Thursday, Jan 24th 2008, 12:14 PM #1 Cielo Owner Nicolas Matar interview, great read and upcoming 5yr anniversary
TELL US ABOUT CIELO Ė HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME?
El Cielo was the nickname for the Funky Room at Pacha in Ibiza.
WHAT DOES THE NAME MEAN?
Cielo means sky or heaven.
WHAT IS THE CIELO CONCEPT, FOR THOSE THAT DONíT KNOW?
The concept is quite simple, we have gone back to the basics of what clubbing was once: the best DJís on the planet, a strong door, impeccable service, stunning dťcor & lighting, and a world renown sound system by legendary UK sound system pioneers, Funktion One. The goal at Cielo is the careful selection of all the right ingredients and characters that combine to make an eclectic crowd mix. Cielo is a happy medium for the more mature club goer - a bit glam, a bit chic, yet still underground, vibrant and music-driven.
WHO WOULD YOU DESCRIBE AS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE?
Our goal has always been to cultivate an eclectic crowd, something I am very proud that we have been able to achieve. The common them that runs throughout our patrons is their matured and cultivated appreciation for electronic music.
WHAT IS CIELOíS STRATEGY?
People can come to Cielo on any day of the week and experience quality music with an eclectic crowd and through it all, we have been able to maintain an underground, vibrant and chic vibe. We eschew the elitist attitudes of upscale lounges and separate VIP areas an instead provide a cohesive, immediate relationship with the DJ, music and people Ė with our classical layout inspired by the amphitheatres of ancient Greece and the old school discotheques from the 70s.
CIELOíS SOUND SYSTEM IS FIRST CLASS AND IS THE ENVY OF NY DJíS. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE SYSTEM - WHAT MAKES IT SOUND SO GOOD?
There is really no one thing that makes it sound good, it is a combination of the equipment, the layout, the design and materials of the room.
ONE OF THE REFRESHING THINGS ABOUT CIELO Ė ITS LOOK AND INTERIOR DESIGN IS UNLIKE ANY OTHER NYC CLUB. WHAT ARCHITECT AND DESIGN TEAM DID YOU USE?
The club was designed by Stephane Dupoux, with whom we worked closely to achieve not only a specific look, but also to serve a function for our sound system.
WHO DESIGNED THE CIELO LOGO?
Andrea Ruggiero of Ruggiero Design, LTF.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LOCATION - HOW DID YOU SELECT THE MEATPACKING DISTRICT?
I've always been a fan of the west village, Chelsea and the meat packing area. We saw that this was going to be the next big neighborhood in NY for nightlife. Also from a zoning standpoint, it was the last remaining manufacturing district giving you a cabaret license as a right. Thatís why all the nightlife is on the west side of Manhattan, from Meat Packing (district) all the way to Hell's Kitchen, in the former manufacturing areas. That was why we chose that neighborhood.
IN AN AGE WHEN THE LOUNGE SCENE IS GAINING IN POPULARITY, YOU OPTED TO OPEN A CLUB Ė WHY?
Arguably you can say itís a club lounge. There is a lounge element to it. Some nights are more loungey than others. We opted to open a club because we really didnít have dance clubs any more in New York. Everything in the 90ís was a lounge. It was either a lounge, or a super club. You didnít have that intermediate mid sized happy medium. It was crucial to have a clearly defined dance floor as well, and lounges donít have dance floors.
HOW'S BUSINESS? WHAT ARE THE MAIN FACTORS?
Thankfully business is very good, the main factors being, that dance and electronic music has been moved to smaller rooms.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
I think that demographically your audience in NY City is older, people in their late 20s to 30s to 40s that used to hang out in larger clubs when they were younger, in the heyday of club culture in NY city. Now these people are older. They still like to go out and dance to their favorite DJ, but they want to do so in a smaller, more intimate setting, not in a large, impersonal nightclub.
And also, I feel like the heyday of large nightclubs in NY is long gone.
Really the end of an era. Everythingís changed.
JUST IN NY or WORLDWIDE?
You could say itís a trend worldwide, but more so in NY. There still are large clubs, but people my age donít really go to large clubs. There definitely is a trend worldwide with house music to move into smaller venues. Trance and progressive music on the other hand, they do these massive festivals of 20,000 people and large clubs. But house music has definitely been moved into smaller rooms worldwide, thatís a trend.
You want to know the main factors why business is good? Because we really have our niche. Weíve captured that scene of DJ driven electronic music. By being open nightly, bringing DJís from all around the world, weíve featured more new talent than any other venue in North America in the last 5 years. Weíve also featured foreign artists for the first time, first US appearance, more so than any other venue in North America. Being small, we can take more risks with our programming and experiment with artists that a larger venue would never book. So I think thatís been our competitive advantage.
On the weekends, Iím busy regardless of whoís playing. So, I can book a DJ from Berlin whoís been a really hot producer lately that I like, even though he does not have a draw, because I already have that core audience. And thatís what differentiates Cielo from other places. The reason I book bigger names on a Thursday is because itís driven by the talent, whereas the weekends, I can experiment with different people who are respectable, but may not have a draw because we already have a built in crowd. That works quite well for us.
AS THE ECONOMY BOOMED IN THE LATE NINETIES THE GIULIANI ADMINISTRATION ENFORCED AND NYPD CONTINUE TO ENFORCE LONG-DORMANT LAWS AGAINST DANCING Ė WHAT EFFECT DOES THIS HAVE ON YOUR WORLD?
Iím very aware of what happened in the late 90ís with Giuliani and the cabaret law, etc. My approach from the outset has been to just play by the rules. I had all my licensing in place since day 1. I take a very risk averse approach, and I operate in a very serious almost corporate way and have excellent relationships with police department, fire department, consumer affairs, with everyone. You really have to operate a club like a real business, and be involved in the community and go to community board meetings.
In the 80s, 90s, you had shady club operators. My approach has been completely different. Iím very active politically, Iím on the board of directors of the NY nightlife association. Itís really not had an effect on me for that reason.
If you are running a tight ship and you have all your licensing in place, thereís no reason why . . . I enforce a smoking ban, we have zero tolerance drug policy, we donít let people smoke weed. We operate it in a strict fashion, because if you want to have longevity, you have to operate that way.
WHEN AND WHY DID NEW YORK CITY STOP SERVING AS THE HUB OF POST-DISCO/ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC WORLDWIDE? IN OTHER WORDS, WHEN AND WHY DID THE DANCE SCENE IN NEW YORK BECOME A BUBBLE ONTO ITSELF?
In my opinion, NY stopped being the epicenter of the clubbing world in the 90s. Because NY still had a very vibrant scene up until early to mid 90s, before Giuliani came in. The 90s is when the scene exploded in NY. It was the heyday of electronic music culture in Europe, house techno, everything. Europe is where it was at in the 90s. Thatís when the scene really moved across the Atlantic.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WERE THE ROOT CAUSES OF THE END OF THAT ERA?
In Europe in the 90s, the scene was very much driven by the drug culture. If you went to a club in Europe in the 90s, every single kid was taking pills, ecstasy. That very much fuelled the scene in Europe in those days. Whereas in NY, I feel like this never crossed over outside of the gay scene in as large a scale as it did in Europe. In Europe your average 18 year old kid was going out on the weekend, poppiní and E, going to the Ministry of Sound and hearing Tony Humphries. Whereas here, it still remained subterranean, gay, black and it never Ėyou had clubs Ė but it never crossed over the way it did in Europe. It became king of mainstream in Europe. The dance scene was very much kept alive and supported by the European continent and Japan during the 90s, not by America.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE DIFFERENCE NOW BETWEEN HOUSE AND TECHNO? WHY/WHY NOT? WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
I donít like to define what music is, to say that this is techno and to give music a genre name, I donít like to do that. And with technology now, you are hearing a lot of tracks made by people like Dennis Ferrer that have a lot of techno elements, but they are house and they are soulful.
Technology has rendered a lot of these names meaningless because itís a fusion of a lot of different styles.
DOES THE INTERNET PLAY AN ALTERNATIVE ROLE IN MARKETING ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC TO A LARGE AUDIENCE SINCE THE MUSIC INDUSTRY HAS SHIED AWAY FROM INVESTING IN HOUSE AND TECHNO MARKETING SINCE THE LATE 1980S/EARLY 1990S?
The Internet plays a huge role, we are very active with electronic marketing on the message boards, etc. We are driven very much by sending e-flyers.
DO YOU DO PRINTED FLYERS ALSO?
On occasion, it depends. We only print a monthly calendar which shows on a daily basis, what is going on the whole month. Some of the individual promoters that do nights will print their own flyers.
The Internet has been a very important part (of the marketing strategy).
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE MP3 SOUND TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF SOUND IN DANCE VENUES SUCH AS CIELO?
I think MP3 has been very revolutionary. Iím a vinyl enthusiast and collector of vinyl for over 20 years. Nowadays, Iím not going to the record store anymore and Iím downloading all my music online, MP3 format, as long as its 320bps quality, even on Cieloís sound system, it sounds perfect. Weíve donít some testing with engineers on Cieloís sound system between MP3 at 320 and Wave and the engineers couldnít tell the difference. Iím a big fan and believer in the highest quality of mp3, nothing lower.
CLUBLAND HAS CHANGED SIGNIFICANTLY SINCE THE DAYS OF THE PARADISE GARAGE, PARTICULARY CATERING TO HIGH END CLIENTELE AND BOTTLE SERVICE Ė WHAT WERE THE ROOT CAUSES OF THIS SHIFT?
In regards to bottle service, my philosophy at Cielo is very simple. We offer it, but we donít push it. We have very little bottle service on Monday and on Wednesdays, but if somebody comes in and wants it, itís there for them. We push it a little more on the weekends, because thatís what pays the bills and thatís what allows us to be open nightly, and to experiment with weekday nights that are not lucrative, because the weekends pay the rent, pay our bills. We push it a little more on the weekend, but not that much, in comparison to other clubs.
WHERE DID THE WHOLE BOTTLE SERVICE CONCEPT ORIGINATE?
Itís something that was imported from Europe in the early 90s in that lounge culture that came about when Giuliani shut down all the nightclubs. Thatís when bottle service came in. It slowly got bigger and bigger. Itís something that theyíve had in European nightclubs since the 80s, or 70s, I should say.
MANY IN CLUBLAND HAVE COME AND GONE (E.G. CENTRO FLY, CLUB DEEP, SPIRIT, CROBAR, ETC.) CIELO NOT ONLY REMAINS BUT THRIVES Ė WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Quite simply, the reason Cielo has had longevity and the other clubs have not is consistency. I work harder today than I did before to maintain it. I always try to feature the best talent from all around the world, upgrading the sound system constantly, stepping up our marketing efforts constantly, and just being very, very consistent and sticking to our guns and just being very risk averse and operating it like a serious business, and being politically conservative and active in the community, all of those factors together have allowed us to remain strong for all these years.
AS OWNER / OPERATOR / MANAGER Ė DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY.
A typical day is being in the office from 11am Ė 7pm, Monday through Friday. Itís a business like any other and I operate it like a business. That time is spent on marketing, PR, DJ bookings, creative stuff, creating flyers, everything is done in house. We spend a lot of time on that stuff, much more than other clubs. I think when you see our branding, our flyers, etc, you can tell that a lot of time and effort was spent in creating all of these things.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING CLUB OWNERS?
Play by the rules. Try not to have too many partners and investors because then it becomes a situation of too many competing egos, too many cooks in the kitchen, and itís a recipe for disaster.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO DJS LOOKING TO GET BOOKED AT CIELO?
I book DJís that either have a draw or a following, or people that I hand pick to play on a weekend, because Iím a fan of what they are doing, production wise. Typically these people that are unknown that email us, saying they are going to be here, its hard for us to fit them into the equation, sadly enough.
ABOUT NICHOLAS MATAR
WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
I was born in Beirut, Lebanon.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO CLUB MUSIC?
I got into club music because my father was a hobbyist DJ in the 70s and 80s. Disco, funk, jazz, all that kind of stuff. I grew up with a basement where my dad had a serious hi fi system, and early turntables that didnít have pitch control, and used to practice down there, it was more of a hobby. I used to sometimes throw parties. This was in Washington, DC. Thatís where I grew up, before I moved here. Thatís where I was first exposed to it.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE HOUSE MUSIC FOR THOSE THAT DONíT KNOW?
120-126bpm. 4 on the floor, high hat. I donít know if I can define that properly. Itís become such a vague genre of music, but I would say, the music that originally came from Chicago, also the Garage tradition.
WHEN AND WHERE WAS YOUR FIRST DJ GIG?
My first DJ gig was at a place called Perryís in Washington, DC in 1989 on a rooftop, an open air party.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A DJ SET?
Iím one of these people who is a new music fanatic and I will, for a whole week listen to hundreds of tracks. I like to play a lot of new stuff. My set typically is 60% brand new things that people donít even know. The other 40%, Iíll mix other things. I really spend a lot of hours doing my homework listening to new music on a weekly basis.
WHAT CAN FANS EXPECT WHEN THEY COME TO HEAR YOU LIVE?
To hear a lot of new stuff. So when other DJís come, even if they are into the same kind of music, they wonít know a lot of what Iím playing. Iíve always been a new music fanatic. And thatís probably why I didnít become a producer, because instead of spending those hours in the studio, Iím someone whoís always spent those hours either in a record store, or researching new music to play in my DJ set.
WHICH 3 RECORDS NEVER LEAVE YOUR CRATE?
Sueno Latino Ė Latin Dream
Frankie Knuckles Ė Tears
Dubtribe Sounsystem Ė Do it Now.
WHICH DJ WOULD YOU PAY MONEY TO HEAR?
YOU SPENT NEARLY A DECADE AT PACHA IN IBIZA Ė HOW DID THAT GIG COME ABOUT?
The gig at Pacha came about because in the early 90s, I was throwing a party here in NY in a small venue, that I was promoting myself. There was a Spanish journalist who used to come there all the time and was a big fan and she was very close friend with the owners of Pacha since 20 years. Sheís the one that contacted them and told them about me, thatís how the doors were opened.
BEING A CLUB OWNER PUTS YOU IN A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE TO OBSERVE THE SUCCESSES AND FAILURE OF PROMOTERS Ė WHAT ARE 3 OF THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES YOUíVE SEEN PROMOTERS MAKE?
Be very disorganized, indulge too much in drinking and substances, etc. and not take care of the business side of things and the day side of the business.
LETS TALK ABOUT THAT, A LOT OF PROMOTERS THINK PROMOTING A PARTY IS BOOKING A DJ, SENDING OUT AN EMAIL BLAST AND PRINTING 500 FLYERS.
A promoter has to have a really good understanding of the market and which DJís are in demand, which arenít. Once you select a DJ because you believe there is a demand for that talent, you need to create a marketing and promotion strategy that is particularly geared for that DJ. So, yeah, itís not enough to book a DJ, be there and be a host. Itís a business. I think a lot of them are in it to party, and be part of that lifestyle. Itís only a handful that really take it seriously.
THE UK CLUB MARKET IS DIVIDED INTO 4 SEGMENTS AS FOLLOWS:
* FLAT FLOOR CLUBS Ė CLUBS AT OR NEAR LEISURE PARKS ON THE PERIMETER OF TOWN.
* HIGH STREET CLUBS Ė CLUBS IN THE CENTER OF TOWN.
* PREMIUM NIGHTCLUBS ĖSUPER CLUBS WITH STRONG BRAND RECOGNITION, FOR E.G. MINISTRY OF SOUND.
* CLUB BARS Ė USED BY THE PRE-CLUBBING MARKET AS MEETING PLACES TO GO TO CLUBS LATER.
FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, HOW WOULD YOU STRATIFY THE NYC CLUB MARKET?
Itís mostly very large clubs or lounges. I donít think the NY nightclub market is as developed so that you can stratify it in this way. Itís much less developed in America. You either have a lounge that plays hip hop and RnB and has bottle service, of you have a huge club that plays banging music.
LETS TALK ABOUT HIP HOP Ė YOU DONíT BOOK ANY HIP HOP, OR DO YOU?
Because every other club in town books that kind of music and I have my niche of electronic music. Why is a restaurant that is world renowned for serving Italian cuisine going to serve Chinese? Its just not our thing.
THE RUMOUR MILL INDICATES CIELO IS CONTEMPLATING A LAS VEGAS EDITION Ė CAN YOU CONFIRM THIS RUMOUR?
No Las Vegas club, itís just a rumor.
WHERE DID THE RUMOUR COME FROM?
At one point there was a huge buzz about Vegas Vegas Vegas. Everybody wanted to go there, etc. We looked at it for a time but then realized that thereís just no music culture there, at all, and we cannot be in a place with no music culture.
BASED ON WHAT CRITERIA.
Look at international DJs, how many of them play in Vegas to a receptive crowd. Itís a lot of hype and a lot of money, but not for the Cielo concept. Maybe for a very commercial kind of thing. That may change over time, but not for now.
ANY OTHER EXPANSION PLANS?
Not right now, we are being very cautious because Cielo NY has become an institution, itís legendary and known worldwide. We would only do it in the right city, in the right time, in the right area, with the right local partner, and thatís very hard to come by.
HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER PHILIPPE RIESER?
My partner was introduced to me by mutual friends who are also dance music enthusiasts. I was DJing parties and he would come to my parties.
YOU ARE QUOTED AS SAYING:
"People in this country talk about Studio 54 being a legendary club, but Pacha opened in 1967, and it's still open today. As far as I'm concerned, it's the most legendary nightclub that's ever existedĒ ĖPLEASE EXPLAIN
You canít compare Ibiza to any other place because it is an island and it is seasonal. Donít forget, we are talking 3-4 months per year. Pacha is a very well run, very organized business. The owner Ricardo is very hands on, like I am, very organized, very anal in the way he runs his business and heís always been very consistent. Thatís why heís been able to have such longevity.
WHAT WAS A TYPICAL NIGHT AT PACHA IBIZA LIKE?
I was fortunate to be there in the heyday of house music in the 90s. A
typical night was people from all around the world who had flown in to Ibiza for vacation, all very knowledgeable in the music, very eclectic, really inspiring times. It was those years that inspired me to come back to NY and open a club.
WHAT YEARS WERE YOU THERE?
Iíve been going to Ibiza every year since 1989. I was working there from 93-2000.
YOU WOULD DJ WHAT NIGHTS OF THE WEEK?
I would DJ, 4 to 5 nights a week. The late nights from 5-8 in the morning in the upstairs room that was called the Funky Room, El Cielo room. That was where the inspiration for the name came. It was never branded as El Cielo. It was kind of the unofficial name, it was on 2nd floor. It was the nick name of the room. Thatís where this name was introduced to me.
DJING 5 NIGHTS A WEEK, HOW DO YOU STAY FRESH?
You have so much new music that you donít get repetitive. You have enough new music and promos and things, itís always sounding fresh.
BEING IN IBIZA FOR THE SUMMER, HOW DO YOU REPLENISH YOUR MUSIC?
You had record shops in Ibiza that would receive shipments from Italy, it was one of the most driving countries in Europe which has the best record stores in the world. I would say the best record stores Iíve ever seen are in Italy and Japan. Not any more, but back then, Italy had mega record stores, American deep house labels would promo their stuff in Italy months before youíd see it here. Youíd walk into any Italian store and theyíd have Strictly Rhythm promos. Very very advanced for deep house. DJs like Louie (Little Louie Vega), thatís the number one country where they played in the 90s. There were stores in Italy that would send to the stores in Ibiza.
SPEAKING OF DEEP AND SOULFUL HOUSE, IT SEEMS TO BE ON LIFE SUPPORT THESE DAYS, IN GENERAL, WHEN MORE HARDER EDGE SOUNDS SEEMS TO BE DOING OK.
Itís because those harder edge sounds typically are dubs. The technology now allows you to make them on your laptop on an airplane if you want. Whereas the soulful house stuff, you need a studio, you need a vocal booth. It costs more money to make those and time. In an age where thereís very little money to be made, itís no longer economically viable to make soulful house big productions of the 90s. You have to pay the vocalists, engineers and all that, whereas, this techy, dubby house stuff, you can make it all by yourself on the laptop. You donít care if you donít make a lot of money, you can churn out a lot of tracks, and make a little bit for each track.
YOU ARE QUOTED AS SAYING:
ď That big club New York City underground experience died for me when the old Sound Factory closed." - EXPLAIN
As far as Iím concerned, the sound factory, the original sound factory, was the last great large nightclub in NY city that had the original kind of NY underground very eclectic type of atmosphere. Unless you were actually there at the time, itís very hard to explain the feeling. For me, as a club goer, that was really the last such club.
FOR SOME PEOPLE IT WAS THE PARADISE GARAGE.
Iím only 36 years old, I missed the garage, for me Sound Factory was the last large club.
HAVE YOU HAD A MENTOR IN THIS BUSINESS, IF SO, WHO?
People like Danny Rampling, who had a show on BBCís radio 1 for many years championing American deep house, probably the show with the largest listenership in the world. He was a mentor of mine.
DJ Pipi, the resident of pacha for almost 20 years.
When I first went there in 1989, he was playing the kind of music that I was playing at the time, that I never really heard in a club in a big room.
WHATS THE MOST SHOCKING THING YOUíVE SEEN IN A NIGHTCLUB?
I Ďve seen a lot, itís hard to come up with one.
IF YOU HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
I would have a slightly bigger space allowing for more room for storage in the club, an office on site. A room that we can chill out in when the club is packed. A side room that I can bring the talent in, be seated, something like that. I canít really think of anything else. Itís really been a dream come true, my original vision was realized on every level. Iím very happy and thankful.
Keep releasing branded compilations, we do 2-3 a year. Iím mixing a special Cielo compilation for Japan only. Upgrade our (sound) system again next year. Start a lot of new nights, residencies with new taltent. Constantly introduce new people to the scene. You know just, stay consistent.
For more information on Club Cielo, please visit:
"Somewhere in you girl I've been looking for heaven baby.See I spent my lifetime only to find heaven's in you."
My 50min interview from bouncefm.com
My 50min interview from bouncefm.com