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Empire Control Room: This is the hottest new club in town

Staff Writer
Austin 360

This Saturday night, the Red River Cultural District’s newest live music venue will host redneck blues wildman Scott H. Biram in the open-ended garage while Vegas rapper Dizzy Wright throws down inside. Two completely different shows and vibes going on in the same venue at the same time.

The Austin music scene has never seen anything quite like Empire Control Room & Garage, which opened as a year-round club at 606 E. 7th St. earlier this month after three years hosting SXSW parties and occasional one-off events. It’s a bare bones former auto repair shop that could end up being Austin’s version of NYC’s famed Paradise Garage, a dance club that often skittered towards more experimental and primal sounds.

The emperor of this new out-of-control room is New York City recording studio owner Steve Sternschein, who makes his money as a lawyer and has never owned a club before. The 30-year-old former musician first booked the room, then lesbian bar Lipstick24, when he showcased his artist Shinobi Ninja at SXSW 2011. The next year he had 250 acts playing three stages almost around the clock. The outside “garage” holds 850, while the inside “control room” has a capacity of 400. The venue also had music on the patio during SXSW.

Sternschein teamed with his Side Bar neighbor Trey Spaw, Empire Room’s general manager, to bring music to the industrial shell year round. “We’ve created a platform for discovery and development,” said Sternschein, whose Sound Machine studio in Grammercy Park has recorded such acts as Black Sheep and Q-Tip. His deepest connections are to hip-hop, though he grew up playing rock. “Whatever money we make goes right back into the club.”

The club stepped in to host Noah and the Whale after their ACL set was canceled by the flood Oct. 13, a night Sternshein said showed Austin’s true colors. “I love the supportive environment here.”

Empire Control room hosts San Francisco DJ and producer Salva Wednesday night. Friday is a Pokemon-themed party starring Chicago 8-bit pop dance band Stepdad, with opening sets by Sphinx and Bipolar Bears.

The club will host French dance duo Jupiter as an official Fun Fun Fun Fest afterparty on November 9.

Now for the bad news, club kids: ECR is almost always age 21 and up only.