Patta Vol. 2: Welcome to Lagos
As homegrown artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid transmit the sound of Nigeria across the globe, a new and rebellious EDM scene is beginning to emerge in the warehouses and clubs back home. One that defies the country's anti-LGBTQ+ laws and strict presidential incumbent. Our man on the ground, Nelson Charity John, finds out.
The warehouse where Sweat It Out - one of the prominent Electronic Dance Music events in Lagos, Nigeria - held its last event is cavernous and imposing. Exposed wirings and large pipes crisscross the ceiling and strobe lights dance around the hundreds of bodies who attend this event with unfailing commitment. The warehouse is located close to Elegushi, one of the many beaches in the coastal city of Lagos. Electronic Dance Music and its extended forms, especially rave parties, have taken over Lagos in the past year. In most social establishments these days, you will find an EDM night or a variation of the event that aims to attend to the growing need for alternative club spaces young Nigerians are constantly demanding for.
Sweat It Out is one of the leading outfits that organise EDM events. Founded by Ebi Atte in 2019, Sweat It Out came to be because “There was never a place for the kind of electronic music that we liked,” Atte tells Patta. Although Atte and his friends used to attend Element House, an EDM event that began long before Sweat It Out did and is still in operation, the Sweat It Out crew wanted to create an EDM event that stuck to the authentic origins of rave parties. At Element House, you will find tables and sections, details that reflect a traditional nightclub in Lagos, except this time, only electronic dance music, instead of the usual Afrobeats music, was being played.
“We decided let’s not do tables, let our nights be like more of a free spirit rave, queer space, essentially a free space,” Atte says.
Sweat It Out has since grown beyond a gathering of friends. The event, which typically happens on the last Saturday of each month, sees hundreds of people, many of them young Nigerians in attendance. “Sweat It Out is a place you actually just come to sweat it out,” Atte says of the main reason why people continue to return in droves each month. “You come and dance, it’s a safe space. Girls feel safe there, guys feel safe there. We strive so hard to make sure everybody is safe there. It’s a church. It’s a sanctuary, it’s different things to different people.”
23-year-old DJ and Producer Aniko who plays regularly at Sweat It Out and other EDM events around Lagos, considers Sweat It Out her favourite place to play at. “Young Nigerians are just looking to have a good time without regular constraints like minimum spend, table bookings, and VIP treatment.” Aniko, who began deejaying at 14 when she was in high school, adds “Spaces like Sweat it Out provide a safe and inclusive experience in the sense that you are able to come as you are without being discriminated based on how you look or how you’re dressed. Come as you are and you’d have a great time.”
Demilade Phillips is a 27-year-old writer living in Lagos. Phillips is an avid attendee of EDM events. Although it wasn’t until last year that he found out about EDM events held in Lagos. “I genuinely had no idea that it existed. I didn’t know there was a [EDM] scene.” At EDM events in Lagos, the DJs are wont to play Afro-house and Afro-tech. As Aniko discloses, “I specifically play afro-house, afro-tech because, well, we’re in Africa, the instruments used in creating this music is familiar to an African sound.” She continues, “Most of what I play is currently what I’m listening to. Nigerians aren’t really receptive to what they’re not used to, being that EDM is more of Western culture, so when it comes to playing for a Nigerian audience, since they typically would want to hear songs they’re familiar with, I try as much as possible to find a middle ground; fusing popular music with house music.”
Alongside organizing one of the biggest events in Lagos, Atte, who works in corporate by day, also deejays at Sweat It Out. “I usually play music from Romanian and British artists,”. Atte has found, over time, that attendees respond well to sampled vocals of old songs - it could be any song from Doctor Love to Diana Ross or even Beyoncé - where the tempo is significantly turned down.
Since the #Endsars protest of October 2020, young Nigerians, who make up 60% of the Nigerian population, have been bullish on finding ways to express themselves. The isolation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic also contributed to the shift happening in the Nigerian nightlife scene. There is a priority now for spaces that prioritise freedom of expression over anything else. That feeds into the fight against oppressive authorities. But more than that, many parts of Nigeria’s subcultures have been making their way to the global stage. Artists like Wizkid, Davido, Rema, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Asake and many others who make Afrobeats music - the classic definition of Nigerian music comprised of Afro-pop, neo-highlife, and other subgenres - have been selling out stadiums around the world and topping global charts. The rise of EMD artists and spaces in Nigeria pales in comparison to the strides Afrobeats music has made, but contributes to the footprints young Nigerians are leaving across the globe. An exchange of cultures and a constant reimagination of those cultures.
In recent times, however, Nigeria is experiencing unprecedented economic difficulties. The incumbent President Bola Ahmed Tinubu removed the fuel subsidy on his first day in office, plunging many further down the poverty line. Over 71 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty, and these recent policies threaten to make life even harder, especially for young people.
“These house music events are getting more and more expensive to plan, which in turn forces a hike in ticket prices,” Aniko tells Patta. “SIO (Sweat It Out) early bird tickets sell out in minutes now, being that they’re the cheapest they’ll ever be. It’s so bad that planners do these raves now without any intention of making a profit just because if they tried to, it wouldn’t be cost-effective for young Nigerians. And let’s not start on the unfavourable policies towards queer youth causing us to have to pay for extra security. We’re constantly adapting to changes the current administration forces down our throats.” Nigeria has an anti-LGBTQ+ law in place that prohibits, amongst many things, same-sex marriages and gatherings. This law is aided by negative societal behaviours towards queerness.
Atte of Sweat It Out also attests to the difficulties young Nigerians face while trying to be a part of the EDM scene “People have to choose between buying petrol or buying a ticket.” Although Atte has hope that the policies will eventually be in the favour of the people, adding “It’s going to be tough, but I think in the long term, the policies being put in place will help the fiscal balance of the country”. In the meantime, the rising cost could affect the growth of emerging EDM events and other creative spaces dedicated to young people. Nonetheless, there is a lot of hope for the future of EDM music in Nigeria.
“As the EDM scene continues to evolve in Nigeria, we can expect to see more local talent like Sigag Lauren and Fāëm emerging and pushing the boundaries of the genre,” Aniko says. “As an active player in that space, I do not doubt Nigeria can become an EDM powerhouse with the proper support and platforms. Just like the global rise of Afrobeat, Nigeria's EDM scene will get its moment. Afrobeat has been around for decades, but its international success was slow and hard-won.”
In Ebi Atte’s view, “Safe spaces are expanding in Nigeria, and people are becoming more progressive. Groups that are marginalised are beginning to find a voice, and that’s very important. Everybody should have a place where they feel safe.”