We’ve been told that you cannot call yourself a Belgian band without having, at the very least, toured the country’s extensive network of concert venues. Indeed, beyond Belgium’s reputation for top-notch food, fun and preferential fiscal policies, it also happens to possess some of the best venues for live music in the world – and a constant program of line-ups, from the hardly-known to the big-time, to match . In the first of a two-part series initially published in our book This is Belgium, we criss-cross the country to report on those places keeping things lively.
For our selection of quality record stores in Belgium, order our book This Is Belgium here.
Established in 1989, Petrol Club was started by the same people behind Ghent’s Ten Days Off and is located in Antwerp’s Zuid neighbourhood in an old industrial building (with a second, smaller place called Piaf next door). It hosts live bands and DJs covering dance, house, reggae, new wave and drum n’ bass, from home and abroad (Hardcell, Grindvik, BMG, James Chance…) and the crowd is youngish and mostly local. The venue is a bit scruffy (one space with a capacity of 1,200) and dated in terms of sound, though there are plans to spruce it up.
A firm Antwerp favourite since its 2004 opening, Trix’s programme is classified as rock slash indie slash alternative, but it’s well-known for its metal and hardcore gigs and dance events too. Many acts appear here way before they become famous (Band of Horses, M83, Yeasayer, Stromae…) and its three stages attracts urbanites in their ’20s and ’30s. There are two annual festivals: Planet Caravan (psychedelics, doom, desert music) and We Are Open, a showcase festival for Belgians.
This community-funded association has been around since 1973, and in this particular location for ten years. Purpose-built as a multidisciplinary arts centre (its architecture has won prizes), it’s mostly just used for concerts. It’s got one adaptable space that can fit up to 1,000 people, and the programme features a selection of ethnic, roots and electro music.
It all started when Frans Claus began hosting get-togethers for artists in his Saint-Gilles/Sint Gillis home studio back in the ’90s. Today, his venue is considered the home of alternative and experimental music in Brussels. Railing against the “cultural standardisation” of concert venues, Claus and his team have opted instead for homey interiors and a programme filled with unheard-of arty-types including the likes of The Dead C and Matthieu Ha. It’s recently undergone a makeover and now boasts two floors (150 downstairs, 100 upstairs). Expect a loose atmosphere.
A local institution since 1965, Beurschouwburg is housed in a 19thcentury ex-brewery that was renovated in 2004 by the architects behind La Monnaie/Muntpunt Opera. Thanks to neighbourhood noise complaints, gigs are now hosted on the fifth floor roof terrace (they used to be held on the ground floor), and it’s a combination of up-and-comers and established acts. Punters are young – or young at heart – and often international whilst the atmosphere is low-key and genial. Some pretty big names passed through these doors early in their careers (U2, Tom Waits, Sisters of Mercy…) while recent visitors have included Planningtorock, Cold Cave and Sons of Disaster. It has a substantial programme of talks, lectures, projections and conferences on subjects ranging from visual identity and graphic design to cinema and politics and has also recently started hosting the Vinyl Market every first Thursday of the month.
Since 2008, Bonnefooi has been known as the place where nights come to an end, and is usually packed with bedraggled drinkers looking for “just a last one.” Roughly the size of a couple of living rooms, it can fit about 250 people at a time and is yet another city venue that tries to provide a platform for everybody and anybody. The sound quality suffers slightly as a result of the size and the squeeze although it remains popular due to its good programming (local imprints On-Point Records and Onda Sonora hosts their Bedroom Beats series here).