The Brussels Bike Hundred

100 portraits, stories and bicycles

We’re teaming up with Bike for Brussels to put together a 100-strong selection of local heroes shaping the city each in their own way. From designers and DJs to performers and publishers, these are the creatives riding Brussels forward.

Niels Latomme

Niels Latomme

KRAAK (1984)

Describe yourself, your background and what you do today.

I’m a part of KRAAK, an off-stream music platform organising concerts KRAAK festival at Beursschouwburg, releasing records and publishing a free form magazine called The Avant-Guardian; dilatant musician as Beyt al Tapes, and old school cycling adept riding steel bikes, loving climbing, cobbles, lycra and unshaved legs.

How has Brussels shaped you as an individual as well as your professional activities?

For a relatively small city, Brussels has a very vivid off-stream (or so-called ‘underground’, although I don’t like to use this shallow tag) music scene that is open, inspiring and wide spread. There’s a wide array of venues of various sizes, ranging from DIY artist-run spaces to bigger venues. This network enables musicians to pursue their own voice without limitation, in a free and professional context. Brussels has an open-minded, international audience that easily crosses borders between genres and arts. This dynamic interplay between audience and music inspires and fuels new music, and enables KRAAK to tap into this vivid network and present challenging music for a wide and open audience and support the work of interesting and high quality music.

Brussels feels like you can do anything, as no one cares so much, but at the same time there’s a lot of interesting people who do care.

As an individual, Brussels’ absurd and highly varied urban landscape inspired me on various levels — although it’s very hard to point out how this environment shaped me… I assume its complex administrational structure gives the city an amorphous character, which allows combining a down-to-earth and human attitude with the tension that comes with a big city. Compared to bigger cities, Brussels and its inhabitants have an outsider attitude; the chaos allows a certain je-m’en-foutisme, which I like a lot. Brussels feels like you can do anything, as no one cares so much, but at the same time there’s a lot of interesting people who do care. As a person I feel very at home in a city where you can be free – although this is highly discussed concept – and be human at the same time. Freed from the stress of expectations, but also indulging tension and experiencing liveliness. Its music scene formed my own music, as it was easy to find concerts, set up concerts and get in contact with inspiring musicians, labels and concert organisers. By playing, talking and releasing stuff in this scene, a couple of clues to understand better what I was doing music-wise fell into place.

List three things you like the most about Brussels.

  • Its chaos and varied urban landscape: you can walk three blocks and experience three different styles of architecture, people and vibes.
  • Its closeness to nature: if you cycle for 20 minutes, you’re in full nature.
  • Its DIY attitude: there’s a lot of activities going on, ranging from music, to biking, eating, drinking and going out, that are not connected to bigger structures and top-bottom institutions.

List three deciding factors that converted you to bicycle use.

  • Growing up in a region of the world where biking is the most natural way of moving around and a culture in itself: Flanders. When you’re 6 years old, you learn how to cycle, and it’s natural to commute from school to home, to friends or the closest city by bike. When moving to Brussels, taking a bike still felt the fastest — although not the easiest — way to get through the city.
  • Freedom: cycling enables you to do relatively long distances by manpower, and you can get anywhere you like. Cycling in a more sportive way, like a real amateur, dressed up in lycra etc., has a meditative character which is a perfect counterpoint to a life that involves sitting behind a screen for 8 hours a day.
  • The man/machine: I worked as a bike repairman when I was a student and I fell in love with the machine that is a bike. Relatively simple mechanically, but beautifully designed in its slender, elegant and nature-friendly character, it enables men to broaden their environment and expand their physical limitations. Also here the Flemish bike culture comes into play; the bike is a symbol of a culture and national heroes climbing up mountains and transcending their physical limitations.