It’s finally back. After 5 long months of separation, MUZE club once again opened its doors for us. I know many music junkies wondered if our new home was gone forever – and whether we’d ever reunite.
But things are slightly different this time. This alternative Nairobi nightclub not only boasts a new location but is also offering a new experience for its most loyal fans.
After the last ElectrAfrique Nairobi party in September 2019, MUZE has been busy doing other things. In December, we saw the release of its first compilation album MUZE Annual 2019 featuring Karun, Blinky Bill, Ayrosh, Kerby, Jack Rooster, Valerie Muthoni and other Kenyan superstars. This is a time-capsule of what contemporary Kenyan music sounded like in the last half of the previous decade.
The owners also curated an intimate MUZE stage at Kilifi New Year 2020 and the official festival after-party The Djoon experience at Distant Relatives. This gave us a tiny glimmer of hope. But secretly, something else was cooking in their Nairobi kitchen.
29th February 2020 was a special day. And not just because it appeared in a leap year. It was the official date of the official MUZE opening party at the new location – which is on the second floor of Pride Tower. The one next to the famous Havana Bar on Woodvale Grove.
I must mention Electric Avenue is the perfect location for club-hopping, drinking at okolea, and grabbing street food at any time of the night.
This new intimate space is not too far from the previous venue on Mpaka Road, Westlands. As Willie, one of the club owners points out, “Basically, we’ve moved around the corner.” When I ask why he says “greener pastures.” The brand was being held by the venue; they wanted a better place.
According to his co-owner Matt, “People have an emotional attachment to the place, we can’t let them down. This new place will be all the good bits of MUZE, better.” And so on Saturday the 29th, we turned up to see how true this was.
The New Experience
After a homely meal at KWETU Space, you and your friend land on the electric Woodvale Grove at 10 pm – the right time to start partying in Westlands. You can hear booming house music from the street; that’s how you know you’re in the right place.
There’s a straight flight of stairs ahead as if you’re ascending to heaven. Instead of Saint Peter, you meet wasee wa Mookh and the familiar faces of MUZE security guys at the top. You secure your yellow event tag which allows you to climb one more flight of stairs: this one welcomes you a MUZE sign.
Just before you slip into the Nairobi nightclub, you overhear one of the Mookh guys announce, “That’s 100 people now.”
Just like it’s slogan #DanceDifferent, this new space is definitely different. Unlike the previous MUZE location, it’s unidimensional. Like a long house divided into compartments. You head straight for the dancefloor, which is way smaller than what you were used to. But the dancing lights and Funktion One speakers are still present.
Next to the dancefloor is an open space where the rest of the fashionable fans spillover. The nearby bar is already functional and drinks are flowing. This increases the din of people throughout the night.
There are two high tables on the opposite side. You itch to sit on one of them but they’re already taken. When the traffic subsides, you take your space and meditate next to the adjacent hanging garden.
Near the main door, waiters are filling up glasses from beer kegs by 254 Brewing Co. Let’s call this the lounge area. At one point, you find yourself sinking into the long leather couch alongside other Nairobians. From there you study the event posters overlapping each other on the opposite wall. They take you back in time to some of the cool events you attended at the Backyard Bar and the previous MUZE.
If only you could take one home for the memories.
The popular pink painting “I feel love” by Victoria Topping has also moved with MUZE. There’s a new one on a different wall, accompanied by her signature – just in case you were wondering who the artist is.
And the last compartment of the club ends with an open window and high chairs facing it. This mini balcony feels like it should be the smoking zone, and many people have figured that out already.
Meanwhile, low wooden tables, chairs and the hanging orange bulbs give it a cool restaurant vibe. A friend reveals it was previously a cosy Ethiopian restaurant called Dass. And as you discuss the difference in design and decor, he invites you to Nairobi Design Week which you happily agree to attend.
At 10pm, you walk into Lee Mboya who opens the party with happy house music. A few music junkies are already lost in the music and the lights. But when cool kid Blinky Bill goes up on stage, the sparse dancefloor suddenly fills up.
The globe-trotting Kenyan DJ who was recently at Sauti Za Busara 2020 festival proceeds to play a mix of alternative hip-hop meets funk. For lack of a better word, you call it bounce music. And he samples his own hit single Atenshun which gets everyone on the dancefloor grooving.
Later, he crosses over into Afro-house music which is what you came for.
After midnight, Kid Fonque sets the whole place on fire. The South African headlining DJ knows his stuff and everybody knows it. By now the dance floor is hot and heavy. You squeeze your way to the stage where you can see the whole crowd moving as one: the house movement. Before joining them, you thank MUZE for bringing such a world-class DJ home.
L.A. Dave, a MUZE resident, delivers deeper house music. You and your friend decide to take a break outside. Minutes later, you find yourself at an Alchemist dancehall party.
Mainstream reggae and dancehall music blasts from the speakers and the dancefloor is surprisingly full for 4 am. But this is not the Alchemist it used to be in 2017. Back when every weekend was #BackatTheAlchemist. The underground music vibes moved to the Backyard Bar and later to MUZE in 2019.
Once the music is shut down at 5 am, you walk back to Woodvale Grove. Foozak is now playing a deep and funky house set at MUZE. Most party people have left by now leaving behind the true legends of the dancefloor.
For a while, you think this is music to sit down and listen to rather than dance to. It’s extremely heavy, almost spiritual. But there’s a moment where he does something different and you find yourself compelled to dance. And so you get up and leave everything on the dancefloor, Matt cheering you on. It’s as if you’re in a trance – eyes half-closed and jumping around without a care of whose toes you’re stepping on. Your African ancestors seem to have taken over your body.
This lasts for a few minutes, which is all the healing you need.
As a certified events junkie, there’s an unspoken rule. You have to wait for the party to be over and the music to shut down so that you can go home. But Foozak does not seem to stop. He keeps going on and on. So you give in first and leave the club with your equally exhausted friend at 7 am.
The morning light has now replaced the darkness you left on the streets. Just like when you arrived, you can still hear electronic music blasting from upstairs. Even your taxi driver is surprised by the loud music.
It reminds you of Temple: leaving the nightclub on a Sunday morning while others are walking to church.
Even though you had a long day, you don’t mind staying out all night. Because everywhere you go you meet familiar people. This uptown Nairobi crowd is a mix of Gondwana, Temple, Secret Garden at Js and the Backyard Bar family. And because it is a small intimate space, you have to talk to someone next to you.
Your MUZE friends walk in at different times, but you meet all of them on the dancefloor – or on the way there.
When the music and the heat get overwhelming, you gravitate to the other cooler parts of the nightclub. From there, you watch familiar faces passing by and some of them come and say hi. NuNairobi artists, music producers, journalists and people you last saw at Kilifi New Year.
It feels good to reunite with the MUZE family. And from that opening night, it’s a pretty huge one.
Even though the Afro-house music is simply world-class and the party people showed up, there are a few hiccups during the opening night. Let’s start with the stuffiness.
The air conditioner next to the dancefloor doesn’t work at first which Matt notices and it’s fixed. But it fails to cool down everyone on the dancefloor; you have to dance under it to feel the effect. The result is a crammed up dancefloor with too much heat and barely any fresh air. It feels like a human oven. But the people keep on dancing because the music demands so.
Once in a while, you spot someone in the crowd fanning the DJ as he does his spectacular job. Now that’s a true fan.
This opening night eerily reminds you of the legendary Black Motion party at MUZE club where you could barely breathe let alone move. It was the craziest and most uncomfortable party you’ve ever been to. At least this one has two air conditioners, the second one next to the busy bar.
During Blinky Bill’s eclectic set, you realize just how loud the Funktion One speakers are. This was fine at the previous location because of the larger dance floor; its world-class potency hit you right from the four corners of the club. But now all you feel is your whole body vibrating.
You keep on dancing even though you know your ears are not enjoying this. If they could talk, they would cry. And even when you walk away, you can still feel the bass reverberating in the walls and floor.
The new experience at the new washrooms is not pleasant either. The first time you go, you find a long queue (for ladies obviously). Also, the toilets are not flushing. The second time you go, you are told they are out of use. This is not new – a similar incident happened during the MUZE Premiere Night at the previous location.
But the party still goes on till morning. Because it’s not about the location, it’s the vibes.
During this crazy opening night, you bump into Matt pacing around saying hi to everyone and taking care of everything. He looks like he’s having the most fun and the most stress. Meanwhile, Willie looks like a disco king in his big shiny jacket. You meet both of them together on the dancefloor during Foozak’s early morning set. Because it’s not a party until the club owners are dancing too.
Even though we love international Afro-house DJs, MUZE club is still about supporting Kenyan musicians. Their KREW monthly party series, for example, invites the urban Nairobi krew to enjoy live Kenyan hip-hop on Fridays. The launch party on 6th March featured cool kids Barak Jacuzzi and Shappaman on the mic, Cafe Ngoma award-winning DJ G.I. and Hiribae on the decks. Call it a continuation of their live hip-hop Friday events in 2019.
The second series Rising Stars is where MUZE celebrates house music DJs racing towards a global platform. The first rising artist is young Cape Town producer Dwson who is one of the most sought-after electronic artists in South Africa at the moment. And on Saturday 12th March, he’s supported by Kenyan house favourites DJ Vidza and Noise on Demand, and MUZE residents L.A. Dave and Lee M from 10pm till 7am.
Imagine a rerun of the mad energy and electric music on the MUZE opening night – but with less people and more fans. The kind that cool you down.
This time you stay until 7.30 am dancing to amapiano with five other music junkies. You even have to be chased away from the dancefloor by the cleaners. But who knew this would be the last party before the Corona lockdown hit Nairobi. What a perfect way to say goodbye to MUZE (again).
But MUZE is not ready to let us go. Since we can’t go out, they’ve brought the parties to us. For 8 weeks, they curated and released new electronic music and Kenyan hip-hop playlists on Spotify. But the biggest attraction on their virtual event calendar was MUZE MIX LIVE.
We can still watch our favourite alternative Kenyan DJs do their thing on YouTube. Every Friday night, house heads bumped into each other to drop fire emojis in the live chat and catch up on each other. But most importantly, dance different even in their houses.
Before they reopened, Matt and Willie shared that they want to step back from the booking wars especially in the Afro-house music scene in Nairobi. “We don’t want to do what other people are doing. We want artists who push the culture, give the fans what they need at the time. We want to deliver an amazing experience, hospitality, lights, ambience for the people. When we reopen, when we get back together, that will be our biggest asset.”
And one of the new ways they’re doing this is through their new membership. Starting at Ksh 2000 per month, their new membership plan offers special benefits to their most loyal patrons. These include guaranteed entry, discounts on drinks and tickets, events and merchandise deals, exclusive members events and 24/7 access to MUZE Club facilities. Talk about exclusivity.
Speaking of, they recently launched their exclusive MUZE merchandise so that we can carry the #DanceDifferent spirit wherever we go. They also opened their two-storey start of the art music studio to serve recording Kenyan musicians during this lockdown period. Their artsy space is also available upon request for film and photoshoots.
But the MUZE club we know is still the same. Same old vibes, new location. It blends the authenticity of Backyard Bar and the classy vibes of MUZE club. The smaller space creates more intimacy between those who enter it. This makes it feel like home more than ever.
The exclusivity also sets MUZE club apart from other nightclubs in Nairobi. Their new focus on fancy cocktails and membership plans looks to attract a more cosmopolitan urban crowd. Whether this new experience will still cater to its old crowd, the simple Backyard Bar family, is something to find out. Either way, it’s good to have MUZE back.
Images courtesy of MUZE club