With Club Focus, we guide the spotlights on to some of the nation’s most interesting dancefloors. Whether they focus on house, techno, hip-hop or all of them – a good nightclub is rated not on genres, but on the quality of the clubbing experience it offers the regulars as well as the first timers. A meticulously placed soundsystem, a consistently strong programming and thoughtful interior design are just a few of the things that help to bring in crowds every weekend, building not only a dedicated clientele, but a solid reputation as well.
For the fourth instalment of this series, we’re heading to the Diamond City once again. It’s in this town big clubs like Ampere and Café d’Anvers may be hauling in the big crowds every weekend, but for the techno and tech house heads that know, there’s a lovely alternative hidden in a basement around the ‘Eilandje’ district. Since its inception two years ago, Lennert Luypaert and Antoine De Brabandere (joined by Jochem Peeters since this summer) have successfully managed to construct a cosy club with a banging sound, impressive interior design and above all, a faithful clientele. If they took home the gold medal in the ‘Best Club’ category at the 2016 Red Bull Elektropedia Awards, they are doing something right. We went to pay these gentlemen a visit, right when the preparations for the new season were in full swing.
Seems like last year was the definite breakthrough for Club Vaag. How is business this summer?
"Great! Even though there wasn’t really time for a break. Next to staying open every weekend, we have been managing the summer pop-up open air bar, Jardim, right across the street. Besides this we have been preparing everything for the upcoming season as well., and that’s not even counting all the stages we have hosted on the summer festivals: Extrema Outdoor, WECANDANCE, Laundry Day, etc."
How did you end up in this venue?
"We were doing some parties at Strantwerpen two years ago, which were running really well. Then we got approached by Shrimptempura with the offer of managing this club. Things went very fast from there on: one month and a half later we opened the doors of Club Vaag! This venue used to be another club before we arrived (Roxy, ed.) so we gave it a complete makeover."
What else do you guys manage on a daily basis besides Club Vaag?
"We also do the artistic direction of De Shop, Jardim and the brand new Bar Helder! This place is actually quite cool, being located on the first floor with wide windows and a round dancefloor. We will keep this venue leaning more towards the soulful house and disco sounds, so we can keep the techno and tech house at Club Vaag, where these genres work best. The good thing about all of these venues is that they are all located right next to each other."
What do you reckon are the premier qualities of this venue?
"We are a small venue with the perfect capacity. Even with a relatively low turnout we are still able to create a great atmosphere. Additionally, our sound system is top notch of course. Stimming even told us it was the best system he ever played on! This Funktion One set-up has been a major contribution to the club experience of our patrons. Combined with our stellar light installations and a relaxed door policy, this club can offer a great night out for everyone."
Do you work with residents or regular concepts?
"Up until now we only worked with external concepts, which relieved us of a lot of promo work and it got our name spread amongst the club crowd more easily. But that is about to change this season. We’ll host at least 2 nights ourselves every month and we adopted a few new residents, like the established DC Salas and the talented Dimitri Delava amongst others. Trusted event partners like Neonite, Klank, Goesting, Wonderbos, Tell No One, High On House, Hmewrk and Dienstag will all be present in the coming year too."
Which DJs are on top of your wish list?
"Definitely DJ Koze, Kink, Ame, Henrik Schwarz, The Black Madonna (especially for Bar Helder), ... Those would be a delight to have over!"
With the closure and inception of a lot of venues and clubs in the last few years, the nightlife scene in Antwerp is going through a transformation. Do you feel like there’s more competition in this city now?
"Well, that is certainly true for clubs with a bigger capacity – so in a way it’s a big plus we don’t have to play in the same league as them. We never really focused on big, crowd-pulling names – we prefer to highlight the intimate vibe in our club, keeping it affordable in the process. A big venue could never really do that if they want to keep people coming in by the hundreds every weekend. But in the end there’s just a very healthy club scene in our opinion. Competition just strengthens the scene as a whole – so that’s beneficial for us too."
Why the name ‘Vaag’? A reference to people’s condition when they go out here?
"There were a few names that we thought about, but with Club Vaag it just felt right. And yes, the connotation you point out is a happy coincidence. Now that we have Bar ‘Helder’ it’s kind of an unexpected ying and yang (laughs)."
What have been your best night here so far?
"There are a few that come to mind. Having Jeff Mills over in our small venue was legendary. But then there also was Moodymann - for the Paradise City Preparty - with Konstantin Sibold, who we booked again for this year. Finally we have to mention the ‘Vage Nachten’, in which we asked everyone to dress up, while we decorated the whole place in a specific theme. These nights add an extraordinary vibe, so we’re definitely planning on doing more of those."
What are your goals for the club for the future?
"We want to continue to be an interesting option for a whole array of different people. We never aim for just one crowd. Staying innovative so people can experience new things here is our primary goal. A few of the ways we can reach this is by staying innovative with our light- and sound installation, keep working with a lot of different promoters and by giving chances to new and local talent. Our general image is good now, but we’ll have to work hard to keep it this way. Club crowds will always look for the next new thing, so our biggest challenge is to keep people coming through our doors."
Which forthcoming nights are you looking forward to the most?
"Our second anniversary weekend on October 13 and 14 with Midland (amongst others) will be a very special one. But before that, on October 6, we launch a new concept called ‘Curio’, with Marco Bailey and our new resident Bec (who is signed on Pan Pot’s Second State). And finally we can’t wait to tell you what we got in store for you at Bar Helder…"
Keep an eye on Club Vaag's Facebook page to keep track of their activities. Curious about that Bar Helder they keep talking about? Head over to its Facebook page and have a look at what the fuss is about.