Best for live music, Part 1

We’ve been told that you cannot call yourself a Belgian band without having, at the very least, toured the country’s extensive network of concert venues. Indeed, beyond Belgium’s reputation for top-notch food, fun and preferential fiscal policies, it also happens to possess some of the best venues for live music in the world – and a constant program of line-ups, from the hardly-known to the big-time, to match . In the first of a two-part series initially published in our book This is Belgium, we criss-cross the country to report on those places keeping things lively.

For our selection of quality record stores in Belgium, order our book This Is Belgium here.

Petrol Club

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Established in 1989, Petrol Club was started by the same people behind Ghent’s Ten Days Off and is located in Antwerp’s Zuid neighbourhood in an old industrial building (with a second, smaller place called Piaf next door). It hosts live bands and DJs covering dance, house, reggae, new wave and drum n’ bass, from home and abroad (Hardcell, Grindvik, BMG, James Chance…) and the crowd is youngish and mostly local. The venue is a bit scruffy (one space with a capacity of 1,200) and dated in terms of sound, though there are plans to spruce it up.

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d’Herbouvillekaai 25
2020 Antwerpen Zuid
petrolclub.be

Trix

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A firm Antwerp favourite since its 2004 opening, Trix’s programme is classified as rock slash indie slash alternative, but it’s well-known for its metal and hardcore gigs and dance events too. Many acts appear here way before they become famous (Band of Horses, M83, Yeasayer, Stromae…) and its three stages attracts urbanites in their ’20s and ’30s. There are two annual festivals: Planet Caravan (psychedelics, doom, desert music) and We Are Open, a showcase festival for Belgians.

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Noordersingel 28-302140 Antwerpen (Borgerhout)
trixonline.be

Cactus

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This community-funded association has been around since 1973, and in this particular location for ten years. Purpose-built as a multidisciplinary arts centre (its architecture has won prizes), it’s mostly just used for concerts. It’s got one adaptable space that can fit up to 1,000 people, and the programme features a selection of ethnic, roots and electro music.

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Magdalenazaal Magdalenastraat 27
8200 Brugge Sint-Andries
cactusmusic.be

Les Ateliers Claus

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It all started when Frans Claus began hosting get-togethers for artists in his Saint-Gilles/Sint Gillis home studio back in the ’90s. Today, his venue is considered the home of alternative and experimental music in Brussels. Railing against the “cultural standardisation” of concert venues, Claus and his team have opted instead for homey interiors and a programme filled with unheard-of arty-types including the likes of The Dead C and Matthieu Ha. It’s recently undergone a makeover and now boasts two floors (150 downstairs, 100 upstairs). Expect a loose atmosphere.

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Rue Crickxstraat 15
1060 St Gilles
lesateliersclaus.com

Beurschouwburg

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A local institution since 1965, Beurschouwburg is housed in a 19th century ex-brewery that was renovated in 2004 by the architects behind La Monnaie/Muntpunt Opera. Thanks to neighbourhood noise complaints, gigs are now hosted on the fifth floor roof terrace (they used to be held on the ground floor), and it’s a combination of up-and-comers and established acts. Punters are young – or young at heart – and often international whilst the atmosphere is low-key and genial. Some pretty big names passed through these doors early in their careers (U2, Tom Waits, Sisters of Mercy…) while recent visitors have included Planningtorock, Cold Cave and Sons of Disaster. It has a substantial programme of talks, lectures, projections and conferences on subjects ranging from visual identity and graphic design to cinema and politics and has also recently started hosting the Vinyl Market every first Thursday of the month.

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Rue Auguste Ortsstraat 20-28
1000 Brussel
beursschouwburg.be

Bonnefoi

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Since 2008, Bonnefooi has been known as the place where nights come to an end, and is usually packed with bedraggled drinkers looking for “just a last one.” Roughly the size of a couple of living rooms, it can fit about 250 people at a time and is yet another city venue that tries to provide a platform for everybody and anybody. The sound quality suffers slightly as a result of the size and the squeeze although it remains popular due to its good programming (local imprints On-Point Records and Onda Sonora hosts their Bedroom Beats series here).

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Rue des Pierres 8 Steenstraat
1000 Brussels
bonnefooi.be

Botanique

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Botanique, Brussels’ former botanical gardens, became a cultural centre for the French-speaking community in 1984. The Orangerie is the original building’s biggest space (700 standing) while nearby satellite venue Cirque Royal can fit 2,000. About 50% of the acts are French-speaking Belgian up-and-comers whilst two of its most popular exports are Les Nuits Botanique festival, which takes place every year around the end of May, and Propulse, a showcase for Wallonia’s burgeoning scene. Everyone from LIARS and Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus to Danny Brown and Hercules & Love Affair have graced its stage, the sound is almost always impeccable and the greenery is a lovely touch. 

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Rue Royale 236 Koningsstraat1210 St Josse ten Noode
botanique.be

Bozar

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Bozar is an esteemed cultural institution and the national orchestra’s HQ. An art deco masterpiece designed by Victor Horta, it hosts 250 concerts per year, and you’re as likely to hear Italian arias as ska punk. There are countless arts and music festivals held throughout the year and the biggest space is Henry le Beouf Hall, which can hold up to 2,200. It hosts everything from Actress and Sewn Leather to the world’s biggest and best symphony orchestras, as well as being home to the Bozar Electronic Music Festival, a weekend-long showcase of both international and local talent.

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Rue Ravensteinstraat 23
1000 Bruxelles
bozar.be

Flagey

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The listed art deco ‘Steamship’ building that houses the Flagey cultural centre has a nice backstory: it used to be the country’s radio and television HQ and, as such, has famously great acoustics. It’s home to the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra and gigs here tend to be on the grown-up side, with lots of classical and jazz and some contemporary listings thrown in, from The Romantics to Yuri Favorin and tributes to Marc Moulin. There are four rooms with a max capacity of 860, and Studio 4 has (perhaps) the best acoustics in the whole world.

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Rue Belvédèrestraat 27/5
1050 Brussels
flagey.be

Madame Moustache

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This sweat-soaked ‘neo-cabaret’ is located in the tourist-thronged canal area of Place Sainte-Catherine/Sint-Katelijneplein. It’s loud and trashy and comes replete with themed nights (’60s, ’70s, sailors etc.) and while the atmosphere is very much the fashionable bohemia chic you can find in many other bars, it’s got quite the unique programme. More suited to live gigs, preferably with guitars, the calendar is full of the likes of Royal Canoe, Dead Gaze and Jonathan Toubin and the place is also home to the city’s best 60s rock nights, Back to the Grave, hosted by the guys behind local garage-rock outfit Mountain Bike. It’s got one main dance floor, a smoking room and long lines after midnight.

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Quai au bois à brûler 5-7 Brandhoutkaai
1000 Brussels
madamemoustache.be 

Magasin 4

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Volunteer-run Magasin 4 is located in an industrial warehouse in Brussels’ docklands. It’s a little bit like DNA only bigger and, dare we say, better. They book hard rock, metal, hardcore and new wave (at the darker end) – no pop, rock or electro. The aim is to springboard artists from obscurity onto the local alternative scene, though they also book some better-knowns. In 19 years it’s hosted more than 5,800 groups, including Bollock Brothers, Caspar Brotzman, Converge and Dub Trio. The location means it’s a bit of a pain to get, but cheap rent means cheap beer.

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Avenue du port 51 Havenlaan
1000 Molenbeek Saint Jean
magasin4.be

Recyclart

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The non-profit Recyclart, founded in 1997, is a neighbourhood multidisciplinary arts institution housed in a graffitied former train station. There are three live gigs per week held either in Studio Marcel or the main hall, which can hold about 600 people at a time. Acts are often local and often electronic with special attention paid to tropical bass, dubstep and avant-jazz. It also includes trade workshops for the unemployed, while the nearby railway underpasses function as urban open-air galleries.

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Rue des Ursulinenstraat 25
1000 Bruxelles
recyclart.be 

Vk*

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When Vk* opened in 1989 it was on the cutting edge of alternative music in Brussels, booking key hip-hop and indie acts way before they were cool (Rage Against The Machine’s first Belgian appearance was a Vk*). These days, despite the appearance of so many venues in close proximity all gunning for the same up-and-coming bands (and that all-important community funding), Vk* continues to secure some of the hottest bookings in town (Ty Segall and Bishop Neru to name but two). At equal walking distance between Molenbeek’s Etangs Noir and Comte de Flandre subway stations, the venue has a capacity of 600 and is known to also open its doors to local promoters and collectives.

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Rue de l’Ecole 76 Schoolstraat1080 Molenbeek Saint-Jean
vkconcerts.be