Why Warsaw is one of the best cities for clubbing in Europe

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Powered by new venues and the open-minded energy of young DJs and collectives, Warsaw has become a clubbing haven to rival the likes of Berlin and Amsterdam

  • Words: Artur Wojtczak | Photos: K-BAR POWIŚLE by Monika Kozak / Techno is a Lady by
  • 26 September 2023

The likes of Berlin, Amsterdam and London are well established clubbing destinations in Europe, but those in search of fresh experiences are heading further into the heart of Central Europe to party in Warsaw. The club culture in the city has been developing for more than 30 years, and is currently experiencing incredible changes. After the pandemic, Warsaw’s scene is in its heyday, with new venues, young DJ collectives and music producers shaping a new image of the Polish capital’s nightlife.

In the book Destination Dancefloor, Mixmag‘s former editor Duncan Dick describes Warsaw as “politically and musically active, one of the strongest scenes in Europe.” Warsaw producers such as VTSS, SEPT and Jurek Przezdziecki play all over the world. Clubs such as Smolna, Luzztro and Jasna 1 are famous for strong foreign bookings and sets by excellent local resident DJs, and attract house and techno fans every weekend.

In recent years (and especially after the beginning of the Russian invasion), Warsaw has become home to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian residents who fled here from the war. Some of them work in the creative industry, others continue their passions by participating in club life and organising fundraising parties.

Warsaw – the city that ‘saw the war’ – is attractive today for its openness, combining modernity with history — here you will encounter both the elegant architecture of modernism of the 1930s and ultra-modern skyscrapers.

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Its popularity as a destination is now hitting new heights. You’ll eat exceptional vegan food here (among world’s best according to Happy Cow) and dance – even on Sundays. In 2020, named the Polish capital as the top rave destination in the world. And last year, in a travel poll of half a million tourists from 178 countries, Warsaw was chosen as the most interesting travel destination for 2023.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a very difficult time for the music industry, brought a surprising amount of positive changes for Warsaw’s nightlife – mainly due to the fact that new venues and young DJs started to actively influence clubbing in the Polish capital.

“The pandemic paradoxically cleared up the atmosphere on the Warsaw scene, which was tense at the time due to, among other things, disputes within the community,” says DJ Truant, whose final pre-lockdown event was a 14-hour long rave with DJs from London’s FOLD that took place in club 999. He’s referring to controversial illegal raves during that period which divided opinion, leading to members of the community concerned with the public health risk to boycott them, and sometimes report them to the press and police. But coming out the other side of lockdown, a new generation is leading the change. “In these three years, the progression of musical awareness has become enormous. Our scene has never accelerated as much as it has from the pandemic days to now!” Truant declares proudly. “Young people are committed, move freely in dance music genres, and are exploratory.”

Young DJ collectives are maintaining respect for the old skool sounds while bringing their own ideas to define a nu-skool approach, starting a quality fresh chapter powered by exploration and determination.

Take the Trainspotting collective for example, who started out rocking secret raves in a former train depot in Praga district in 2021 and now throw their parties in different locations like K-Bar Powiśle.

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K-Bar Powiśle is one of the most interesting places to emerge in Warsaw in recent months. It has a raw, underground atmosphere and well-programmed music series, including the queer party Glitter Confusion and nights specialising in genres such as jungle, garage, house and dub.

The music bar was founded by Warsaw local Tomasz Malinski alongside his Korean friend and business partner Czesio. “We have been friends for years and partying and creating artistic things together, and we have been thinking about opening a place with Korean cuisine for a long time. The next logical step was to open a small club in the Powiśle district, which is a place with electronic music,” says Malinski.

K-Bar Powiśle has become a mecca for fans of broken beats, with flagship events including Meetings of the Selectors, Vintage Dub Culture and Warsaw Jungle Massive.

“People are a bit tired of the ubiquitous techno. A revival of breakbeat sounds has come to fulfil these needs,” the venue’s general manager Anna Smoszyńska says. “There were no jungle parties for so long in this city, [but now] they are coming back with redoubled force!

“Besides, we kind of took in those dub or d’n’b playing crews here, because they had nowhere to play since Klub Pogłos was closed — and demolished. An apartment building is now being built in its place,” she adds, reflecting on how Warsaw is unfortunately not safe from the gentrification that plagues other European club capitals such as Berlin and London.

Anna Borsuk, a resident DJ and the main booker of K-Bar Powiśle, is from Kyiv but moved to Warsaw in 2014. “I once heard my inner voice telling me that Warsaw would be my place – I’m glad I listened to it then,” she says.

“In Ukraine before 2014, people wanted to go to parties with foreign DJs only. Then – because of the changing political situation – no DJ from abroad wanted to play in Ukraine,” recalls Borsuk. “But it was a kind of engine for the development of our local scene. People believed in local artists and the scene made a huge progress! I believe that the huge strength of the Warsaw scene are actually the local DJs.”

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Borsuk recalls that her beginnings were not easy and that she felt judged as a woman, amid all too common sexism and patriarchal attitudes from male club promoters. While still in Ukraine, she started her DJ adventure playing Rominimal (in Poland she was a member of the SOJUZ collective, which promoted minimal sounds), dub and drum ‘n’ bass. “My energy, however, has always been the bassline. And my favorite clubs in Warsaw were Nowa Jerozolima and 1500m2,” she says.

Anna Borsuk runs her own party series MRIJA, with a focus Eastern artists, and CANDYFLIP, which pushes a rowdy, broken bass sound, and soon she’s starting her own booking agency and DJ school.

Today, Anna’s attention is drawn to the young collective Narocz 13, which consists of almost 15 people: they balance their output among musical genres and conduct cultural activities. Among the young talents from the local scene, Anna mentions the young DJ daisy cutter (a resident of the club Jasna 1).

Warsaw is a multicultural city. Already before Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, many citizens of Ukraine and Belarus were coming here to work, and today this community certainly numbers more than a million people. Next to the aforementioned K- Bar Powiśle you will find the underground bar Karma, which was created by Belarusians and is a place where they can meet in the evenings to listen to music and try to escape from bleak political realities.

With Anna, I visit a new record store called BLASK, which is run by her colleagues: Easy Audio and Valdemar ST (they also play together as EAST, and run a foundation, agency and a DJ school). As they both say: there was a lack of such a place in Warsaw – especially for young DJs who are looking for used, cheaper records to practice mixing on. But from the beginning they had a vision that the store would be a place to build a kind of community, and create a place for fans of dance music and club culture to meet. It’s located away from the city centre but conveniently close to a subway station. The interior design, arrangement and acoustics of the space are geared towards excellent sound quality. Records on sale come both from Discogs and DJ collections — you’ll find plenty of techno, breaks, house and minimal and electro. Valdemar ST says that popularity of the store is spread by word of mouth – especially among the Ukrainian and Belarusian communities, after producers from those countries came to Warsaw and began seeking their place here. Easy Audio says there are now nearly 30 DJ collectives in Warsaw – both Polish and from the East. They both tell me about the popularity of Rominimal and a specific kind of tech-house, which has been popular in Kyiv for years, and which is now reaching Warsaw. This kind of ‘cheeky-house’ is often played during the guest DJ in-store sessions that BLASK organises on weekend evenings.

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We talk about the Elementy bar, which is located in the place of a legendary venue, which was significant for the history of Warsaw clubbing, Blue Velvet, as it existed in the 1990s. In the summer, the patio reopens and parties move from the basement to the outside. Looking at the posters hanging in the store, I notice flyers – a big part of them are parties made for expats: made by promoters from Belarus, but also Turkey, Vietnam. “To develop the scene is not to do what is already done, but to create something completely new,” say the owners of Blask emphatically.

Warsaw is also thriving thanks to the energy and creativity of young producers. Although fast techno has been a dominant sound in the city, this trend is changing a lot, with young DJs and producers who long for the groove. Edvvin is very much inspired by techno music from the late ’90s and early ’00s, and is a lover of tribal and hardgroove. He’s been producing since 2019, when he enrolled in a DJ course in Warsaw, and is currently studying music production at the School of Modern Music in Wroclaw. “What I like about partying in Warsaw is the diversity. The scene is well developed. On the one hand we have well-known and big venues like Jasna 1 and Smolna, where we always get cool foreign bookings, on the other hand we can choose more underground artists and collectives. All these events I had the opportunity to participate in greatly influenced my decision to embark on the adventure of production and somehow shaped me musically,” he says.

Before the weekend, I head to the studio of duo Private Press. It is located in Plac Dąbrowskiego, an old building that’s also famous for its parties, formerly home to 999 and next door to Miłość, two clubs which unfortunately did not survive the pandemic. Private Press are excellent producers – they released for such labels as Rekids, and run their own label ZIEMIA along with Bartosz Kruczyński AKA Earth Trax. “We want to work in our studio as long as possible, record new stuff and live our passion.,” say Janek and Adam, who release as a duo but also solo under aliases such as: Newborn Jr. and 2Shy. In January ‘22 they recorded a special mixtape for Ben Sims featuring unreleased tracks and forthcoming gems – shortly after the relaease of their ‘Busy Body’ EP for Sims’ record label Hardgroove.

As producers, Private Press try not to separate the scenes and divide them into foreign and Polish, but if I asked them for personal musical recommendations from Warsaw, they immediately mention the House of Lucy label (“they have cool energy, we like their releases, they do their festival”) and the young producer k:i:o:s:k.

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“We are pleased with the positive feedback from the scene regarding our tracks,” say Janek and Adam. “On the other hand, sometimes we think it’s easier to be booked in Warsaw when you’re a DJ and not a producer.” Polish producers with international reputations and higher booking fees often find themselves ignored by local promoters, who will only pay a premium for foreign artists. Young DJ collectives springing up in the city such as Miazmat and the aforementioned Trainspotting are intent on moving beyond the politics and gameplaying of the established club circuit, not waiting forever to be booked by clubs and creating their own parties, building their own dedicated fanbases.

During Saturday’s party I manage to talk to the guys from Miazmat. The collective consists of: Filip Buchan, Nina Gajewska, Bruno Pawlak, Olga Pietranik, Mateusz Skiba and Artur Szatkowski.

Filip Buchan (DJ Wulver) tells me about the ideas of the collective and the struggle to bring the groove back to techno music. “In Warsaw we actually have two kinds of parties: either it’s fast, hard techno, or there are more open parties – with Detroit techno or classic house music. Miazmat is fighting for groove, for music that is supposed to swing.” Filip raises an important issue for 2023: post-pandemic inflation and the price hikes in the clubs, which has also affected the Polish scene. “I come from an underground environment, from illegal parties. When going to a rave, I don’t want to spend a huge amount of money – that’s why instead of going to superclubs we prefer to do our own parties in interesting locations, for our people,” says Filip, who’s proud that Miazmat has educated their audience and inspired many people to start listening to electronic music.

‘Warsaw hustles harder’ was the motto of Sunday parties in the former club 1500m2 (you can read about it and other legendary venues in the Polish capital in the 800-plus page book 30 Years of Polish Techno Scene), but even today you can catch the right mood for work just on Sunday.

On Monday, I meet for a coffee with BEXA. Born in Germany and based in Warsaw, she has been playing techno for some years and has been working as a young promoter with INSTYTUT, Poland’s oldest techno brand, with whom she prepared a float for Berlin’s Rave The Planet parade in summer and is planning for the new edition of the cult event Let’s Plant a Techno Forest (during four editions INSTYTUT’s fans planted more than 5,000 trees!)

“I’m proud to be a part of a brand that connects generations and throws rave parties that really make a difference,” says BEXA. In March – on the occasion of International Women’s Day – another edition of the Techno Is a Lady event which launched five years ago was held, with an entirely female line-up. It all took place in the ballroom of Warsaw’s iconic building from 1955, the Palace of Culture and Science. “I never wanted my gender to matter, but I encountered several situations early in my career that showed me that I was judged by my gender or appearance,” says BEXA. “I had to fight for my place in the industry for a long time, and sometimes I still feel that I have to prove to guys that I can keep up with them.”

In BEXA’s opinion, initiatives such as Techno Is a Lady, give women (including graduates from the Instytut Dźwięku DJ and production school) a chance to showcase their talent

Such projects have a positive impact on the development of the scene, creating a safe and inspiring space for women in electronic music, building public awareness and encouraging the next generation of talented female DJs in the music industry.

Anna Borsuk’s opinion rings true: “Our people stand for creating true club culture in Warsaw, not business techno!”. Warsaw keeps it real!

Artur Wojtczak is a freelance writer, follow him on Instagram

Mix tracklists:

TRUANT ‘The Groove Sesh Mix’ tracklist:

Pariah – Frogspawn
Decent – Diffuse Network
F Juri Heidemann -Keron
Isaiah – Now Let Me See You
Isaiah – Sleeper Train
Danny Wabbit – When I’m Alone
Chris Flannigan – Disparate
Alpharisc – Freash People (Ben Sims Hardgroove Remix)
Stanz Amor – Push It
Fireground – Recreation
Chris Flannigan – Fix Up
Beau Didier – Tool 10
Danny Rabbit – Girl Scout Cookies
Are:gone – Above Us
Rill – Passionate Kisses
Cirkle – Argus Mike
Humphries & Glenn Wilson – Double D
Andreas Krämer, Thomas Pogadl – Lecker Madchen
Sevds – Primal Fear
Eric Sneo – Big It Up
EARWAX – Chapter
Ika Sile – All Set
D.A.V.E. the Drummer – Hydraulix 16 a
Tommy Lewis x Dylan Fogarty – Playa
JSPRV35 – Shoot Ya
Lars Klein / Michael Burkat – Go on da knees and suck me
Denise Phara – True Form
Truncate – Repeat Dold – Ring Ma Bell
Nene H – Fukken Lie

Photo: Lucy Szuli

ANNA BORSUK ‘Bass In My Heart Mix’ tracklist:

All in Vq – SVZZ
Acetic – Wanger
Digitale Djungle – Sedwick
It’s All Relative – Cando
Running – Smolny (unreleased)
Heaven On Earth – Warehouse Rave (WRXX5)
K2 – Aloka
Tribal – Alien Rave
Looos In Twos (NRG) – Anz
Mr Right – Farsight
Less is More – Buzz Kill x Rico Casazza
S.M.W.Y.D (Show Me What You Do) – Bailey Ibbs
Check 1 – Denham Audio
Devotion – RNBWS
Ender – Al Wooltton
Renegade Steppa – ZeroFG
Bulwark (Nikki Nair SE Breaks Remix) – Glances
Leaving Las Vegas – Farsight
Burning – Alien Rave
Darkside – Interplanetary Criminal
Pipka ;0 4×4 – Some Guest (unreleased)
Jump Up – Some Guest, faron (unreleased)
got to lose control-holoe
Stay Out All Night – Radio Slave

​EDVVIN ‘Da Groovement Mix’ tracklist:

Beau Didier – Take 2 (unreleased)
Edvvin – It’s Gotta Be Funky (Unreleased)
Beau Didier – Take 1 (unreleased)
Edvvin – Roque Da Disco (unreleased)
Edvvin – Do The Damn Thing (unreleased)
Isaiah – Kick some ass
Edvvin – Jingo! (Levzon remix) (unreleased)
Jason – Fura (Edvvin Remix) (unreleased)
Alec Dienaar – Bring it back (unreleased)
Antigone – Your Love
FYuN – Radar
Edvvin – Sperm Donor
Alec Dienaar – Push up (freestyler edit) (unreleased)
Isaiah – Hue (unreleased)
Franklin S x Zisko – Wanabana (Bailey Ibbs remix)
Edvvin – Fuckdat
Vromo – Hoodlum
Jason – firenze
Arta Fact – The system
Isaiah – Your Body
Mezer – There is No rescue
Dj Swisherman – THIS IS MA (unreleased)
Edvvin – Get Down
STIPP & Edvvin – Everything (Unreleased)
Noks – On my way 26. Edvvin – SHADE2

PRIVATE PRESS ‘Raw Feelings Mix’ tracklist:

Private Press – Unreleased
Edvvin – It’s Gotta Be Funky
Private Press – Unreleased
Private Press – Unreleased
Private Press – Unreleased
Edvvin – Move That Body
We Call It Voight Kamp & Private Press – Unreleased
Edvvin – Roque Da Disco
Private Press – Unreleased
Private Press – Unreleased
Private Press – Unreleased
2Shy – Unreleased
Gosha Savage – Tecna Train
Blu Terra – Unreleased
2Shy – Unreleased
Blu Terra – Oooze
Ryterski – Rimword
K-I-O-S-K – Desire Path
2Shy – Unreleased
Blu Terra – Helium Queen
k:i:o:s:k – A Better Tomorrow
Ryterski – Hoenn

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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