Back to the Golden Age: Libertine Supersport

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Promoters Lorenzo Serra and Renaud Deru shine a light on the story of Libertine Supersport, an event that changed Brussels nightlife forever.

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 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 Libertine Supersport.

There are two sides to the Libertine Supersport story. At first glance, these were the glory nights of a generation, perfectly catching the zeitgeist during only two years of operation. From October 2009 to New Years's Eve 2012, the K-Nal became a nightclub that gave Brussels a Berlin-esque vibe, and it’s here the promoters of Libertine Supersport took refuge. It was an instant match; this is where you could see the best new artists just before they broke through. In short, it was the place to be

But behind the scenes, things were a little more complicated. “We were in so much pain”, recalls promoter Lorenzo Serra. “Every weekend, I dealt with the stress all event promotors are familiar with: where is everybody? Will people soon arrive? This stress has never left me.” “People assumed it was a hit... And in a sense, it really was”, remembers co-founder Renaud Deru aka DJ Cosy Mozzy. “I had the best weekends of my life, but come Tuesday and reality hit hard, like, where is the money? The truth is, during these two years, we never paid ourselves a salary.”

Dirty Dancing

But before we dig deeper, we have to go back to the early noughties when Deru and Serra met at the Mirano Club in Brussels. “I was organising ‘Rock needs more Electro Freaks’, the release party of the 2manydjs x LCD Soundsystem album”, remembers Deru. “And I was hosting the Future Pop nights at the Mirano”, adds Serra. “So you get the idea. We were both tired of minimal techno and wanted something more fun and glamourous.”

I had the best weekends of my life, but come Tuesday and reality hit hard, like, where is the money?

And so the Dirty Dancing events were born in 2003. The duo invited both techno freaks and indie rock fans, a novel idea at the time but not too far-fetched, given that electroclash, taking elements from both genres, was becoming the next big thing in electronic music. It was rock meets electro, underground meets mainstream, and upper class meets downtown Brussels. During the six years that would follow, Mirano was where clubbers and hipsters would dance hand in hand.

“Those were glory nights”, says Deru. “But by 2009, we were reaching the end of a cycle. For me, a club's true lifespan doesn’t last longer than six years. After that, people move on. Anyway, we also had an artistic disagreement with the owners, so the time was right to call it a day.” From these Dirty Dancing ashes, Libertine Supersport would rise to prominence.

I hate being bipolar. It's awesome

Was Libertine Supersport the follow-up of Dirty Dancing? Yes and no. Yes, because “without Dirty Dancing, there would have been no Libertine Supersport”, says Serra. No, because “the venue is the most important defining factor of a club night.” By changing the location to K-Nal, Libertine Supersport would offer an entirely new type of club night.

We wanted Libertine Supersport to be a bipolar venue. The two rooms needed to be each other's opposites.

The K-Nal was an abandoned warehouse along the Senne river near Tour et Taxis that a friend of the Deru and Serra had just bought. “He asked us if we could host parties there, and we were up for it”, says Serra. “The venue had real potential, we thought this could be our Lux (a famous nightclub in Lisbon, ed.) or our Watergate (an even more famous nightclub in Berlin, ed.), but we had to give the place a new identity. At the time, this area of Brussels was not getting much attention from the city or developers, and it didn't have the best reputation. So we were on our own.”

First things first. While Mirano was glamorous, K-Nal, being an old warehouse, was the opposite. “From the beginning, we said: it's a bipolar venue. There are two rooms, upstairs and downstairs, and they needed to be each other's opposites. So we painted the upstairs room flashy red, added some comfortable couches, and installed a massive mirrorball. It was the perfect look for a disco night. This was the Libertine. But downstairs, the room was dark green, with a red LED line in the back as the only source of light, perfectly suitable for a rougher sound. This was the Supersport. Two rooms, two sides, two names.”

While, musically speaking, the concept was similar to that of Dirty Dancing (the dynamic crossover between electronic music and rock, by now well-established), Deru and Serra surrounded themselves with a brand new team. Christoph Nagel joined them as artistic director and became the club's face, starring in funny video clips to promote the events. “We didn't use any flyers in our communication, but we gave carte blanche to these kids we met at Vert Pop Festival. They had just founded Full Tunes Production, and we were their first clients. They made these scripted videos that went incredibly viral. It was the only promotion we needed.”

Younger and rougher

Another idea to further improve the club’s identity and community in the K-Nal was the high-fidelity card that guaranteed free entry to the club, as long as you come every weekend. Skip a week, and you’ll have to pay a new entry fee. It worked pretty well. During the entire first year, the club was packed every night. People came from all over Belgium, and the queues outside became longer and longer. The nights became even more legendary after Libertine Supersport was voted Best European Club in 2010 by French dance magazine TRAX.”

During the entire first year, the club was packed every night.

“One thing I'm proud of is that we were often the first promoters to book certain artists who would later become huge”, remembers Deru. “I remember inviting Maceo Plex for less than €1000. We hosted the very first gig of Gesaffelstein. He was so nervous that he smoked 43 cigarettes in just ten minutes before going onstage. We had to calm the man down (laughs). And then, there was Nicolas Jaar playing after just releasing his debut album. That was massive”!

But while everything seemed to go as planned, new problems were around the corner. “To be honest, we wanted to bring the whole Mirano crowd to the K-Nal, but that didn't happen”, says Deru. “The upper class stayed uptown and proved very reluctant to come to this area of town; we didn't get the desired social balance we had with Dirty Dancing. Libertine Supersport was rougher, and we lost the glamorous side.”

“Brussels is a complicated city”, adds Serra. “There's this persistent idea that when you cross the canal, you're in another city. We had some parking problems too. Many people stopped coming because their cars got vandalised or broken into. Remember that this was long before Uber existed, and no one was taking their bike to the club back then. The area’s reputation proved to be a tough hurdle. I think we just were ten years early. In the end, the Libertine Supersport visitors were mostly young and Flemish. So we had a hard time creating the desired club culture at K-Nal, but somehow, we still managed to do it. Those who were there still have fond memories of these nights.”

From Libertine to Listen!

Still, after a brilliant opening year, sh*t hit the fan. It started with the second season's opening, at the end of 2011, which happened during the snowiest winter on record since 1907. “I will never forget it”, recalls Serra. “It snowed non-stop for three weeks in a row. Belgians simply stay at home when we get winter scenes like that. One more of those weekends, and we would go bankrupt. We needed at least 1000 visitors per evening, but on these snowy nights, we would not get more than 100”!

Nightlife is hard work, and you know what you sign up for.

Moreover, the club didn't make any money. “We made huge investments that had to be reimbursed. After paying the team, we had fallen to zero. At one point, the cash flow problem became an artistic problem. “How much is this DJ? 6500? We can't afford it.” “It just wasn’t possible to continue like this”, says Deru.

At the end of 2011, the dice were thrown. After a final huge New Year's Eve night with Brodinski, Gesaffelstein and Agoria, K-Nal closed its doors. While Deru left the ship, Serra teamed up with Ghent's Dirk De Ruyck to keep it afloat. “We relaunched Libertine Supersport as an event once a month, each time in a different place in Brussels”, says Serra. “And which place is better to start than Mirano?”

Libertine Supersport survived for a few more years like this, “but the idea, since the beginning, was to keep the community active with a new festival in mind - Listen! Festival.” The first edition took place in April 2016, just a couple of weeks after the Brussels terrorist attacks of March 22. “Don't get me started on this”, says Serra. “Nightlife is hard work, and you know what you sign up for. But your highs are so intense, and it always makes you want to keep going, whatever the cost. You just don't want it to stop.”