Hannes Cistota, Head of Music in WUK, Vienna, discusses his endless love for music and his role in one of the largest socio-cultural centres in Europe.
WUK stands for “Werkstätten und Kulturhaus” – roughly translated as “House For Workshops and Culture”. As its name suggests, it is an organic place where contemporary culture meets art, education and aesthetics, a place where local and international bands and artists showcase their work. Above all, this is the place where important collaborations are nurtured, generating art forms, actions and ideas which shake and shape society. WUK Music Programme includes live concerts, events and clubbing. The musical spectrum offers a broad range of genres, running the gamut from indie and alternative pop-rock through to urban, world, house and electro. Ever since WUK’s opening in the early 80s, countless gigs from international guests have taken place like Low, Lambchop, The White Stripes, The Cardigans, Einstürzende Neubauten and The Cinematic Orchestra, to name but a few.
With all that in mind, Hannes Cistota perceives his work in booking a wide musical variety for WUK not as a job, but rather a way to enjoy his days and his lifelong passion for music. He never ceases to explore and discover the best and present it on stage, thus helping Austrian alternative music in breaking out while also making a path for the future of the next generation of leading music entrepreneurs and artists. It is indeed a very interesting and important task. Let’s learn how he does it.
What is it about WUK that drew you to take on the position of head of music?
What makes WUK special is the wide range of the booking, from indie to hip-hop. The first band I ever booked at WUK was The Cinematic Orchestra. I also booked a lot of Ninja Tunes artists.
What is your vision?
To find the perfect live show. To create an intimate moment for the artist and the audience. It is much more than just selling tickets; the music should touch your heart.
In what way does WUK connect the local with the European and global, in terms of cultural diversity?
Measured in terms of square meters and versatility, WUK is one of the largest socio-cultural centres in Europe. More than 200,000 people visit and make use of WUK’s premises every year, quite a few of them are international guests and tourists. The building includes a concert hall, of course, but it is also a home to an exhibition hall and photo gallery, workshops and studios, workspaces for socio-political groups, a place for education and counselling, a senior citizens’ center and school, rehearsal studios for music and dance, an intercultural center, work stations and a party space. Projects like Europavox fit perfectly to our focus on cultural diversity.
With it being a multi-space of music events, can you give us a taste of what sort of thing those attending can expect?
As a center of art and culture, the main emphasis of WUK is on the promotion of the production and presentation of innovative, experimental, interdisciplinary, critical art and culture on a local, regional and international level. What our visitors love most and keep coming back for – apart from the stellar quality of the concerts taking place at WUK, as one would expect – is the respectful, friendly and laid-back atmosphere.
How do you explain the success of WUK?
Success is not only a one-man show; on the contrary, it has a lot of different points of view. WUK is located in the city center of Vienna, easy to reach by public transport or by bike. We make sure our artists and the audience feel comfortable. It is a very safe place to enjoy a concert. Together with our security personnel, we ensure a nice and respectful atmosphere.
It is a proper venue but with the vibe of a small club. You can see all the bands in an intimate atmosphere. The White Stripes played their first Vienna show at WUK, for example.
You have studied psychology and then founded the record label Twentysomething tunes. How did this ‘switch’ happen?
Studying psychology gives you many skills that are useful for anyone working in the music business. Actually, it only takes a small step from founding a record label to promoting shows. I was always on tour with bands from my label and in the beginning, I was on tour as a musician myself. So, I got to know both sides of the business. A friend asked me to book concerts, I knew a lot of musicians, and this how I got into the business. Back in those days, everything was built step by step, there was no school or university for event business, so I had to learn it from scratch.
Education is important in everything and in music business, as well. But are there any skills a course can’t teach?
The most important thing is the love for music and people. The joy of discovering new bands. The fun of artistic exploration.
What main challenges do you face in your job?
The business is getting faster and faster, everyday there is a new hype popping up. Bands grow very fast and there is no time for them to develop a sustainable career path. The main challenge of my job is connected to this. Since artists don’t earn much money anymore by selling records, they (have to) increase their show fees. It becomes more difficult to take risks and ensure fair ticket prices.
What qualities do you seek in a band before you book it?
Most importantly, a band must fit to our audience and the cosmos of WUK. Secondly, they must be ready for playing on our stage. The act must be ready to play abroad.
If you could share some advice with acts that want to break the borders and make it in Europe, what would that be?
Take your time, be yourself, and don’t chase every hype. Look at Nick Cave: He started out with Boys Next Door, playing rough hard blues punk rock. With every subsequent album he is growing as an artist. And in the end, he is always Nick Cave.