It’s always a good day when you hear that a new music venue opens its doors – especially when that place has an open-minded DIY attitude with a head-turning monthly program. C12, the most recent addition to the ever evolving nightlife scene in our capital, is a fairly large, multi-purposed space, situated in the Horta Gallery, right between the Central Station and the Place de l’Àgora. Basically, you couldn’t have a more central location. But it gets better: the guys who run this place are no strangers to the Belgian party scene; together with Kevin Huerta van Ellinkhuizen of the Horta Gallery, Mathieu Serra, Tom Brus and Ulysse Choner from the long-running Deep In House parties form a solid and efficient team that knows exactly what it’s doing. After the club opened its doors on February 2, more than two dozen events (from parties to concerts and exhibitions) have been hosted here; so the time was right to see if things were still going according to plan.
How did the first 2 months go? Has it been the start you had in mind? Or did things quickly turn out to be different than expected?
"It’s been really good so far! During the club nights, the turnout is a lot higher than expected – but people still need to get used to the fact that we offer concerts and exhibitions too, we guess. All in all, the feedback so far has been very good, especially from the artists themselves!"
How is the workload? More than expected?
"Yes! A lot more than we could have anticipated. It’s ok for club nights, but for every live concert you have to build a new plan: lights, sound, stage, etc. We didn’t have much experience with that before, so we had to learn quick!"
It must not have been easy to score such a fancy location, right in the heart of Brussels…
"Two years ago, we already had the opportunity to host our Deep In House New Year’s Eve celebration here at the Horta Gallery, which turned out to be a really good collaboration for both sides. After that, we returned here for a few other editions – and it just seem to fit perfectly.
Kevin: "The goal is to renovate this place into a city museum – the BRUSEUM – which will be connected to the Central Station, but it will take a long time before this will actually be finished. Ahead of construction, me and my dad (both co-own the Horta Gallery, ed.) had the opportunity to host a temporary event space here. From the beginning it was clear it had to be more than just a place where promoters could host their parties; it had to be something that would be able to create an identity with a varied palette of different cultural events. Suddenly, we received the green light, so we had to move fast to find our partners on a very short notice – we only have a year before they will begin the construction of the museum. The Deep In House guys were the first collective that came to mind. Their concept looked really tight, and they had just won a Red Bull Elektropedia Award, so we gave them a ring. At first, I presumed they would be a group of techno dudes, but they quickly turned out to be a lot more versatile than I expected. The contact has been really solid between us from the get-go, so I really trust them with this project."
The first thing that strikes us is the minimalism in communication, graphic design and interior design. The club is quite straightforward: there’s a space, a stage or DJ booth and a massive soundsystem.
"The most important thing for us is ‘the vibe’. It’s about people and music, the rest doesn’t matter to us. This minimal approach is a good starting point, as we can grow in whatever direction we want to once the honeymoon period is over. We keep the lights and interior simple, but effective. It’s something we definitely learned from visiting other night clubs in Europe that had a good impression on us. In the end, it’s better to start small and grow from there anyway, right?"
Which other clubs influenced the way you manage C12?
"Even though they are the obvious choices, the minimalism of places like De School in Amsterdam or Griessmühle and Berghain in Berlin really made an impression on us. The vibe in the latter is something that’s almost impossible to recreate; the mix of people from all backgrounds, orientations and nationalities generates a unique atmosphere."
So, do you have a strict door policy too? We saw you only allow in visitors over age 21 – quite rare in Belgium.
"To just open the doors to everyone that stands in line may be more democratic, but it will not benefit the open-minded understanding between the people on the dancefloor. We don’t judge on looks, but on behaviour. If there’s a hunch that the visitor may endanger the safe space we want to provide, we will respectfully deny entry. We understand that this selection leads to the occasional discussion, but in the end the benefits outweigh the downsides. Making sure we have an older crowd also helps to maintain the same goal. Experienced music fans act a lot more responsible, they won’t crash and burn in a dark corner somewhere."
Like many places in Berlin's nightlife scene, do you also prohibit photography on the dancefloor?
"We do allow it for concerts and stuff like that, but not on club nights – for the same reasons we just mentioned. Pulling out your phone to take pictures (especially with a horrible flashlight) just disrupts the free atmosphere we want to preserve. Besides, there’s no cell phone reception in here anyway (laughs)."
What struck us when we looked at your program, was the way you carefully made sure it was more than just a nightclub. You host concerts and exhibitions too?
"Yeah, this was really important for us, even though it can cost us a lot of time. We already have a lot of experience as party promoters, so this approach is a welcome variation to our workflow. The possibilities with this huge space are endless, so it would be a shame not to do anything more with it than just throw parties. Doing different kinds of activities also benefits our night program, as many people who would come down for a concert may stick around (or come back later) for a night of clubbing. Unfortunately, we can’t afford ourselves a big team, so all of us have to take on many different roles when the situation demands it."
Still, even as far as club nights go, your programming remains unique in Belgium. You seem to favour a return to the essence of clubbing, booking artists that wouldn’t work in other big clubs because they are considered a little bit too niche or 'too far out there'.
"The idea of this club is to offer something that isn’t already available elsewhere in Belgium; we don’t want to be a ‘second Fuse’. Booking these relatively niche artists can definitely be a challenge, but we see that people do find a way to our events, so the demand for it does exist here. As we are open every weekend, we feel that a lot of our patrons just come back again because they trust our judgement. That said, after the summer we will take our bookings up a notch!"
So which performance has been your favourite so far?
"Claro Intellecto! Such a friendly, smart guy. That really was a superb gig, full house. He had a 5-year hiatus just before – and he told us this was his best show in such a long time. He even enthusiastically called up his wife right after to tell her! He invited us for his show in Berghain soon, so we can’t really pass on that, can we? Another really great gig was Gay Haze, which was our first Sunday evening event and our first LGBT party. That vibe was unreal. As we have already mentioned, we really try our best to provide a safe space here. Everyone told us they felt comfortable and free, so that was a winner for us!"
In which ways did your experience of ‘Deep in House’ prepare you for an adventure like this?
"We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Deep in House! After 5 years of promoting these events, we learned everything there is to be learned about throwing parties. The thing is: before this club we threw parties occasionally; now, we do this twice a week. If Deep In House was the warm-up, C12 is game time. We learned to be more efficient and pragmatic as a team, setting aside our ego’s to behave more professional and problem-solving."
It feels like Brussels is currently experiencing a healthy period of nightlife again. What’s your current take on the music scene in Brussels?
"We’re not sure we share your opinion on that; a lot of venues (like Recyclart and Épicerie Moderne for example) have been forced to close down recently. It’s still very much a hassle to find a proper mid-sized event space that’s open-minded enough to host electronic music nightlife. The thing is, we have a lot of great promoters in Brussels nowadays – just not enough venues to cover the demand. With Deep In House, we have been through this struggle first hand, so we want to make sure C12 can be there for as many as possible – although we can only do our part; it’s easier said than done."
Do you have the feeling you have to fight to get your share of the Brussels clubbing folk? Or do you think there are enough people around, but you just need to attract them to your club?
"That’s an interesting topic to think about. We believe that a large supply of club nights will inevitably lead to a larger amount of clubbing folk. When you have just a limited amount of clubs around, prices will get inflated and we will eventually have to deal with fewer different kinds of nightlife. Competition leads to a healthier and more creative scene; just look at places like Berlin, where they have a ridiculous amount of music venues, yet most of them manage to attract enough visitors every week. Before we started, people used to tell us: “why are you starting a new club when even Fuse is not full every weekend”? Well, healthy competition is needed to make a better music scene where everyone can benefit from."
‘Location is key’ - a rule many businesses live by. Seems like you got that covered!
"Yeah, most definitely. People can be lazy, so such a central location is amazing for us – not just for the local party crowd, but for visitors from Flanders and Wallonia too, as the Central Station is literally just around the corner. On some days, more than half of our patrons speak Dutch."
What’s the story behind the name ‘C12’ by the way?
"There’s not really a story. This whole place was meant to become a shopping mall one day – which never happened. The ‘C’ stands for ‘commerce’; and every space here is numbered: ‘C1’, ‘C2’, ‘C3’ and so on. Those code names just stuck. We thought it had a nice ring to it, it’s short and it works in every language."
Any upcoming performances you are looking forward to?
"We are beyond excited to have DJ Fett Burger over on May 26, for an extended set – a mysterious DJ and producer we have been trying to book with Deep In House for years! Dutch household name in the business, Steffi, will grace our DJ booth in June and the after party of the La Cambre fashion show will be off the chain too!"
Will you close for the summer?
"We haven’t really figured out what we want to do in the summer yet. The doors will remain closed throughout August, but we might host a few small events with local DJs in July. Deep In House’s sixth birthday rave is coming up on July 7, so this requires the lion’s share of our attention. Unlike you might expect, we will not host it here at C12, as we don’t want to link the two names too much – but then again we have yet to confirm another location. More news very soon!"