The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Jan Delvaux

Jan Delvaux

Music historian and writer (1962)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m part journalist, part storyteller, part writer, part enthusiast – what I do changes and differs all the time. I’ve just completed my book on the history of Belgian pop music, and am preparing a theatre show and TV series on the same subject. Like all real Leuvenaars, I live just 15km away from the city; in the woods, where I work like a monk most of the time. Leuven is the counterbalance to this space: it’s my living room where I go to pick up books and records, and meet people. I also have a close relationship with some of the city’s main cultural institutions, like STUK, Cinema ZED, Het Depot, 30CC, just to name a few. I’ve been working with, or for them for many years now.

Two or three great book-shops and record-stores, one excellent art-house cinema, two concert halls – a well-trimmed cultural diet.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Thanks to the University, it has all the elements of a big city in a small, provincial town. But it’s not too overwhelming, either. Enough, but not too much. Two or three great book-shops and record-stores, one excellent art-house cinema, two concert halls – a well-trimmed cultural diet. This really is my home-base. I have a very active, extended family who are all quite prominent in Leuven. The bike courier is my nephew, my niece has a very famous café, my uncle and another nephew run a brewery… Thanks to this big family network, I feel like I’m linked to at least half of the city already.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

It’s well-arranged; it’s safe; it’s an ideal place to raise children and start a family. It has fabulous accommodation. And when it becomes too cosy, the chaos and magnitude of Brussels is just a train-ride away. That’s what people often forget: the capital of Europe is only a short drive away. So really, it’s got the best of all worlds.

It’s all thanks to Leuven that the old Hammond King got to shine once again at last year’s Pukkelpop.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

It had all that I needed, growing up. Concert promotor and local politician Herman Schueremans started organising his first gigs in Leuven when I was old enough to attend them. JJ Records was already an established powerhouse when I started to buy records, with all their fabulous discs I would read about in anglophone music magazines. Radio Scorpio started broadcasting when I felt the need to listen to more alternative music. At decisive moments of my youth I saw the work of then young talents like contemporary dance choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, mime theatre group Radeis, writer Tom Lanoye and multi-talented musician Wim Mertens. These experiences definitely guided me throughout my life and career.

Leuven’s also played an important role professionally since 2000. I’ve been part of many a cultural project in my time: Kulturama, Artefact, M, the movie De Leuvense Scene, … The great thing about Leuven is that the links are very short – it’s easy to find support for any solid idea. For example, I was trying to restart the career of André Brasseur last year; and Leuven Jazz festival provided the necessary funds for the pre-production. So it’s all thanks to Leuven that the old Hammond King got to shine once again at last year’s Pukkelpop.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

Sundays. Leuven is dead on Sundays. And there also needs to be an arts-centred secondary school made available here.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Leuven?

A lot of its beauty is behind closed doors – like the attic of the Town Hall, where you’ll find the moulds and originals of all the decorative statues hanging on its outside walls. The view is absolutely magnificent. It looks like the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Big Bill: a true local legend, making songs all strictly about Leuven. They were written in the ‘70s, yet somehow don’t sound dated. And they all have this very indescribable wit, which is typical for Leuven. Also common for a Leuvenaar, he’s never cared for a big, successful music career. He’s only written like 30 songs over the course of 40 years. But I know them all by heart.

The sweetest story, though is that of football club F.C. Éclair: at the end of the ‘60s, the club was having some trouble recruiting new members. One of the players happened to be working for the University’s international student organisation, and brought on some of said students. And with huge success. After their studies, they all returned to their home countries, some of them becoming rather important. Like Jaime Paz Zamora, the former goalkeeper for F.C. Éclair, who ended up serving as President of Bolivia from 1989 till 1993. He lived for some time above the famous café Pie De Nijper in Kessel-Lo, funnily enough.

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