Boiler Room’s 10 most WTF moments

Photo credit: WhyΤ.org Photography

In its six years of existence, Boiler Room has firmly established itself as a dance music institution. We now take it for granted that we can just tune into live video streams of world-class DJs and artists performing in club or festival settings just about every day of the week; and the archives have become a treasure trove for fans.

But you gotta take the bad – and the weird – with the good. Boiler Room has broadcast heaps of unmissable sets and classic moments, but when you’re producing hundreds of hours of live footage week in and week out, you’re going to have some fails and meltdowns and WTFs too. We’re not just talking about everyday awkward moments like a blown mix or a punter spilling beer on the decks – that happens to every DJ. Nor are we thinking of the sets that are merely bad – that’s no fun. What we’re on about is Boiler Rooms that are so random, chaotic, strange or spectacularly bad they’re good.

To that end we’ve compiled some of the most memorable Boiler Room sets out there (or not out there, as the case may be – as you’ll see, a couple of the more outrageous WTFs have been deleted). After hours of mind-melting research, patterns in the BRTV WTF sets start to emerge: They often feature crazy costumes – especially animal masks – custom-built instruments, distorted vocals, boundaries blurred between the satirical and the earnestly horrible, pancakes and, of course, celebrities mixing badly.

So strap yourself in, maybe hold off eating lunch until you’re done – and enjoy the best of the BRTV WTFs.

#1 Anklepants, Boiler Room Berlin, 2014

Poor Anklepants. As long as people discuss the “worst” Boiler Rooms, he’ll always top the list. The thing is, though there’s no denying this set is not easy to watch – or stomach – there’s nothing “bad” about it at all. It absolutely succeeds according to its own wild internal anti-logic, which is based on long traditions of extremes in avant-garde art and music.

His beats are actually pretty dope and his costume, which is incredibly sophisticated in the way in syncs with his music and took months to design and build, is a work of sheer terrifying genius. It’s just that the denizens of Boiler Room, and perhaps the planet Earth, were not ready for a dude dressed as an alien court jester with an animatronic dick for a snout. Much less one making the sounds this guy’s making with a wireless mic shaped like a futuristic weapon.

#2 Pharoah Chromium, Boiler Room Berlin x CTM Festival, 2013

Boiler Room Berlin: so much to answer for. Pharoah Chromium’s infamous set was recorded a year before Anklepants’, but it’s very much cut from the same alien cloth. His metallic squid mask and custom-designed electronic “flute thing,” as the befuddled presenter calls it, will give anyone who’s experienced Anklepants’ set feverish flashbacks.

But compared to the latter’s wicked beats, Pharoah Chromium’s abstract soundscapes are so obtuse and off-putting that the crowd on hand quickly loses hope. I don’t hold it against him for taking on cosmic jazz and related noise (his moniker seems to be a tribute to Pharoah Sanders, one of my heroes). His crime is thinking that would translate well to Boiler Room.

#3 Thom Yorke, Boiler Room London, 2012

This one, from Boiler Room’s rough ’n’ ready early days, doesn’t have anything as trippy or outrageous as some of the other sets on this list. It’s just quietly Boiler Room at its worst, as well as a depressing example of why certain beloved indie and pop icons should not try to be DJs, at least not in high-profile settings.

This 30-minute set amounts to Yorke playing about six records, with no flow to speak of and mixed badly, while the crowd just politely stands there. If it were a drunken afterparty at his place, it’d be fun. As a Boiler Room it’s awful. On the other hand it may make excellent viewing for up-and-coming DJs who need a shot of self-esteem.

#4 Erykah Badu, Boiler Room Los Angeles x The Low End Theory, 2012

Yorke’s fellow Low End Theory alumnus Erykah Badu also takes the cake for celeb DJs who need to practice more at an early BR session recorded at Low End Theory in 2012.

Badu trainwrecks terribly multiple times over the 30 minute-set, to the chagrin of the dancers in animal masks – wait, what? – who drift in and out of the background. It’s not like there’s nothing good going on here; she plays some beautiful and eclectic funk, jazz and Afro tracks in proper LET style, but overall it’s frustratingly flat and disjointed.

#5 DIVA, Boiler Room Toronto, 2013

It’s impossible to tell whether this is a performance-art satire of the worst excesses of New Age music and spirituality – like something straight out of Portlandia – or if DIVA is really earnest in her spacey guided meditations and hilariously goofy costume, vocals and interpretive dance.

Either way it’s priceless, one of the funniest things you’ll ever see on Boiler Room. The best thing is watching the reactions of the very docile attendees, as they gamely keep straight faces, politely nod their heads to the somnambulant sounds and try to stay awake.

#6 GFOTY, Boiler Room SXSW, 2015

At least with GFOTY, we know it’s supposed to be a pisstake – “Girlfriend of the Year” is a project by British artist Polly-Louisa Salmon that satirises the poppier, fluffier, glammier side of club culture. Knowing that doesn’t necessarily make this set easier to digest though.

Clad in American-flag-printed hot pants and Beats by Dre headphones, playing Abba and Pitbull at the wrong speed, belting out a karaoke-ish cover of the Bangles’ ’80s pop ballad Eternal Flame, constantly changing the tempo or turning the sound off by “mistake,” it’s a portrait of a pop star train wrecking on the decks that feels too real.

#7 DJ Scotch Egg, Boiler Room Berlin, 2014

This set was recorded during the same session as the infamous Anklepants one, and it has some of the same is-this-real-or-am-I-losing-my-mind quality. My man actually cooks pancakes behind the decks. Musically it’s hard to bear though, marked by headache-inducing cartoon gabba beats supplemented by 8bit melodies from multiple actual Gameboys hooked up to his system and white-noise squelches on the effects-laden mic. (Nice apron though.)

#8 Otto von Schirach, Boiler Room Berlin, 2014

Yet another mindmelter from the same Berlin session as Anklepants (what a day that was!), this set features a sweaty Mr. von Schirach dressed in a kitschy ’70s sci-fi-porn spacesuit as he unleashes his satirical pisstakes of Miami ghetto-tech. Highlights include a singlet-clad sidekick in a chicken mask, von Schirach riding a partygoer who’s wearing a horse mask, really bad rapping, the theme from Superman and lots of the squealing, grunting heavily distorted vocals that were apparently mandatory for this BR session.

#9 Skream, Boiler Room SXSW, 2013

One of the more talked-about meltdowns in Boiler Room history resulted when Skream showed up wasted for his set at SXSW. Clearly displaying a lack of motor control, he ploughs through the set credibly enough, though he redlines a lot and at one point climbs onto the mixing desk in a silly rockstar pose.

It’s what happened in the end – in footage that has since been deleted from the archived stream – that makes this one for the ages though. When his time was up, Skream belligerently refused to get off the decks, ultimately unplugging one of the CDJs and throwing it into the crowd. Pure class.

#10 Grimes, Boiler Room Ibiza Villa Takeovers, 2013

Grimes holds the title for the most infamous Boiler Room in history, for that time when she showed up at a pool party at Richie Hawtin’s house in Ibiza to mercilessly troll the techno icon, his guests, everyone tuned in to the live stream – and the whole concept of taking dance music too seriously.

Amongst the highlights of her wildly inappropriate set were the Vengaboys’ I Like to Party, Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina and the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop (presumably not mixed very smoothly). Apparently Grimes was bumrushed off the decks by Azari & III when the powers that be had had enough; the stream was quickly yanked from BR’s channel and now lives only in legend. A cynic might argue that it was not so much some kind of heroic punk protest as it was a publicity-seeking stunt on the part of Grimes. But a look at the smarmy excesses of the party in footage from other sets will make the most uptight traditionalist wonder if she wasn’t onto something.

Jim Poe is a writer, DJ, and editor based in Sydney. He tweets from @fivegrand1.