With Club Focus, we put the spotlights on some of the nation’s most interesting dancefloors. Whether they focus on house, techno, hip-hop or all of them – a good nightclub is not rated on genres, but on the quality of the clubbing experience it offers the regulars as well as the first timers. A meticulously placed sound system, a consistently strong programming and a thoughtful interior design are just a few of the things that guarantee to bring in crowds every weekend, which helps them to build a dedicated clientele and, most importantly, a solid reputation.
To be honest, a focus on Kompass is long overdue. This massive dark warehouse with multiple rooms took the Belgian club scene by storm 3 years ago. With its giant industrial allure, overwhelming soundsystem and bohemian atmosphere, this venue wouldn’t feel out of place in Berlin or Moscow; but we are in the outskirts of Ghent. Every weekend, owner Jens Grieten and his team consistently book the crème of the international house and techno DJ circuit, making sure thousands pass through its doors on a weekly basis. In the last 6 months alone, artists like Richie Hawtin, Laurent Garnier, Ricardo Vallalobos, Pan-Pot, Chris Liebing and Boys Noize are just a snapshot of the total amount that came through. Unfortunately, the club has been in the midst of political controversy lately. But determined to look at things from the bright side while the 3rd anniversary coming closer, Grieten was eager to get in front of our camera to tell the story of Kompass from his perspective.
What ran through your mind when you entered this space for the very first time?
I was perplexed. An old chemical factory that had been abandoned for such a long time? That looks beautiful to me. Immediately, I knew what kind of potential this place had.
So did you have an idea of what exactly you wanted to do with this space straight away?
In those first weeks, we gradually decided which rooms would be suitable for a soundsystem and which ones would serve other functions. That said, it took us a while for all the pieces to fall into place. We had to make adaptations to the acoustics or change plans entirely in order to maximize the potential of this place.
Where did you get the inspiration for a club like Kompass?
You might assume it was Berlin, but even though I’ve spent a lot of time over there, it’s not where most of my ideas came from. My inspiration came from our own Belgian nightlife history. The country is still dotted with old discotheques from a golden era of clubbing in the early 90s. A lot of nightclubs back then erupted in abandoned warehouses and most promoters had a keen eye for design. It was a time where young people were rebellious, so a lot of interesting people would come together and rave in a warehouse to express themselves. That was my main draw of inspiration for Kompass.
It's not a matter of growing in size. Kompass can still grow horizontally by booking more diverse artists.
A club like this has to draw in large crowds, day in day out, in order to pay the bills. How do you cope with that kind of pressure?
For us it’s a matter of keeping this fresh and interesting for everybody. There’s a balance you have to keep between booking new acts that are yet to be discovered by a major audience and acts that have already built a large fanbase. We always try to have a little bit of both on the same weekend. You need some names that sell tickets, yes. But if you play it safe every weekend by exclusively booking big acts, your patrons will never discover new artists and that will eventually come back to haunt you one day. Other than that, giving local DJ’s a slot before or after a major act also strengthens the Belgian scene. Like I said, there needs to be a balance.
Have there been moments when you wanted to throw in the towel?
Plenty! One story stands out. Back when we were still building the venue before it opened, we discovered a hidden septic tank that was filled to the brim with faeces, waste and sand. The whole thing must have been sealed shut for years, decades maybe… Of course, there was only one way to clear the whole thing out: a soup spoon, because a shovel didn’t work because it wouldn’t fit. I can guarantee. After days on my knees scooping out fermenting excrement, you will never look at a soup spoon the same way…
Why did you decide to open a club of this magnitude in Ghent?
That’s because we like the people here. Folk over here tend to really know how to have a proper night out with respect for each other. Most of the times it’s Brussels or Antwerp that get a place in the spotlights, but Ghent still lacked a real home for underground electronic music. So we felt like there was a space to fill.
Where do most patrons of Kompass actually come from?
On the one hand it’s very local, on the other it’s quite international. About 30 to 40% of our sales are from foreign visitors. People sometimes come from all different corners of the globe to get here. That’s what we hoped to achieve when we started this project. We wanted to put Ghent on the international electronic music map.
If you reel in thousands of people every weekend, do you believe there is still space for you to grow?
I don’t think it’s a matter of growing in size. Rather, we want to grow in different kinds of directions. A first example of that strategy is Bonobo on June 1: we want to be more than just a techno nightclub; we plan to book more interesting electronic acts for evening performances down the line. In that sense, we can still grow horizontally: booking more diverse artists – and those will remain plentiful, I’m sure.