Describe yourself, your background and what you do today. How has where you come from shaped who you are?
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Ghent in a warm and close-knit family, with two younger sisters and a lot of cousins all living on the same street, and always looking out for each other. With two athletic parents, I always did a lot of sports – but football was my all-round favourite, with my father as the coach. As a 6-year-old I transferred from a local team to the city’s KAA Gent. I have a lot of great memories from that era, playing against national and international teams like Barcelona, Juventus FC, Manchester City and United. I even had to compete against Kevin De Bruyne for a spot on the team for some years, which I did pretty well if I may say so myself!
In the meantime, my legs weren’t growing at the same speed during my growth spurt, result being I had to spend a lot of time seeing a physiotherapist. Together with my parents, the physio and staff, we decided it would be best to play at a lower level so that my schedule wouldn’t be as physically demanding anymore. This freed up my after-school time, and I started hanging out on the streets more with my teammates – many who I still call my best friends – and did things that many 16-year-olds do. By the time I graduated from a sports school, my university days were spent partying harder and longer. And when I finished my university studies, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I started working behind the bar at S&R Rozebroeken, a big sports centre with an outdoor garden. A bunch of us were invited to host a random afterparty there, and so it all began…
In your view, what explains Belgium’s considerable contribution to global house music? What “makes” our sound what it is?
The basis of house music is located bang in Belgium, and Ghent played a huge part in it. Belgian EBM bands like Front 242, Signal Aout 42 and The Neon Judgement were renowned throughout the continent. We had places like Boccaccio and Mirano, bringing together people from all around the world to enjoy house music. There’s been plenty of big names signed on to labels like R&S Records – think Jeff Mills, Ken Ishii or Dave Clarke. Today the torch is being carried by artists like San Soda, Cleveland and Stavros who continue to set a strong house vibe in Belgium. Next to that we also have a positive reputation of being a festival country with the likes of Tomorrowland, Dour, Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop, inviting a whole roster of international artists. Finally, looking at the line-ups that clubs like Fuse, Kompass and Café d’Anvers bring to our small country, I would say we’re doing pretty good.
“Booking the world’s best DJs goes beyond merely bringing money to the table – these daytime events bring people and the artists together, getting them to taste new food and quality drinks.”
Can you talk to us about your home base’s nightlife scene? What makes it special, who are its main players? Which place in Belgium best symbolises the country’s way of partying?
When ABSTRKT first started five years ago, our intention was to make up for the musical void present in Ghent, especially in comparison to Antwerp and Brussels. Since then, there’s been a burst of more party concepts and players in Ghent’s scene. There used to be a Facebook group where every organisation would post what they were planning on a specific date, to ensure that we didn’t step on each other’s toes. That’s sadly not the case anymore, and people are now forced to choose between several events as there’s more competition now. The world-renowned legendary club Decadance has been a staple fixture in Ghent’s nightlife for over two decades now, and it’s thanks to their support that we’ve been able to become what we are today. The new club Kompass has also been added to our city map a year ago, booking plenty of big names like Nina Kraviz, Marcel Dettmann, Len Faki, Adam Beyer and Richie Hawtin, under my ABSTRKT partner Thang’s new concept 1988. Besides this techno scene to which they’re contributing, we also sport a heavy urban scene in our city thanks to clubs like 69.
I’m personally not a big fan of dark, late-night techno-oriented events – there’s so many daytime parties in Belgium thanks to the organisations looking to create a complete experience. Booking the world’s best DJs goes beyond merely bringing money to the table – these daytime events bring people and the artists together, getting them to taste new food and quality drinks. In other words, to take them on a journey. Any curious tourist should visit one of our many open-air parties or festivals that this country has to offer.
In your opinion, what is missing in Belgium in terms of nightlife?
A sense of freedom: as of these last few years, there’s just too many rules and laws to follow. If you want to see me out every Friday night, open a place like Studio 54! We also could do with more small yet cosy high-quality clubs. Finally, promotors need to learn to work together as colleagues, instead of counteracting each other.
What can politicians do to better support the homegrown scene/nightlife? For instance, what do you make of Amsterdam having a nightlife mayor?
I would love to see a nightlife mayor put in place – I’d even sign up for the job! Someone open-minded to whom we could pitch our ideas and receive support from. Someone who would bring like-minded promoters together and get them to collaborate. Someone who would give a breath of fresh air to abandoned locations. Right now, you don’t see the City of Ghent investing a million euros in our clubs to make them soundproof like Berlin’s government did.
As an event organiser, we’re expected to follow so many rules – often coming at a high cost –despite there being a lack of support in return. Furthermore, artist bookings, manager fees and Belgian taxes have gone through the roof, all jeopardising the event and making it hard to make a living as a promoter.
In your opinion, what are the key ingredients for a good night?
Good music, most definitely! Also, a unique venue with a spacious dancefloor – nobody loves being in an overcrowded room. A place filled with people who dare to dance without being judged. An intimate, cheerful and smiling crowd.
If you had to pick three essential Belgian house music releases, what would they be and why?
Stavroz – Gold Town
A pretty new track from Stavroz that I really love. They’re the new force to be reckoned with in today’s Belgian house scene.
Soulwax – Krack (Nite Version)
This is a total recap of essential house music, and just has to be mentioned.
Revelation – First Dub
Released in my birth year, yet never gets old!
If you could put together the line-up of your dreams, which top five Belgian acts would you book and why?
San Soda to get into the mood. I love his music selection, which is in the same vibe as my favourite international artists. He played a lovely B2B2B with Antal and Motor City Drum Ensemble for our second anniversary bash.
Soulwax because, well, you know! It’s Soulwax!
Lebawski to shut down the party – he’s always the last man standing. He always knows what the crowd wants and needs, and has a big assortment of music to take care of that.
Thang is my partner and friend with over two decades of experience. He’s been on every single line-up since we teamed up, so of course he’d also be on the one of our dreams.
Last but not least, I would love to have Cleveland back behind our booth – he really impressed me when he played for us that one time.
Talk to us about a memorable night out, good or bad.
Hosting the live ABSTRKT stage at the 2016 edition of Paradise City Festival: we initially went there planning to take it easy and tame, because my girl and I had to leave for Valencia in the morning. That didn’t go according to plan – we had too much fun and ended up getting wasted anyway. Kiasmos’ performance will always be remembered! We ended up on stage with Hunnee, had sex in Hunnee and Tourist’s backstage room with a view over the festival. We’d forgotten to plan our journey to the airport, so we had to talk ourselves into getting a ride on the artist van. We somehow managed to arrive in Valencia (despite having forgotten about the illegal goods in our pockets), but then faced troubles getting our rental care as we were still pretty drunk. Too many coincidences and funny moments to sum up. And with that in mind, we’re looking forward to this year’s guest stage with KiNK and Red Axes!
What’s in the pipeline for you in the coming months?
We have a big year ahead of us: for one, we’ve started the new bimonthly concept Class Action at Charlatan where we invite Belgium’s finest. We’re also joining co-founder Thang on his nationwide THANGK YOU TOUR. He’s been a DJ for over 20 years now, so he was keen on doing something different, hence two editions of ABSTRKT – first at Antwerp’s brand-new club MEATPACK, followed by a Fuse party in Brussels on 24th of May. Meanwhile, we have our yearly open-air shindig on 29th of April to kick off the summer season. We’re shaking things up this year by moving to a larger venue which we’re very excited about! We already sold a third of the tickets within five days, so this is set to be a good one. Come June, we’ll be hosting our first concerts in Ghent, most likely with the boys from Paradise City. Something for the music freaks! The end of June will also see ABSTRKT’s fifth anniversary, so keep your eyes peeled for this one. And as mentioned already, we’ll also be hosting our live stage at Paradise City Festival for the third year in a row, on 1st of July. And again, we’ll be hosting our food concept project PIJN PERDU at Gentse Feesten – following on from last year’s success, we’ve increased the run to 10 days. Our new party concept Class Action will have its very first open-air edition in a very unique location, boasting an exclusively Belgian line-up – perhaps we’ll book some names from the answer above. End of September, we’ll be throwing a final open-air party, hopefully on a sick rooftop. Then come winter time, we’ll be hosting our very first charity event, with the aim of raising funds for Christmas dinner for the homeless. And of course, a top-notch ABSTRKT New Year’s Eve party!
Next to all of these projects, we’ve also sealed a deal with Jazz en Muziek, the non-profit organisation behind festivals like Ghent Jazz, Jazz Middelheim, Mardi Gras and many other important jazz events, both nationally and overseas. Our partnership will involve us working closely together, and ABSTRKT providing support for their productions. We won’t be able to see the fruits of our labour till 2019, but this will be a great collaboration which will stimulate our growth, without a doubt.