The Party Electric
Before the bass started booming from the speakers of LVL7, the city’s new nightspot, The Vienna Review got the low down
One lonesome ladder stands amidst the scaffolding and rubble on the dancefloor of the former Phönix Supper Club. The bar adjacent is protected with plastic drop cloths. The old furnishings and notoriously weak sound system have been discarded, along with the previous concept. Given the construction site setting, it is hard to imagine this place hosting the opening of a hot new electro club, the LVL7 (pronounced "Level Seven"), in a few weeks. As you read this, the "Grand Departure Weekend" on 24 and 25 Feb. will already be history – and as you see, they managed to finish in time.
Lerchenfelderstraße is one of the most neglected streets in Neubau. Rundown shops and closed restaurants are common along this stretch of Vienna’s hip 7th District. This didn’t keep Markus Steinwender and Nick Langer from buying the former Phönix from previous owner Erwin Kreczy, who hadn’t made a go of it. Steinwender and Langer are teaming up with Philipp Van Het Veld, resident DJ at Vienna’s Volksgarten and erstwhile number one in the U.K. club charts. We met to talk about the electronic music scene in Vienna and the concept for their new club.
So, what does "electronic music" actually mean? "In order to answer that question, we would have to schedule another interview," Van Het Veld answers, laughing. "Let’s try it anyway: It has its roots in House, but Electro is harder than House, has stronger bass lines and contains elements of Trance."
For years, Vienna’s House scene had its headquarters at the Garden Club, a party series that premiered in 2000 in the Volksgarten. The crème de la crème of Vienna’s DJ scene had a season ticket to play House tunes at the city’s top club. Over the years, new Electro clubs like Passage, Fluc, Pratersauna and Die Grelle Forelle opened their doors and the music itself underwent a significant change. While House and Hip Hop used to be strictly separated, DJs today mix elements from various genres.
According to Van Het Veld, this development was started by French star DJ David Guetta, who was the first to put R&B vocals over electro beats. Imitating and recreating this "David Guetta Pop", DJs nowadays are able to reach the ears of Hip Hop and House fans alike – and most importantly, their wallets. To his chagrin, Van Het Veld has sensed turntable artists leaning increasingly towards the mainstream:
"Today, people in most clubs get nervous when they don’t hear a hit for an hour."
A DJ saved my life
DJs are mysterious beings: they stand in front of a crowd, push some buttons, casually cradle their headphones on one ear, and press play on an iTunes best-of playlist once in a while. Or is there, in fact, more to it?
Listening to Van Het Veld talk about the Vienna scene, one can quickly become sceptical: "When Grandmaster Flash came to play at Pratersauna, we were all looking forward to an old-school set. But he opened the night with Swedish House Mafia’s ‘One’ and continued on with everything the commercial electro spectrum had to offer." The Grandmaster got away with it, but if Van Het Veld from Vienna had been the one playing hits all night at the underground club, he says, they would have booed him off the stage.
Finding a middle ground between being accepted in the underground and making enough money to pay the rent seems a challenge for today’s DJs. How do you react to hundreds of cute girls gyrating in front of you, begging to be entertained? According to Van Het Veld, "Vienna’s Electro DJs don’t have the balls" to bring out some new underground track that nobody has ever heard of.
"Vienna is like a big sausage stand," Markus Steinwender interjects, describing the mentality of only craving what one already knows.
LVL7’s concept is set somewhere in between: "We want to get everyone on board by playing sets that people can dance to, but we also want to throw in a hit or two, once in a while," explains Nick Langer.
"It’s ‘edu-tainment’," Van Het Veld quips, teaching people something new without them putting too much effort into it.
The portable radiator has finally begun to warm up the room as the interview draws to an end. It is still hard to imagine a club in this space in a few short weeks. When the club opens its doors to the public, not only does the heating need to work, but also the heart and soul of a club: The sound system. Here the new owners have a flexible concept. The sound "adapts" to the crowd density. Langer explains, "Whether there are 50 people in the club or 500, the system adapts to the situation, so no matter what, the sound is always optimised." With this and a few other tricks up its sleeve, LVL7 may overcome the hurdles that defeated its predecessor.
Before we leave, Van Het Veld uncovers another club secret: "Girls go clubbing because of the music. Guys go clubbing because of the girls. A party that only has heterosexual men and no women will be a disaster, regardless of how good the DJ is."
It is that realism – that a DJ is not some mythical demigod, but only part of the game, a paid entertainer for the night – that makes Van Het Veld one of the most likeable in the trade. ÷
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