We’re back with part two of our round-up of the country’s best venues for live music. And this time we’re going from Namur to Gent, from the basement to the big stage, revealing those places that play the music loudest.
For our selection of the country’s record stores and live music venues, order our book This Is Belgium here.
4AD first appeared in 1998 and is now in its third location in a former electrics warehouse, with a max capacity of 250. The programme doesn’t concentrate on any one genre because it serves so much of the surrounding region that the programmers are required to be generalists. It attracts a crowd from both nearby and farther afield in Flanders who like the thrill of the unknown. Meg White once sold merchandise for her buddies who played here.
Founded in 1979 by a group of amateur enthusiasts, N9 gradually morphed into a professional music club that hosts everything from African, Latin, Caribbean music to folk and funk. Over the years it has welcomed the likes of Company Segundo, Desmond Dekker, Dr. John, Orchestre Baobab, Triggerfinger and Don Cherry. The audience is mixed and the atmosphere is cosy (100 seated, 200 standing), giving it the feeling of a professionally decked-out living room. The lead glass window designed by artist Ever Meulen is a nice touch. Helden in het Park is their (free) annual festival.
Built in 1906, this restored baroque building was reopened to the public as a concert hall in 2002. Expect classical music, jazz, pop, rock, and flamenco, or events that combine all of the above (Kraakpand and Ha’fest). It prides itself on bridging gaps between genres, though the programme tends to attract a mostly jazzy, singer-songwritery, soul-loving crowd from the over-30 age bracket. The main concert hall can hold up to 850. Very civilised and centrally located.
Kinky Star is a youth centre that has hosted more than 2,500 gigs since opening in 1997. A smallish venue, it books all kinds of alternative acts, and its programmer (also a member of Sexmachines and Starfighter and founder of the Kinky Star label) is famous for having his finger on the pulse of the Belgian and Flemish underground music scene. Most of the groups are local, though they do look further afield, too (Band of Eli, The Guru Guru and Fabrieke, John Sinclair, Mon-O-Phone…) and most bands from Ghent have played its stage at one point or another in their career. Whatever’s booming, they book it.
Vooruit is a household name in Ghent. It’s located in a listed building – a former socialist meeting point – and was designated as an arts centre in 1982. The main hall can host 1,000 people and the programme features mostly contemporary concerts with a focus on adventurous guitar bands: from the experimental pop of Crooks on Tape, White Magic and Father Murphy, to the fingerpicking blues and folk of Steve Gunn and Cian NuGhent. It also books underground electronica from the likes of Morphosis, Pete Swanson, Kaumwald and Felix Kubin and there’s also a large popular café attached.
Hasselt’s only venue worth mentioning is located in a former meat processing plant. Since the early ’90s it’s hosted alternative rock at the harder end of the scale, as well as indie soft pop guitar bands and a bit of electro, too (they’re also really into the new generation of young electro rappers, like Yung Lean et al.) The venue fits about 1,000 and attracts a community of hard partying students (for electro parties) while also acting as a focal point for Hasselt’s underserved band scene. Their annual Play festival showcases a sampling of gigs hosted throughout the year.
As Kortrijk’s live music go-to venue since the early ’80s, De Kreun doesn’t focus on a single genre, opting instead for a mix of mainly new electronic, indie and psych. It’s quite alternative and experimental and popular with 30-something music purists. It’s also famous for its annual Sonic City Festival, a two-day underground festival inspired by All Tomorrow’s Parties, with alternating curators (SUUNS, BEAK>, Liars, Millionaire…). The main space can hold up to 600.
This venue used to be a cinema before being converted into a gig venue by M10 architects and reopened in 2002. Like its contemporaries, Het Depot focuses on rock, albeit on the more soulful end of the spectrum. It books a lot of bands that are not so easy to pigeonhole, and virgin Leuven acts get a look in, as well as those that have already had some radio time. The biggest space in the venue can fit 850 at a time. There are also instrument lessons and songwriting classes on offer.
Liège is the epicentre of rock in Wallonia (the world?) right now, thanks to great festivals and the endless parade of new bands it produces annually. Since opening 15 years ago, this venue has played a vital role in the development of the scene. Located in the district known as Le Carré in Liège, l’Escalier is a focal point for amateurs of rock and independent music in the region, and hundreds of local and international bands have graced its stage – everyone from Miossec, Dominique A and My Little Cheap Dictaphone to Girls in Hawaii, The Experimental Tropic Blues Band and Soldout to name but a few have performed her. With just enough capacity for 200, it’s rather on the squashed side though.
This rather new venue rose from the ashes of Tipi, another popular Liège club, which itself was a reincarnation of Cirque d’hiver. Despite the changes to management and names, this place has been a feature on Liège’s musical landscape for decades with an eclectic programming that has included DJ Vadim, Willie and the Bandits and Front 242. There are two spaces: Live Club with its sleek interior and good acoustics and space for 200, an upper floor and a big backstage area with a smoking section. Another space, Live Bar, can host up to 80.
This Outermeuse youth club started in 1991 in an old liègeois townhouse. The programme is open and experimental and features local and international acts that might find it difficult to fit in elsewhere. Rock, hip-hop, punk, electro, cabaret and new burlesque fill the calendar, and the vibe is intimate (capacity 110). Programming is a collective affair (the team is made up of full-timers as well as volunteers), and past gigs have included such underground legends as UK Subs, Zion Train, Neurosis, Cornershop, Hyatus and Sham 69. It also hosts the annual 24h de Slam, the longest poetry open mic in the world.
Perched at the top of Namur, near the site of the annual Verdur Rock festival, the building that houses the Belvedère used to be the final stop for the cable car that brought visitor up to the city’s iconic citadel. It was abandoned until 2007 when it got a shot in the arm in the form of city money, and these days it’s one of the finest art and music institutions in the Walloon region. Run by a non-profit called Panama, the focus is pop and rock (Intergalactic Lovers, the Poneymen, Bombay Show Pigs…) but they also put on exhibitions and workshops and host artists in residence. That, plus the view is amazing.
Founded in 1968, Nijdrop was Belgium’s first ever youth club. They’ve just built themselves a brand new centre, a smallish venue with two spaces, the biggest of which can fit up to 400 people. Thanks to their youth-oriented, community-based origins, they are open in terms of programming so everyone gets a look-in, and gigs cover a wide selection of genres including hip-hop, punk, electro, rock, post-rock, drum n’ bass, and swing (Marble Sounds, Amenra and Novastar…) The crowd is at the younger end of the scale with the average age about 25.