Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival Recap: An All-You-Can-Eat Dance Buffet Never Tasted So Good

In the age of raves (as seen in an episode of 'Girls'), BEMF proves that Brooklyn's still got it.

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Nov 11 2014, 1:53am

Galantis at Music Hall of Williamsburg during Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival. (Photo by Kaitlin Parry/Shoot People)

Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival (or "BEMF" as anyone with a mouth prefers to call it) is a small festival with big ambitions. The goal: to *prayer hands emoji* the best of Brooklyn's dance scene. Whether that means Damian Lazarus feeding Felix Da Housecat top-shelf tequila in a glittering nightclub, or Omar S presiding over a foggy Bushwick loft party, depends on what you want and who's asking. (For the record, both were great, but Omar S wins in the "soul-shaking dancefloor revelations" category.) But whether you're weathered old head or a cherubic NYU undergrad cowering behind a bouncer for the (Madonna voice) very first time, one thing holds true: if you want to gallop around eight music venues holding more than sixty acts over two and a half nights, there is no better place in the whole fucking world to do that than in good old Brooklyn.

Just like the borough that it celebrates, BEMF is constantly evolving, with each step drawing a new wave of fans, corporate vultures, and inevitable accusations of selling out. The festival began in 2008 as a one-off party in the now-defunct BKLYN Yard—a tree-lined outdoor venue on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. The lineup featured DJs like Treasure Fingers (oh god, remember how much you used to love Treasure Fingers?) and Cobra Krames. Most importantly, it was an outdoor party during the summer, which meant one glorious thing: dancing all day under the sun.


A sign from Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival in 2009. Those were heady days. 

The next year, BEMF moved to a 19th century industrial complex, also in Gowanus, called the Old American Can Factory. This time, the lineup reflected that halcyon electro era via The Juan Maclean and Designer Drugs. Ask anyone who was present during these grungy early years and their eyes will pool with nostalgia. The glory days, they will sigh.

In 2010, Brooklyn was evolving and BEMF followed suit, moving closer to where it is today. Instead of DIY parties in weird spaces, you had big, international DJs in two established venues: Kingdom, Falty DL, Azari & III, and Sinden in Public Assembly and Music Hall of Williamsburg. 

Fast forward a few years, and now we've arrived at this year's BEMF. This is the BEMF of Brooklyn 2.0—the Brooklyn that Jay Z raps about driving a Lexus in. The Brooklyn Posh Spice names her babies after. The Starbucks-on-Bedford-Avenue Brooklyn. The post-285-Kent Brooklyn. The Très-Brooklyn! Brooklyn. The raves (as seen in an episode of Girls) Brooklyn. Brooklyn 2.0 catches a lot of flack for all of this shit, but there's a flipside to gentrification: this side of the East River is now bursting at the seams with big clubs, established music venues, and fixed-up warehouse spaces. With a weekend all-access pass, BEMF 2014 offers you a taste of all of this. Welcome to the grand, all-you-can-eat buffet of Brooklyn's booming dance music scene.


Breakdancers at a DJ Shadow show. (Photo by Kaitlin Parry/Shoot People) 

Want to spend a night with a prince of Ibiza? Forget Manhattan's Meatpacking District. Damien Lazarus is doing a back-to-back set with surprise guest Felix Da Housecat at Verboten. (The same glitzy club where DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist played a dinnertime tribute to Afrika Bambaata the night before.) Across the street, German techno pioneer Move D is noodling through a live set (including a guitar!) at Output, while Hessle Audio's Pangaea is borderline trolling with 180 BPM techno in the side room. Plus, hey look! Water bottles here are also $5!

Feel like dancing in a more intimate music venue instead? German house stalwarts Booka Shade are casting their groovy spell over a sold-out show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Cult Berlin label White Material is curating a stage at Villain. Dutch producer Martyn is doing a one-hour live set of club hits at Glasslands.


Little Boots (Photo by Kaitlin Parry/Shoot People) 

Or maybe you're up for something a bit more cerebral? Mosey over to Kinfolk Studios—it's a bar that doubles as a bike shop from Japan—and listen to Machinedrum, Deru, Jackmaster, and smattering of industry types debate each other (oh-so-politely!) in a series of THUMP-hosted music panels. Maybe you'll even get a business card or something.

If you pace yourself well—and don't overstuff yourself with too many pleasures early on—you'll even make it to the dessert: the official BEMF afterparty. By "official" we really mean "not official-looking at all"—at 4AM, you'll make your way to a questionably legal loft party far deeper in Brooklyn than any of the nicer, cleaner clubs you've spent your night so far in. Hosted by RINSED, a party promoting outfit that has embedded itself into the fabric of Brooklyn's DIY scene, this party will be smothered in darkness, the only light coming from the stabs of a single laser beam. The men will be plentiful, and drunk, and horny. (Whether this is a good or bad thing is entirely up to you.) The coat check girl will want to hear about your night. The DJ will be from Detroit, he will know his shit, and he will not look up even once for the entire night. The crowd will jubilantly sing along to each song, shouting "Set it out!" into the rafters. And you will know—you will feel it in your aching but hopped-up bones—that even if a weekend at the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival doesn't feel like anything more than a regular weekend out in Brooklyn, it doesn't really matter. Because a weekend out in Brooklyn can be the best weekend in the world. 

Michelle Lhooq is the Features Editor of THUMP - @MichelleLhooq