Zurich: A Global Music Scene in Switzerland

posted by Joseph Sunder on March 26, 2012

Zurich, Switzerland, the city of 400,000 inhabitants, is nestled at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich and is known internationally for its global political and economic influence. But for those who have never been, Zurich is known for its banks, chocolate, watches, the most expensive shopping street on the planet (Bahnhostrasse), and an incredibly high standard of living. What people don't know is that beyond the expensive cobblestone streets of the city's center, Zurich has a thriving nightlife, art, and music scene.

Zurich's cultural scene is greatly influenced by the city's diverse population. It's one of the most global cities in the world, so it's no surprise that in Langstrasse, one of the city's hippest neighborhoods, 42% of the population is composed of foreigners. I spent a number of months living there, and in between döner kebaps (seriously, get one) and swimming in the Limmat River (jump off a bridge and float downstream), I found plenty of time to venture out and explore the music scene.

Be forewarned: Zurich is not cheap. In fact it's the most expensive city in the world, 70% pricier than living in NYC. Expect to pay more, and to pay for everything, from public restrooms to a glass of water at lunch.

Regardless, Zurich is definitely worth a visit. Here's a rundown of a few of my favorite venues.

Manessestrasse 170
8045 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 201 82 45

This is the club to go to for some of the best alternative music in Zurich. Located right next to the Giesshübel city railway station, the club hosts some the freshest-sounding Zurich bands and touring acts. The venue is known for booking indie rock, heavy metal, goth rock and more. Their booking team is tuned into the scene, often booking touring bands before the hit the big time. The rock band you saw on the small stage last month may be selling out huge concert halls next time they're in town. It happens more often than you'd think.

Gessner-Allee 11
8001 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)43 344 87 50

On an island stretched out between the rivers of Schanzengraben and Blaue Sihl, you'll find El Lokal, one of the better rock venues in Zurich. Like many venues on this list, they bring in an eclectic mix of touring and local acts. The interior is as stylish as its patrons, with a huge skeleton over the entrance and outlandish decorations throughout. There's a full bar and food menu to round out your evening.

Hardstrasse 245
8005 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)43 366 86 84

It seems like a running theme in the Zurich nightlife scene: former factories turned into music meccas. Exil, a club housed in a former turbine foundry, forgoes the typical Euro dance music in favor of hip-hop, R&B, rock, and reggae. On Fridays and Saturdays, the night usually start with live bands, followed by DJs until dawn. Also worth noting: it's also one of a handful of larger clubs open during the week.

Geroldstrasse 35
8005 Zurich, Switzerland

Helsinki Klub is located in an industrial part of Zurich that provides the perfect backdrop for the wide-ranging sounds coming out of the club's speakers. The graffiti-covered building - a former garage - books rock and experimental bands playing to an über-hip audience.

Schiffbaustrasse 6
8005 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 276 80 00

Primarily a jazz club, Moods im Schiffbau, located in Zurich's 5th District, hosts top-tier international musicians in a gorgeous space. The venue itself, and the bar, are part of the draw. Housed in an old shipbuilding factory, concertgoers can take in world-class jazz with a cocktail, after dinning at the wonderfully delicious LaSalle Restaurant and Bar, located in the same building.

Badenerstrasse 109
8004 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 542 90 90

Opening to much-deserved fanfare in 2010, the Plaza has become a destination for Zurich's young and beautiful. Housed in a former cinema in the Plaza building at the western edge of Langstrasse, the space has been transformed to include a dancefloor on the main level, and the smaller stylish Kosmos club upstairs. In a city where nothing is free, Plaza packs in the after work crowd Thursdays at 5pm for drinks and a complimentary buffet. Make sure you stay until 9pm for Plaza Dance Orchestra, as the band processes instruments to create live remixes. Large murals of exotic birds frame the mainstage that hosts a mash-up of disco, house, and indie music on Fridays. Saturdays are reserved for electronic music and parties that go until sunrise.

Seestrasse 395
8038 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 485 58 68

Rote Fabrik is an alternative cultural center; definitely more than just a music venue. Besides theater, readings, and panel discussions, the space hosts more than 100 concerts, parties, and festivals every year. The eclectic booking of artists is just a little offbeat, a good thing in my opinion. Expect to hear hip-hop, world, soul, folk, rock and more. Rote Fabrik is located right on Lake Zurich, the perfect place to make a day - or night - out of it.

Geroldstrasse 17
8005 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 440 20 05

Before there were corporatized warehouse clubs, there was a thriving underground dance scene. Supermarket was Zurich's original underground electronic dance club, and it now books the top international acts from around the world. Since the illegal parties twenty years ago, Supermarket has since evolved into a legitimate nightclub, making it THE place to go for edgy dance music.

Street Parade
Happening August 8, 2012

Even though it's not a music venue, and not even a real festival, no article on Zurich's music and party scene would be complete without a mention of Street Parade. Since the end of Berlin's Love Parade in 2010, Zurich's Street Parade has become the most attended technoparade in Europe. Proceeding along the side of Lake Zurich, the demonstration of freedom, love, tolerance, and, of course, music, draws more than one million people each year. Whether or not you're a fan of techno, Street Parade is one big crazy party. There is no better place to people watch, or dance in the streets while preaching peace and tolerance.