Celeste Neill-Duvoisin traces Zurich’s transformation from dusty banking city to clubbing capital of west Europe
On my first visit to Zurich, my Swiss boyfriend dragged me along to the city’s annual Street Parade. I went along expecting a paler version of Berlin’s famous Love Parade and was bowled over by some 800,000 people partying frantically through the city streets and into the clubs. I quickly discovered it’s not just Street Parade that is attracting European clubbing connoisseurs to a city most people associate with chocolate and rich bankers. In fact, Zurich boasts the highest ratio of nightclubs-to-population in Europe, and now has designs on Berlin’s reputation as Europe’s centre of cutting-edge youth culture.
The scene is focused around the industrial district of Zurich West which has quietly been mutating over the last ten years, giving rise to a vibrant alternative arts and club culture movement. The area, known as Kreis 5, stretches from the Limmat River to the railway line, extending almost as far as the Europabrucke bridge. Formerly home to Zurich’s industrial revolution, the grubby, urban sprawl of vast factories and dusty warehouses is far removed from the old money and fur coat feeling of the smart city centre. But, since the mid-90s, Kreis 5 has gone through a radical revolution of a very different kind.
The old hydro pumping station has been transformed into the vast Rohstofflager night club, which now pumps out extreme techno from the likes of Sven Vath and his Cocoon label residency, regularly enjoyed by up to 2,500 euphoric dancers.
Just across the road the minimalist industrial space of an old yoghurt factory provides a tasteful backdrop for the funky Toni Molkerei club, known for highlighting the best new hip hop DJs. While these two venues showcase the diverse range of music heard in Zurich clubs, the scene tends to focus, like Berlin, on minimal electro. Headman, one of the best-known Swiss dance music exports thanks to his acid punk pop anthem ‘On & On’ (Gomma), plays regular sets at the nearby Q Club. There’s a thriving home-grown scene of DJs and producers whose spiritual home is the intimate and moody Zukunft club, perhaps Switzerland’s best kept secret, which favours a pitched-down, disco-electro sound.
But the area doesn’t just cater for 20-something clubbers partying until dawn. The old ship building factory known as the Schiffbau is the base for one of the city’s most stylish restaurants, La Salle, while the recent opening of the ultra-hip lounge bar La Suite en Folie, just behind the Shiffbau and with a sumptuous, decadent ambience symbolises the start of a new, grown-up era in Zurich West’s club culture.
The combination of these vast (and cheap) empty spaces with Zurich’s recently extended club closing times – many in the area are open well past 6am – has all made for an organic transformation of Zurich West into the clubbing metropolis of Switzerland.