On May 24th, Boiler Room announced their release of a new film platform, 4:3. Coined a “Netflix for the Underground”, the techno moguls will curate visual media that focuses on documenting club & dance music culture. The pieces on the site are sure to be entertaining, but more importantly, the collection will trace music history and likely inform its future.
Since their first broadcast in 2010, Boiler Room has become a keystone production company in the growth and international migration of dance music. According to their website, what began as a webcam taped to a wall in a basement has now become a collection of over 4,000 performances by over 5,000 artists.
4:3 refers to the aspect ratio commonly known as “full screen”. In this new era where screen-based media is accessible to a resounding number of people in the first world, Boiler Room hopes that this platform will fill the gaps between those 5 million actively involved in their social community and the 157 million that they connect with monthly through various media campaigns and networks.
But this visual platform won’t just exist online. Tackling themes like “performance, identity, youth culture and anti-establishment”, the company plans to facilitate a body of live events, making 4:3 “rooted in physical experience”. This will include “parties, smoked out film screenings and exhibitions around the world”.
May 29th was the official launch of the site, though there was a soft launch on the 24th, with artists Elijah Wood, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Peaches, and Jenn Nkiru featured as curators.
With the official launch, the site is holding a week long tribute to cult icon Arthur Russell, complete with unseen pieces from the artist’s personal archives and a sound installation by renowned techno artist Andy Stott. Boiler Room will also host a live screening of “Wild Combination (A Portrait of Arthur Russell)” featuring Optimo’s JD Twitch. The event will take place within a church.
As per the company’s website, “Everything [they] do is rooted in the energy of club culture and its ability to bring people together. Open dance floors; where music, ideas and people meet.” In an interview with Campaign, Stephen Mai, chief content officer at Boiler Room, touched on the impact that 4:3 could have on the influential members of Gen Z and Y. This type of foresight seems to speak to the importance of curation in the digital age.
When Google ranks the order in which websites appear in a search, its algorithm determines the likelihood of which the searcher will visit a particular website. Coined “filter bubbles”, these rankings can have a huge impact on our own individual beliefs, behaviors and understanding of the world, from our political affiliation, to what media we consume, and more.
This same concept can greatly impact music listeners and culture consumers depending on which platforms they use. If a listener relies heavily on Spotify in order to find new music, their discoveries can be limited based on what Spotify’s ranking algorithm puts in their suggested playlists or in the “related artists” section. (Maybe this type of thing something to do with the explosion in popularity of repetitive SoundCloud rappers in the past year or so….)
The many curators of 4:3 could bring together content which even the most savvy culture connoisseurs might otherwise have to scour the internet to find. From futuristic Audio Visual pieces to cross-cultural documentaries, providing audiences with films that are culturally rich, even educational, and artistically diverse has the potential to be highly impactful. 4:3 seems less like a musical Netflix, and more like a musical FilmStruck.
According to Mai, the website will “champion underground art movements across music, art, fashion, film and culture by curating and commissioning relevant content that brands can integrate with.”
Though this is worded to sound almost noble, the use of the term brand gives me pause. Market dominance is implicit in the extension of any company. While 4:3 appears largely beneficial to audiences, the idea of pushing the agendas of various brands seems to dilute the innocence of its mission. At the end of the day, Boiler Room is a private company. If plans for 4:3 include privileging content that promotes brand initiatives over that which is artistically significant, might this platform become bias to the point of disingenuousness?
What do you think about 4:3? Do you think other companies might follow in Boiler Room’s footsteps? Or that maybe Boiler Room will use 4:3 to create VR concert experience one day? Is 4:3 just a scam for Boiler Room to monopolize “underground” music?