The Cityfox organization sprang to life in 2006 in Zurich, Switzerland, originally in response to the shuttering of the beloved, still-missed nitery known as Dachkantine; the crew simply wanted to have a space to toss parties, which is as pure a motivation as they come. A subsidiary label, also called Cityfox, kicked off in 2009, releasing techno-tinged house from the likes of Lee Curtiss, Digitaline, Gregorythme and Lee Jones, and bringing the gang a decent amount of attention from outside their hometown. But it was in the early days of this decade—when Cityfox started bringing their brand of groove-based, chugging electronics to New York City via a continuing series of warehouse parties and outdoor hoedowns—that people in the U.S. really took notice. Nowadays—at least for fans of production-heavy, large-scale, all-night dance-music fiestas—Cityfox Experience events, tossed in conjunction with the folks at Listed Productions, are among the most anticipated events on the NYC clubbing schedule, with the likes of Dixon, Lee Burridge, Âme, Solomun and Apollonia joining in on the action. And Cityfox's growth spurt hasn't ended yet—plans to broaden its scope even further began in October, when the crew traveled cross-country to host its premiere LA bash.
But with expansion comes the inevitable growing pains. Cityfox suffered an agonizing kick to the ribs this past Halloween, when a party scheduled to take place in an postindustrial area of Greenpoint, Brooklyn—at the old Nuhart Plastics building, not far from the notoriously polluted Newton Creek—was shut down at the eleventh hour (11:45 pm, to be precise) by the city. Officials claimed that Cityfox submitted an “inaccurate and incomplete permit application,” further stating that "the event was shut down due to flammable chemicals being hidden behind flammable curtains," among other alleged infractions. Cityfox responded with a statement responding to, and refuting, those claims, and has offered refunds—however, the damage had already been done in the form of thousands of none-too-happy revelers. But you can't keep a good shindig down, and now the gang is ready to make amends this Saturday, December 12 when they'll be coming back in a big way, heading to 1260 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn for a date with Martin Buttrich, M.A.N.D.Y., Thugfucker, Bedouin, Frank & Tony, Stojan, Patlac, Dubtribe Sound System and lots more. We caught up with Billy Bildstein, cofounder and creative director of Cityfox, to find out more.
"I think the most important mission we have is to never get bored by what we do, or to bore our audience. And have fun."
Many of us in the States first knew about Cityfox as a label, not as a event-production and promotion crew. How would you describe the Cityfox label's musical ethos? Does that ethos hold true of both the label and the parties? And how active is the label nowadays?
Yes, the label is still active! Actually we have some really exciting projects coming up—new EPs by Adriatique, Bedouin and a really exciting package with originals by the very talented and mysterious Atelier Francesco, with remixes by Fabio Giannelli and Martin Buttrich, just to name a few. It did get a bit quiet around the label, since we've had to focus all our energy and time into our events. But to get back to your question, our ethos is quite simple: "We need to like the music. The music has to tell a story. We want to work with people and artists we like and we feel comfortable with." We began our label with the same ethos; we released our first EP’ in 2009, produced by close friends like Lee Curtiss, Digitaline, Gregorythme and Lee Jones. Our "family" has gotten bigger since then, and our musical styles varied a lot, from techno to deep house—there is not really a box I would put our label in. This would just limit ourselves, and we are open to explore and continue our musical journey. Same with our parties and events—we always try to push the envelope, create something new, challenge ourselves and surprise our guests or listeners when it comes down to our music label. I think the most important mission we have is to never get bored by what we do, or to bore our audience. And have fun.
What were those early parties in Zurich like? Were they a bit smaller scale than what you are doing nowadays?
Yes, pretty much. We had the same basic idea—transforming an empty canvas, like a warehouse or any type of building or outdoor location into a full-on sensory and immersive experience for one night. Obviously, the size was smaller. We started with a couple hundred people for our first event in 2006; most of them were actually our personal friends. We started Cityfox mainly for them and ourselves, to fill a gap after our favorite club had to close its doors. That place was a second home and institution for all of us, and suddenly we didn’t know what to do with our weekends. We became pretty big rather fast, though. Our second installment, also in 2006, already reached 1000-people capacity, and ever since we never had less than that attending a Cityfox event. This was huge number for Zurich back then. The ingredients were pretty much the same than today: a great sound system, showcasing the biggest talent or exciting newcomers, a very high-end production, attention to every detail, and most importantly, seeing our guests as the center of the attention. Everything is created to deliver a great experience and good times.
How did you make the decision to start doing the Cityfox Experience in North America—and why New York City? Were you confident that you had the ability to do this, or were there ever moments when you asked, "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
The very first contact with New York was our event at the Marcy Hotel, when the Wolf + Lamb guys invited us to do a label showcase in 2010. Gadi and Zev [of Wolf + Lamb] started their music label around the same time as we did, and we exchanged a lot of music back then. And we had the same friends—the Visionquest crew. That first party was a lot of fun. A while later, Taimur and Fahad from Blkmarket invited us for another label showcase, and that was when we definitely fell in love with New York, Brooklyn and its music scene. The reaction to our show was amazing; we got such a positive and emotional feedback that we just felt purely good about it. I guess that was the foundation for it, but the real decision came when we lost an opportunity to build a new nightclub in Zurich in 2012, (after we closed our first club in 2011), after working on it for almost one and half years. We decided to change our strategy and leave Zurich to explore something new something much bigger. It didn’t take us long to decide to move our center to NYC, which was the best decision we ever made. Also, Gunita [Nagpaul] from Listed played a good role in supporting us and bringing us to North America, with showcases in different cities. When we started Cityfox NY in late 2012, we were confident to be able to contribute something to the scene, to show a different approach to dance music events.
We put all our heart and energy into it from the very beginning—but yes, to answer the question, we thought many times "what have we gotten ourselves into?" From the outside, it’s hard to see how tough it can be to organize such events. it’s start with the almost impossible mission to find spaces, dealing with landlords…the permitting process can be very complex—and that’s all even before production starts. We spend hundreds of hours to scout for locations and thousands of hours to build these experiences. Often we have to fix buildings, bring them up to code, make them safe. All for just one night. But I still can say, and I say it very proudly, it is totally worth it. Sometimes it means pain, emotionally and physically, but the joy and positive feelings are stronger. The joy of creating something special and making people happy is what drives us, and is what motivates us to do it again, and again, and again.
Can you explain a bit about Cityfox's relationship with Listed?
As mentioned before, Gunita from Listed organized quite a few label showcases with us in cities like Miami during WMC and San Francisco. She introduced us as a record label to many people in North America. Actually, I believe the story how Gunita discovered us is that Lee Burridge told her to have an eye on us. Lee played almost all our records back then and was a big fan of the label. Gunita’s cousin Simar [Singh] came on board at Listed, and both supported us since the beginning of our New York City–North America adventure, playing the main role in promotion, marketing and strategy. Gunita also brings in a great taste of music and experience in booking artists—which we always debate for hours—to put the right mix and line-ups together. Simar is a wizard when it comes down to all aspects of promotion and communication. They are great, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them. I’m really happy to have them on board.
How are you dealing with the cancellation of the Halloween event? What were the repercussions?
To be honest, it has been tough for us. Seeing all the negative press, which is based on a lot of false facts or assumptions, was not a great feeling. Obviously we asked ourselves if we did something fundamentally wrong. We clearly see our mistake in underestimating the emotional connection the community in the area of the event location had with the history of the building. But that said, we made a hundred percent sure that the building was safe for our guests, like we always do. Again, in the first couple days of such a production, we normally spend hundreds of hours of fixing floors—like holes or trip hazards for example—installing up to 80 emergency lights and exit signs, making sure we provide egress paths, installing stairs, opening walls up and installing new doors if needed, bringing everything up to building codes which are essential to get a TPA [temporary public assembly] permit. We do everything a hundred percent legal, by the books—and never had a single issue before Halloween. There was absolutely no unsafe situation; we would not bring our guests or our workers in such a situation. The officially released Department of Buildings inspection report proves that there was no violation. The question of why we got shut down, I can not answer—but assumptions can be made.
We are dealing with it the best way we can, and we will continue to give all our heart and energy into this project, providing the best—and safe—experience for our guests. We have to move on, move forward. We learn from our mistake, we will dig deeper into the histories of buildings we chose for our events, we will find out and respect if there are any concerns about those buildings or locations.
The repercussions are that we probably lost the trust of many people and followers, guests and fans. This is the worst feeling, since we've built this relationship and trust over the last couple years with blood, sweat and tears. People traveled from all over the globe to attend the Halloween show, and we could not provide the experience we prepared and planned. We built something amazing—it was probably our best production up to that date. It is hard to accept, we deeply want to apologize for it, and we want to ensure everybody that we’ll make up for it with what we do best—creating the best possible events. We have many exciting things planned for the future and we hope that we can win these people and their trust back.
"We are Cityfoxes—we always come back."
Why did you choose to continue with this December event, a mere one and a half months following the Halloween closure?
The Halloween cancellation was clearly a big hit we had to take, emotionally and also financially But giving up is not our style. We had quite a few setback in the past, often behind the scenes. It always made us stronger at the end, partly because it is important to learn from mistakes—but also holding together in tough times, as a team, company and family, can motivate in a very positive way. It is a confirmation that we can go through such situations and show strength. But we also need to do this event for our guests, for the artists involved and for the New York dance-music scene in general. Not doing this event, which has been planned and booked for months, would be the wrong decision for all of us. We are Cityfoxes—we always come back.
We are preparing an amazing production for this Saturday, with four rooms of music, several chill-out areas, delicious drinks and food…and a special effect which will turn heads around, literally. The lineup is stellar. We've already released the location, to give everybody enough time to check on it and prepare. We will make sure, as always, that this will be a great and safe experience.
The Cityfox Experience is at 1260 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn on Saturday, December 12.