NYC’s Cielo nightclub—which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year—is one of the last of its kind, a now-historic Lower Manhattan venue designed specifically for underground dance music and its devotees, providing pristine sound in an intimate atmosphere.
New York City’s Cielo nightclub is a true dance music lovers’ venue. This small club—which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year—is one of the last of its kind, a now-historic Lower Manhattan venue designed and run specifically for underground dance music and its devotees. In the past decade Cielo has become a well-known name in dance music for their big-name DJ bookings and residencies from the likes of Lil’ Louie Vega and François K, but what really makes Cielo unique is pristine sound in an intimate space: the 350-person capacity room in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District is also home to the city’s first and only permanently-installed Funktion One sound system.
Nicolas Matar and Cielo
Cielo’s owner Nicolas Matar is an in-demand international DJ himself, having spent seven years of his life spinning records in Ibiza up to five nights a week at venues including house music mecca Pacha. For Nicolas, though, clubbing in New York City hasn’t quite been the same since the 90s. In an interview with online publication Rhythmism, he attributes the sudden shift in vibe to Mayor Giuliani’s crackdown on nightlife in the late 1990s. This initiative introduced rigorous inspections for fire safety and sanitation, created pressure to root out drug use in nightclubs, boosted the cost of various entertainment-related permits and licenses, and most famously revived a cabaret law from 1926 that banned three or more patrons from dancing without a specific permit.
While New York’s proliferation of nightlife dwindled in the past decade, however, Nicolas has kept the torch burning over at Cielo, booking many of the DJs you might have caught at the Paradise Garage in the late 80s or at venues like the Sound Factory in the 90s alongside newcomers from the Berlin and London underground scenes. On weekends you can expect a line down the block, a very picky door policy, and some of the most sought-after house and techno DJs in the world taking a night off from their usual festival and superclub gigs to rock the crowd at Cielo.
François K. and Deep Space
The Cielo experience isn’t always as exclusive as it is on Fridays and Saturday, though. On Monday nights the club drops its tough door policy, drops the cover charge by half, and allows the disciples of underground groove to convene for services at DJ François K.’s church of vibes. A dance music legend in his own right who has been performing for nearly four decades, François’ Monday night party Deep Space has been running nearly every week for the past nine years, playing host to a who’s-who of internationally-renowned DJs and live performers who jump at the opportunity to juice the subs at what audiophiles have called “the best-sounding club in the country.”
Throughout its nine-year history, Deep Space has maintained a reputation for “future dub, spacey vibes, and abstract grooves,” all while keeping current with constantly shifting global music trends. The list of DJs and live musicians that have played the night includes countless major innovators of electronic dance music such as original dubstep shaman Mala of Digital Mystikz, Hyperdub label manager Kode9, Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins and British radio legend Gilles Peterson, to name just a few.
Funktion One: Award-Winning Sound
And while the award-winning, British-designed Funktion One hardware is a talking point for electronic music nerds, it’s the combination of interior architecture and design, top-tier sound technicians, and a proper hardware setup that makes Cielo’s womb-like sonic warmth possible.
“For a 300-capacity room the sound system in [Cielo] is huge,” says resident audio engineer Daniel Neumann, adding that “high-quality audio is only achieved as the sum of every detail.” It’s Neumann’s job to make sure that all the components function properly and sound their best night after night. There are a dozen points at which the signal chain in an audio setup can break down, including unnecessary routing, faulty cables, a DJ mixer or an amplifier that’s being pushed beyond its limit, or a substandard audio interface that can reduce the quality of the signal. Neumann follows the signal from start to finish to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
“At Cielo a big part of the sound is definitely the room treatment. The padded walls (and even part of the ceiling) absorb most of the sound,” rather than allowing it to bounce around the room. “That’s exactly what you want for club music, since the tracks work with spatialization and placement physicality built into the tracks, not necessarily added later on, as in classical music.” Only with the combination of proper engineering, interior design, and thorough sound checks can the Funktion One do what it’s made to do. In a club setting, “the usual formula for sound systems is 10 watts per person, which for Cielo would mean a 3,000-watt system. But the subwoofers alone can take around 10,000 watts, plus the low-mids another 4,000 watts.”
Beyond the raw power of Cielo’s amps and loudspeakers, the design of the amplifier system and frequency crossovers accounts for much of the quality; “It’s a four-way system, so you have a very clear distinction between frequency bands—highs, high-mids, low-mids, lows—which makes a much clearer sound, because each box is built to only serve a certain range.” “Cielo is sent prototypes of new gear and serves as a testing club for new technologies developed by Funktion One,” says owner Nicolas Matar. “We spared no expense in acoustically treating the room to make it sound like you’re in a studio environment.”
So if you’re looking to relive the 90s and get housed by Frankie Knuckles and Louie Vega, if you need a couple doses of dark, sexy minimalism from Berlin, or if you want to get your skank on with dubstep dons like Goth-Trad and J:Kenzo, get your tickets in advance and hop on the L train to Cielo. And to all you aspiring DJs: don’t waste your time trying to trainspot from behind the DJ booth—the Funktion One’s sweet spot is smack dab in the middle of the dancefloor. - Max Pearl