You may have noticed some hype passing down your newsfeed about a brand new venue in Antwerp coming soon. “Wait, another nightclub in Antwerp?”, you say? Yes, we can confirm it’s true. “But keep in mind nightlife is only one of many facets Meatpack will cater to”, co-operator Nelson Donck assures us over email beforehand. With an opening weekend coming up next week, he has secured our undivided attention.
It’s an early and grey Friday morning when we’re waiting in front of an unsuspected warehouse in the ‘Dam’ district: an area that’s tucked away between Park Spoor Noord and the harbour and which has only recently become the target of redevelopment investors. The neighbouring ‘Slachthuissite’ (a neighbourhood that got its name because of its former fame as a meatpacking district) probably helped getting this venue its name. A smiling Nelson Donck opens the door for us and confirms our guess. He immediately invites us in for sneak peek, while the preparations for the opening weekend are in full swing. For the moment, nothing suggests this place might become a new creative crossroads in town – but once inside we can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed. Even though there’s half a dozen workmen going about their business, a massive white hall and a big wooden structure – apparently reserved for art installations – look very impressive. Donck, enthusiastic as ever, quickly starts to name all the ins and outs of the place before we could even properly take off our coats. After a quick look around, we sit down to hear him out about the place which has been the subject of much rumour and speculation.
With additional support of Eventsure, Meatpack has become the newest initiative of NV Congé, the organization that also handles the successful multipurpose ventures Plein Publiek and Mercado. Thomas Wijnen, the main man behind the famed, nomadic Magiq Spiegeltent venue, is also a team member. “We aim to make Meatpack the rebel cousin of Plein Publiek and Mercado”, says Donck. “There are no rules. The time that a venue had to be either a gallery, a community hub or a nightclub has passed. We will be all these things at once”. He continues to explain this place will house not only music and art installations, but young craftsmen as well, offering a dozen spaces that can be turned into offices, ateliers or work stations. “We aim to bring all these different people together under the same roof, uniting art, fashion, food and nightlife – to discard labels and to offer a hybrid platform for cooperation and discovery”.
We aim to make Meatpack the rebel cousin of Plein Publiek and Mercado
The first thing that strikes us when we walk through this warehouse is the sheer size. With a whopping 5000 square meters, this former pur foam factory is much bigger than any other Antwerp venue in its kind we know of. As we enter the hall that’s reserved for nightlife, we wonder how these guys will deal with the acoustic limitations in such industrial structures, and the undeniable noise disturbance for the neighbouring apartments that will follow. “That’s why we’re building a sealed club within this room”, says Donck. Apparently, containers will be put in formation to ensure a cosy and sonically optimal club within this venue. Donck elaborates: “even though this is a warehouse, we wanted to avoid making it look like one. This club needs to look sexy and attractive, so instead of working with the usual black, we’ll transform everything with and pink carpets and light colours”. As we’re walking past, Donck regularly interrupts himself by pointing to various corners, saying where sofas, art and light installations will be placed. “When people will go out here, they will inevitably have to pass along our art installations too. That’s how we plan to offer more than just a clubbing experience. At the same time, we want to remain accessible and fun – rather than taking ourselves too seriously”. This approach to clubbing raised our interest. Which kind of DJs and parties did they foresee if they want to keep things light and fun? “Only qualitative promoters and concepts are being recruited”. Apparently, so far, there are confirmed events with Hush Hush, Vice City, Daft Funk, Kelly Palmer and Club 808. “There is a lot more in the pipeline, but I can’t tell you that straight away I’m afraid”, Donck says with a smile.
Just like nightlife, Meatpack takes its art seriously. A whole separate hall – Het Observatorium – is reserved solely for installations and expositions, which will be curated by Thierry Vandenbussche. “We don’t want to put a simple piece in a corner and call it our ‘art program’, we want to work with several artists and institutions from a certain level of professionalism. You’ll be able to see new work regularly at our nocturnes, art walks, auctions and exhibitions. SMAK and M_HKA will even lend some pieces of their collection from time to time”, says Donck. One part of the warehouse is a massive hallway that stretches until the street at the other side of the block. This is where The Antwerp Graffiti and Street art (T.A.G.S.) museum – an expo in honour of 20 years of street art in this city – will claim its place. Actually, the whole length of this space is already covered in dozens of seriously impressive graffiti pieces. In yet another massive hall, we’re told that this location will serve multiple purposes, like large events, food truck festivals and bigger expositions. “By actively involving art installations in the design of our nightclub, we hope to make appreciating good art more accessible to all our patrons, from whatever background they may be”. Many promoters have claimed that art and music are intrinsically intertwined at their venues, but at Meatpack it does feel like they have upped the effort significantly.
At this point we’re left with one final part of this place’s expansive program: The Creative Village. “We have made room for a dozen or so spaces that young craftsmen and craftswomen can use for reasonable prices”, says Donck. “So far, we have locked a chocolatier, a bike repair shop, a hair salon and a few ateliers for artists. The table tennis collective ‘King of Pong’ and the support platform for young creatives in music and technology ‘Stadsduiven’ will have offices here too. In this way, we hope to create a healthy synergy of cooperation amongst all the residents”.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that Antwerp has gotten its sh*t back together as far as music venues go. This place definitely proves this to be true. Regardless of how things will turn out for Meatpack, we couldn’t help but feel extremely curious about their future. With such ambitious plans, how could we not? In anticipation of the first announced club nights or art expositions, we have the next week’s opening weekend to look forward to (click here to RSVP). If the enthusiasm of its coordinators is anything to go by, the future of the city’s art and music scene (and Meatpack in particular) looks as bright as ever.