The list of big clubs in Belgium that draw in large crowds on a weekly basis is not very long, especially if you don’t count in the largely techno-minded venues. When it comes to hip hop, Bloody Louis rules the capital. Four years after its inception in the basement of the Louise Gallery, co-founder Jon Tyler successfully fought an uphill battle against the scepticism he and his team had to deal with from the start. Looking back now, it’s safe to say there’s no other club in this country with a list of previously booked artists as remarkable as theirs. For this occasion, they invited the current Belgian rap king Damso for an exclusive club performance on October 20. In anticipation of this legendary night, we paid a little visit to Tyler, pondering over his lessons learned as a promoter over these last four bloody years.
Hi Jon, how has the summer been for you?
"Summer has been great. We had a crazy closing month with guys like Wizkid and Travis Scott - and two weeks after that we had a perfect weekend at the beach with the WECANDANCE team. Now we're back in Brussels, working on this Bloody Season 5!"
What sets Bloody Louis apart from other venues in Brussels and Belgium?
"I can write a book about that, but let’s just stick to some facts. I don’t think there is a club in Belgium that hosted as many high profile artists in four years, from Diplo and Future, to The Martinez Brothers and MHD, to Ciara and Henrik Schwarz, to Damso and Drake! (laughs) The list is long and we’re only just warming up for the good years to come. To me that’s a pretty big difference. Additionally, we’re able to attract around a thousand people on regular club nights with just our residents."
The story of how you turned this club from a cursed place nobody wanted to be a part of, into possibly the hottest club in the country is well known. Looking back on the beginning of Bloody Louis, are you happy with the way things grew? Are there things you would have done differently?
"We started the club with a lot of deep house and tech house nights. I love that music, but a lot of guys in that scene weren’t happy that we hosted urban nights on the same weekend. Many of them couldn’t understand that we love hip hop AND house. This was a big disappointment to me. Some people love to find a way to criticize what other people do, while they’re not doing anything for the scene themselves. Urban music fans, in my opinion, care a lot less about these things – they are much more open minded about that. So in the end we started to lean more and more towards that urban side. Of course we still do some house nights, but a lot less than before."
Have there been times when it was hard for you to continue or to stay motivated?
"Motivation was never a problem, but accepting the harsh mentality and injustice of this nightlife game has been really hard for me at times. Often it’s hard to keep my mouth shut, but I’m working on that! (laughs)"
Being the creative director for a big club like this, you have to take into account the names that will bring in the most people. Yet, at the same time, you book a lot of credible DJs and artists that are not necessarily the biggest cash machines. I can imagine it’s a fine balancing exercise between both?
"It’s a lot of work. I’m doing these choices with my friend Ritchie Santos. He knows more about artists than I do. Together we make the right choices."
Aha, Ritchie – we wanted to ask you something about him too. He and Simon LeSaint are DJs whose careers are intrinsically linked with Bloody Louis. How important are the residents for the club?
"I wish I could have at least one of them on every club night we have, but that’s not easy. Ritchie is touring all the time with Damso and Simon LeSaint is in the studio, working on his album, as well as DJ-ing around and producing for other artists. To me both of them represent the perfect balance between two generations of artists."
What has been one of your most memorable moments so far in this place?
"March 1, when Aubrey Graham aka Drake arrived in Bloody Louis to have a little party after his concert at Sportpaleis. He said he loved the club, he jumped on the DJ-booth and he started to perform in front of a sold-out venue. Dreams can come true."
How do you feel about the club scene at the moment? What has changed since you began the Bloody Louis story?
"In 4 years I’ve seen a lot of people trying to work in this business, only to throw in the towel really quick. It has become harder than it used to be - you need to be able to give the crowd a lot more than before. People do care about the details. This wasn’t exactly the case when I started as a promotor seven years ago."
To us it seems like Damso is the perfect artist to celebrate four years of Bloody Louis with. Was he on top of your list for this night?
"We are Bruxelles Vie, there’s no one else we wanted to have to celebrate our anniversary. He’s a friend of the club and we’re all proud to have him that night!"
Never thought about starting a new club elsewhere?
"I’m happy with the current situation and to be honest, I don’t want to lose my focus on this club."
Together with the Atmosphere Architects team, you started Fire Is Gold, which had its first festival in May. Do you feel like hip hop needed its own festival like that in Belgium? Are you looking forward to the next edition?
"Looking forward is an understatement! I can’t wait to announce our second edition. Belgium really needed an urban festival like that. We are not where we want to be yet, but I can promise we’re working hard to improve this festival."
Are there still challenges ahead of you that you want to take on?
"A lot! Some in the nightlife and events world, others in completely different categories."
What does the upcoming season look like for Bloody Louis? What kind of DJs and acts can we expect to pass by?
"For this fifth season we decided to work a lot more on our concepts, making sure they can last comfortably over the years to come. We will keep you posted about the forthcoming artists… And there’s many of them!"
Join Bloody Louis' fourth anniversary on Friday, October 20, with Damso, Ritchie Santos and Simon LeSaint. More info? Click here.