Machine Head fans at VEGA. Photo by Henrik "Mauser" Reerslev
What do you get when you bridge the hoity-toity yoga-mom vibes of Frederisksberg with the chillness of Istedgade? An iconic music venue and the king of popular music in Copenhagen—or in other words, VEGA.
Fitting, since before VEGA was VEGA (‘VE’ being the old telephone area of Vesterbro and ‘GA’ most likely being an abbreviation of ‘gade’), it was a building called “The People’s House.” Built in 1956 by famous Danish architect Vilhelm Lauritzen – also known for these aesthetic delights – The People’s House was an important figure for the Danish Labor Movement. Eventually, the movement itself fizzled out and the people abandoned their house, leaving this huge structure in Vesterbro completely deserted for years.
Thankfully someone came to their senses and did something with the space, restoring it and reopening it in 1996 as VEGA – House of Music. This restoration was part of Kulturby 96, Copenhagen’s plan to become a culture capital of Europe (well done, guys. Mission accomplished). Ever since then, VEGA has been a hub for popular music goers with an average of 300 events per year with 250,000 denim and leather clad music lovers in attendance.
VEGA back in the day. Photo courtesy of VEGA's Facebook page
For a place that was never meant to be a music venue, that’s a lot of concerts. Yet VEGA’s original purpose is precisely what adds to the value of the place. The stages themselves were never designed to house the likes of Action Bronson, his food-laden beard and his amplified rhymes—but they do, and they do it well by virtue of the architecture. “The architecture of VEGA is definitely unique, not just in Copenhagen but in Europe in general,” elaborates Anders Madsen, VEGA’s Digital Media Manager. “The wooden panels on the walls of the concert halls absorb some of the sound instead of just reflecting it like in many other venues ensuring the good sound at concerts, which is one of VEGA’s trademarks.”
With so many concerts, you’d expect VEGA to be making some big cash. Madsen says otherwise. “Something most people don’t know is that VEGA is and always has been a non-profit organization. The people’s house concept prevails. VEGA is run by a foundation created with the sole purpose of continuously producing concerts. We don’t have any stakeholders or owners that receive any profits VEGA might have. Everything goes back into producing more concerts at VEGA.” Basically, anyone who works there really just digs putting on good quality concerts. Madsen, adds, “We pride ourselves on the expertise and professionalism of the staff gained after producing concerts for almost 20 years.”
Action Bronson at VEGA. Photo by Henrik "Mauser" Reerslev
That hard work has done them well as VEGA works with a budget of about 50 million DKK coming primarily from their turnover from previous years. That big 50 encompasses about 5.5 million DKK from the municipality of Copenhagen and Kunstrådet – a part of the Danish state – as well as some support from Tuborg, everyone’s favorite concert pal and VEGA’s main sponsor. When all is said and done, VEGA makes about 1.5 million DKK in revenue – not too shabby for a non-
profit with high expenses. Why does VEGA get all this government dough, though? Well, it’s on a very short and special list of regional venues that get chosen every four years based upon past performance. If the government sees a lot of benefit in their investment and the culture it provides Copenhagen—they choose to help institutions like VEGA out. However, it doesn’t come easy. “We’re required to keep detailed documentation of pretty much everything. And we must also meet some demands from the state such as development of new talent and representation of certain genres among other things,” explains Madsen.
Luckily those demands works in the public’s favor as it has allowed VEGA to bring in diverse international names to the venue—and if you think about it, VEGA's big enough to host them all. There’s Store VEGA, iconic with its balcony, wooden freezes, and chandeliers. There’s Lille VEGA, slightly off to the side and where the size of the stage and the popularity of the acts don’t often match up – in a very good way. And finally there is Ideal Bar, the smallest of the three where the space between artist and audience is blurred and the bar is never too far away. There are three other public locations in the space – VEGA Lounge, FN Salen and Svend Auken Salen – which are used for various other events and conferences, plus all the rooms for staff and administration. For a place that big, it’s kind of a marvel it avoids feeling overwhelming—yet is still able to leverage its grandiosity to allow for variance in their programming. VEGA has two bookers, a booking assistant and a freelance booker to fill their three stages and the talent they bring in differs because of it. Result: we've got acts like Father John Misty, Nicolas Jaar, Prince, Kylie Minogue, David Bowie, Jurassic 5, and the up coming Thundercat passing through VEGA while the venue simultaneously supports local Danish talent like Phlake, YouYouYou, and Bikstok. So keep on, keeping on, brother – we appreciate your service.
Machine Head at VEGA. Photo by Henrik "Mauser" Reerslev