When I first walked into Vinyl Arts Bar, I knew I had found it.
I had been looking for an Underground venue where the people understood. One where the crowd would be there for the music, the vibe, the community, the spirit of Underground Electronic Music. After spending some time walking around Downtown Orlando I was starting to feel worried that I wasn’t going to find that place. It was beginning to be clear that exclusivity was more valued than inclusiveness, image more important than substance. I don’t blame them, that’s what appeals to their clientele. But that’s not how I like to experience music, nor would I want to bring a DJ to a place where their message wouldn’t be heard.
When Nick Muir said he’d be interested in doing a gig while he was in town it motivated me to actually get dressed up and head out of the house to try to find a venue, and venue owner, who would understand the kind of spirit that we aim to embody. After the Downtown disappointment, I went to Vinyl Arts Bar to see what it was all about. I had been following them on Instagram and felt that it had a good vibe, the type of place that was made with love; not with polish, but with passion.
Designed to make you feel at home, Vinyl Arts Bar brings back all those feelings of the house parties where the DJ brought his record case and spun vinyl until the sun came up, where everyone who felt the music would be lost on the dance floor, in another place, another world, together. No VIP areas, no bottle service, no cell phones, cameras, or social media to report to. Just the music and the moment. To feel that again is priceless.
Every time I am reminded of what made me fall in love with this music almost 20 years ago, what it feels like when you are a part of this some thing special, it makes my heart nearly burst. That’s why I love what I do with FRISKY, I love talking to people who put music first in their lives, who are always ready and willing to find a friend in anyone who shares their passion too. When someone gets that, when you feel this connection that is woven in the rhythms of the music, and you know you are listening to the same stories and hearing the same messages that light up your life… there is nothing like that.
So yes, this was it. And the night was perfect. The local DJ crew Rude Neighbors represented the Orlando Underground, and the old-school fans came to experience those vibes that had started them in the scene, to dance to a legend of the industry, one who was at the forefront of creating some of the most iconic, life-changing music of the electronic music scene when it was just getting started. So much is different now, the way the industry works is a world away from the way it used to be. But if venues like this still exist, if a group of people can still get together and experience music for music’s sake, and a DJ can get in front of a small crowd and be just as enthusiastic and excited to share his energy as if he were in front of thousands, then I know the world I love will always exist. So thank you from the bottom of my very full heart, to all who make this possible.
Knowing that to create such a place as Vinyl Arts Bar requires a deep dedication to the music, I caught up with the owner Wilson Santos, to hear about how the whole idea came to be, and to get his experienced thoughts on the current state of the Underground scene.
How did the idea of creating Vinyl Arts Bar begin?
The concept for Vinyl Arts Bar was born from almost 30 years of experience in the NYC club scene, many travels through Europe and my life as a creative in all aspects of the arts. In the name, the word Vinyl implies a throwback to house music, and more specifically, paying homage to the legendary club “Vinyl” that was our home in downtown NYC during the late 1990s. The word Arts, which is intentionally plural, is meant to encompass all of the arts, including poetry, spoken word, performance, film, dance, music, painting, etc… Each art piece in the venue also has some kind of vinyl theme to it. Finally, the word Bar speaks for itself. The idea is that people can come to a place that they can feel relaxed while enjoying quality underground music and be surrounded by art and creative people. This is Vinyl Arts Bar.
What made you choose this location and the overall design?
The location seemed right because it is close enough to the chaos of downtown, but not too close. The location is at once a blessing and a curse. Our patrons love that they can avoid the madness of downtown and for that reason we attract a good clientele that is there for the music, not the social aspect. That is a blessing. At the same time, it can be a curse because we are not in walking distance from any other bars and so the location is a destination spot. People that come to us, come because we offer something they want. They don’t just happen upon us by accident. So we need to keep our programming interesting enough to keep attracting them week after week. It was important not to be amongst the mainstream since most of our programming has always geared towards a more underground and creative clientele. We offer them a break from the norm.
The design of the venue was chosen to coincide with the brand. The reds and mustard yellow of our walls are naturally warm and inviting colors. Coupled with the dim and red lighting, our customers feel safe and invited. I often hear how it feels like they are in a home, which was my intent all along. I wanted people to feel like they can take their shoes off and relax (it has happened believe me). There are whole walls with vinyl records on them, there’s vinyl record artwork, the bar top is made of vinyl records, and custom made broken vinyl coffee tables.
What do you enjoy most about running the venue?
I’ve been a promoter for almost 30 years. My focus has always been underground house music. In all those years, the enjoyment I receive from hosting events, and now running my bar, is to see all the smiling faces of joy from the happiness my creations give people. It’s always been fulfilling to know that something I created can bring so many different people together, to escape their daily reality, under one roof, for one night of pure and safe enjoyment. My events, and now my venue, have never been geared toward a mass market.
I have been a firm believer in smaller and more intimate parties and venues, because that’s where family and life-long friendships are created.
What has been the most challenging part?
One of the hardest things about running Vinyl Arts Bar in Orlando is the fact that I cater to a small niche market and this town doesn’t have enough of this market to sustain my venue as well as several others targeting the same demographic. We have some great nights, but at the same time, some not very good nights. There is a lack of consistency in attendance from week to week; because the underground house community is really small in Orlando and some nights the competition around town simply can’t support the numbers for all the house venues to have good turnouts.
How has the Orlando scene changed, and how would you describe it now?
I’m relatively new to Orlando. I moved here from up north 5 years ago to take a teaching position at Full Sail University. I’ve only immersed myself in the Orlando house community 3 years ago. I found a very thriving underground scene here. I’ve been to many clubs and parties all over the world, and one thing that I found is that the energy of the house community is the same no matter the race, gender, or sexual orientation of the individual, nor what country one is in; a house head is a house head no matter where one goes. There is a true global community that transcends language, borders and barriers in house music; and Orlando has a very good house movement. I understand the scene used to be bigger some years ago, before I came. Right now it’s small, but it’s real.
When did you first get into house / electronic music?
I used to hate house music in the mid 1980’s. I used to DJ Latin music and freestyle when I got started. My brother started buying these weird Chicago Trax records that had no singing and a repetitive beat. I was like “WTF is that? There’s no singing. It’s boring” That was during house music’s infancy. But when I went to my first big house club in NYC in 1989 called, The Tunnel, everything changed. When I say everything, I mean my entire perspective on life changed. My entire direction changed. Before that, I was living in Paterson, NJ, which was segregated amongst blacks and Latinos and was very homophobic. At the Tunnel, I found a dark, dirty and smoky room with a thousand people from all walks of life, gyrating to the beats. I was rubbing shoulders with drag queens, Asians, whites, blacks, gays, straights, weirdoes, outcasts, Wall Street suits and Upper East Side rich kids. It was a big beautiful mash-up of human souls and I fell in love. From that moment on, I never looked back. House music became a part of who I am and still is to this day.
What does the music mean to you?
What does music mean to me? What a loaded question. Shit. How does one even answer that without sounding cliché or over-romanticizing the answer? For many years, music was life itself. After graduating college, I abandoned my English degree to pursue my passion for house music and became a professional DJ and music producer, running my own record label for several years and continued to promote parties in NYC/NJ. During that period, music was sustenance. It ran through my veins and fed my soul (the cliché part), but also fed my belly. I made a living making and playing music for sometime. Music is still an integral part of my life. Not a day goes by in silence where I don’t listen to music throughout the entire day. However, I don’t only listen to house music. My musical taste is very diverse. There is generally one common thread in the music I listen to; it is never mainstream. I enjoy other genres, from trip hop, to chill out and dub, to new wave and Goth, to Spanish rock, to salsa and even the Spanish ballads my mother raised me on.
Music is everything. What more can I say?