02 november 2011 | Commentaren (0)

Ghent Nightlife - Since Forever

276852_242343612478254_740492401_n.jpgIn september 2009 verscheen This Book Is Elektronic, een boek vol vintage flyers dat ik voor Red Bull Elektropedia in elkaar heb gebokst (with the graphic help of Glossy en het sorteer/titanenwerk van een handvol vrijwilligers). Ik heb toen ook aan drie vrienden gevraagd om een stuk te schrijven over een bepaald hoofdstuk uit de Belgische clubgeschiedenis: Johan Faes schreef er één over het eerste jaar van Fuse, Mathieu Fonsny lichtte de (toen recente) heropleving van de Luikse party scene toe en Jonas Boel had ik gevraagd om een stuk over het Gentse nachtleven te schrijven dat zou eindigen met de opening van Culture Club - de eerste Gentse superclub, na ruim een decennium van toonaangevende party's (op diverse locaties in Gent) als Free the Funk, Kozzmozz, I Love Techno, 10 Days Off, Belmondo en uiteraard ook Eskimo.

 

En omdat die laatste nu zaterdag weer verrijst, vond ik het geen slecht idee om dat stuk nog eens af te stoffen. I hope Jonas doesn't mind.

 

GHENT REPRESENT

jonas boel, eskimo, this book is elektronic, 10 days off, culture club, club royal, belmondo, smak, soulwax, stephen, david, dewaele, mo & benoele, glimmers, glimmer twins, fucking dewaele brothers, i love techno, gent, ghent, 10 days of techno, vooruit, boccaccio, democrazy, cocteau, kuiperskaai, charlatan, soulwax, bar americain, fifty-five, lp, fash, barney'sEarly Nineties. In Kuiperskaai, an empty void stretches out for hundreds of meters. Half a block has been demolished, sucked into a black hole – together with most of Ghent nightlife. From its rubble a shopping mall will soon rise. On the eastern outskirts of the city, the legendary Boccaccio nightclub has turned into a silent, mythical place. Nightlife in the city of the three towers is in poor shape. Right at that time my adolescent blood wants to crawl where it shouldn’t. All charged up and no place to go.

This foray into my hometown’s club scene begins where it all ended: Bar American, the last twitching spasm of what once was the beating heart of its vibrant nightlife. It is there – in that street called Kuiperskaai – where I got introduced to the divine rhythms of the night.


Kuiperskaai used to be lined with bars and clubs of all kinds, before urban developers unveiled other plans for what is commonly called the ‘South’ area. In the late 19th century this part of town was already a concentration of cinemas, cabarets, dance halls, concert venues and rowdy bars. As time went by modernization or decay chewed up most of these places, but one street - Kuiperskaai - kept its reputation as the ultimate party destination, well into the new century. Clubs such as Fifty-Five, LP, Fash and Barney’s held nightly marathons of debauchery, supervised by the most versatile deejays who kept in tune with the latest sounds. For us – born in the late seventies – it was the stuff of legends; hearsay from an older brother or mom confessing a wild streak from the past.

In the early nineties, Bar Americain was the only witness left of this thriving scene. American Graffiti-like décor, baby-foot on the mezzanine, elevated dance floor on the ground floor - nothing fancy, but it held a great vibe. Mo & Benoelie (later The Glimmers) were regular fixtures on the wheels of steel. The action at Bar Americain ended very sudden – one night doors were kept closed without further notice. Trouble with the landlord, a manager on the run for debt collectors, whatever.

jonas boel, eskimo, this book is elektronic, 10 days off, culture club, club royal, belmondo, smak, soulwax, stephen, david, dewaele, mo & benoele, glimmers, glimmer twins, fucking dewaele brothers, i love techno, gent, ghent, 10 days of techno, vooruit, boccaccio, democrazy, cocteau, kuiperskaai, charlatan, soulwax, bar americain, fifty-five, lp, fash, barney'sThere was of course life after Kuiperskaai. I can tell you about parties, in a wooden lodge on the recreation grounds Blaarmeersen, where a defunct smoke machine filled the room with a toxic mist that chased everybody out into the moonlight. Or in a roller skating rink, where slumber bags were rolled out on the dance floor at dawn. Places such as Cocteau (a gay bar), Democrazy (an underground music venue) or Voorhuid (a garage-shaped backroom) flourished briefly as party locations du jour. At Vlasmarkt, art students, outcasts and other socially challenged misfits gathered at café Charlatan. The staff played anything from reggae and pop music to some old disco and funk tunes. Across the street, longhaired rocker types and groupies congregated in the pintsized bar Stax. Around the corner there was Atlantic, another traditional dive with a soundtrack of AC/DC and busy chatter around the stained pool table. Upstairs a local band, Soulwax, had its practice space.

In brief: there were plenty of weekend refuges in Ghent. Some oversized bars, the occasional squat building, a rundown industrial site – but no genuine nightclub, no licensed discotheque with a proper light and sound system. To experience the ‘real’ nightclub sensation, one with long queues, renowned guest DJs and dress codes, we had to go city trippin’ to Antwerp or Brussels. It wasn’t always like this.

During the latter part of the eighties Ghent – Destelbergen, really, but who’s counting (five) kilometres – was home to Boccaccio, a legendary club whose name and fame became synonymous with New Beat; a new musical genre that took the Belgian clubs and charts by storm. Boccaccio, a 1000-capacity venue, was founded in 1972 but only after a spectacular makeover in 1987 it drew clubbers from all over Europe. A giant concrete box on the outside, plush interior and diamond shaped dance floor on the inside. Neon lights and lasers everywhere, a massive PA system and resident DJ’s with groundbreaking set lists.

Boccaccio was an early ambassador for house music. Each weekend hundreds of punters practised their robotized, synchronised moves far beyond daybreak. In 1993 the city counsel pulled the plug. Health and safety violations, overdue licences, drug busts, the works. Those who witnessed the weekly mayhem still talk about it today, and it took years for another club of that calibre to come along. But change was coming.

While the nineties slowly dragged along, new musical genres were emerging and promoters seeked out new exclusive locations. Club culture was now a force to be reckoned with and as the late Hunter S. Thompson once said: when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

jonas boel, eskimo, this book is elektronic, 10 days off, culture club, club royal, belmondo, smak, soulwax, stephen, david, dewaele, mo & benoele, glimmers, glimmer twins, fucking dewaele brothers, i love techno, gent, ghent, 10 days of techno, vooruit, boccaccio, democrazy, cocteau, kuiperskaai, charlatan, soulwax, bar americain, fifty-five, lp, fash, barney'sFree The Funk was one of the first concept nights to emerge on the scene. Location: Vooruit Arts Centre. A monumental socialist stronghold in the city centre, build between 1910 and 1918. The antique concert venue with its gold-foiled arches proved to be a perfect backdrop for these parties aimed at the young and the well coiffed. Among the regular spinners were – again – Mo & Benoelie. Over the years, this DJ-duo had mastered their craft and steadily grown into the undisputed darlings of the local scene. The music at Free The Funk was an eclectic mix of the new (triphop, house, techno) and the old (funk, soul, disco) - a trademark sound in Ghent and much different than the house-orientated scene in Antwerp and the techno favouring clubs in Brussels. But techno warriors and house kittens were no strangers to Ghent - thanks to 10 Days Of Techno.

10 Days Of Techno was launched in the margin of the Gentse Feesten, a yearly 10-day street festival in July that had been going for as long as anyone can remember. The first edition had some big names on offer: among others, Juan Atkins, Mark Broom, DJ Food and Luke Slater were included in the line-up. Nowadays, the roll call of 10 Days Off (the ‘techno’ suffix now dropped) still reads like a genre crossing who’s who of modern dance music. Although only a yearly phenomenon it proved – as did its big brother I Love Techno - hugely influential in establishing Ghent as a solid clubbing destination.

Meanwhile, the hunt for bigger and bolder locations was still on, and when it came to size the former factory grounds of Eskimo (a local brand of quality underwear) was cream of the crop. On these industrial premises the definite blueprint for Ghent nightlife was laid out. Three rooms, each one tuned into a different musical flavour. Fans of house, hip hop and drum’n’bass flocking together under one roof, a marvellous feat. One nation under many grooves, Eskimo was the momentum we had all been waiting for. Thousands got crazy over the French touch of Dimitri From Paris and Super Discount, the disco-inspired turntable antics of DJ Harvey and Idjut Boys or the heavy duty bass assaults of Ed Rush and Optical. When St. Germain performed his now classic Tourist album live on stage he was baffled by the thunderous reception. But it was the local crew who received the biggest kudos: Mo & Benoelie (under a new moniker: The Glimmer Twins), but also Stephen & David Dewaele (AKA The Fucking Dewaele Brothers AKA 2ManyDJs) from the band Soulwax, who re-invented themselves as a boundary breaking DJ combo. In the hip hop arena TLP was the ultimate master of ceremonies - a one-man hurricane blowing all competition, domestic or foreign, out of the water. For years they had honed their skills on the local DIY party circuit and now they were running with the best. 

jonas boel, eskimo, this book is elektronic, 10 days off, culture club, club royal, belmondo, smak, soulwax, stephen, david, dewaele, mo & benoele, glimmers, glimmer twins, fucking dewaele brothers, i love techno, gent, ghent, 10 days of techno, vooruit, boccaccio, democrazy, cocteau, kuiperskaai, charlatan, soulwax, bar americain, fifty-five, lp, fash, barney'sTurn of the century and more to come. The massive Eskimo parties ended at their peak, but the promoters took their new-found philosophy (mix and match musical styles, think big but cosy, support local talent) to yet another level. Their new home: S.M.A.K, the recently refurbished Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art. In cooperation with the curator, they cooked up a new concept – Belmondo - changing the clubbing experience quite literally into an art form. Style was the keyword. The pristine museum walls, the cool atmosphere, the whole distinguished grandness of its location - picture perfect! On a Belmondo night the air inside S.M.A.K was heavy with a sense of glamour. Visiting DJs (among them Basement Jaxx and a pre-superstar deejay Erol Alkan) couldn't help feeling impressed. Still, Belmondo was only a temporary sensation. A tri-monthly high, experienced on borrowed turf. We still had no permanent house of fun, no local tribe. Yet.  
 
And so it came that near the end of 2001 Ghent got what it needed: Club Royal, a shady hideaway near the harbour, was revamped into Culture Club - ‘from the makers of Eskimo and Belmondo’. Inspired by infamous hot spots such as Lux in Lisbon, it oozed both elegance and decadence. And who were on tha helm? Indeed, the hometown beat jugglers Mo & Benoelie, the Dewaele Brothers and TLP. Playing every week for a fashionable but frantic crowd. Soon, international glossies would proclaim it 'the coolest place on earth'. Ghent was finally represent. But that's a whole new chapter...

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