Cielo is ten years old, which by our calculations is 70 in nightlife years. And it still looks so pretty! One of the top boîtes of the city, the country and the world (it’s been on a bevy of “best clubs” lists over the years), the Meapacking District spot is in the midst of weeks-long anniversary celebration—but head honcho Nicolas Matar still had time to chat about Cielo’s past, present and future.
Time Out New York: It was about 11 years ago when we were standing together in an empty concrete room, the space that was to become Cielo. Are you surprised that we are still talking about that room in 2013?
Nicolas Matar: Actually, longevity was my aim from the outset. Creating a long-lasting institution for dance music was always the goal. Of course, I’m very grateful that the club is still going strong after ten years, but that was part of the original plan and the original hope.
Time Out New York: It speaks volumes about the club that your residents—Deep Space’s François K, Roots’ Louie Vega and Kevin Hedge, Vibal’s Tedd Patterson and, of course, your go-to spinner Willie Graff, among them—have been with you all this time.
Nicolas Matar: Those guys have been anchors for the club from day one. By providing them with a home where they get consistent support, together we’ve been able to nurture these nights over the years. The consistency is key, you know? We don’t change our minds. We don’t suddenly decide, Oh, we don’t want to have that kind of music anymore. We don’t deviate from the formula.
Time Out New York: That consistency has probably been one of the secrets to Cielo’s success.
Nicolas Matar: Yeah, for sure—but staying abreast of new talent and new music, and not being stuck solely in old-school traditions, is part of it, too. We’ve always tried to stay current with the new trends in deep house and tech-house and techno, while still sticking to our core sound.
Time Out New York: You recently signed a new lease, which I guess implies that you intend for Cielo to be around a lot longer.
Nicolas Matar: I certainly do, even though this neighborhood is changing by the day. I’m hearing that Bloomingdale’s is coming to the neighborhood! It’s going to be interesting to maintain this kind of music-driven venue in the middle of a shopping mall. But I don’t foresee having any issues with maintaining the same business model for another nine years, which is what we have left on the lease.
Time Out New York: What do you see happening in those nine years?
Nicolas Matar: I see a continuation of what we’ve been doing, basically. We’re gonna stick to our weekly and monthly residencies, as well as a lot of our quarterly residencies. On nights when we book one-off events, we’re going to keep featuring new talent who we feel fit within the Cielo model. We can’t be overly experimental on the weekends, perhaps—but as long as we focus on quality house music, we’ll be good.
Time Out New York: It probably helps that Cielo is more of a destination spot than most of the other venues in the neighborhood. People go to Cielo because it’s Cielo; they’re not going there just because it’s some club in the Meatpacking District.
Nicolas Matar: Precisely. And despite what you could say about the Meatpacking District, it’s still an easy, central location to get to via mass transit, which always helps.
Time Out New York: Does it surprise you that not many people have taken the Cielo template and tried to beat you at your own game?
Nicolas Matar: In recent years, I think there has been plenty of people who have tried to launch music-driven nightclubs. Now, with the whole American EDM craze, even bottle-service clubs are booking underground DJs now—and outbidding us, needless to say. So there are people trying to emulate the model, but a lot of those individuals aren’t insiders in the music culture. Being a DJ myself and staying current with new music, I’ll know about a lot of new talent that a club owner who doesn’t have that level of expertise won’t.
Time Out New York: Still, it must be a big frustrating that some club owners are sort of jumping on the bandwagon.
Nicolas Matar: Well, most of them think short-term anyway–and, short term, booking underground DJs is not very profitable. So they probably will end up changing their business models soon enough. But yes, it makes it harder to book the talent that we’ve been booking for years, because these places can pay them triple what we can.
Time Out New York: Obviously you can’t outbid one of your bottle-service neighbors for someone like, for instance, Richie Hawtin.
Nicolas Matar: Precisely. However, we can book people who are perhaps not that big, but who are very good and very interesting DJs.
Time Out New York: You certainly have a lot of quality house music during your ongoing ten-year anniversary celebrations.
Nicolas Matar: We’re very excited about all the people we have playing. And there’ quite a variety: For instance, Todd Terje is playing at a night that is being put on by [Nervous Records imprint] Nurvous. When the label’s Mike Weiss came to me with that, I had an idea: Why don’t we have an old-school-versus-new-school night, and get Danny Krivit to play with Todd Terje? That’s going to be a fun night.
Time Out New York: Any plans beyond the anniversary?
Nicolas Matar: We have a sound system upgrade and a slight remodeling of the club coming up.
Time Out New York: Remodeling? I like the way it looks now!
Nicolas Matar: Don’t worry, it won’t be anything overly dramatic—but it’s more than anything we’ve done in the past. Cielo’s design and aesthetic is timeless; we’re just looking to do version 2.0.