Laser lights sharply illuminate the darkness on the rooftop of a popular nightlife hot spot in Damascus as eager ravers converge for a glimpse of a growing musical phenomenon.
The audience grooves to the captivating hybrid electro-Arab beats of DJ Phillipe Boshoco, 38, with the rising artist taking the spotlight as a regular draw for the country’s revitalised and flourishing electronic scene.
Led by Aleppo-born Boshoco, Syria’s electronic scene is gaining traction as the chilled, cap-wearing artist looks to export a fusion of tarab (classical Arabic folk music of verse-repeating poems that trigger a trance-like state) and techno.
The artist tells The National: “I started producing hip-hop tracks and electronica when I came back from Canada to Aleppo between 2011 and 2013. But it was in Istanbul that I started Boshoco as part of a collective group with other artists from Syria. In Istanbul, I held a residency at a club called Temple and then toured Europe.”
Boshoco frequently plays to hundreds of followers at Syrian raves and farther afield his rhythmic beats can be heard on dancefloors across Germany, France, and the UK, as he exports his amalgam Arabic takes on classics.
During the decade-long conflict, the dance scene in Syria was scattered and reeling, yet several groups and an electro-zealous community kept the scene alive. Boshoco returned to Syria, where he flourished.
“I was a lawyer in Canada pre-2011 and humanitarian work is close to my heart, my father needed me closer, so I returned to Damascus in 2017, where I played at a club called Tunnel in the capital. This experience changed my life.”
The genre is a combination of twitchy electronic beats and older Arab pop songs, which combines retro music with contemporary electronic rhythms. Boshoco's unique music is inextricably intertwined with his keen interest in traditional songs.
“I like nostalgic, happy, interesting, accessible music, and I love Arabic music, of course, so I’ve always played Arabic music in my sets. I get inspired by all the producers in the Arab world reclaiming our heritage and taking control of their narratives.”
Boshoco’s music is not just a hit in Syria, he has received global acclaim. Samer Saem Eldahr, better known as Hello Psychaleppo – a successful and ground-breaking Syrian electronic artist who opened the musical door for many – holds his fellow Aleppine in high regard.
Speaking to The National, Hello Psychaleppo said, “Boshoco's music holds a special place in my heart, not just as a collaborator or a listener but as an old friend too. Witnessing his artistic journey and growth has been truly inspiring. Having Boshoco as a strong force in the Syrian electronic music scene is incredibly enriching.
“Having more Syrian artists, especially those making waves in this genre, is of utmost importance. It's not only about the music sometimes; it’s a testament to our resilience, creativity and the richness of our culture.”
Hello Psychaleppo himself paved the way for many from the country, his first album Gool Lʼah, released in 2013, forged the music genre of electro-tarab with a truly new take on songs merging the fields, combining traditional rhythms with electronic music tools that are now sweeping the region.
Boshoco is an artist trying to bridge the gap between the East and West, a musical nomad navigating the myriad constellations in electronic, techno and Syrian traditional music.
“Boshoco is your friend, in everything I do, I end up acting as a bridge between different people, cultures, and mindsets. I like music to be interesting but also accessible. When I introduce a new sound, I try to coat it with familiar sounds to give it a wider audience, especially in Syria where the scene is young,” he says.
While he spends time in Europe touring you may see him at a range of retro electronic clubs on the continent, such as Paradiso in Amsterdam or La Bellevilloise in Paris, yet Syria is his home and his natural habitat.
Michael Atallah, 30, is a growing figure in Syria’s nightlife scene after co-founding the entertainment venture Siin Experience, which organises western-style raves for the country’s devoted clubbers, Boshoco is a regular feature at these events.
Atallah told The National: “You can understand him [Boshoco] more when you stand in front of him, the way he monitors the crowd, the way he smiles and the vibes he delivers. I’ve seen him looking at people he doesn’t know and asking them to dance or to smile.
“At his first gig with Siin Experience, he opened the set with a mowal (traditional genre of vocal music) for popular singer George Wassouf. Boshoco is a pioneer when it comes to Arabic electronic music.”
From the embers of a tumultuous decade of instability and chaos, a passionate and devoted community has grown tenfold to herald the increasing draw of techno, the creative sees this as a sign that worlds can be united by music.
Boshoco views the musical resurrection happening in Syria as game-changing.
“No place felt as right as playing home. Following these experiences, we founded the Siin Experience with friends to spread the positive energy the dancefloor can bring to as many young people in Syria as possible. Today my main focus is on Syria and the region with residencies at Ballroom Blitz in Beirut and Siin Experience in Syria,” he says.
On where the pathway takes him in the future the artist was tight lipped, but adamant that to continue his rise to the top he has to stay true to himself.
“I do not know where the road will lead, all I know is that I try to stay authentic and it seems the message comes across, maybe that’s why I am known in Syria as Boshoco Al Asli ([the original], but also the authentic, real.”