Before travelling to Lebanon's capital of Beirut, I mentioned to some friends I'd be going and, not surprisingly, their reactions became increasingly alarmed the closer it came to my flight. I'd researched as best I could and I could find no reason not to go, but with our government aiming airstrikes at neighbouring Syria, just 50 miles away, I admit I wondered if I was making the right decision. The second I set foot on Lebanese soil, however, I started to feel a bit silly.
"There are so many other places that I've been that feel sketchy," says Louis from Chaos In The CBD, "and we haven't felt that at all while we've been here. That's why travelling is so important, that you experience it for yourself and you're not fed everything through a television screen."
Beirut, if you didn't know, is more-or-less an even mix of Christians and Muslims (both Sunni and Shia), all of whom live side-by-side. Because of that, beautifully grande mosques and ornate churches compete for larger and larger chunks of the skyline. Food-wise, there are even more competing influences — the Mediterranean, North Africa and various areas of the Middle East can all be tasted — as well the true Lebanese originals. Beautifully fresh salads, intensely flavoured meats and gluttonous desserts can be found in literally every direction, on every corner, down every side street.
Cafes, restaurants, clubs, shopping malls and apartment blocks seem to crop up daily and the gaps in between those are filled by cranes and scaffolding. Where something new and inviting hasn't been built, construction workers can be seen remedying that. We didn't get much time to see that though because we were there for Boiler Room and Ballantine's True Music: Hybrid Sounds show that, as the name suggest, was a mix of local and international artists as well as a mix of electronic and analogue.
The line-up that night included Lebanese acts as well as DJs and artists from New Zealand, France, the Netherlands and beyond. Heading up the electronic end of the night was French producer and DJ Miss Kittin with a heart-racing selection of techno, electro and anything with a punishing 4x4 stomp. Backing her up that night were irreverent rave instigators Chaos In The CBD who, when not behind the decks, could be seen in the crowd inspiring all kinds of madness, and Lebanese techno DJs and producers Jad Taleb and 3lias. Meanwhile, Dutch producer Dollkraut and soulful Egyptian-Lebanese duo Maii & Zeid opened up the night with wide and varied sonic palettes and rich instrumentation.
The point of the Boiler Room and Ballantine's True Music: Hybrid Sounds was to combine the acoustic with the electronic. Not only did the main event showcase international talent from both worlds, but behind the scenes several of the acts collaborated together to produce tracks that blended their contrasting styles for an EP that will be released once the final installment in Valencia has been wrapped up.
Tom Elton, Ballantine's Marketing Manager and Head of Music, explained: "We're constantly testing the waters with ways to keep it fresh and encourage experimentations and collaborations. At the moment, we've been to Russia, Brazil, and now Lebanon, with Spain to come. We're pairing up typically analogue performers with electronic music performers and getting them to create tracks together that we're going to release as an EP. So this is part two of a four-part story. Those are the immediate things that we're excited about."
The venue itself, the Old Hangar Chevrolet in the Hazmieh area of Beirut, was a towering industrial cathedral with a main room so impressively cavernous that your mind was drawn immediately to those classic raves you've no doubt studied on YouTube. Not only did the setting hark back to those golden days, but so too did the crowd. Every possible walk of life was represented in the crowd that night, all converging in the concrete pantheon to rave the night away, including a local legend on the rave scene, decked out in full suit and tie. People from all walks of life, from all subcultures and scenes, and all ages, could be found raving their hearts out beneath the dominating concrete scenery.
One thing is clear in Beirut: after making out the other side of civil war, they value peace more than most and they never want to lose it again. One of the knock-on effects of this is they're incredibly generous and welcoming to tourists, due in no small part to the devastating impact the civil war had on their tourist industry. They're not so much interested in your money as they are in making sure you enjoy your stay in the capital. Your plate is always piled high and your drinks are always topped up. In short, Beirut is a hugely misunderstood city and one deserving of a closer look.
"Beirut shouldn't feel underestimated," headliner Miss Kittin explained. "It's the opposite. It has so much to offer, so much light and hope, and the musical scene is educated and open-minded. It is very important for artists to perform in places with a heavy past and a fragile political-social situation as the counterculture and subculture hosts the ones who can change things and build a better future. We need to support that, everywhere we can. It gives a higher purpose to our job. We all know it's never about just playing music and dance." I ask Miss Kittin what she would say to someone who was wary or nervous about visiting Beirut. "To go and embrace the unique culture, the energy from all the people you meet, they all have a peculiar history to tell and a vision for the future."