Back to the Golden Age: Forma T

Pictures by Kemizz

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Promoters Mathieu Fonsny and Olivier Leidgens share the untold story of one of Belgium's most exciting parties in our electronic history.

Sometimes a nightlife event breaks out of its niche and influences a whole generation of party-goers across the board. From humble beginnings to astronomical attendance numbers, some events perfectly capture the spirit of their time. In this new series, we take a look at the reasons why some of these parties became so impactful, why the story ended and what we can learn from their experiences. Today, we tell the story of Forma T.

Liège is known as la cité ardente, the fiery city. When collective Forma T organized events throughout the city, that nickname became even more fitting. During these eleven years – between 2005 and 2016 – Forma T (consisting of Mathieu Fonsny, Olivier Leidgens and Catherine Blaise) put Liège on the Belgian nightlife map. The fire even got so big you could see it pop up throughout Europe. But, funnily enough, the story of Liège's hottest nightlife event started in… Paris.

“I was studying journalism, and I did an internship at Les Inrockuptibles (an established music magazine, ed.) in Paris”, says Mathieu Fonsny. “It was supposed to last three months, but I ended up staying there for about a year. I was 23 years old, and I was on the guestlist for almost every event, so I just went clubbing every weekend. It was the time of Rex Club and the Pulp and Panic parties. I met many people who were active in the Parisian nightlife scene and among them, a guy called Pedro Winter who was about to launch a music label called Ed Banger (an iconic and hugely influential record label and event, ed)."

Forma T broke the genre boundaries and got all these different people together on the same dancefloor.

Back in Liège, Mathieu teamed up with his girlfriend at the time, Catherine, and childhood mate Olivier to organize a new concept. Liège wasn’t exactly a virgin when it came to nightlife. Back in the '80s, La Chapelle was the place to be for EBM and synth-wave bands. During the '90s, L'Escalier and Soundstation took over for rock and indie fans. In the '00s, “things were moving, but it was all very segmented. You had the electroclash events and the drum ‘n’ bass events, while most of the hip-hop and the rock scene gathered at Jaune Orange. For us, Forma T had to break these boundaries and get all these people together on the same dancefloor."

Forma T wasn’t supposed to be a club night either. The crew wanted to go all over Liège and invade every kind of space, especially those not meant to welcome parties. That's how they ended up in classified buildings like the Société Littéraire, for instance, a real fancy place filled with sacred books. The third ingredient in the Forma T mix had to do with the imagery. The crew wanted lots of bold and warm colours, (almost) all the flyers were designed by Rvo from the Party Harders collective. Another trait they shared with Ed Banger.

Let's have boulet-frites

And so the first Forma T event was held on March 6 2005, at Soundstation, with just 250 visitors. On the line-up, some of Fonsny’s Parisian friends, like DJ Mehdi (R.I.P., ed.) and a young duo called Justice. But that was just the beginning. A few months later, 500 people showed up for Boys Noize at La Société Littéraire. By the third anniversary, they sold 1500 tickets for Erol Alkan, and one year later, 5000 people came to see Calvin Harris (“before he became an EDM superstar!") at the Hall des Foires. After that, things started going well, and everything fell into place naturally.

“We were just throwing parties we wanted to visit ourselves”, says Olivier Leidgens. “We did some great things, but only because we didn't overthink what we were doing. It was all very spontaneous." "It gave the nights authenticity", adds Fonsny. “We were also the first to party until 6 AM and keep going."

Artists who came to perform felt too that something special was happening. When they got back home to Paris, Berlin or London, they talked to their friends, and the word spread like wildfire. “You have to go to Liège and need to have boulet-frites! It will be the best night of your life! People go crazy over there”, recalls Leidgens. “To be honest, the first five years were a total freestyle! I guess that was part of the vibe”. Fonsny continues: “We managed to put Liège on the map for these artists. They soon realized how it works over here, and it suited them. You know, there are no fixed rules, and in some weird way, everything just made sense."

From Monday to Friday, the team would cross the country to put flyers and posters in the toilets of every bar they could find.

Maybe, the biggest night of all was when Justice – who, by 2009, had become world-famous – played a surprise set at the old post office, a huge abandoned building. “The poster was just a picture of Kinder Surprise”, says Fonsny. “Nobody knew who would perform, but yet the place was packed, and people without a ticket would climb on the roof to see who the surprise guest was. That was a scary moment. It was the only time I felt there was a risk of things getting out of hand".

The French Connection

In the meantime, word had spread well beyond the city. From Monday to Friday, the team would cross the whole country to put flyers and posters in the toilets of every bar they could find. “We had a road map”, explains Fonsny. “One day we would go to Hasselt, Leuven and Antwerp, the next one we’d drive to Namur, Brussels and Charleroi - and even to Lille." As a result, party people would come from all over the place, and some even made it from Paris.

As Paris went to Liège, Liège was about to go to Paris too. “At one point, thanks to our local connections, we were invited to organize events at the Social Club (a popular nightclub back then, ed.) once every month”, says Fonsny. “And we threw events at Fuse too. So every month, we had three parties: one in Liège, one in Paris, and one in Brussels." Forma T also hosted a stage at Dour Festival and a night just at Barcelona’s Sonar Festival. Not much later, a record label was launched “as an extension of what we were doing”, Fonsny adds. “We already booked artists we liked, so why not release their music too?" 

You don't deal with 2000 people the same way you deal with 200. At the same time, we also had a regular day job.

But as the nights got bigger, the team got increasingly tired. “It had become a heavy weight to carry. You don't deal with 2000 people the same way you deal with 200”, says Leidgens. The budget for each event was about €13K. At the same time, we also had a regular day job." "By the time we all reached 30 years of age, we didn't have the same energy”, adds Fonsny. Additionally, Forma T became intrinsically tied to the second wave of the French Touch sound Ed Banger became famous for. By the mid-2010s, this style was slowly losing popularity, posing a challenge the promoters didn’t want to take on anymore.

The last dance

Still, the team tried to keep up, and Forma T even experienced a short second spell of successful events in 2015-2016. “We booked James Blake for a night in Brussels, then Mark Ronson and Diplo. After that, we connected with a younger generation of promoters, and we launched Cartel, a Forma T dubstep spin-off. This wasn’t our smartest move, as we felt a bit disconnected with that whole scene. We did organize the first shows of Skrillex in Belgium, at Fuse and Bloody Louis no less. But that was about it. We felt we were reaching the end of the road".

Things had changed. Leidgens had taken on a job for Les Francofolies of Spa, while Fonsny became the booker for Dour Festival and Le Cadran, a nightclub in Liège that closed its doors in 2019. In many ways, this club had become an extension of Forma T, hosting nights with Nicolas Jaar, Carl Cox and many other big industry names. The club continued to throw yearly Forma T anniversary nights until 2018 when the plug was pulled indefinitely.

What's left of these fiery nights today? “A lot of friendships and connections, we’re really not into nostalgia”, Leidgens jokes. “I was talking to Tom Brus, the promoter of the Brussels techno club C12, the other day”, says Fonsny. “We're working together on a different project, and he told me everything began at a Forma T event for him. Upon hearing Benga and Jack Bear play at our party, he knew he wanted to do this for a living. I won't lie, that felt pretty good to hear"!