A decade in club life is like a century for normal businesses. While people will always need shoes, the changing tides of music and partying preferences often puts a short shelf life on havens of entertainment. Not so for NYC landmark Cielo, which just marked its 10th anniversary with a series of high-profile parties showcasing underground heroes like Todd Terje and The Martinez Brothers. Co-founder Nicolas Matar is the man behind Cielo’s ethos, which he designed to be a timeless club—a goal that he certainly achieved by bucking the trend of NYC’s short-lived nightlife establishments. From being on the cutting edge of sound by having the first Funktion One soundsystem in the US (which we named the best in the country) to constantly keeping amazing talent on the decks, Matar describes what it’s like to have been at the helm of one of NYC’s most influential clubs.
What was the neighborhood like when you first opened Cielo? The Meatpacking District wasn’t the club district that it is now.
The neighborhood still functioned primarily as a zone for the local meatpacking industry. And at night you found underground clubs such as Filter 14 along with the neighborhood’s renowned streetwalkers. Also, gay subculture stretching from the West Village’s piers was still present in the district. And of course the fantastic restaurant Florent offered late-night fare to New York’s nightlife denizens. Together all these characteristics evoked the vibrancy (and at times dark underbelly) of New York in the 1980s and 1990s. Now Sephora and an Apple store have become central commercial attractions, along with the incredible allure of the Highline Park and even the Whitney Museum’s new building.
A few months back, we named Cielo’s soundsystem the best in the US. How did you decide to be outfitted with Funktion One?
First, I want to thank Beatport for ranking Cielo’s soundsystem as the best in the US. It is an honor to find Cielo amongst such an amazing array of nightclubs from around the country. I always enjoyed the all-encompassing, warm sound of Funktion One during my travels in Europe. Going back to Paradise Garage and the Sound Factory on 27th Street, great soundsystems—along with residencies—have defined New York’s best clubs. Over the years I have nurtured a close professional relationship with Tony Andrews at Funktion One and his American team. Not only is Funktion One’s sound engineering a natural fit for the music featured at Cielo, but also the mutual respect as a colleague in nightlife production ensured the Funktion One team as a long-term partner in the club’s success.
Was it a challenge as the first club to set up a Funktion One system in the US?
Building a nightclub from scratch in New York is a challenge in itself. Luckily, Funktion One’s experience in quality sound engineering alleviated many of the difficulties one might typically run into in when it comes to a nightclub’s sound design and installation. By customizing the soundsystem to Cielo’s small scale, Funktion One allows the music to fill the room without overwhelming Cielo’s patrons. The sound quality remains consistent throughout the entire club—something which sounds obvious but is not easily achieved. And the monitors in the DJ booth are almost a soundsystem unto themselves. This means that Cielo’s artists are able to perform at their best. Most importantly, Funktion One did not simply install the system and move on to their next project. Their engineers still tune the system regularly and are always available when we encounter problems.
Do you adjust the equipment or have you stuck with the same setup over the years?
As I mentioned, we are constantly fine-tuning the system and have added an array of upgrades over the years as the club and its crowd has grown. We have renovated the club twice now and each time we have tweaked the soundsystem.
Did you model Cielo on any existing clubs? It has an extremely intimate feel with its a hybrid bottle/dancefloor setup.
The aesthetic evokes what we might imagine a discotheque might have looked like in the 1970s. But besides our name—which refers to El Cielo in Ibiza—Cielo’s interior design and layout distinguishes the club on its own. I modeled it on what I imagined might be a long-lasting, timeless nightclub. And here we are going into our second decade. Cielo’s elegant appearance coupled with its simplicity and small size enable for the intimate feel. The bottle-service phenomenon is a necessary element to succeed as a nightclub in Manhattan. Cielo’s design attempts to minimize the bottle service’s intrusion on the dancefloor. Most of our patrons come for the music and we make every effort possible to cater to them.
Does anything very notable stand out over 10 years? There must have been some crazy moments.
Cielo’s dancefloor has taken some well-deserved wear over the years and has allowed for so many crazy nights that it is hard to keep track of them all.
Any favorite people come through in the time?
Carl Cox and Danny Tenaglia! Only Cielo can offer them in such an intimate atmosphere in New York City.
Do you still have patrons from 10 years ago?
Absolutely. Cielo’s programming, doorman, and staff—from the lighting crew to the bartenders—keep a core group of regulars coming back and are constantly converting new devotees!
Talk about the different nights you have at Cielo and the residencies you’ve cultivated over the years. How did those come to happen? Who have been some of your favorites?
Residencies have always distinguished the most notable clubs in New York and around the world. In a sense, they guarantee the success of guest DJs and new talent while a club evolves naturally with the music. Cielo now stands firmly within this tradition. Cielo continues to nurture longstanding residencies such as Little Louie Vega’s Roots, Willie Graff’s and my own Paradizo, Tedd Patterson’s Vibal, and Francois K’s Deep Space parties. They have solidified Cielo’s reputation in New York’s vibrant, but at moments—particularly during the last decade—unreliable, scene. I am still in awe each time I play with Willie at Cielo. Seasoned patrons from across New York’s dance music generations as well as from around the world have come to rely upon Cielo as a quality nightlife environment.
Can you talk about the state of nightlife in NYC right now. Is it coming back? How does it compare to the rest of the world?
Electronic music in New York—and across the United States—is experiencing an unexpected, but welcome, resurgence. A fragmentation between the underground house and techno scene and the commercial scene is natural at this point. And the relationship remains symbiotic. For every five clubbers who listen to what is currently called “Electronic Dance Music,” many of them will explore underground house and techno music. Many of today’s deep-house and techno aficionados started off listening to trance in the late ’90s. And Cielo continues to play an integral role in facilitating this journey for clubbers and DJs alike.