John Digweed on The Vagabond Miami: "It Made Everyone Feel Like They Were a VIP"
The Vagabond is gone forever. But the memories of legendary nights at the downtown Miami club will live on.
There was a refreshing lack of pretense; it was all about the music, the people, the night. Everyone from the indie crowd to house thrill-seekers got their rocks off at 30 NE 14th Street. And in the spirit of keeping the party alive, legendary DJ and Vagabond co-owner John Digweed is releasing Live in Miami, an album showcasing his last set at the club.
Just the other day, the Bedrock label boss kindly talked with Crossfade about all things Vagabond and the upcoming release.
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Crossfade: You've been around long enough to see many clubs come and go, what was different about the Vagabond?
John Digweed: I think the way The Vagabond was run and the nights programmed really tapped into the local crowd. It had a real friends-and-family atmosphere and drinks were regular pub prices, which complemented the vibe. It didn't go for a VIP crowd, but made everyone feel like they were a VIP. All were made to feel welcome.
Do you think this is following any kind of general trend, where the smaller, earthier clubs are getting pushed about by the big, shiny, plastic ones?
I think people will always want to search out the more raw and underground clubs. If everyone went to the same clubs, it would be boring. When you find an intimate place like The Vagabond, you can really open up people's eyes to how much fun they really have in a club without being distracted with unnecessary bells and whistles.
How did you get involved with The Vagabond and your fellow owner Carmel Ophir?
Carmel and I have known each other for nearly 20 years. We've been friends and have worked together throughout that time. We have a unique kinship and I consider him a very dear mate, as well as a great operator/marketer/producer who wears his heart on his sleeve. He has been providing high-quality events for over two decades in Miami. I was involved with Carmel during the Lola days on South Beach. One day, he discovered the site that would become The Vagabond. He showed me the space, and I knew then that it was a perfect place for his vision. I felt a connection to it immediately.
Was there a particular moment when you realized there was something special happening there?
The very first week the club opened, the feedback was incredible. And when I played for the first time, I was like, "Wow, this is the perfect venue." Six years later, it concluded with an incredible high.
Did you play a particular kind of set when you played Vagabond?
The thing I loved about playing at The Vagabond was that the set just seemed to flow out of you. The crowd and the atmosphere allowed you to really push yourself as you knew that the crowd was behind you all the way. For me, as a DJ, it's all about playing new and upfront music, and you want the crowd to trust your judgments and have faith in what you do. The Vagabond crowd was always up for it. So as a party, it was incredible.
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Is there a particular night from the club's history that you'll cherish? People who you will miss?
To be honest every time I played there it was very special. The parties just seemed to get better and better. We seemed to attract a like-minded crowd who came to party without all the drama that goes with some of the more mainstream venues. Music first, but the unity on the dance floor was something to witness. All the staff was a pleasure to work with and always had smiles on their faces.
Does this bring back any memories of when Twilo closed years ago? Was there any kind of affinity between playing a set at Twilo and at Vagabond?
When Twilo closed, I had played there the week before so nobody knew it was closing down and I never got to say goodbye. With The Vagabond I knew going into the party it would be the last time I would play there, so I really dug deep with my set and played my heart out from start to finish.
The announcement came quite suddenly. Would you like to have done one last blow out before Vagabond closed?
That would have been nice but the circumstances as they were didn't make that possible.
Could you tell us about the three-disc Live In Miami?
I think the Live in Miami album really captures the mood and vibe of my last night there, from the very first slow-building track to the mad acid tracks near the end. I dug out some real classics for this set. The last hour had too many big label tracks and it would have been too hard to get clearance, so we couldn't release the entire set, which concluded with The Doors' "The End." It was a fitting final record for such an amazing party. Quite emotional actually.
You've mentioned this is the end of the chapter rather than the book. Could you give any hint as to what this next chapter might be?
Who knows, as that ball is more in Carmel's court. He always has a way of discovering places off the beaten path that resonate with the crowd that's looking for something different and unusual. He seems to gravitate opposite of where the trends tend to go. You know those diamonds in the rough? Well, he likes to polish them up for the next wave.
After the album, what's next for you?
I've got my residency at Pacha in Ibiza this summer, as well as festivals and club gigs all over Europe and North America. Bedrock Records has some amazing releases coming up with albums from Pig&Dan, Guy J and Denis A all in the pipeline. So, keeping very busy, but all is good.
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