Ballroom Deluxe

Swing, gambling and frivolous girls - a smash hit audience-participation cabaret with big band in Burgtheater’s Casino

The dancing women recruited partners from the audience at the Ballroom Deluxe | Photo: Alec Kinnear

Klaus Waldeck is one of the legends of the Vienna underground electronica music scene, which spawned the famous Vienna down tempo of the nineties.  Waldeck released his first EP Northern Lights in 1996, the same year Kruder & Dorfmeister released Conversions. In 2000, he created his own label Dope Noir, which continues to publish licorice trip-hop – the fusion between hip-hop and the more melodic psychedelic scene as exemplified by groups like Massive Attack and Portishead.

In February, Waldeck did a 180 degree turnaround from the electronic scene and presented a live cabaret show with big bands in Burgtheater’s Casino on Schwarzenbergplatz.

“Ballroom Deluxe” was sold out for all three nights. A week before Ballroom Deluxe debuted, sight unseen, there were no tickets to be had anywhere in the city. Waldeck has not lost his touch to hit the Zeitgeist of Vienna. Klaus Waldeck’s evening of Swing, Gambling and Frivolous Girls was clearly a hit.

The move to live orchestras and flappers is a shocking change from a producer known for his electronic orchestration and sampling. Waldeck is known for his magical ability to sample a few musical notes and build an internationally famous remix. What is he doing complicating his life with full live orchestras?

“If I had started with live music, I’d probably be moving to electronica now. I’ve spent so many years of my life working with electronica that it’s time for something new. I want to hear something different.”

Curiously, Waldeck’s evolution follows the pattern of David Bowie rather than Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones sometimes for better and generally for much worse, are in their late sixties still playing the same old tired stuff. Bowie would reinvent himself every few years. The last incarnation I remember is the sophisticated gentleman from “The Hunger,” I believe, after the song “Little China Girl.”

Waldeck’s music seems to come from a deeper place than Bowie’s, most of which seems to be music for commerce’s sake, as a support to a persona and a stage act. With Waldeck, one always senses his pure love for sound. In the airy feel of his production, one finds a deep and painstaking craftsmanship.  His sources of inspiration, for instance, are not the clubs or friends sending him the latest CD’s from London. Waldeck listens to the ORF radio Ö1.

“Classical music inspires me these days,” he said. “There is such an enormous range of incredible work.”

The concept of Ballroom Deluxe is a return to café culture of the 1920’s and 1930’s with orchestra, chanteuses, and join-in-the-dancing entertainment. Burgtheater’s Casino was perfect. Casino is one of the more splendid venues in Vienna, overlooking Schwarzenburgplatz. Enormous ceilings held up by naked granite statues, on all sides 3 meter windows.

When we arrived, the tables were all full. Patrons lined all the bars and the room hummed in anticipation. It was a mixed crowd from young twenties through fifties and relatively chic. A few people came in period costume, as sweet flappers, their escorts in hats and wide lapels. The nostalgia for the period’s gleeful prosperity never fades and one senses the cunning in Waldeck’s evocation of such an effortless time.

There is no memory of the second Great War, no echo of the German cabaret and its infamous NSDAP consequences. But when the music starts, it’s in truth mainly thirties and for anyone sensitive to the difference, a reminder more of cabaret than Charleston.

The stage begins empty, with just Waldeck and Zeebee and no orchestra. The characteristic trip-hop sound of needle hum from an old gramophone. Waldeck dressed to the hilt in formal tails, ZeeBee in a long black velvet gown. One settles in for an evening of scratchy ballads, with squeaky vocals and Waldeck tapping away at his grand piano. Suddenly, we hear loud brass booming outside the hall, the huge double doors open and in parades a full marching band in black tuxedos. The ballroom orchestra has arrived and with them three dancing girls.

The evening’s music comes from Waldeck’s own Ballroom Stories from 2007, more recent compilation of ballroom (Waldeck’s Gramophone, Vol. 1) and poppy singer ZeeBee’s new album, Be My Sailor.

The concert went on with trombones, trumpets, clarinets and much dancing. There were just three dancers, but they changed costumes between almost every number. We’d get one song with the dancers and then another without to allow them to change again.

So, like good composers, top DJ’s and remixer’s tastes change with time. It’s more frightening when they of course don’t: Somewhere in Northern Ontario, there’s a bar full of forty year olds waving beer bottles to Cheap Trick. But lately, I pressed Waldeck a bit further about his inspiration, spending his life in music clubs. He denied spending much time partying or out at all.

“I’ve spent very little of my life in clubs and partying. If I had, surely I’d be in no condition to keep creating music. From the beginning, I preferred my studio to the club scene. When I do go out to hear my friends who DJ and I hear something that really interests me, they record the track and pass it along. But that doesn’t happen very often.”

After about fifteen songs, Waldeck and his orchestra tried to leave us. The audience wouldn’t let them. Clearly they knew that this would happen as the first of the encores involved the dancing girls recruiting partners from the audience. This being Vienna, one of the girls chose another woman as her partner. One of the others had to accept a refusal and then take up the offer of an insistent old gent from the same table. This portly ex-Billy Hailey fan insisted on spinning and twirling her until she was visibly sick. Clearly her colleague had chosen better.

Waldeck’s transition to live sound instrumentation from sampling started in 2003 with a project called Saint Privat, which included a live band. Waldeck says he acquired a taste for working with live during the St. Privat years.

But he denies abandoning his electronic roots and quickly points out the synthesized sound in Ballroom Deluxe. He insists that with ballroom, he is just returning Vienna to its musical roots at the start of the 20th century.

“In the German-speaking world we had this kind of café and cabaret music between the wars; many musicians of all nationalities. After the war, this diversity had disappeared. Many of the Viennese musicians had been Jewish. The public music space was completely taken over by American music, whether blues or jazz or rock and roll. I wanted to return to our own musical origins in Vienna and start over.”

I asked Waldeck about the live experience on stage.

“I loved it. I finally got to fulfill one of my childhood dreams. I always wanted to be a conductor. And leading this orchestra was the work of a conductor. It was great to feel the audience respond so strongly to this music which moves me so much.”

A few more songs, much applause and the performance ended. But the evening was just beginning. The bar reopened, Vienna’s Foxy Twins hit the turntables and Casino Wien opened up the roulette tables. One wasn’t allowed to gamble for money, but there were prizes. I traded my chip for a Spritzer to Florian Novak of Lounge FM an inveterate gambler. I felt great about the trade (more time to talk to pretty women and less time to spend hunched over among sweaty gamblers) until he returned later with the grand prize of three bottles of Hillinger vintage wine.

The music was excellent down-tempo with a twist of funk, and the party carried on for at least two more hours. There was still a roulette table running when we left. Should I worry about Casino Wien’s presence at all the balls and top cultural events? They were at the Opera Ball and the Kaffeesieder ball as well. Perhaps. There was little dancing apart from our small clique, just roulette.

You have to wonder whether Austria really want to turn back into a nation of gamblers. The gambling mentality never seemed to do Russia much good.

Still, an excellent evening all around. No wonder it was sold out.

Will it be possible to see this again? Or was Ballroom Deluxe just a three night bit of perfection instant of time. Waldeck would like to tour the project. But it’s not easy.

“You need real theaters,” he admitted. “This is not suited to the small stage of a typical music club.”

I asked Waldeck when we can expect a new album. He insists on quality before quantity.

“I used to think I’d like to do a new album of original music every year. And some years have been like that. But now I prefer to pace myself at one album every two years. If I go faster than that I feel like I will miss something, that the music will not be so good. I never want to release a half-done – or heaven forbid – a bad record. My audience counts on me to take care in my work.”

New music for older people. It’s good when our bards age and grow more sophisticated with us. As our baby boom rebound generation moves into later life, it’s good to know we won’t be stuck with the anthems of our youth, nor with tiresome rappers or pop princesses. We’ll go with the sound of graceful ballroom in our ears.

More photos of Ballroom Deluxe can be seen at Waldeck’s old and new music can be found on YouTube along with two Ballroom Stories videos,  “Get up Carmen” and “Make my Day.” Some of his older triphop tunes like “Slowly” are there too but just as audio. Sadly his own website has only small versions of the videos and just a bit of animation. isn’t running at all. So where can you buy his music? iTunes. An old interview of Waldeck in 1998 in his Vienna Downtemp years:

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