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"Original and creative": Sigh Club offers an alternative in Madrid's nightlife

Sigh is putting a focus on extended hours and longer set times

  • Words: Claire Francis | Photography: Oscar Plaza
  • 15 January 2020

Mixmag is watching Bob Ross paint a peaceful landscape scene on a large wall inside a dark warehouse. It’s not exactly the beloved US television host come back from beyond the grave, rather, a giant projection of him, interspersed with other found footage including clips of obscure art house films and vintage video games. It’s 2:AM.

The compilation has been put together by Spanish DJ donRafael, who is soundtracking the visual spectacle from an adjoining room with a slick opening set of grooving house and electro jams. The wall of looped footage, flanked by leather sofas, is a thoughtful and idiosyncratic touch. It offers dancers a place to grab some downtime in the midst of the 12-hour marathon that is Sigh Club’s opening party of the winter season.

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“It’s been a long time trying to bring this sound to this city,” says Sigh Club promoter Cris Zapa earlier that evening. Small in stature but big on personality, Cris has a warm, generous demeanour, and is Mixmag’s guide to the party. The city she refers to is Madrid; the sound in question is more difficult to define. A mix of house, breaks, minimal and electro, it’s what sets tonight’s event apart from the other clubs in the Spanish capital, whose modus operandi for years now has been hard and fast techno.

Sigh Club also breaks with tradition by taking their event out of Madrid’s inner city to a secret location, details of which are available to attendees via text. At the inconspicuous space, on a quiet street of an industrial estate hidden behind imposing metal gates, the 300-capacity party is sold out and soon operating on a one-out, one-in policy. By 3:AM a formidable queue has formed, evidence of the Madrileños’ appetite for an alternative to the city’s regular offering of huge clubs and superstar DJs.

That’s not to say that Onur Özer isn’t a DJ of that calibre. But the Turkish- born, Berlin-based Özer is the perfect star for tonight’s event, having evolved from a purveyor of early-2000s big-room minimal to a respected, low-profile digger exploring the more obscure depths of dance music.

As the club fills to capacity Özer takes over the controls, face hidden behind a mop of thick salt-and-pepper hair. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with upside-down palm trees, his five-hour set is a similar kind of inverted utopia for the hundreds of dancers crowded close to the booth. Spinning not-so-recognisable tunes via vinyl and a few dubplates, Özer is the embodiment of Sigh Club’s motto: ‘We believe in vinyl records and digging’.

Özer takes the downstairs room on a winding audio odyssey under a canopy of foliage and clusters of glossy red Void speakers (“something other than Funktion-One!” we overhear one dancer exclaim). A narrow flight of stairs leads to the second room, a sloping-roofed space where Fonte and Sugar Free are laying down an energetic back-to-back. The pair are Spanish born, and though now based in Berlin they have a strong affiliation with Sigh. The club’s family vibe also extends to donRafael, who as well as opening tonight’s event is Sigh’s resident graphic designer.

It’s not only tonight’s performers who are well acquainted. The predominantly young, Spanish crowd also seem to know one another well. Mixmag meets several local DJs here to enjoy the party atmosphere and lend support for their friends’ sets. Madrid-based DJ Simon is enthusiastic about what Sigh brings to the local scene. “When people think of Madrid, they think of [veteran industrial techno DJ / producer] Oscar Mulero,” he says. “This is different, and it reminds people there’s more to Spain than Barcelona and Ibiza.”

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Throughout the night the conversation flows as fast as the music. Madrileños are well-known for their friendliness and hospitality, and tonight shows that to be true. The clear sound quality means the volume is lower than the often ear-splitting pitch of many UK clubs. As one member of the crowd leans in and explains, “Spanish people really like to have a conversation in the club!”

By 8.30AM the conversation has moved outside, and while blinking in the glare of the early morning sun Mixmag spots a tired but satisfied-looking Onur Özer. Enjoying a cigarette and a beer after the applause that greeted his performance, he says, “Anything less than a two-hour set is pointless. Three hours is great. And anything over three hours, even better!”

Now into their third season of throwing parties, Sigh Club has tweaked its format since starting out in September 2016. Weekly parties have made way for less frequent events that allow the organisers to put the focus on extended hours and longer set times. There are plans to switch back to a weekly party, though this depends on securing a venue with a good quality soundsystem – something that the organisers say is hard to find in central Madrid.

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It’s clear from tonight’s party how well the people behind Sigh Club know and respect their audience. As Cris Zapa explains, "There’s a good vibe at Sigh because people who come to our parties are usually people who know a lot of music. They are authentic music freaks and enthusiasts, and they are quite demanding. They know the scene well, follow labels and recognise many of the tunes that DJs select. To impress them you need to be very original and creative. Not everything goes for the Sigh Club public!” For Madrid’s underground scene, that will come as a relief.

Claire Francis is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter

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