The Return of the Giant NYC Dance Club


Victor Calderone is looking forward to the October 4 debut of his residency at the newly opened Space Ibiza NY as a long-delayed homecoming. Sure, Calderone, one of the city’s true superstar DJs, has enjoyed residencies at nearly every big-room club in town. And he has been fielding other offers. But this time, it clicked.

“I’ve been waiting for something that felt right,” he says from Portsmouth, England, where he was putting the finishing touches on a long-awaited follow-up to 2007’s mercilessly beat-driven Evolve. “Whenever I heard someone has opened a new venue, I checked it out. But I have to feel the moment I walk in. Space was that venue.”

Fellow Bensonhurst native Rob Toma, the club’s talent manager, hopes that booking the one DJ most closely associated with a hard-as-nails sound will send a definite signal to clubgoers. “We program for adults,” he says. “EDM is more pop. It’s for college kids. We don’t want to be a young venue.

“Victor is a staple in New York,” he adds. “He needs a proper home.”

Both men can thank Ibiza for their success. Almost as soon as Calderone landed on its shores, he captivated the crowd. It catapulted him to international fame, and he gratefully travels there every summer to return the favor. Toma, a veteran of New York’s club scene, and his partner, the DJ/producer Antonio Piacquadio, became the first Americans to own and operate a club on the tiny Mediterranean island.

If Space Ibiza NY sounds unwieldy, it conveys Toma’s plan to re-create the flagship club’s vibe. Perched on the edge of Manhattan, at the intersection of West 50th Street and the West Side Highway, Space opened on September 12 (after an aborted November 2013 date). It was a welcome and much-needed addition in a town where big room after big room has succumbed to the pressures of NIMBY neighbors, blue-nosed politicians, and skyrocketing real estate prices. No more proof is needed than the long lines that stretch down the block outside Space into the wee hours every Friday and Saturday.

Patience is rewarded with a blast of music from the imported Funktion-One sound system, which duplicates the one in Ibiza, and with real-girl and statuesque drag-queen dancers wearing little else than Day-Glo body paint. An exposed-brick wall is a nice nod to the building’s previous incarnation, but what really sets Space apart from the city’s other megaclubs — and, for that matter, from every other nightclub that has opened since Prohibition ended — are the floor-to-ceiling windows along 50th Street.

They stay shuttered until dawn, when they’re dramatically opened — a nice bit of theatricality Toma borrowed from Berghain, the Berlin ur-megaclub. As the sun rises over the majestic Hudson, the crowd on the 5,000-square-foot dance floor erupts in cheers. That’s not only as far from the dungeon-like vibe you’ll get in other venues, but as close to an Ibiza experience as you’re going to get without boarding a plane.

“It reminds me a lot of Space Ibiza,” notes Calderone, who sees his return to his native city as marking a new phase in his career. “The timing couldn’t be better. I already had plans to be in the studio to record new music. I was planning the launch of my new brand, Matter. When I was presented with Space, I thought, ‘This would fit in perfectly.’ ”

His old brand, Evolve, is being replaced with Matter, also the name for his residency. “I felt like Evolve had gotten worn,” he says. “I was starting to do Evolve parties that were not great. There was a lack of good venues in the city. A new venue, new night — what better way to start clean?”

Calderone’s remarkable musical journey has itself been an evolution from bouncy anthems to pure drum’n’bass. Back in the ’80s, he was the hot young straight guy on the dance floor at Paradise Garage, the revered gay club where he, Junior Vasquez, and the late Frankie Knuckles were present for the birth of a sound that combined Motown funk with the military march of disco to create house.

After a brief brush with spacey trance techno, Calderone stepped away from the DJ booth for a few years. When he returned in 1996, he started to find his own unique style with the release of hard-house anthems “Give It Up” and “Beat Me Harder.”

Meanwhile, he was making a name on the gay party scene with gigs that included Fire Island. He proved popular enough to become the first straight man to play the city’s most notoriously erotic gay event, the Black Party; and to land the coveted gay Saturday night at the old Roxy. That and a residency at Liquid, the Miami club owned by Madonna’s BFF Ingrid Casares, earned him the notice of pop’s reigning queen, who chose him to remix her 1998 single “Frozen.”

Calderone was well on his way to fame when, the next year, Sting, acting on Madonna’s recommendation, tapped him to remix “Desert Rose,” a megahit that has eclipsed the original. Calderone’s heart, however, wasn’t in remixing sensuous, slow vocals. “You have to evolve. I came from a techno background. After my hiatus, there was a lot of vocal house and tribal.”

During a Crobar residency, “I was playing a lot of techno music,” he recalls. “But I had to create my own sound by layering the records I loved.” In the studio — and in a series of residencies that took him to nearly every big room in town — Calderone was slowly refining Vasquez’s super-hard house into a rarefied distillation of pure drum’n’bass. He followed the lure of the drums to originate an even harder iteration of tribal.

More recently, Calderone has been returning to his techno roots, albeit with a drum’n’bass backbeat. His wife, Athena, a raven-haired beauty who has made her own way doing interior design work and penning the lifestyle blog Eye Swoon, calls her husband “a true artist. He doesn’t like to compromise.”

Even if EDM rules dance floors, there are enough worshippers of the beat to have enabled Calderone to build a pretty comfortable life for his family. When not on the road, he, Athena, and their young son divide their time between a penthouse in DUMBO and a beach house in Amagansett. Described by Harper’s Bazaar as a “sophisticated bohemian,” Athena has filled their homes with funky furniture and decidedly more upscale items, like a painting by wunderkind artist-of-the-moment Lucien Smith.

The area around Space likewise combines grit with chic. Along with Studio 48, around the corner, and that other Ibiza big-room brand Pacha, four blocks south, this has morphed into the city’s nexus of big-room clubs. With a parking lot next door and a block-long Con Ed substation across the street, Calderone can pump up the volume as loud as he wants.

Unusual in a city where nightclubs are typically about as welcome as an addiction-treatment center, Space has the distinction of actually having been embraced by the local block association. “Before it opened, we went over there and had a meeting with them and the Midtown North Precinct,” Steve Belida, co-chair of the 5051 Neighborhood Association, says. “We figured that’s where it should be. So far, everyone is happy.”

Toma is already looking to take advantage of the spectacular daytime views with a Sunday party that will, he says, “bring in some Ibiza brands.” Meredith Rothstein, the special events planner at Roseland for 10 years until it closed in March, has been brought on board to book corporate events when the club is dark during the week.

With New York’s top DJ now in residence, the outlook for Space is as sunny as a hot July day in Ibiza.