Looking Back on Webster Hall: The Chainsmokers, Wolfgang Gartner, Bingo Players & More Reflect
Few nightclubs and performance halls carry the history that Webster Hall does. The New York City landmark, located in the East Village, has been in operation since 1886 and is closing its doors this August for extensive renovation that will go on for an undetermined period of time.
It was announced in early April that Webster Hall was sold to AEG Presents and Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment (BSE), who would "partner on all facets of the business, but obviously let those that know it best lead the way," says BSE CEO Brett Yormark.
In the past decade alone, Webster Hall has played a pivotal role in putting today's dance stars like The Chainsmokers, Zedd and Skrillex on the map. These high-profile co-signs led to it becoming a key chess piece for many booking agents looking to advance their acts to the next level. Many artists considered it to be a right of passage in their career as well.
Beyond the venue's trendsetting talent curation, though, Webster Hall was a musical sanctuary. It's familial atmosphere transformed the space into a second home for many, inclusive of both industry professionals and roaring fans on the ground floor.
To reflect on a place that seemingly holds countless memories, Billboard Dance has gathered stories and the candid thoughts of several dance music performers who have headlined the iconic venue in years' past.
"We have been to more shows at Webster than any other venue on planet earth. It's a place we both developed a really personal relationship with dance music...The parties they had are what made us fall in love with music and there is no other venue like it. In fact, our favorite show ever was there, it was our first headline performance and we had all our friends on stage which is something that happens a lot at Webster shows, and for the first time as performers, it felt like we broke through to a new level. It was a show we will never forget, and the fact we always felt like the floors there would cave in."
"Aside from being a legendary venue, Webster Hall was sort of my home in New York, and I've been lucky enough to play it 7 times. Some of my fondest memories are mental pictures of the Webster Hall crowd at its rowdiest, with so many people partying on stage -- it became its own dance floor. It was really unlike any venue I've played in the sense that the entire building was a party; from the stage to the dance floor to the balcony. It was one big vibe every time."
Bingo Players (Maarten Hoogstraten)
"Webster Hall is a sentimental venue for me and Bingo Players. When Paul and I were coming up, we played Webster Hall many times. The room doesn’t feel like a typical night club, more of a historic ballroom, you could feel the history when you stepped onto the stage and looked out into the crowd. One winter we had a show scheduled at Webster Hall and there was a crazy blizzard coming through the northeast part of the states. The state of New York called a 'state of emergency' and shut down the city and peoples ability to come in and out of the city, go on the highways, etc. We were told that our show was still on that evening. We had no idea what to expect. Webster Hall is a big club. Paul and I were asking ourselves if we were going to play for only a few people because people aren’t going to travel through a blizzard? We showed up and the club was PACKED!
Paul and I sat backstage in awe of how many people showed up. The promoter told us by the time we would go on stage the venue would be sold out and it in fact did sell out, even though there was a foot of snow on the ground. We wanted to do something fun that night and we created a special intro for our set that night using the song "Let it Snow," you know the one "When the weather outside is frightful…" The crowd got the humor in it and and we performed until the club closed. That was a really special night for Bingo Players and for Webster Hall I think as well. It really showed us how dedicated our fans are.
I think Webster hall influenced New York and the dance scene as a whole because the venue was always willing to book new, interesting talent. Whether you played house music, trap, trance, there was a chance for you to play at this important venue and the crowd was very much into experiencing something new at the venue. Before the term 'EDM' was coined, Webster Hall was helping to develop the scene."
The Bloody Beetroots
"Webster Hall itself was always part of the show. The look, the feel, the vibe... it was the best support act one could ask for. Playing Webster Hall is something I'll never forget. It was great people in a great room on a great night in a great city. That night, I felt like a New Yorker."
"Ever since I became interested in electronic music, as early as 15 years old, the name Webster Hall was always associated with electronic music and for me, especially bass music. It was one of those legendary venues that growing up on the west coast seemed like something intangible -- something so incredible but just out of reach, that you dreamed of even just being able to get to step foot in. I remember watching lineups be announced for Boys & Girls and Bassment every week and saying to myself, "one day I HAVE to play here." It was probably the show I most looked forward to in my early career. It felt like a real full circle moment, being able to stand on the stage that I had seen pictures and videos of so many of my favorite artists on.
I remember walking around Times Square in the middle of the day, and someone I was with mentioned they had just seen that Skrillex was playing a pop-up show in NYC that same day. I said something along the lines of "Yeah, there's no way we could convince him to come to the show after" and everyone was basically like "it can't hurt to ask." So I rang him up and he was instantly like "YES LET'S DO IT!! I LOVE WEBSTER," and that was that. It was really one of those moments in life where everything falls together so perfectly that it feels like something so perfect that it could never be replicated again.
Driving up to Webster that night was something I'll never forget -- I knew that the show had sold out and it was a pretty big show for me at the time, but driving up to the front of the building and seeing the line wrap around the entire block was one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had. I kept saying, "All of these kids are here for me? Are you sure? There's no way they're all here for the show." And for as much hype and expectation I had put on that night, New York delivered.
My set was exactly what I imagined playing at Webster would be like and more -- packed, sweaty, dark, aggressive, and just pure fun. Then Skrillex showed up probably an hour and twenty minutes into my show, and the place erupted. We ended up playing records together until about five o'clock in the morning, with a crowd onstage almost as packed as the one in the crowd and the balcony. It felt like a real house party and I still, to this day, think about the vibe that we had that night. It was just about as close to perfect as it gets.
Webster has been a bastion for electronic music in New York, the whole country and probably the world for about as long as I can remember. The closest thing I can compare it to that I personally really experienced is going to Avalon on Friday nights in Hollywood. The three or four years I would go there every Friday, it was THE home for electronic music on the west coast -- the best shows, the best crowds, and a true oasis for all the artists who lived in LA. If you stepped backstage any random Friday, you would find about 20 of your favorite artists all hanging out having a great time together, and it was that community aspect of it that made Avalon so incredibly special.
Unfortunately I didn't get to experience that at Webster since I was only there once, but I know from talking to so many people from the east coast that Webster was exactly the same and more, a breeding ground for our community that can't be replicated or replaced. It was those kinds of moments -- seeing 45 "industry" people on stage with me and Skrillex going just as hard or even harder than the crowd below, all sharing good vibes and good times that made me fall in love with electronic music and it's what made Webster such an incredibly iconic venue in electronic music history.
I remember at the end of our show Sonny brought out Alex and Kenny from Webster Hall/Boys & Girls and said something along the lines of, "These were the first people to believe in me in New York, without them electronic music wouldn't be what it is in this city." I think that's probably just about the best way to explain what Webster meant to all of us."
"Webster Hall is first and foremost about the people for me. They're always so warm and welcoming, so whenever I'm in New York I always go and they always got my back last minute in the middle of the night. Performing is always a good time and the building is oozing with energy from all the different stages and all the cool stuff going on at the same time. I love the vibe of the building and the synergy of the stages because it encourages collaboration between artists. It's one of the best places to meet other artists and hop on stage for impromptu back-to-backs or appearances. There are infinite cool stories about this, but bottom line is I know many relationships in dance music (including a bunch of my own) have started at Webster Hall."
"Webster Hall is such an legendary venue. It's just an honor to be playing there, feeling history vibrate with each thump from the bass. We remember sweat and strobes. But that goes for all Dada Life shows! It's been such an iconic venue and every great act has played there.. it's a right of passage for any artist in NYC. If we had grown up in New York we would have been there every weekend!"
"The last time I played Webster Hall was on my RENEGADE tour. I brought the West coast to the East by having legendary rap don E-40 rock with me. Having an iconic west coast artist like E-40 gave the crowd a different spin. Just another example of widespread acts that have performed on that stage. I loved playing Webster Hall.”
"Performing at Webster Hall is like a right of passage. There's so much history between those walls. Headline or not, every time I've played there, it has felt magical. The energy in that ballroom is just on a different level. One of my favorite shows to date was our 'fk a genre' party last year, during a Gotham night. The DJ booth was on the floor and the intimacy / connection I felt with the crowd that night is something I'll never forget. Webster Hall doesn't just book shows -- they curate moments in time, memories, vibes, and atmospheres.
The innovation and intention that Girls + Boys and Gotham put into each show was so raw and genuine. They care not only about the level of artists being booked, but the full experience and integrity of the night. They brought together humans from all spectrums of life and provided a safe place to dance/express themselves, paired with a strong sense of community, which ultimately allows everyone (the artists, photographers, promoters, audience, etc.) to feel like they are apart of something bigger than themselves, because they are. All forces combined, they created their own legacy. And to be honest, I'm just humbled to have played my small part in it."
"Webster Hall has been a pinnacle venue for Flosstradamus from the early beginnings to the time we launched HDYBYZ! There’s nothing like playing a show in New York City, but to have played Webster Hall over the years was always something special. Sad to see it close but excited to see what’s in store after renovations. Thanks to Kenny and the staff over the years!"
"Webster Hall was the first venue I had ever played in New York. I remember looking twice when my tour poster came out, thinking, wow.. so many legendary people have played here. The vibe at the show was amazing and I felt very welcome. I've also always really liked the fact that it was in the heart of the city...pulling up to a venue like that from a different country...what more can I ask for?"
"Webster Hall was my very first gig in the United States! Next to that, the venue is an amazing, beautiful place with a lot of energy and great vibes. I'm looking forward to the re-opening of this incredible venue, and will hopefully be able to play there again in the future!"