In Praise of the Small Room

I started 2022 thinking about a few things and decided to write a bit of a ramble to see what discussions may arise. I apologize in advance if it’s a little hard to read, I couldn’t do a better job of putting thought to virtual page. This is not something that came to me this year specifically, but it was exacerbated by the return to attending a couple of parties & friends’ gigs and observing a few things after spending a couple of years at home.

I have a few friends who throw some of the bigger “underground” parties* here in São Paulo and who for the most part are quite good DJs in their own right. I’ve been attending these for a while and have watched them go from occasional small 50-100 people gatherings in local bars, to big monthly bashes in open spaces with attendance in the hundreds if not thousand and a bit people. It’s cool, they have made money and their reputations on that and it’s all well deserved. In the past I was very much looking forward to becoming a part of this scene as a DJ (in some cases I have), but having spent a good time looking at the people attending these events has also given me some pause, and made me think again about a few things.

It’s funny how the better known these parties became, the more people would ask for more - and quite aggressively so. Once you’re talking about the high hundreds of people at a party, with proper promotion, lineups and $ spent on the event, it becomes a case of the more you give, the more people ask for of the event itself, and, what’s craziest: the less they were willing to give. It’s inversely proportional - the bigger the crowd, the more it expects of the event - and the DJ in particular, whilst giving back less and less in terms of that energy we can all feed off of, both as dancers/listeners but especially as DJs.

What I mean by that is that when the parties were small, it seemed to me like there was a 50/50 exchange between DJs and crowds, where each would uphold their part of the bargain and thus make for a memorable night. When crowds grow big, at least here, they grow to become this boring mass of “gimme more” without ever really a) properly appreciating what they have, and b) giving back simply by opening their ears up, and dancing - and yes, social media and the like has made this worse. In fact, these days I think most crowds don’t deserve the kinds of parties that some very passionate people put on for them, a lot of the times losing money in the process.

My point is, now that life is coming back to normal, I’ve been thinking more and more about what I want as a DJ (important to note that I do not make a living out of it!), and I’ve more or less come to the conclusion that going back to the small room might just be the best way of simply having a great time playing music. A residency at a no-bullshit basement, with a small bar, a decent soundsystem, and 100 people who are there, ears open, ready to dance for the sake of it - that has suddenly become my dream gig again, and I think it’s well within the realm of possibility.

I was just wondering what the TP Forum’s opinion is on all of this. Is this big crowd dilemma something you observe where you are? Given the choice, for the sheer fun of it, would you prefer a smaller crowd to a bigger one? Or am I completely nuts? Does this strike a nerve?

Let me know either way…

*(just the fact that there is such a thing as a big underground party is really the crux of the issue here)

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The room size thing is a very personal thing. But the crowd at any given event is really what makes the thing happen. The mixture of good music and a friendly and happy crowd are what make that magic happen. The smaller room is nice to keep the interflow of energy immediate and that is appealing when the good crowd are in. However, if that crowd is just not a good crowd(aggressive, not really into music, just rude and on the wrong drugs etc) then the small room becomes a terrible experience of negative feedback.
I’ve never been a fan of the large room as a punter or a DJ. The super club era confirmed that for me.

Drawing that “good crowd” is one of those things that seems to be getting more and more difficult. But then it was always something that took time, good decisions and a genuine connection with the clubbers. Just going for an easy earner is a surefire way to compromise a night that could have been better, if handled more sensitively IMO.

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As a punter in my 20s I used to love massive parties, getting lost in crowds, lazers, podiums, go-gos, the works and now I’d hate all that. you get older, more picky, and don’t have the energy or patience to wade through a load of whoppers or multi-lineups that have to appease the crowd with lazy bangers through their 90 min slots. fuk dat as the esteemed Sagat once said… My rule of thumb is not only who’s doing the party but where. It has to be discreet, hard to find & run by people who care, otherwise forget it.

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The crowd is indeed the thing. Parties that have a core group who are in sync with long standing residents have tended to be the best imo. But that takes a long time to build up. And for the more underground sounds it’s never going to be a massive party. The trick is to keep adding new layers to the original vibes to replenish some of the crowd over time otherwise it gets stale.

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Disappointed to learn this thread is not about the porcelain throne :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

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My friend Emma Warren has this concept on crowds at music events called Musicing… It sort of works along the principle that with no audience participation you have no band or DJ. And it’s very true. Is what you are saying Mario that the bigger the event the less the audience gives… As many of us here can attest that feeling of being in a room of people building the atmosphere as the records build is pretty high on the list of good things in life… I like the idea of musicing… I think she might have got it form somewhere else. Will ask…

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It’s a generational thing isnt it? I think generally speaking the youth want that big event experience; I’m not sure the small room vibe has the same kind of appeal as it does to those of us who grew up with that. I can’t speak for everywhere but here in the UK there has definitely been a shift in the last 10 years to bigger staged events. Festivals, warehouse parties and weekenders have contributed to the weekly club night in a small to medium venue to all but die out. Younger folk want more bang for their buck; they dont have as much disposable income so they want a line up with hundreds of DJs, the huge production and razzmatazz etc etc. All of that then creates a competitive situaton where each event has to be more, more, more and in return thats what the audience expects. And the larger the audience the flatter the atmosphere. I couldn’t think of anything worse, the very thought of attending one of those events makes my blood run cold. Of course there are still pockets of DJs and promoters flying the flag for a small room party, and I take my hat off to those that make it work but I think its never been harder to get something like that off the ground. Hopefully we’ll reach a situation like the early 2000s when the ‘superclub’ bubble burst and there was a return to smaller parties and clubs for a while. That was the thinking at the start of the Pandemic, that there would be a big reset but it just hasnt happened and the status quo has largely returned.

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Yeah, depressing, isn’t it.

So much for the great reset!

Give me a small venue with a decent system.any day of the week. I’d rather be partying with 100-200 folk who know their onions than at some godforsaken massive event.

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One of my all time favourite clubs was Club 69. A small, dark sweatbox, just the way I like it.

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Loved plastic people, visions, dance tunnel, the toilet, 54, sosho, russian bar… all gone now. A handful i know cling on here in spain, good loyal crowds albeit shitty sound limiters, same as it ever was.

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I agree 100%. Being that close to the crowd can have its disadvantages, however the good thing about what I’m saying is that when you’re talking about 100 people, there’s a bigger chance you’re gonna have a group that is there for the enjoyment of it.

This I agree with 100%.

That’s the thing, we already have these people here, and I also think even these friends of mine I mentioned sort of long for a small room sometimes. They make a lot of money with the bigger parties (and lose a lot of money when they go wrong too - NYE this year was a big example…) but I’m not sure they’re feeling the connection with the crowd as much, anymore. It’s sort of sad to see. But they definitely have people following them around, which is why if you trek all the way to the frontline, that’s usually where that magical group of supporters is dancing their heads off.

I’m interested to learn more about this, and yes, that is what I’m saying, for the most part.

This is absolutely the case, absolutely, although I’d point out that younger folk are usually the ones that can stand 12h parties the best (I’m 32, for reference). So that makes sense. Again, I think it becomes a spectacle and the bigger it gets, the less “intimate”, and I think those of us who have witnessed the “intimate” nights know that that is something very very special. DJs don’t have to be the focal point after all.

Indeed, but there still is time. And Ironically in a city as big as São Paulo, I actually think keeping a small room night alive might be easier, as there are plenty of options for everyone, so you can keep things small for those who want small. That’s what I’m about to try, anyway.

Indeed, though I still believe there’s a case for smaller rooms in an inflation ridden post pandemic world. Especially here in Brazil where our currency isn’t worth shit these days.

Thanks all for the answers so far.

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Apart from the early rave scene a lot of my best clubbing experiences - Plastic People, Velvet Rooms, Bar Rumba on a Monday, Herbal on a Sunday have been in smaller rooms with a regular crowd, quite often non Friday, Saturday night - that way you just get you hardcore clubbers, dedicated music lovers and general school night loons.

Even in big rooms on a Friday or Saturday I’ve always found the dancers and true music lovers find themselves and huddle together to share the love and vibe amongst all the part timers, singletons looking for love and weekend warriors.

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The all famous rent-a-crowd. Yes they will spend the $$ but as soon as you need them they’ve gone somewhere else.

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Is part of the problem (dare I say it) social media, where people want an experience they can Instagram / brag about - something that looks big with visual appeal

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Oh yeah definitely, I’m sure that’s absolutely a contributing factor too. Something like Elrow springs to mind, their whole aesthetic is built to look good on the socials

To MGG

If you can regularly fill a 50-100 gig by turning up then do that and enjoy.

I am puzzled by the answers which give absolutely no insight to the work needed, the skills needed, the dedicated people and the sacrifices of time and money to run a (successful) night.

I come from a production background, but if you are younger then the night is yours for the taking if you work and learn?

Good Luck

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I didn’t go info further detail since I’m not sure what the rules are any more. Absolutely hardwork, dedication and time sacrified are a given. It used to be about beating the streets, hustling and networking with a stack of flyers in your hand. Out every weekend and building up a circle of friends that are likely to come to your party. Now? It seems to be about creating various eye catching social media posts and hoping for the best

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Same here. As far as the Facebook front…I go to as many as those small events as possible now, even if only for a few minutes to confirm the worst.

If the OP produces an original, well programmed and produced party then sounds like he has the social network.

Absolutely! Especially with the rent-a-crowd lot.

Which is not so different than distributing flyers - the medium has changed, that’s all.

I didn’t make this clear enough in the first post, so I apologise - I absolutely know how hard it is to run a successful night, and I also know how quickly it can all go to shit, as I’ve seen and been part of both ups and downs from the production side.

In fact, one of the pluses of a big metropolis like São Paulo (and also a big country with its own pretty much “protected” cultural behaviour like Brazil) is that people have the ability to forgive and forget (OK, mainly forgive).

The issue I’m raising is from the crowd point of view, and also from the gigging DJ point of view, not necessarily from the production point of view, which might be why it hasn’t come up so much, but I do admit that it is also a feeler as to whether the future sacrifice in time would be worth it, if I decided to go ahead and try (again) to organize a “regular” night.