A safer space for experimentalism: Leaving Living Dakota

Pictures by Fotopia.be

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Quite clearly one of the capital's most exciting alternative club nights in the game, hosting a special Valentine's rave this Friday.

Brussels is alive. These days, the city boasts a large pool of hard-working artists, promoters and a reasonably supportive local government. Other than the well-known dancefloors such as Fuse, C12 and La Cabanne, our capital counts numerous small collectives who spice up the city. Leaving Living Dakota is one of them; the curatorial and DJ group organizes parties, exhibitions and concerts. By creating an alternative exchange and meeting place around art and music, they build both a precious community and a powerful platform. Meet Seelik (Golce Dabbana) and Celia (Wu-Tangu), the leading figures behind Leaving Living Dakota.

Could you shortly introduce yourselves and tell us how you got started?

Celia: “About two years ago, I arrived in Brussels to study. I immediately fell in love with the city; but at the same time, I felt the city was short of alternative parties and independent exhibitions. There are numerous artists and art schools, but there was hardly an alternative art circuit. It needed more places where artists and students can connect and party together”.

Seelik: “One of the reasons I came to Brussels was a residency at La Brasserie Atlas (one of the last remaining vacant brewery buildings in Brussels where the first Leaving Living Dakota events took place, ed.). I was studying at the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts, where I connected with Celia again - we had known each other before, in Switzerland. We both felt the same urge to organize parties and exhibitions, and our first target was La Brasserie Atlas. In March 2017, we organized the first Leaving Living Dakota exhibition there, called Lampada”.

We want our parties to be a safer space for everyone, regardless of their background, race or sexual orientation.

Celia: “As we both aren’t native here, we wanted to avoid a colonial mentality in our concepts. That’s why we invited collectives from abroad to collaborate with local artists exploring similar topics. This international connection is essential to us; that's why we refer to it in our name – Leaving Living Dakota - the international collective leaves its place to set up an event here. We organize three to four exhibitions a year, and at the end, we host a big party”.

Seelik: “We also throw monthly parties separately from our exhibitions under the Living Dakota banner too. The exhibitions demand a considerable investment of time and money, so these parties form a source of revenue for Leaving Living Dakota”.

Leaving Living Dakota is not the only collective setting up parties and exhibitions in Brussels. How do you differentiate from the rest?

Seelik: “First of all, we team up with Decoratelier in Molenbeek. They have an old cardboard factory in which their team builds a different scenography for each night. We also invite the neighbourhood to our parties; young people don't even have to pay the entrance fee. By doing this, we attract people who don’t usually go out. They blend in perfectly with the art students and the LGBTQI+ community. That said, we don’t label our parties as ‘queer events’, as we want everyone to feel welcome. We mustn't label anyone as either a man or a woman. Small details, like gender-neutral toilets, make our queer community feel at ease. Besides that, we make sure that our guests are respectful and take care of each other. We want our parties to be a safer space for everyone, regardless of their background, race or sexual orientation. Finally, we always charge only €5, no matter how big or small the DJs are that night”.

Is it difficult to safeguard this open-mindedness at your parties?

Celia: “We admit that it’s not always easy, and it requires a lot of work. We are open for feedback from anyone, and we're in continuous dialogue with similar collectives in other countries. In the end, we all strive for the same thing: creating a space of freedom, relief and acceptance for everybody”. 

We don't have bouncers, we have welcomers.

Let's talk about music. The monthly LDD show on The Word Radio showcases many different genres – from ambient, hip hop and soul to house, techno and gabber. Similarly, the lineups on your events take the word eclecticism to another level.

Celia: “We aim to provide a varied program over the night. A monotonous lineup is to be avoided at all costs. We always include Belgian DJs too. It’s incredible how many good artists you have around here. This inspired us to organize the 'Belgium Love Edition' parties, which have a completely Belgian lineup from A to Z”.

By hosting a party at C12 in October, you stepped out of your comfort zone. Are you planning on hosting nights in clubs more often?

Celia: “Working with C12 allowed us to book artists we otherwise wouldn't be able to. That said, we have to admit we were a little concerned beforehand. It was the first time we did a party in a venue with mixed toilets. We also had to check and adjust the venue’s security policy. At Decoratelier, we don’t have bouncers; we have welcomers. Another potential issue was C12’s incredibly central location. Big clubs like that in a city centre can attract random people without knowing what Leaving Living Dakota is all about. We can’t repeat enough how crucial it is for us to create an utterly unruly haven for our audience, without the judging eye of the mainly white heteronormative society. In the end, the evening turned out to be an amazing experience for everyone. We might do a yearly event there”.

What else is in the pipeline for 2020?

Celia: “2020 will be the busiest year for us so far. We’ve planned three exhibitions and a couple of smaller parties, the first of which will take place at Decoratelier on Friday February 14. We’ll do a couple more after that one, but chances are we will be moving into unknown territories soon. As the venue is gaining a more solid reputation, they get more and more requests from other promoters”.

Seelik: “In 2020, we will also organize some events abroad. There are many collectives we would like to collaborate with this year. Some of them invited us to set up parties in their cities, such as Berlin, Lisbon, Paris, Amsterdam and even Reykjavik”.