A trip down Vice City, where party is a duty and work is a sin

Pictures by Matthew Vandeputte & Thor Salden

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Many were surprised when Vice City was announced as Best Party on the most recent Red Bull Elektropedia Awards, not in the least the promoters themselves (one of them was out smoking when the group was called on stage). But those who have visited Vice City before, know why this exceptional party is rated so high. The spontaneity of this incredibly laid-back house, techno and disco event is quite a breath of fresh air in the Antwerp nightlife circuit that had its fair share of ups and downs recently. On the latest edition at Ampere, the main guest San Soda played a killer closing set, after he was handed over the decks by the Vice City crew. The team of four (consisting of Arno Lemmens aka Arno Lemons, Lawrence Vandeputte aka Lil Lawaw, Arno Klaes aka DJ Boats and Pieter Vochten aka Juice The DJ) is a jolly bunch of free spirits that live across 3 different countries, which makes promoting a party together all the more special. We were only able to catch half of them at the same time – Arno Lemmens and Lawrence Vandeputte – for a conversation about Vice City, “where party is a duty and work is a sin” (as their motto says).

How did the trip down Vice City start and how did the Vice City team come together?

There are a lot of venues in Antwerp we hosted events in, like the Renault Garage, Piaf, HAVN Dam, Ampere, Kompass and Pekfabriek, but we did our very first party at Bar Venetië in Borgerhout. These were very humble beginnings, because everyone that has been at this place will know it’s not the most state of the art music venue. Rather, it’s a back room of a brown café. You wouldn’t suspect a party is going on just from looking at the façade on the outside. On that first edition, only Pieter (who was called MVMNT back then) and Arno Lemons played, but DJ Boats was there for a helping hand alongside co-founder Tim Vandewalle. We really wanted Pieter because he has an amazing collection of Roulé vinyl records (the record label of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, ed). After that first set, he became a resident because he was he was one of the first DJ’s to play a lot of disco, a genre which seemed to be taboo in Antwerp back in 2013. People would laugh when you played a disco track back then, but Pieter, Tim and Arno Lemmens were the first ones to embrace it completely. Arno Klaes went on to become the most skilled selector of the whole crew – and he has the biggest record collection too! Lawrence joined the gang later by means of a DJ contest. But before that, he was always dancing on the front row, so unofficially, Lil Lawaw has always been a part of Vice City.

You all live in different countries, doing different daytime jobs. How do you manage to regularly host parties together?

We’ll hand it to you: setting up IRL meetings has become almost impossible. Luckily the internet comes to our rescue. It also helps to have jobs in the nightlife industry. Arno Lemmens has been living at the OYE Records’ office in Berlin the past year and Lawrence is finishing his internship at the Octopus booking agency in Amsterdam. Our superiors understand our situation and cut us some slack every now and then. That said, it’s still a matter of working fast during your lunch break or doing emails until well into the night. The good thing is we have a very good understanding between the four of us and we have a good relationship with the venues we work with and our ‘citizens’, as we like to call our patrons. Promoting parties in Antwerp from a distance wouldn’t be possible if that wasn’t the case.

How do you try to distinguish Vice City from other parties?

We believe we reached a point where people don’t need to look at the line-up anymore, because they know what kind of party they will get. Everyone is ready to be surprised or eager to learn something new. This trust feels incredibly liberating for us. At the same time, we don’t feel obliged to book the same kind of DJ’s or play the same kinds of music every time. Disco, house, techno, electro, etc. Everything is possible and our visitors understand that. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they like to stay dancing until 9 a.m.! When the lights go on, we usually see at least 50% familiar faces. Additionally, we’ve noticed that the artists we book have become increasingly enthusiastic.

How would you describe the core values of your event?

We believe it’s extremely important not to lose track of the atmosphere of your parties and enjoy the evening yourself. As a promoter, you’re easily caught up doing a million different things while your guests are having fun. That’s normal, someone needs to be the guy at the entrance and someone needs to be the guy who looks after the guest DJ’s. But sometimes these jobs prevent you from really seeing the night from the perspective of a dancer. We’re lucky to be in a group of four people, so one of us is always on duty on the dancefloor at any given time. If we all had a good time by the end of the night, we’re happy. That’s the most important benchmark for us. Other than that, we always try to see how many people come down from other cities. We love to take the train for a good party in Brussels or Ghent ourselves, so it feels great when people take the effort to do that for our events too.

Vice City doesn’t have a fixed location. Why are you putting so many events in different venues?

We would love to have a fixed location if the situation in Antwerp allowed us to. There’s just a major shortage of mid-sized music venues with a good soundsystem that are open to alternative music. It’s not hard to find a bar or a concert venue, but it’s not always easy to host parties like ours there. The same goes for big nightclubs with a weekly program of their own, like Kompass in Ghent or C12 in Brussels. We really lack that kind of organization over here, where clubs try to be forward thinking and not put all the risk in the promotors’ lap. Antwerp doesn’t really have a club with true residents, which is a shame. This could be a way of pushing and developing talented artists instead of just booking the warm-up and closing slots based on personal relationships or hype.

It’s less relevant for us, but it shows what kind of state our city is in at the moment. We feel like Antwerp is in the midst of a transition: a lot of locations have closed their doors already, while a lot new stuff is coming our way soon. The recent additions of initiatives like TRANS for example is a sign of good things to come, but we still have a long way to go. We long for the days of Piaf and Petrol, destinations where people of all backgrounds can feel at home. Antwerp has always been at the forefront of Belgium when it comes to fashion and arts, so we don’t really get why the city isn’t seeing the advantages of a more open and more modern approach to nightlife. This starts with a clear line of communication with all the sides involved. Then again, we’re lucky we operate in a city that allows for long opening hours without too many problems. It all boils down to what city we compare Antwerp with. Relatively speaking, we are still pretty spoiled, but we can always do better.

So you struck gold in the ‘Best Party’ category at the most recent Red Bull Elektropedia Awards. From the looks of your reaction: that came as a surprise…

It was incredibly surprising! Even so surprising Arno Lemmens was smoking a cigarette outside while it was announced! To make matters worse, Lawrence was watching the ceremony from his bed because he had a traffic accident not long before. Luckily, Arno Klaes and Pieter really aced the speech (laughs). It’s funny because those two usually are the least talkative of the bunch. That said, this award really was a very welcome pat on the back for what we’re doing as a team.

If you’d ask us which music you guys play and promote, disco comes to mind first. Do you feel like it’s a hype or is it here to stay?

Actually, we’re not really just doing disco. People do make the association sometimes, somehow it’s the only genre that people remember at the end of the night. For example: when you play just one disco anthem at the peak of your DJ-set with all the other genres we touch, some friends will congratulate you on “that great disco set”, because for a lot of people, there are only 3 genres at the moment: disco, house and techno. Any genre that’s easy to dance to, like bubblegum, electrofunk and italo easily gets categorized as disco. We get that the style is popular again these days and we definitely enjoy it ourselves, but as DJ’s and promoters, we are much more versatile than that. We don’t really like monotonous sets anyway. It has come to the point where we are avoiding it on purpose. Those classic anthems like ‘Keep The Fire Burning’ have been rinsed too many times and as we said before, we love to surprise or educate our patrons. You don’t just give your kids chocolate and fries either, right? You need to give them veggies, fruit and other healthy stuff too!

If you had to place your bets, what kind of music will be hyped next?

At Vice City, we want to reach a point where hype doesn’t really matter anymore. People should see the beauty of every genre or niche on its own. In the end, that’s what a selector ought to do – and our residents know that. Our guest DJ’s will always be artists who can go in any direction. To use a big cliché: we like to book DJ’s that other DJ’s would like to listen to.

Ok, but which genres do you believe are on the verge of becoming the next ‘disco’?

Lawrence: I feel like electro is making a big comeback, which you see by hype around anything Drexciya these days. Bigger festivals like Dimensions and Dekmantel obviously play a big part in deciding what will be cool. To be fair, we also embrace this on our own festival (Lose it in The City, ed.) and Arno Lemmens has been playing a lot of electro as DMT Lemons (a duo which he forms with DTM Funk) for a while as well.

Arno: Me and Tim tried to push electro with a party named Atlantis, with previous guests like DJ Stingray and Stroheim. In hindsight, that was a bit too soon.

How do you see Vice City grow from here?

We just continue the grind! We’re hosting a stage on Listen! Festival and we’ve been invited to Kala Festival in Albania. We’ll be doing some more radio shows on Kiosk Radio as Vice City. We’re extremely grateful for opportunities like this. In May, we will release a compilation of 9 original tracks by artists who were invited over these past 6 years. It’ll be some sort of autobiographical story about Vice City and all the people involved.

So no new Vice City events?

Ah yes of course! Here’s a little exclusive for you: our next event will be at Pekfabriek on March 16. We’re happy we can book Dane, a man who has played a big role in the Canadian scene. We can’t wait to hear what he’ll bring to the booth. Lastly, we’ll celebrate our sixth anniversary on May 11.