Back to the Golden Age: I Love Techno

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Founding father Peter Decuypere tells the complete story of the biggest techno event Belgium has ever seen.

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 captured the spirit of its 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 I Love Techno.

When Peter Decuypere and Kris Verleyen organized the first edition of I Love Techno at Ghent’s Vooruit in 1995, the world was a different place. Raving to techno was still considered a rebellious thing only degenerates and drug addicts do. It most certainly wasn't the kind of music you would expect on stage in a concert venue associated with rock music. However, Decuypere, who had just co-founded Fuse one year earlier, wasn’t the type to run away from a challenge.

In just five years, I Love Techno would evolve into the most significant indoor dance event Belgium has ever seen (think: 35.000 ravers spread across five rooms). The impact on the music scene was enormous, yet the massive rave slowly drifted away from its core values as the years went on. In 2014, the last edition Belgian edition took place (an offshoot still exists in Montpellier to this day). We turned on our webcam to speak with Decuypere about the rise and fall of the most rebellious Belgian techno rave in history.

In 1995, the general mindset towards techno events was still very negative.

Punch them in the face

Let's go back to 1995, a difficult time for dedicated techno event promoters. "The general mindset towards techno events was still very negative”, explains Decuypere. “In essence, the authorities, local governance, the general public and even music journalists felt that techno equalled bleeps, bloops and drugs”. Even within the venue itself, Decuypere’s team had to work with a dumbfounded production team. “Rock music concerts were the norm, especially at a famous venue like Vooruit. The roadies didn’t understand there were no guitars or microphones. I had to explain how a techno party worked”.

But even seasoned ravers had to adapt their expectations. “Techno nights didn’t start until after midnight, so we had a problem with Vooruit’s 5 AM curfew”, Decuypere remembers. The solution? Opening the doors at 7 PM already. “This turned out to be a great move because the room was ram-packed by 9 PM. People who wouldn't have been able to party into the night now had their first taste of a techno rave”.

In the end, DJs Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills and a duo called Daft Punk (all of whom were relatively unknown still) gave the 700 visitors the night of a lifetime; and I Love Techno was put on the map. “We wanted to punch everyone in the face - figuratively, of course”, Decuypere says. "That's what made us so popular". Yes, Ghent was an excellent strategic location for techno fans in the greater Franco-Belgian area; and yes, they booked talented acts that would later conquer the world; but in essence, the event’s success boils down to Decuypere’s unorthodox approach to event promotion.

When we started, my biggest dream was to host a rave with 20.000 people. Five years later, we hosted 35.000.

Even the name itself went against the grain at the time. "Techno promoters took themselves so seriously; the raves had to be dark and grimy. On the other hand, we embraced positivity and a name like ‘I Love Techno’ was so unheard of. Many people in the scene didn't understand why we used a heart icon in our name, but it proved to be a genius name. I loved it when they talked about us on the news, and you'd see some disgruntled police officer pronounce those three magic words (laughs)”.

After a sold-out fifth edition, the organization already had to look for bigger venues that could host a growing number of ravers. That’s when I Love Techno found a new home in Flanders Expo.

Heavy is the head the wears the crown

"I wasn't the only techno promoter back then, but the big advantage I had was that I still managed the bookings at Fuse”, Decuypere explains. “That gave me a great position, as I could offer smart package deals to DJs, offering two bookings at once". Unrestrained by only having a single main room now, the team could now book many more artists, drawing in even more fans.

Now comes the part where I Love Techno really picked up speed. “When we started, my biggest dream was to host a rave with 20.000 people”, Decuypere says. “Five years later, we celebrated the fifth anniversary with five rooms and 35.000 ravers. The craziest part? You couldn't find one mainstream artist on the lineup. For me, that was our most impressive achievement”. Amongst the DJs on the bill back then: Dave Clarke, Sven Väth, Stacey Pullen, Paul Van Dyk, Laurent Garnier, Yves Deruyter and Luke Slater. I Love Techno became a brand, a name on every European ravers’ lips.

I always start new projects, make them reach their potential, and then I give the keys to someone else because I want another challenge.

“I remember driving back home after an I love Techno Edition at 8 AM hearing I love Techno getting mentioned in the morning news on national radio. That felt like a confirmation; mission accomplished! Of course, they always ended the item mentioning how many people have been caught carrying drugs”. The thing about being the biggest in the game is that you're going to be used as an example for the rest. “It didn’t matter if the issue was security, drugs, noise restrictions or even temperature control; you knew that they were gonna check every little detail of your event”, Decuypere explains. It was the authorities’ way of warning the rest of the event scene they had their eyes on them. “After a while, this became very exhausting”.

The long way down

Decuypere has always been a restless entrepreneur. Both Fuse and I Love Techno were on top of their game when he sold his shares, five years down the line. “I always start new projects, make them reach their potential, and then I give the keys to someone else because I want another challenge. I’m always thinking: what’s next”? Decuypere set up new events and nightclubs afterwards, like the flopped Lust for Life night at Ghent’s Culture Club or the successful Fill Collins Club in Antwerp – but after a few years, he decided to pull the plug on event promotion entirely. “In the end, it was time for me to leave the floor for a new generation of promoters”, he says.

Under new management from 2001 onwards, I Love Techno kept drawing in around 30.000 ravers every event, and in 2011, a new yearly edition was set up in Montpellier, France. In many ways, the mega rave remained successful - until it wasn't. "I may have founded Fuse, but 20 years after I left, the club is still a solid and relevant force in the Belgian techno scene with exactly the same values; I’m proud of that”, Decuypere says. “It's a shame I can't say the same about I Love Techno”. 

Once I sold the event, I gradually saw our core values being set aside one by one.

“Once I sold the event, I gradually saw our core values being set aside one by one. At a certain point, actual techno was limited to just one (or maybe two) of the five rooms. The spirit had gone. It had become I Love Electro and I Love Dubstep. I don't have anything against other genres and other types of artists, but it just wasn't a match. I understand the commercial incentives to expand the lineup towards a broader and more diverse audience. Still, you don't have to be a specialist to know something's wrong when Steve Aoki and Crookers are headlining 'I Love Techno'. The techno community didn't feel at home there anymore”.

For over ten years, ravers from all over the globe kept coming by the thousands, masking the identity crisis underneath. But once the techno community gradually turned their back on the over-commercialized version of what once was their yearly pilgrimage, the problems became much clearer. The new promoters had gone all-in on the hype genres of the late 2000s and early 2010s, and it appears those choices severely damaged the reputation of I Love Techno. "I sold the event, so I know I shouldn’t complain, but I think my biggest regret is that I Love Techno never evolved into an event like Awakenings or Timewarp. Those events are still relevant today, and they’re very clearly all about techno”, Decuypere concludes.

The last edition of I Love Techno on Belgian soil took place in 2014. Conscious of its strategic mistakes of the past, the organization returned to a techno-focused lineup, but it was too late. 26.000 sold tickets may sound like a success, but it’s still a lot less than the 35.000 sold on editions in the heyday.

I Loved Techno

When asked what I Love Techno would look like if he were to run it today, Decuypere points to Rave Rebels, the Kompass-backed indoor rave at Palais 12 in Brussels. “They embraced the just-one-room-with-all-shades-of-techno idea and slapped an absolutely ridiculous production on it; I love it”.

The public conversation around big indoor dance events has finally changed.

All in all, the public conversation around big indoor dance events has changed – and I Love Techno might have dealt with a completely different environment had it been organized today. “Over time, I have to admit things changed for the better”, Decuypere says. “More and more people realized that young people also enjoyed dancing to techno without taking drugs. That took such a long time”.

Nowadays, Decuypere spends his time as a consultant, speaker, marketeer, tutor and writer in event management (he has published three books on the matter). Fuse remains relevant as ever, but it's only the memories of I Love Techno's good old days we have left.