Buenos Aires at night

The Ultimate Guide To Argentina’s Progressive House Culture

The Argentinians might not have invented progressive house, but they’re certainly the guardians and saviours of this beautiful genre. If it wasn’t for the fierce loyalty to underground progressive sounds shown by Hernán Cattáneo and his younger compatriots, our beloved ‘prog’ would have been bastardized in the same way trance was long ago.

Argentina is home to the biggest remaining DJs, producers and labels pushing this sound, which its British pioneers like Sasha and John Digweed all but turned their backs on years ago. And it was becoming unbearable for me to see the incredible lineups that the capital Buenos Aires boasts every single weekend.

So I learned a bit of castellano, quit my day job and headed south to see what all the fuss was about. And I was not disappointed. What I discovered was an open and welcoming community based on an intense passion for progressive house music. El progre, as they call it, is so much a way of life that it has earned its own range of vocabulary that can barely be translated into English.

So crack open a beer and read on. I’m gonna explain to you how the session works in Argentina – or as they call it there, la joda.

Get your entrada! (…or don’t)

In Argentina, the event is called la fecha and your ticket is called la entrada (or la anticipada in the case of an ‘early bird’ ticket). The first thing I noticed is that “e-tickets” are much less common here than in Europe and North America. Even if you buy your ticket online, you often have to go and pick it up. The oldskool system of promoters running around delivering tickets to clubgoers is still very much alive here, and I sometimes chose to do things this way purely for the opportunity to meet a promoter and expand my network. Be prepared to get regular unsolicited messages on Facebook, Instagram and even Whatsapp from promoters pushing their entradas.

This system might sound like a lot of hassle, but the good news is that you don’t need a ticket for many of the events in Buenos Aires. Promoters will offer you a spot on la lista, a guestlist that’s either reduced or free before a certain hour. It seems you don’t actually get added to a list – you’re literally just name-dropping the promoter to get in. Women usually get a better deal on la lista. In fact, I found that girls in BA are so used to getting into events for free that on the rare occasion they are asked to pay, they just won’t go. Which only perpetuates the scene’s reliance on this system. But considering women aren’t even allowed an abortion in this country, the least they deserve is to get to see Mariano Mellino for free.

The manija begins

Now that you’ve got your ticket, the early tingles of manija will begin to radiate through your body. Manija, which literally translates to ‘handle’, is hands-down the most important word in your vocabulary as an Argentinian electronic music fanatic. It basically refers to intense excitement one feels about doing something – in particular, about attending an electronic music event and taking part in all the debauchery therein.

When I first heard this word I presumed that manija was something you have, like butterflies in your stomach. But I was greatly mistaken. Manija is a state of being, and thus the correct way to declare your manija is to say “estoy manija”. This state seems to refer to both the anticipation of an event and your peak-level enjoyment of said event. That’s why the sweaty mess invading your personal space at 5am can be considered to be “too manija”. Indeed, Argentines consider there to be a respectful level of manija that should not be exceeded. After all, you wouldn’t want to be considered a ninja (which I will come to explain later).

Bahrein in Buenos Aires
Dancing in the basement at Bahrein in Buenos Aires

La previa

This is essentially what Brits call ‘pre-drinks’ and North Americans call ‘pre-game’. Occasionally, la previa will be an organized event with a DJ and some space to dance, but usually it’s just a gathering of close friends getting ready, listening to music and watering their manija with their drink of choice. If you’re lucky, there’ll be a dog you can play with (I miss you, Tanguito!)

As a visiting foreigner, it feels like quite an honour to be invited to la previa. It’s almost like being invited to your friend’s family asado on a weekend. Who am I kidding though – Argentines invite you to everything. That’s why this place is so great.

People will likely take a lot of interest in you as the extranjero and it’s a good opportunity to get to know the fine specimens who will be chatting absolute nonsense to you in a few hours time. The guys, anyway. You’re lucky to catch a glimpse of anything female at la previa because the girls are usually locked away in the bathroom making masterpieces of themselves right up until the taxi arrives.

El boliche

Argentines call a dance club un boliche, which actually means ‘bowling alley’ in other Spanish-speaking countries. I can confirm that the place you arrive at is not a bowling alley.

Refreshingly, there’s little temptation here to arrive “fashionably late” even when tickets are in-hand. Argentines want the full experience and rarely skip the warm-up DJ.

And they dance all night. It’s rare to come across that stocky dude just stood still in the middle of the dancefloor making you wonder what he’s even doing there. There are still stocky dudes elbowing you in the back with their dance moves though, so I’m not sure what’s worse. I did find some events in Buenos Aires to be disappointingly oversold. For Nick Muir at Niceto Club, I spent the night dancing in the doorway of the fire exit. Then again, that Nick Muir can sell out an event here is just magnificent.

One of the best clubs for meeting people is The Bow. This large 2,000-capacity venue tends to be a bit roomier and better lit than the city’s other venues, and there’s a massive outdoor area at the back of the club that will host some of the best conversations you’ll ever have in this country. This is in stark contrast to Bahrein, a dark little sweat bunker where speaking is virtually forbidden. Bahrein is probably the best club experience in BA for real progressive music lovers, with its low ceiling, fantastic acoustics and talented locals. But it’s best enjoyed in a squad because there are few opportunities to connect with strangers.

Argentinians really go in for their rave toys and accessories. I’m not talking about fluorescent pants or flashing shoes. But once you get deep in the middle of the dancefloor at The Bow people will offer you lollipops directly from their mouths and put tiger balm on your nose without asking for permission. In general, people are always looking to enhance your experience in some way, particularly if you appear to be dancing alone. This is amazing if you’re not shy about that kind of thing.

Another noticeable difference between partying here and partying in Europe or North America is that women dress much more elaborately. Some wear running shoes but most of them are in platforms and clearly spent hours getting ready. This is purely a cultural thing though and says nothing about their nature. Some of the most intimidatingly done-up girls are also some of the nicest people you’ll meet in the club. As most Argentinian girls have long hair, expect to have it flying in your face for most of your time in the club. But the nice thing is that progressive house events have a more even gender split than you’ll find probably anywhere else in the world. And when you see a raging ocean of horizontal ponytails in front of your eyes, you know the DJ is ripping it.

The progressive crowd is most certainly younger here than I’m used to elsewhere in the world. In Montreal, for example, it’s a 30s scene. And in Britain you could argue it’s pretty much 40+ these days. But in Argentina, you’re going to meet kids in their early 20s who are familiar with Robert R Hardy’s entire discography. It’s impressive.

The Bow in Buenos Aires
The Bow, in Buenos Aires, looking packed to capacity

El after

This is your after-party, and we all know what goes on there. It’s no different here.

The only thing is that, as an adopted foreigner, this is the stage of the night where people know you’re still there but have stopped making things easy for you. Most sentences start with “boludo” and only get less coherent from that point on. Just be happy you made it this far. It means the Argentinians like you.

Other words you should know

There are a couple of other important expressions you’ll come across if you spend any time going to electronic music events in Buenos Aires.

Ninja – a ninja is an obnoxious clubgoer who attends electronic music events for the wrong reasons, either as an excuse to take a lot of drugs or just because they want to be a part of the scene. You can tell you’ve got a ninja on your hands because they are clearly enjoying themselves a little too much, invading your personal space, whooping and whistling. This is always a negative thing – you cannot be a proud ninja.

Plancha – this is the Spanish verb for doing the ironing, and it has become a curious but very well-used expression in electronic music circles. Plancha refers to prog that is too gentle and dreamy. An example of a plancha DJ would be someone like Fernando Ferreyra, although it’s quite open to interpretation. Members of Argentina’s techno community even label Hernán Cattáneo as plancha. Using this word in its verb form (planchar), you can talk about how a DJ is “plancha’ing you”, as if they are gently ironing you like a shirt. If you were to tell your friend that you intended to go see a DJ he considered plancha, he might jokingly ask you “vas a poner una camisa?” (“Are you going to wear a shirt?”) Crazy.

The influence of Hernán Cattáneo

I think we can all agree that el maestro Hernán Cattáneo is the greatest progressive house DJ of all time, purely for the loyalty he has shown to this genre where others have strayed. Even in Montreal, where he delivers incredible sonic journeys exceeding 12 hours, he’s treated like some kind of rave father figure or perhaps even a God. So you can imagine what the Argentinians think of him.

The influence of Hernán is the only way progre could have become so disproportionately popular in Argentina. I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s a national hero, but he’s significantly more popular than any DJ in any other country (I mean, barring guys like Calvin Harris – but you know what I mean). Argentinian friends tell me that Hernán is still not popular enough in this country to be known by the average person, but I’m really sceptical of that. He has a radio slot every Saturday night. He even won an award from the city for his contribution to culture. And usually if I was struggling to make conversation with an Uber driver, I would just namedrop him as my reason for being there and we would spend the rest of the journey talking about him.

What might surprise you is that if you visit Argentina even for an extended period of time, you probably won’t get to see Hernán perform. Incredibly, he only plays on one weekend each year, and it’s not even in Buenos Aires. He plays two consecutive nights at the huge Forja events centre in Córdoba, and most people go both nights. So tickets have to be bought months in advance and sell out quickly. But I attended this year, and it was just incredibly endearing to see how much the Argentinian people love Hernán. Apparently there was around 18,000 people over the two days, and the event went on to win a DJ Mag Latin America poll for ‘Event of the Year’, beating competition from Richie Hawtin and Armin van Buuren.

John Digweed at Mute, Mar del Plata
Incredible scenes for John Digweed on the beach at Mute, Mar del Plata

Stuck in Europe’s shadow?

What surprised me most about the year I spent in Buenos Aires was how unaware porteños are of how exceptional their scene is. There is a widespread impression that all the best parties are in Europe, or Miami, despite the fact that the world’s elite progressive DJs play here more regularly than anywhere else in the world.

As a DJ, the greatest gig I ever played was in La Plata, a small but intriguing city on the outskirts of the capital. I was amazed and flattered by the excitement people had about coming out to see an international performer, despite the fact I am still an amateur. When I was reflecting on this with a porteño friend he wasn’t at all surprised, telling me “it’s very Argentinian to presume that someone from a different country will do a better job than anyone from here would do”.

This was far from what I had been expecting, having read that Argentinians can come across as arrogant and nationalistic. Don’t get me wrong, they are proud people – in fact, they set an extremely good example of staying united and resilient in the face of political and economic unrest. But as an electronic music fanatic, I found myself all too often having to explain my reasons for being here. For me, it’s been obvious for years that this place is the capital of the world for progressive. And yet, probably because Argentinian people don’t travel as much, they have an underdeveloped appreciation for what they have and can’t understand why someone would travel so far to be a part of it.

It’s all just cool enough

Before I got to Argentina, I didn’t know fully what to expect. I saw the photographs of 5,000+ people at Digweed in Mar Del Plata and wondered if maybe progressive house is just too big here. “What if these events are just full of Guy J-loving douchebags?” I would ask myself.

But ultimately, prog in Argentina is just the right amount of cool. The events are big enough that you feel part of something, but it’s still underground enough in that most people are there for the right reasons. People are knowledgeable about music and know how to party, which is just the sort of blend you want.

The only downside is that some of the events are over-subscribed, and from what I’ve been told this has been a problem in Argentina for a while. Electronic music events were banned in Buenos Aires after six people were killed at Timewarp in 2016, and it looks like there are still some greedy production companies out there who have not learned anything.

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