Technically you could not put Het Bos in the club category – but ask around and you will see many people in the Antwerp area have fond memories of nights out in this place or its predecessor Scheldapen. Whether it was the old squat house in the South neighbourhood, or the new, hip and shiny venue in the North, this team have provided opportunities for not just artists, DJ’s and music fans, but also art enthusiasts, young creatives and locals of all backgrounds. Het Bos is many things, more than you would think. That’s why we asked long-time co-operator Robin Hectors some questions in order to uncover part of what makes this place a creative stronghold throughout the times.
Hi Robin, can you try to give us a short summary of the history of this place and its connection to Scheldapen?
In 1998 there were 3 young guys in Antwerp that were fed up with the lack of venues for alternative music and chill-out spots for young, creative people. Punkers as they were, they ended up squatting a house on the D’Herbouvillekaai (right next to the former club Petrol, red). At first there was some struggle with the local authorities, but soon enough these understood the benefits of the multipurpose art venue Scheldapen became.
This place was pretty eclectic – it was run with 3 pillars in mind: music performances, workplaces for artists and ‘volkskeukens’ or communal dinners, where everyone could join the table for a minor fee. In 2005 the first subsidies were made available – so that’s when they could hire their first employees. All in all Scheldapen existed for 15 years, an amazing time during which so much had happened – until we had to move in order to make room for the city redevelopment plans of that neighbourhood (‘Nieuw Zuid’, red). After closing down for a year, we reopened as ‘Het Bos’ in this new venue at the north side of town in 2014.
What has changed since moving to a more central location?
A whole lot. The actual venue is completely different, so there are different challenges too. But even though we kept the same budget, the number of yearly visitors almost tripled. That’s mostly because of the current location, which is easier to reach. All in all we are proud to have been able to keep the spirit of the old Scheldapen alive, without making too many compromises. The same 3 pillars are still in place, although we added a fourth since our relocation: lectures and publications. This helps us to position ourselves as an open house of ideas.
So what do you actually do in here? Besides concerts and parties?
It’s a whole building. So there’s the coffee bar, which is always open for daytime hangout time. There’s a film- and theatre room where we do performances or screenings. Then there are a dozen permanent work spaces for artists and creative people, like for example Inne Eysermans from Amatorski. We also host weekly ‘Boslabs’, which are basically free and open workshops for young people where we focus on specific creative expression. This can be something like ‘making your own synthesizers with paper’ or ‘making your own green key visuals’. As said, we still host our ‘volkskeukens’ here, so people of all backgrounds can come here for a cheap and delicious communal meal on 3 days in the week.
So we are more than just a concert venue. We always try to keep it exciting by switching things up: using the rooms for different purposes, making connections with events going on at the same time – even when the visitors are completely different from each other.
How many people are working here exactly?
We are working with a core team of 8 people and a dozen of freelancers. Then there’s 5 people for the bar and a whole lot of artists that have their studios upstairs.
Your concert and event programme seems very very very varied. What kind of music do you host here mostly?
Historically we’ve always been alternative and experimental. We like to give an opportunity to bands and DJ’s that would normally not get a chance to play elsewhere. That means you could hear artists perform freejazz, noise, electronica, neofolk, jungle or even witness an algorave (aka music generated from algorithms, using live coding techniques, red). Our multitude of different events is a whole lot more diverse than before. We have 3 people doing the bookings here (David Van Der Weken, Peter Daems and me) - each with their own specialty. Apart from that we got a whole lot of external promotors that we like to work with, like David Tricot (aka DTM Funk, red), Mind Over Matter, Hotsjumenas, Ondergronds or Destination Earth.
With the closure of places like Petrol, Klub Goud and Stockholm S, you are one of the last venues that is open to alternative music in the wider Antwerp region. Does that shortage have an effect on you?
Most definitely. We feel an enormous amount of energy: a lot of promotors with cool ideas or a lot of talented bands – but there’s just a severe lack of options for these people. There’s a lot of pop-up summer bars, but hardly any real permanent option with a relatively low capacity where creative people can build something or at least get some experience in the spotlights. That makes it very hard to build your fan base like you could before. So we get a lot of requests for nightlife events, but we are just not able to host all of them, which requires us to be very selective.
How do you select who can host a night and who doesn’t?
We’re not renting out the venue – but anyone could come with a proposal and then we discuss it with the whole team. If it fits, we’ll work together. We just try not to think too commercial – meaning we don’t like to see events as purely the potential of money they will make (or fail to make). Music should be about authenticity and passion, so keeping in mind we are blessed with financial support from the city, it’s our mission – you could even say it’s our duty – to give a chance to the more alternative artists and DJ’s. The result is an incredibly varied array of events, but all of them are new, authentic and honest.
Now that we’re here, what strikes us is the extreme simplicity of the concert room.
Yeah it might be ugly, but in terms of sound and acoustics we are unbeatable. That’s something we’re incredibly proud of. The looks are just not as important.
What’s the best concert (in your opinion) you’ve had here so far?
A while ago we had Jung An Tagen over, an Austrian artist that could do incredible things with his synths. He would mess with the psychoacoustics in such an enthusiastic way it seemed like I was watching someone have a religious climax. The show of Mad Professor might have been the best performance I’ve ever seen in my whole life. I was dancing for 3 straight hours. The Roméo Elvis, Laurel Halo, Baloji and Mdou Moctar concerts also created very fond memories.
Which “non-traditional” activity in Het Bos are you most proud of?
That has to be Bos Bubbels, a night we do twice a year. On those events we open up all the rooms in this building music everywhere – and it transforms into this huge party every time. The next one is in October.
Anything else you look forward to?
Oval is coming down in October too, a German ambient and electronica producer who will deliver a great show I’m sure. Ata Kak from Awesome Tapes of Africa will touch down in September. Vessels is scheduled as well. Too many to mention really.