Can you describe what you do?
I’m part of ONKRUID, a collective combining expertise in architecture, design, marketing, music and urban development. Our aim is to shape ideas, places and cities. You might have already heard about us through HORST, our arts and music festival, and a variety of events and interventions based in Leuven.
ONKRUID is in between places: we’re still establishing ourselves as a start-up company. So at first, we worked from certain bars we like, such as Bar Stan, De Hoorn and Café Entrepot. After that we moved into the Town Hall, which was re-opened by the local youth label mijnLeuven, launching an incubator for young start-ups. Now we’re at the Comenius building, a former school and all-round cool place right by the station. It’s the central hub for a new project we’re working on, commissioned by Leuven MindGate. and& is all about shaping future urban life; which we’re translating into a summit, an avant-garde music program, a city-wide art exhibition and a tech playground.
How do you perceive Leuven? What would you say is its main appeal as a city?
Smart, small, and with very few “real life” problems. Leuven is quite simply a great place to live in. In a way it feels like a small village: a place where you know everybody, even if it’s indirectly, and with a strong family vibe. From a policy perspective, the scale of the city makes it contained and manageable; offering many positive characteristics like safety, clean urban space, rapid city development, a strong social policy, and excellent education. The downside to being in a small city or more controllable space however is that there’s less room for spontaneity, for initiatives to grow in the margins, and for sub-cultures to truly blossom. It takes away the edge a city could – and should – have.
Having said that, Leuven is spoiled when it comes to culture, especially for its scale. There are some very strong theatre ensembles, like Het Nieuwstedelijk and fABULEUS based in the OPEK arts centre. There’s the newly renovated M-Museum in the heart of the city; and Het Depot, a concert hall with an impeccable sound-system. And there’s STUK with interesting music and dance programs, lectures and a cool café.
If it wasn’t for Leuven, we wouldn’t be where we are today with HORST and ONKRUID.
How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
If it wasn’t for Leuven, we wouldn’t be where we are today with HORST and ONKRUID. In a way, our initial projects were a sort of counter-reaction to what we perceived to be a lack of support for Leuven’s youth culture and its needs. We’ve always tried to devise constructive approaches to this problem – so as we became closer and closer to the City and its policy-makers, a mutual understanding was eventually built, allowing us to not only develop the city but also enrich ourselves and our portfolio. Today, ONKRUID’s focus really lies in shaping cities – so in a way Leuven was a direct source in forming an outlook for our business, and for the rising interest in our team.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
The only thing the city really lacks is a proper night club. The now non-existent Silo by the harbour was once upon a time of the country’s best clubs: it embodied Leuven’s edge thanks to their terrific programming, with visitors coming from all over the country. Even if I was too young to fully capture the impact, vibe and momentum of Silo in its heyday, I still have a great memory of their final night, headlined by Apparat.
It’s this edge – a certain freedom for possibilities and a stimulating space for creative entrepreneurship – that will only make the city more attractive. If you look at Antwerp; clubs, creative hubs and bars are popping up everywhere – a necessary phenomenon to make a city feel really dynamic and alive.
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
He’s definitely overlooked and to be honest doesn’t even live in Leuven anymore, but Jochen Smets has had a huge impact on the undercurrent of Leuven, its youth culture. As a youth worker, he’s been employed by the City for 15 years now; and has always tried to push young initiatives forward, putting their needs on the political agenda, supporting young people’s ideas and dreams and providing them with the perspective to make it happen. He was hands down a game-changer in our own growth from young guys to who we are now – and I know for a fact that he’s done the same for dozens of other organisations.onkruidonkruid.com horstartsandmusic.com