Clubnights and activism go hand in hand on Nuits Sonores & European Lab Brussels

Pictures by Brice Robert


Music festivals rarely offer just music anymore. Especially in an urban context, there are opportunities to throw some debates, workshops and lectures in the mix. Enter Nuits Sonores & European Lab, which will take place between Thursday October 3 and Sunday October 6. Ever since the French festival touched down in Brussels, it looked far beyond just putting together a nice lineup. That’s not to say that the lineup looks bad; more than 40 eclectic artists will take over 8 different extraordinary venues across the capital. But there’s more. The festival dares to ask different questions by inviting activists, organisations, researchers, writers and philosophers that work on a better future for our society. To know how they do this exactly, we sat down with project manager Dorian Meeus. (PS: scroll down if you want to take part in our ticket contest!)

What's the backstory behind Nuits Sonores? It’s been running strong in France for a while now, right? Why did you decide to come to Brussels.

True. Nuits Sonores is like an institution in Lyon, France, and beyond (the next edition being the 18th anniversary). As an event taking place in the city, it poses an example to others; its strength and ability to appropriate spaces is a case in particular. Having nothing comparable in Brussels, the idea was to propose an innovating urban festival that can take account of local insights and culture.

So in which ways does this event differentiates from others?

Nuits Sonores and European Lab Brussels offer a large variety of live shows, DJ-sets, and debates. This blend is not very common in Belgium. We’ve got a right balance between an ambitious side programme and a more traditional nightlife approach. Another great strength of the festival is the exclusivity of its chosen locations. Throwing parties inside spaces like Be-Here, a completely empty Kanal Centre Pompidou or the whole Palais des Beaux-Arts is quite exceptional. We like to work with both alternative venues like LaVallée, Recyclart or C12; and prestigious institutions like BOZAR. We don’t really put any venue before the other, so that helps to make the visitor’s experience richer.

Our second night, The Loop, is an exciting challenge. On the Saturday October 5, Nuits Sonores teams up with Nuit Blanche, to highlight an entire neighbourhood, the canal area. This part of town had been left alone by the younger generation in Brussels for a long time, but now it’s experiencing a significant growth. Rallying local actors around a European project remains a high priority for us.

More than just being a place for music diffusion, festivals are a space where we build common sense and where we share our values.

Which criteria did you use to select the crews and artists you wanted to work with this edition? Which are your favorites?

By collaborating with HE4RTBROKEN, Recyclart, C12 and Culte Agency, we picked four great representatives of the alternative nightlife circuit: one promotor, one multidisciplinary space, one nightclub and one booking agency. These flag bearers are honest and passionate about what they do. They all boost the city they love. There are many other organisations we would have loved to work with but, yeah, you need to make a choice! By working with these people, we bring an added value to the original programming and to the whole Nuits Sonores Brussels experience. We’re all complementary. Finally, we also have the “Extra!” program, in which we collaborate with crews like Souk Sessions, Are We Europe, and many other activists we met over the last three years.

We have seen a fair share of events that add panel discussions and lectures to their program. Why do you think that this important?

We believe that, given the political, ecological and social context, these kind of initiatives are more important than ever. More than just being a place for music diffusion, festivals are a space where we build common sense and where we share our values. That’s why cultural actors do have an important role to play in fostering debates and making sure that’s reflected in their events.

Hosting panel discussions is a way for us to enhance this debate. It’s also a way to put new ideas which are shaping tomorrow’s world on display to everyone, especially young people. Through its lineup, the festival dares to raise questions. Inviting artists such as Jazar Crew means something. They express a message through their music, and having them on stage is a way to support and catalyse their philosophy. We also strongly believe that the urgency with issues like climate change or migration forces us to react and take a position on these topics. By inviting people who are very active on these subjects, we hope to play our part.

Is that what you mean with your slogan, ‘time to act’?

European Lab has always connected speakers from different horizons: artists, activists, researchers, philosophers, journalists and writers. Through their actions, in a sense, all of them are activists. We don’t just gather thinkers who live in a bubble, we actively want to promote activists who help to shape our future for the better. By inviting them, we want to emphasize the idea that it’s time to build alternatives to today’s society. 

We don’t just gather thinkers who live in a bubble, we actively want to promote activists who help to shape our future for the better.

So who have you invited?

The Extinction Rebellion collective, for example, are known for non-violently blocking bridges in the UK and all over Europe, to denounce the governments inactions toward climate issues. We’re happy to have Forensic Architecture on board too. This is a mind-blowing crew of researchers that use art and new technologies to denounce state crimes. They will be accompanied by a representative from Sea Watch, the NGO that is rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea every day. French philosopher Bernard Stiegler will also join us, as well as artist-researcher Bogomir Doringer, who will present his work around the ‘dance of urgency idea’, which means how dancefloor transforms themselves into a socio-political space, such as has been the case in Georgia or Palestine. Finally, we have invited Communa, an organisation that tackles the issue of transitory urbanism and unused space in cities. In Brussels, there is about 6.500 km² of unused space (the equivalent of the total surface of Ixelles). They aptly baptised it as ‘Saint-Vide Leegbeek’ aka ‘la 20ème Commune’.

In short, this edition is dedicated to all these people who are, on their own scales, acting to build a better society on a cultural, political and environmental level. They all help us to create collective awareness and mobilisation on these important topics.