Racially Targeted Policing at Boiler Room Weekender Sparks Dialogue on Club Accountability

Photo courtesy of Ray Ban

Is there anywhere we can dance and be safe? That sentiment echoed through the rooms of Lake Harmony, PA’s Split Rock Resort this past weekend, after Ray Ban x Boiler Room’s massive Weekender rave was shut down by police early Sunday morning. Boiler Room positioned the two-day getaway as a celebration of innovation in global club culture, recruiting international collectives re-envisioning techno, house, dancehall, industrial, reggaeton, and beyond to bring their artistic visions to life in 12 different rooms on the resort premises.

But police and security staff administered aggressive searches throughout the weekend, profiling black and brown festival-goers at security checks. That undue use of force that culminated in the arrest of 19-year-old Kaylan Jones for possession of a controlled substance early Sunday morning and the head injury of attendee Daniel Moore. As Boiler Room was forced to cancel the remaining afterparties and security demanded that attendees return to their rooms, it was difficult not to feel fatigued by the continued threat of white supremacy and police violence in the club space. Where do we go to dance, when our sanctuaries are continuously taken from us? What can we do to combat the theft of these spaces?

At the very least, a sense of community, creative solidarity, and belonging swelled in the suites, dance floors, and arcades of the resort complex over the course of the festival. Friends, artists, and Twitter personalities from all over danced, drank, and celebrated with each other (at times, the getaway almost felt like a middle school graduation trip to Washington, D.C. – tacky but charming hotel decor included). On Friday, attendees started streaming in around midnight, with the festival picking up steam around the time the 2 a.m. after parties kicked off. Club titans NAAFI (represented here by Imaabs, Zutzut, and Paul Marmota) concocted warped edits of N.O.R.E.’s “Oye Mi Canto” alongside the ubiquitous and irresistible dembow of Los Teke Teke’s “Deja Tu Estrés” to a crowd demanding catharsis.

Saturday kicked off with Mixpak’s dancehall throwdown in the resort’s water park, an undeniable highlight of the festival. People in Chromat swimsuits frolicked in wave pools, rode water slides, and dutty wined to the dembow riddims of labelhead Dre Skull and Afrobeats heavyweight Maleek Berry. The event introduced a handful of Latin American producers and DJs to New York club kids for the first time; crews like Bogotá’s El Freaky Colectivo played early sets on Saturday, but had the chance to spin alongside big leaguers like Venus X and Jimmy Edgar.

As nighttime rolled around, ramped up security at the GHE20GOTH1K performance space produced a sense of confusion and discomfort among attendees. Munich-born Mechatok and British-Chilean producer Kamixlo kicked off the night as attendees patiently waited through security checks. Kamixlo peppered his set with deliciously abrasive industrial reggaeton and a special appearance by Fifth Harmony’s “Work.” Just as Richmond, Virginia’s Divine Council was set to take the stage at 2 a.m., security cancelled the rest of the festival and hurriedly ushered attendees into their rooms.

Performers and other members of the community expressed concern over the treatment of black and brown artists and attendees on social media, while Boiler Room staff remained silent for two long and tense days as they gathered information on the events that transpired.

On Monday, Boiler Room issued a lengthy statement condemning the “unnecessary display of force” and “disrespect” demonstrated by security and local police. They revealed that the resort “steadfastly insisted on using local law enforcement and local security” instead of transporting trusted security staff from New York. Boiler Room also reiterated their plans to offer legal help to those affected by the situation, though the extent of that support remains unclear.

The shutdown sparked conversation both on and offline about the responsibility of promoters and organizers in ensuring the safety of clubgoers at events. As organizers of an event with a diverse lineup of talent and attendees, Boiler Room had a responsibility to make every effort to protect festival-goers from poorly prepared and aggressive security staff – which they intelligently tried to avoid by attempting to hire New York-based professionals trained in de-escalation.

But what do we do when that isn’t enough? The club space continues to suffer from the very forces it was born to battle – racism, sexism, capitalism. It will never be anti-capitalist, but as custodians of this culture, we have a responsibility to continue fighting its infiltration in a space that celebrates freedom and safety, even in the context of corporate raves. Grassroots efforts – like New York-based zine Club Etiquette – provide a much-needed platform for reflection and action, a reminder of the power of education and resistance. Each actor in the club space (venue owners, attendees, promoters, and artists) has a responsibility to each other, and if anything, Ray Ban x Boiler Room’s Weekender sparked a dialogue about that accountability. Even that can’t diminish the spirit of positivity, collaboration, and understanding that the festival intended to offer.