5 groovy years of Vice City.

Pictures by Darwin T. Cabrera, Thor Salden & Esther Sla

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Take New York’s legendary Studio 54’s sound, a dash of Miami’s careless atmosphere, add a couple of free spirits to the mix and place this energetic cocktail in the center of Antwerp. Yup, that’s Vice City for ya! Anyone who attended one of these groovy nights in the Diamond city will tell you it wont be their last. Smiling faces and a positive energy are all around you as you dance the night away. The concept is celebrating its fifth anniversary on Saturday, May 5. We wondered about the who’s and how’s, so we met up with one of the founding fathers, Arno Lemmens (aka Arno Lemons, third from left in the picture below), who's living abroad for a while for his internship. 

How’s Berlin treating you?

"Amazing, but intense. I’m pinching myself everyday to check if I'm alive. Working for Oye Records as an intern has been a blessing since day one. I'm living in a wonderful apartment in the very cosy Friedrichshain and the nightlife feels like Disneyland. Of course, moving to a big city carries a bit of loneliness with it, but that's not all bad I guess. It forced me to think about a lot of things. Despite the fact that I'm missing a couple of people in my life, I feel Berlin is treating me well."

Five years Vice City… How did it all start?

“Well the main idea about Vice City is to offer an escape from all the bullshit people have to go through during the week. A place where a stranger is a friend, where nobody has problems with having problems, but just enjoys life and dances the blues away. I created this escapist theory and concept during the time I threw my first parties in Antwerp which were called Anti Matter. In March 2013, Tim Vandewalle invited me to come over to discuss a collab between his party (Back To The Future) and mine. There I sat, at the table in the LBC (Lange Beeldekens Crib, a legendary mansion where the Vice City Residents reside), ready to pitch Tim my new idea, so I did. Tim liked it so much, he collected all the necessary funds from other parties he threw back then (Foorcore, Back To The Future, Mayhem and much more, you have no idea what Tim did for Belgian nightlife) and incorporated this project into his non-profit. A big part of the budget was invested in floatable animals & plants which people could take home afterwards, which gave them an instant community feeling - actually being a part of something. It's the small things in life which makes the difference I believe.

The next step was the music. Conceptually , I was wildly inspired by The Paradise Garage ran by Larry Levan & Nicky Siano or The Warehouse where Frankie Knuckles gave people the option to escape who needed it most in the early 80s. Weirdly enough, Tim and I originally didn't think of presenting disco, but old school Chicago - & New York styled house music. In 2013, a shitty deep house wave of artists were absurdly famous and the message inside that new stream of house music was just plain boring. These days Vice City is known as a concept characterized by a multitude of genres, but that only happened because Pieter Vochten (Fka MVMNT , now known as Juicy) started to play disco music at our first edition. Tim and I were flabbergasted about what it did to the people dancing. I've never seen people dance so hard before on any other genre (maybe gabber) as they did then. After that first night, we didn't end up as an oldschool house party, but all because of Juicy, we were a disco party. We were the first disco party in town. And disco is fucking epic, period.”

How many venues and locations have been graced by Vicy City by now?

“We started in Bar Venetië in Borgerhout. Then we did 1 party in Antwerp’s old Renault Garage, but went back to Bar Venetië because of lack of finances. After that, we moved to Piaf, where we grew steady as promotors in Antwerp’s nightlife. Eventually, they had to close because the city had other development plans with the area, Tim and I did not knew where to go, because some things weren't available back then, or didn't have the vibe we needed to throw our signature parties. After Piaf, we moved to Havn Dam, which was an exciting experiment. And now, we’re finally home again: Borgerhout's best kept secret, De Pekfabrik. So 5 in 5 years to reply your question.”

If you had to choose: what your favorite edition to this day?

“Hard to say… but I guess I’d go for the edition on April 9, 2016 (my 23d birthday), when we did the Money $ex Records takeover, along with a vegan bbq. Max Graef, Glenn Astro, Delfonic, Labuzinski, IMYRMIND, Kickflip Mike & Alex Seidel played for 12 hours non stop, and it was one of the most beautiful thing I've ever experienced.”

You’ve created a steady brand with Vice City. People know what to expect and they keep coming back for the good vibes. Is that something you’ve invested a lot in over the years?

“That's the only thing we've invested in. At least that, and floatable palmtrees and flamingos (laughs). Belgians are heavily pampered when it comes to lineups; every weekend you can go to 2 to 4 events per city that offer international artists, mostly in the same niche or style. This inflicts the whole market, because it polarizes everything and the average person can't keep up with new hypes and artists because of their weekly occupations; all they want is a good party at the end of that week. It takes blood, tears, time and a shitload of luck to become such a reference, but I'm happy and proud we reached it after 5 years.”

Spending a lot of your time in Berlin the last couple of years, what can Belgian nightlife definitely learn from Berlin / German nightlife?

“More variated opening hours and glass bottles which are refundable for more beer are two things, for starters. Also, a bigger variety in the kind of clubs; there are 100 person capacity clubs with very strong soundsystems there, which you'd never find in Belgium; we need more venues between a 100 and 400 people capacity where a bit of experimenting is still possible.”

How do you look at today’s nightlife and event scene anyway?

“I believe there is an overdose of marketing inside the Belgian nightlife scene and too less consistency in what promotors do: I have the feeling they just throw some bullshit towards your head without sending a clear message about their intentions or plans as an event. Everyone in "the scene" is looking too much at each other, instead of at themselves.”

You do have to admit: we still keep a heavy reputation in place when it comes to festivals.

“Absolutely! However, some are very outdated or focus too much on making money. I honestly believe The Netherlands are taking over our title as festival country; they dare to experiment a lot more, they dig much deeper for their lineups, and they reinvent the experience much more than we Belgians do, who just follow a certain formula which has been used over the years. Of course, there is Tomorrowland in Belgium, which leads in experience. There is light at the end of the tunnel, though; festivals like Horst, Listen!, And&, Paradise City and Klub Dramatik are really making a difference in Belgium today.”

What can we expect in the near future for Vice City?

“Well, a couple of things… First: together with Lucid, we are organizing a new festival in Antwerp; Loose It In The City Festival. A festival which comes from the underground and is meant for the underground. It'll be on the July 28 and the lineup is a perfect combo of what Vice City & Lucid stand for. Can't tell much about the lineup yet; but it'll blow minds! Second: we are finally starting - in honor of our 5 year anniversary - a clothing line! People have been begging a long time for some shirts, but we finally decided to make some, thanks to Lil Lawaw's efforts! And, obviously, parties! We are doing a little tour in & around Belgium the next couple of months, to spread the good word and maybe turn other places into a Vice City, just like we did in Antwerp. For now we have our 5 year anniversary on May 5 planned with Pender Street Steppers, a stagehosting at Extrema Outdoor with Beautiful Swimmers, an all-nighter in Sugarfactory in Amsterdam, an outdoor edition at Kompass in Ghent and a couple of other things.” 

Last record you played today?

“A recent buy; Piyojo's Live recording restored by zachte man. A very spacious funky adventure, which will definitely be something I'll play a lot in the near future. Released on Periodica, a label which releases the most interesting exotica from today, next to Early Sounds, which is also a personal favorite for the moment.”

Last record you would play at the last Vice City ever?

“Something you'll only know if you are there.. “

Join Arno at Vice City's fifth anniversary at Pekfabrik on Saturday, May 5, with Pender Street Steppers and the Vice City Residents . Can't make it? Head over to the Facebook page and stay up to date on future events.