We at Red Bull Elektropedia are proud to present our brand new documentary on the history of Brussels’ premier techno club, Fuse (click here to watch). Since its inception in 1994, this venue remained the leading nightclub for a fast growing community of techno and house fanatics in Belgium throughout the past decades. That was definitely not an easy task, as the documentary illustrates. Born in a time when the capital was regarded as the hinterland of the giant discotheques in Flanders, it’s interesting to see what preceded this episode. For the occasion, we invited an expert on the matter: Geert Sermon, who has been running the Dr. Vinyl record store on Place St Géry for more than 20 years now. What follows is an ode to Brussels; the place where nightlife always found a way to express itself, a place where different cultures party together, a place that celebrates art and music. From here, we let Sermon do the talking…
“Our capital is still dotted with reminders of an incredibly rich nightlife era that lasted for decades. I’m talking about memories of a time in which Brussels was full of theatres, neighborhood venues and discotheques. This place used to be a labyrinth of different entertainment options for rich and poor, embracing the night together. Brussels was bubbling, exciting and it didn’t play by the rules.
Throughout the late 40s, 50s and 60s, Brussels proved to be a true metropolitan city that marched on the rhythms of jazz, Latin, Afro, soul, funk and R&B. It was a real incubator for the arts, as countless neighborhood movie theatres spread across the city. From down-to-earth screenings to red carpet premieres, this city lived for entertainment.
However, the 70s proved to be a hard time for our capital. Crisis hit hard. The inner city went through a downwards spiral and its gold façade quickly turned uninspiringly grey. As the primary objective of the inhabitants slowly shifted towards making both ends meet, entertainment venues closed down one by one. To make matters worse, many theatres and cafés were destroyed altogether – making way for new buildings. Orchestra’s and live performances soon became an expensive affair and thus the role of the ‘Disc Jockey’ in the nightlife scene grew substantially. Imported sounds from all corners of the globe made their way to small venues in the city: from Soul Makossa to music that would turn out to be the first disco records. Brussels never stopped dancing - it survived - but it’s hard not to look back on this era of destruction with melancholy. Change was just behind the corner though…
The Brusseleirs never really cared much about skin colour or political and sexual orientation; there were bigger issues to deal with. This mind-set, combined with the large amount of vacant spaces, cheap rent and a chaotic urban centre proved to be the ultimate recipe to attract disgruntled artists and unearthed creatives from all around the world. Just like a Berlin avant la lettre, abandoned theatres, cinemas and discotheques became new music venues. A post punk attitude that was riding the New Wave quickly mingled with the fresh ‘post disco’ movement that was revered in these new clubs. Venues like Beursschouwburg and AB are two of the most famous examples of this era, but so are Plan K (in the picture below, Joy Division on stage - by Philippe Carly), Klacik, Circus, Arlequin and Le Disque Rouge. These were the first places on the continent where young bands like The Cure, Joy Division or U2 could present their music to a new crowd. Record labels quickly sprouted like mushrooms and being ‘underground’ was turned into a sport. Imprints like Crammed and the first versions of PIAS and Les Disques Du Crepuscule got their input from a massive wave of new inhabitants of the city. The world was going down, but Brussels managed to manoeuvre its way through this dark age with a strong art and music scene. All the ingredients for a typical, delicious Brussels-style stew were at hand.
In this roaring background of the 80s, two legendary nightlife venues took root. Both used to be old movie theatres; one in the colourful Marolles neighbourhood and one in the middle class European quarter. The former became known as ‘Le Disque Rouge’ or ‘Disco Rojo’, a nightclub where thousands of Spanish couples would meet each other for the first time. On certain nights, this would be the place where new wave fans could see their heroes Depeche Mode, DAF or Alan Vega perform live for the very first time. This combination of Spanish fury on the dancefloor and electronic exploration on stage turned out to be a surreal foretaste of what would happen decades later between these walls of Blaesstraat 208.
In 1981, on the other side of town, the prestigious Mirano movie theatre was transformed into a dance haven (complete with rotating dancefloor) for the city’s fanciest folk: ‘Mirano Continental’, as it would be named henceforth. ‘The Club 54 of the old continent’ aka the hippest of all discotheques of this era was located in Sint-Joost-Ten-Node, offering a wild mix of hyper infectious dance music. For the eclectic resident DJ Jean Claude Maury mixing New Wave with electronic disco or old French chansons was a common practice. One of the first famous Ibiza DJs, Alfredo, even mentioned him as his sole source of inspiration. Without realizing, Jean Claude is providing the soundtrack for the city’s 1988 Summer Of Love, only half a decade too soon. Gracias, JC.
When the New Beat fever hit the fan around 1987, the Brussels club crowd expanded its horizons to Flanders, where most of the country’s mega discotheques were located. With a location in the heart in a spider web of highways that can take you anywhere with a short drive, partying became a nationwide affair for the Brussels-based ravers, who often chose missions to Boccaccio, Carrera or Ancienne Belgique (the one in Antwerp, ed.). If you couldn’t manage to join these field trips to Ghent or Antwerp and if you got rejected by the Mirano bouncers for the hundredth time, there was always the temple of the New Beat: La Gaité (in picture below). Situated on the city’s busiest shopping street, this former (you guessed it) theatre was a nightclub where you could experience an exciting mix of New Beat, acid, New Wave and more, provided by the eccentric resident DJ Eric Beysens. The majority of later famous figures in the nightlife scene would first draw inspiration while wearing down their Dr Martens on this dancefloor. This was the cradle of the Brussels underground.
As the New Beat craze slowly came to a standstill, a large part of the local club crowd still preferred the never-ending opening hours of the house clubs up North. However, the gay scene rediscovered a love for Sunday clubbing at local bars and venues like Vaudeville and La Garage. During this time, Poltergeist, the country’s best house DJ, was headlining the first Brussels’ house music raves on locations like Place St Géry and the Central Station inspiring a new generation of club kids. But almost synchronically, a whole different scene emerges where underground acid, futuristic techno and ‘wave’ were the weapons of choice: the BWP Posse. D-Jack gradually emerged as the iconic spearhead of a gang of techno renegades. As if they were a Brussels version of Underground Resistance, BWP hosted notorious raves in the PK Studio, spawning other rebellious crews and creating or inspiring events like Neuroleptic, Network or Rave Explosion to rave the night away. Even though events like these soldiered on with pride in the underground circles, for many others it was a harsh realisation that Brussels wasn’t the nightlife capital it once was. But that situation was about to change…
In 1994, Le Disque Rouge undergoes a makeover and becomes ‘Fuse’. Both the regular club nights as the La Demence parties completely missed their start, but would soon become the staple of nightlife in Brussels. The young, but growing techno scene found refuge under this roof, while countless international legends rubbed shoulders with a solid resident DJ team. It took a while before the city learned to love this club. But when it did, it became a magnet for the party loving public. A proud city like Brussels deserved a club like this, a place that would inspire an unbelievable amount of young DJs, artists and promoters. Dancing the night away on cutting edge music was possible on sneakers again. Fuse was - and remains – a club for everyone. The circle was round again”.
Geert Sermon continues to manage the Doctor Vinyl record store in the heart of Brussels.
Curious to hear the rest of the story? Watch our documentary on the history of Fuse right here.