Brussels’ suffering nightlife industry will finally receive much-needed financial support

Pictures by Annika Wallis


Last week, the Brussels government announced it will give specific aid to nightclubs. Brussels By Night Federation's Lorenzo Serra tells us what has been decided precisely.

In August, seasoned club veteran and Listen! Festival promoter Lorenzo Serra predicted an economic catastrophe amongst Brussels nightclubs. Fast forward to today, and things still aren’t looking great. After months of negotiations, the founder of the Brussels By Night Federation   - an advocacy group for the entire industry - finally has some good news to share. “There is an agreement! Clubs in Brussels will receive support”! But what about the details? In this update interview, we uncover the nitty-gritty.

So, what has been decided exactly?

“Last week, Brussels' local government decided it will give additional funds to nightclubs suffering during this lockdown. This will also be the case for bars, but as they were able to reopen for a large part of the summer (and as their fixed costs are - for the most part - comparatively lower) there will be a different kind of support".

Virtually all clubs in Brussels dealt with a revenue loss of over 70% compared to 2019.

“The city won’t give a fixed amount per nightclub. Instead, it will compensate for about 10% of the total income the club made in 2019, with a maximum amount of €100.000 depending on the organisation's size. Additionally, the benefits you receive depend on the number of people you employ. There is one major condition for your organisation to be eligible: you must be able to prove a loss of income of at least 70% in 2020".

What do we make of this? Is that a lot of money?

“In Brussels, that’s still peanuts compared to some other industries – but it’s a huge step in the right direction. At the moment, we have 26 clubs in the Brussels Capital Region, and apart from just one, they all dealt with a revenue loss of over 70% compared to 2019. Amongst these 26, you can find Bloody Louis, C12, Fuse, Jeux d’Hiver, Spirito, La Cabane, Mirano, Madame Moustache, Jalousy, MedHall Club, You Night Club, Zodiak, Nostalgia Club, NUA, Cactus, Club Clann, etc".

Why did it take so long for any specific support to come through?

“Before these decisions, there were no specific support mechanisms for nightclubs in place. Yes, they were able to receive benefits, but these were invariable amounts all businesses received regardless of their size. For most clubs, these benefits were nowhere near enough to keep a business afloat. Often the organisations involved are not easy to categorise under the "bar", the “club” or the "event" labels, as they mostly are a little bit of all. For example, Fuse pays a lot of rent every month, but they host a festival every year too. Their costs are simply much higher than the average dance bar. This made getting funds a bureaucratic hell”.

Before these measures, there were no specific support mechanisms for the nightclubs.

“One of the reasons why these actions took so long is that up until recently, nobody knew exactly how many nightclubs we have in this city. We don’t even have a real definition of a club. When does a bar stop being a bar, and when can it be categorised as a nightclub? The issue is that, unlike other big European cities, the industry never received any political attention here. There were never any advocacy groups like Brussels By Night Federation that represented and defended our interests. Not having updated numbers on this massive part of our economy slowed down the ability to help. As the Brussels By Night Federation, we have been working a lot to help visualise and register the local nightlife industry. We are also convincing local policymakers of the economic impact these organisations have on our city, both in employing people and attracting tourism. Last week, we saw the first fruits of our efforts”.

Are these measures enough to keep the industry safe for the coming months?

“They are enough for now, for about 80% of the clubs. For the big ones, this will not be enough. Most of the money will be swallowed up instantly by debts, and the judicial reorganisation processes (PRJ in French, ed.) will remain. However, these actions merely buy us some time. In a few months, many of them will find themselves in trouble again, so we need to anticipate that. Then again, I don't want to sound too negative. This decision is an amazing victory giving us a little more perspective, despite its imperfections".

This decision is an amazing victory giving us a little more perspective, despite its imperfections.

When you say imperfections, what do you mean by that exactly?

“As you remember, some nightclubs organised alternative events in the summer with all the right intentions. The general feeling was that doing something was better than doing nothing at all. No one made a lot of money from hosting these small-capacity corona-proof events, but in most cases, it helped to prevent a total financial collapse. Imagine these initiatives prevented you from losing more than 60% of your yearly income. This means you would be excluded from the current benefits (for which you need a loss of at least 70%). While in fact, we should be rewarding the organisations that have tried to make a bad situation better within the legal framework of what's allowed".

“In any case, 20% of the organisations we represent are currently battling against imminent bankruptcy, so we’re not in the clear. Even with this support, their debts will linger for a very long time. We will continue to advocate for more support of our industry”.

We also need to start the debate around the larger implications of closing the nightlife industry for over a year.

What’s the next step for saving our nightlife circuit?

"It might not be in our nature to do so, but we also need to start the debate around the larger implications of closing the nightlife industry for over a year. Once the lockdown is lifted, we might not even have much of a nightlife scene left. It's not only a question of money but also people. Even if you financially survive, how long are you willing to tolerate sitting at home waiting for things to get better? Many are thinking about their future, and many are looking for other careers".

"Additionally, we need to think about the physical spaces that will be vacant after clubs close down. These places will likely not continue to be a nightclub; chances are much higher they will be bought up and used for other purposes. In the end, we’re left with a smaller nightlife industry. That’s a new debate for the long term we need to be prepared for”.

"We cannot underestimate the societal and psychological impact closing down nightlife has on our younger generations. Where can they go to release the pressure that society puts on them? When our younger generations are not given any perspective, we’re destined to see their frustrations erupt in unexpected ways”.

Should we reopen clubs then?

“That’s not my decision to make. All I’m saying is that if we don’t, we must also prepare for the consequences, which we’re not doing at all. Some estimate clubs won’t be able to reopen normally until the end of 2022. That’s still a very long time, and quite frankly, I’m afraid they are right. As a society, we need to dare to ask ourselves: do we want a strong nightlife scene in our cities? Because if clubs are closed for over three years, customers and promoters will not simply come back. Many of us will have moved on. My advice would be to stop reacting on ad hoc developments and think about the future of our youth, our culture, our economy and our city”.

Some estimate clubs won’t be able to reopen normally until the end of 2022. Quite frankly, I’m afraid they are right.

Any final thoughts?

“I’m grateful we’re finally able to help our beloved nightlife industry. Yes, more should be done, but these are essential steps in the right direction. I know we are not the only ones suffering, but if no one takes a stand for our nightlife, we will continue to be left out of the conversation. It’s our duty to inform everyone of the necessity of a healthy nightlife industry".