 2025. But rather than listen to politicians or government bureaucrats with what appears to be a sub-standard understanding of even the basics of the issues, I would listen to this powerful generation of artists who are finding ways of healing themselves and the people around them. And when neither Arabic nor English can express their feelings, you can listen to them making music. I believe in whatever we’ll all do next, mixing this with that. In dark times, that “strength in the sound” takes on a meaning unimaginable before.

Make your transition.