Columbus, Ohio has one of the most vibrant electronic dance music (EDM) scenes in the country. But you wouldn't assume it at first glance if you're an outsider looking in.
It wasn't until I had a chance to sit down with Rick Brown, a leading promoter in the city and sound engineer at Otherworld Ohio, to dive deep into what makes the EDM scene in Columbus, Ohio one of the unsung favorites in the United States.
So whether you're traveling to one of the many festivals held in Columbus, moving to the city and want to know what to expect, or already live there and feel like you're missing out on some of the best dance music in the city; this guide will break it all down for you.
All quotes are taken from our interview with Rick Brown, who has been throwing some of the most successful parties in the city for over five years and is one of the leading pioneers Columbus' EDM scene. Many community members have gone as far as to say that he is the best thing that has ever happened to Columbus' dance music scene.
What Makes Columbus' EDM Scene Unique?
The local music, the venues, and the communities baked into each city all contribute to a vibe and culture that is unique to that city alone.
So what makes Columbus stand out from rest?
"The community of Columbus, specifically its dance community, is unlike any other market I've worked in. I would generally say there's a LOT of people all working together here. This wasn't always the case, but lately we're all working together and nobody is really stepping on each other's toes...." - Rick Brown
In all my time working in this industry, this truly is incredible. With so much competition and so many promoters gunning for the most popular nights, promoters in almost every other city have no problem throwing shows of similar genres on similar nights.
This cannibalization of community is what impedes the many other cities with the greatest potential, and avoiding such makes Columbus thrive.
Everyone's playing nice to where we don't over-saturate anything. I find that very wild for it to be happening in a city Columbus' size. It allows for a lot of music to come through here. There's four, sometimes five shows a week and nobody competes for genres or artists." - Rick Brown
The bustling scene of Columbus also benefits from its underrated reputation...
Because it's deemed as a smaller market, bigger tours are billed on off-nights meaning cheaper tickets for attendees and more opportunities for fantastic music:
"The Bluestone consistently have shows a lot especially get like the larger tours in the middle of the week... and honestly it's not just like electronic music. Everything from hip hop guys come through and even heavy metal coming through. I mean, you have almost five venues that hold more than 2,000 people in Columbus and each venue has a show like literally at least once a month" - Rick Brown
What Are The Best Venues In Columbus, Ohio?
Every city has a few favorite venues to listen to electronic dance music, but it would seem the Columbus has MORE than its fair share of massive venues.
And each of these amazing venues below has something unique to offer. Some venues within arms reach of the Ohio State campus and others can turn into giant outdoor venues in the blink of an eye.
Rick and I laughed that OSU students truly don't know how good they have it there.
So let's dive into some of the best venues in Columbus, Ohio...
If you're looking for a premier-club experience, Forum is your answer.
Forum is where you will find massive lighting productions, lasers, and the rest of it. Rick Brown describes this venue as a Miami-style club vibe (if that's your scene at least).
The club is also only 300-400 person cap, meaning you can have an intimate partying experience with top-level productions.
Midway On High
If you're looking for some serious lighting and sensory overload from your clubbing experience, Midway On High is the destination for you.
Midway is based almost directly in the heart of Ohio State's campus, drawing a younger crowd who usually likes to get down.
'Midway has spent a ridiculous amount of money on LED lights, and they're all crazy and curved. It's a trip. I just love a lot of production in there; it's like you're going to a Festival. 90% of their energy bill has to come from those LEDs... plus drinks are cheap ' - Rick Brown
Midway also has the ability to turn into an outdoor space at the drop of a hat with a stage setup outback in the parking lot (I promise you it's cooler than it sounds).
"Midway also has a permanent outdoor stage with a giant video wall and the whole production works on it too. We went to something there on a Sunday and it was an insane daytime party like I've never seen." - Rick Brown
The Summit Music Hall
Summit is a more conventional music hall that features a wide range of musical acts.
While it is still within arm's reach of the OSU campus, Summit offers a far chiller vibe.
'Summit Music Hall is a low key vibe sort of place. They just remodeled, so they actually can fit some pretty stellar productions in there. It also has a dive bar that has its own stage. But at the same time they also have a PK sound system in there, so it can get pretty loud and they don't care... it's awesome.' - Rick Brown
Where To Listen To The Best Music Columbus, Ohio
Just because the venue is the biggest or most decked out with lights and productions doesn't always mean you go there for the best music.
So we asked Rick to break down some of his favorite places to hear the best music, regardless of genre.
'To be honest, it's weird because it's literally anywhere. Like you can find amazing music of any genre in any place in Columbus. It all just depends on the the line up. This city is so diverse.' - Rick Brown
But when pressed further, Rick did have a couple of suggestions the locals always hit; both because of the venue's histories in the city and simply because the music is always on point.
If you're looking for a truly unique listening experience that is a staple to the EDM scene in Columbus, The Bluestone is where you need to go.
The Bluestone hosts shows from all different types of genres as well, and oftentimes bring in talent years before they explode in popularity. If you're looking to see legends in the making, this venue is for you.
'The Bluestone is an old church. It's f****** crazy to go there because it feels like I came here to worship. But no, it's Black Tiger Sex Machine playing gritty electro. I have seen Skrillex played there back in 2010 when they were not at the real legend level he is today. It's like a rite of passage to play The Bluestone in Columbus.' - Rick Brown
If you want a funky, local-vibe with top-level productions, Skully's Music Diners is where it's at.
Featuring a wide range of music almost every night of the week, this place will be your jam. Plus Rick says the food is amazing too!
'Skully's been here forever. They do more than just DJ's too. They've got like a sad girls night, they just play 90 stuff and just have a good time.' - Rick Brown
Anywhere The Bubble Man Is At
'There's an older guy who has been in the scene forever and he wears this reflective trippy mask and just runs around with a bubble gun and shoots bubbles at people. He's the guardian of the scene. He will go up to people if they're being inappropriate to women or if they're messed up and make sure they are doing okay. Everyone loves this dude - he's an icon. If he shows up to your show, you're like okay 'I've made it because Bubble Man is here' - Rick Brown
EDM Music Festivals In Columbus, Ohio
Lost Lands is a festival held by bass icon, Excision and so it comes as little surprise that the majority of acts booked to play this festival's main goal is to shake the subwoofers.
Held at Legend valley just outside of Columbus, Ohio, this festival has been on a steady incline in production value since it's early days.
'It's nuts! Lost Lands keep improving the venue every year that we've gone there. They pumped $100,000+ into land moving just to make the festival grounds better. I've never seen a festival invest that much! I know the guy owns the venue, but Excision is building permanent structures and other super cool things all around the land. It's got Electric Forest Vibes in the woods. It's like the Dubstep Super Bowl.' - Rick Brown
Plus the venue is within arm's reach of Rick's Otherworld compound, meaning TONS of festival attendees usually end up hitting up the magic and glamour of Ricks multi-room, experiential art installation. It's the perfect combo for anyone planning on hitting up Lost Lands.
Breakaway is a festival series held in many of the biggest markets across the United States; including Kansas city, Michigan, California, and beyond.
What makes Breakaway Columbus different is the location of the venue that it's held at.
'You can walk out of Mapfre Stadium where the festival is held, and right into an area packed with college kids. It's basically chaos once the festival lets out. The streets are nuts! In a good way I guess...' - Rick Brown
In regards to the festival itself, Rick went on to say:
'Breakaway is definitely more house focused and a bit more of a mainstream vibe for sure. It's targeted for college kids for sure but it's usually a damn good time and always has solid productions. And everything keeps getting a little better with the festival every year we go.' - Rick Brown
Traveling To Columbus, Ohio For An EDM Festival? Here's Some Recommendations For You
Jazz & Rib Fest - This festival is a sprawling gathering of food, wine, beer, music, art, and everything in between.
Scattered throughout many of the interconnected parks throughout Columbus' bustling downtown, you can spend days exploring all the offerings this awesome festival has to offer.
It's certainly something all of the locals hit every year, and if you're traveling to Columbus for an EDM show do your best to make this part of your itinerary.
North Market - For fans of food trucks, local cuisine, and a meandering shopping experience, the North Market is a must-see says Rick. Held in what is basically a giant warehouse, they feature vendors and food from almost every culture and walk of life.
You can spend the entire afternoon wandering around in a big circle and just trying out different things. But they do close early(ish), so plan accordingly!
Otherworld - Otherworld is a 32k square foot immersive art installation. With over 40 rooms, each with their own interactive exhibits of mixed reality, there is something to discover for everyone.
'It's really got some next-level reality in it. Otherworld is not augmented reality, it's crazy immersive experiences. You're walking through the sets and suddenly you're experiencing an artist's rendition of the dream realm as they open a portals. Then next so you wander through research facility into a control room where you can mess with people in other exhibits... There's literally so many different experiences going on. It's awesome.' - Rick Brown
Best Local DJs From Columbus, Ohio
The local talent in any city never gets the attention that they deserve, but that changes now (at least when it comes to Columbus, Ohio).
Because there are always a million local DJs vying for the open slots and trying to make a name for themselves. But that doesn't mean all of that are worth showing up to the club early to see.
So here is Rick Brown's short list of local DJs that know how to warm up a room and are must-sees in the Columbus scene. Who knows, they might just be the next ones to blow up!