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 left to die the same death trance did years ago.
Argentina is home to the biggest remaining DJs, producers and labels pushing this edgy sound, which its British pioneers Sasha and John Digweed have all but turned their backs on. And it was becoming unbearable for me to see the incredible prog-heavy lineups being announced every weekend in Buenos Aires.
So I 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.
Grab a beer and plug in your speakers. I’m gonna show you how the session works in Argentina. Or, as they call it: 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 club-goers 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 giving the promoter’s name at the door 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 have to pay they probably just won’t go. Which only cements this system further as the status quo. 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 the single most important word in your vocabulary as an Argentinian electronic music fanatic. It refers to the excitement one feels 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, or a boner. 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 enjoyment of the event while you’re there. That’s why the sweaty mess invading your personal space at 5am can be said 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, would you? (I will explain this later.)
The night of the event is here. 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. Second only to weaseling your way into someone’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 grafting away in front of a mirror right up until the taxi arrives.
Argentines call a dance club un boliche, which actually means ‘bowling alley’ in other Spanish-speaking countries. I can confirm that you are not going bowling.
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 the big dude just stood still in the middle of the dance-floor making you wonder what he’s even doing there. There are still big dudes elbowing you in the back of the head 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, the fact that Nick Muir can sell out an event here is just magnificent. It was also nice to know that there was a fire exit.
One of the best clubs for meeting people is The Bow. This large 2,000-capacity venue is 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 accessories. I’m not talking about fluorescent pants or flashing shoes, but there is something quite oldskool about it all. Once you get deep in the middle of the dance-floor 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.
As I touched upon earlier, women dress much more elaborately here. 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 immaculately done-up girls are also some of the nicest people you’ll meet in the club. As most Argentinian girls have long hair, expect it to be in your face for most of the evening. But the nice thing is that prog events here have a more even gender split than you’ll find probably anywhere else in the world. And when there are ponytails flying in all directions, you know the DJ is ripping it.
Another difference, which could very well explain the above, is that prog events attract a younger crowd. Certainly much younger than I am used to. In Montreal, prog fans are often in their 30s. In Britain, it’s more like 40s. Whereas in Buenos Aires, it’s not uncommon to meet people aged 20 and 21 who seem to be familiar with Robert R. Hardy’s whole discography (and that’s a lot of tracks). You spend much of your time wondering why you weren’t this cool at 20. But although you might feel a bit old being there, the atmosphere doesn’t suffer. Maybe because Argentinians don’t drink as much as people do in Britain, for example.
This is your after-party, and we all know what goes on there. Let’s not go too deep into this one.
All I’ll say is that, as an adopted foreigner, el after 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” or “ahre” and only get less coherent as they go 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 club-goer 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, but it’s very much open to debate. 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.
My favourite prank was to pretend I’d never heard of him. Most Argentinians aren’t familiar with other countries’ music scenes, so they can’t really be sure if you’re fucking with them or not.
But 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 (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 quite sceptical of that. He has a radio slot every Saturday night, and just won an award from the city for being a general legend. Usually if I was struggling to make conversation with an Uber driver I would just namedrop Hernán 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 at the huge Forja events centre in Córdoba, on two consecutive nights to help cope with the demand. However, most people just go both nights, so it doesn’t help with the demand at all. It just gives you an epic two-day blow-out to look forward to every year.
Stuck in Europe’s shadow?
What surprised me most about the three months 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 non-elite DJ, my greatest ever experience was the opportunity I got to play in La Plata, a small but lively 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. When I was reflecting on this with an Argentinian 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 tend to travel as much as we do in Europe, they take it for granted. And they can’t understand why someone would travel so far to experience their scene in the same way that thousands head to Berlin or Ibiza every year.
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. Even the smaller events are big enough that you feel part of something, but they’re also underground enough in that the wrong ‘uns are few and far between. Most people are there for the right reasons, and any wrong ‘uns are swiftly shunned. 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 for a while 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.