Photos via Hyte/Michael Poselski/OffBrandProject.com
On Sunday during July 4th long weekend, while people all over the country were patriotically flipping burgers on charcoal grills and shooting fireworks, I found myself staring into the eyes of the Statue of Liberty, watching bright green lasers flash across her weather-beaten face as techno rumbled through the grass below me.
Moments earlier, I'd taken a wind-swept ferry ride to Governor's Island, a 172-acre grassy oasis off the southern tip of Manhattan, where international techno series HYTE was throwing a two-stage, outdoor festival in partnership with New York marketing group RPM, on a sweeping field with panoramic views of lower Manhattan and Lady Liberty.
Having suffered through chaotic shitshows at other jumbo-sized music festivals, I braced myself for a battalion of popped-collar finance bros and hula-hooping EDM kids. But my companions on this questionable journey, both DJs and promoters in Brooklyn's underground techno scene, assured me that the lineup—which included European superstars Maceo Plex and Marcel Dettmann, techno experimentalists Rodhad and Matrixxman, and buzzy newcomers like Peggy Gou—would make the trip worth it.
After clambering off the ferry, we made our way past friendly security guards and a chain-link fenced perimeter towards the VIP area—a cozy tented lounge padded with cushions and rugs. After climbing on a giant inflatable duck for a quick smoke break, we headed to the main stage.
From a distance, all we could see a few hundred people idly chatting in groups or lazily swaying side to side. I wondered if the headliner hadn't gone on yet—until we turned a corner, and I spotted Richie Hawtin leaning over the decks, playing spaced-out minimal techno while haloed by the phosphorescent glow of a dozen giant video screens behind him on stage.
Thankfully, the vibes were aplenty at the second, smaller stage, thanks to a back-to-back set by Chris Liebing and Speedy J under their joint alias, COLLABS. Starting with droney, ethereal vocals floating over chugging bassline, the duo build up a pressure-cooker of tension over their two-hour set, which slowly exploded into coils of acid synths, clattering snares, and metallic pistons of pounding drums. Eyes closed, you could be fooled into thinking you were in a dark, subterranean dungeon rather than a breezy field under the stars.
As we waited in a sweaty, half-hour line to board the ferry back home, my friends and I came to the conclusion that the well-organized, slickly produced festival had far exceeded our expectations—and could be a promising sign for New York nightlife of what's to come.
Big-room tech-house is nothing new to New York City—it's soundtracked local warehouse parties like Resolute and Blkmarket for over a decade, before moving into Williamsburg clubs like Output and Shimanski in the mid-2000s. The sound was also no stranger to Pacha New York, where Speedy J and Chris Liebing, along with Ibiza titans like Carl Cox, played before the long-running venue closed in 2016. These days, you can catch tech-house DJs spinning everywhere from Meatpacking spots like Cielo to Bushwick's The Brooklyn Mirage—a palatial indoor/outdoor venue run by Swiss promoters Cityfox. HYTE headliners Rodhad, Maya Jane Coles, and Peggy Gou have all played at dusty underground raves in New York in the past few years.
But big German techno brands, like Time Warp and HYTE, are new to this corner of the world. Berlin-based HYTE was co-founded by Andy Bell, who also runs Ask My Management, an artist management company that reps DJs like Chris Liebing, Marcel Dettmann, and Loco Dice who regularly play at their parties in Ibiza.
Lineups at Time Warp read like an overview of the global dance music industry's top players, with crate-digging DJs renowned for their masterful takes on house, techno, and everything in between—such as Laurent Garnier, Ricardo Villalobos, Sven Väth, and Nina Kraviz—regularly making appearances.
Time Warp and HYTE have long-established markets in party cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, and Barcelona, but have only recently made forays Stateside. Both debuted in New York in 2014, and have been throwing heavy-duty warehouse parties in venues like The Brooklyn Hanger ever since. Cityfox landed in New York in 2012, but their brick-and-mortar venue, the Brooklyn Mirage, just opened last weekend after a months-long battle with the city.
However, it was hard to ignore that not a single DJ from New York played at HYTE, save for Russian transplant Julia Govor. Though Brooklyn's electronic scene is flourishing, the "Bushwick techno" sound—characterized by a lo-fi crunch and industrial drum kicks in the vein of New York pioneers Adam X and Frankie Bones—was nowhere to be heard during the time I spent at the festival.
And though HYTE's second stage this year was a partnership with Detroit's Movement festival, none of the artists—except Richie Hawtin—actually have roots in Detroit. Thus, HYTE is more of a European-style festival on American soil, with a market that's expanded to include both a mass audience and heads.
The arrival of these European institutions could be a sign that America's electronic dance music scene is maturing. Kids who were gorging on EDM a few years ago, when DJs like Steve Aoki and Deadmau5 were dominating festival stages, are now listening to DJs like Matrixxman and Jackmaster.
While these techno acts are already considered "mainstream" by my friends in the underground, it's still cool to see that they have such mass appeal in New York, where five years ago, the only options you had for a giant electronic music festival were Electric Zoo and EDC.
What gives me the most hope for our future is that looking out into the crowd, I saw people of all stripes—EDM kids, crusty old ravers, finance bros, Euros, and even rave snobs like me, dancing together under the shadow of Lady Liberty. With the addition of more local talent—and maybe a few more ferries to shuttle us to and from the island—HYTE could be exactly the kind of techno bacchanal that New York nightlife needs.
Michelle Lhooq is on Twitter