#RBEA18 Lifetime Achievement Award: Thierry Coppens

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Every year, the Red Bull Elektropedia Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded to people who have made an enormous contribution to Belgian electronic music. We gladly announce that this year's awards will go to someone who might not be familiar to many at first, but his accomplishments in the nightlife scene have been hard to underestimate. Despite his relative obscurity outside the gay community, this man shares responsibility with Peter Decuypere for the birth of Fuse, and he sells out more events a year than any other promoter does. Do you know any party in Belgium that has been going for longer than a whopping 29 years? Neither do we. To this day, his La Demence event takes place in Fuse every month (with the occasional field trip to its own cruise ship or to massive venues like Palais 12), making it – by far – one of the most important gay parties in our country, if not the continent. Coppens isn’t planning on slowing down though, so better get familiar with this incredibly friendly stalwart figure in the Belgian nightlife scene.

Hi Thierry, how did you ever start out throwing parties?

Working in nightlife never was my ambition, it was more of a student job that went out of control. At the time, I was in law school and I was waiting tables at the Fifty Five in Kuurne. One day, Peter Decuypere had the idea to host gay parties there on Sunday, which were called Le Délire. He saw that I had some potential, so he put me in charge, right up until I started hosting my own gay nights. In the meantime, I did actually graduate, but promoting those events had become such a big deal that I had to make a choice. Obviously I chose the parties – a decision I never regretted.

After that, you moved to Brussels for Fuse, right?

Well, in the beginning we were doing parties in the bigger region around Kortrijk: discotheque Sirio in Deerlijk, Skyline in Aalbeke and even in the Thermae Palace in Ostend. That lasted for around a year and a half. Then, on the 1st of January 1992, we made the big move to Brussels. That had a big impact, because we found the location that would later become Fuse.

What’s the key ingredient for La Demence’s success?

Putting on events runs through my blood. When I was 15 years old, I remember hosting a party at my parent’s house with over 60 guests, equipped with a DJ-booth and a light show. So yeah, there were signs I was destined to do this. On the other hand, what makes La Demence so special is the variety in our audience, which was there from the very start. This created a welcome atmosphere for everyone, even for straight people. The mix of different people really has been the key to our success. For example: if you go to any given gay night, you’re most likely to bump into one certain type of gay audience. That’s not the case at La Demence. We have the older dudes, the younger guys, the bears, the leathers, the drag queens, etc. It’s a nice mixture and that created the typical La Demence vibe.

Not many parties are able to last longer than a few years, let alone 29! How come you’ve been able to run them for these long?

29 years in business for an event is quite long indeed, gay or straight. Regardless of that, I believe we always succeeded in going with the times. We definitely aren’t an old party that refuses to give up. On the contrary, every single time, new young people find their way to our events. We have always gone along with trends, while keeping our own identity that remained attractive to the right people. Almost 75% of our audience is foreign, so that’s only beneficial for the good atmosphere. In this way, there’s never a single majority audience that can impose its style on the rest of the crowd. That variety I’m talking about thus must be the reason why we’re able to continue La Demence for this long.

Would you say La Demence is something inherently from Brussels, Belgium or international?

In the beginning it was definitely a local and national affair. Gradually, more and more foreigners found their way to our doors.

You have started some other La Demence endeavours too, like the cruise trip for example. Can you tell us a little more about that?

8 years ago I had the idea to act upon my second passion: travel organization. I had been doing this before for our group of friends already, so I thought to combine it with my primary drive to promote nightlife. That’s how The Cruise, powered by La Demence was born. This is a yearly affair, for which we charter a classic cruise ship for one week. We take over the whole ship with our audience, our shows, our DJ’s, etc. This proved to be a very popular formula.

Do you believe there are two separate nightlife scenes for LGBT and straight audiences? Or do you believe the borders between them are more fluid?

It’s definitely true that there are distinct gay parties and straight parties, but it’s also a fact that a lot of parties are open-minded and mixed. Many straight events are visited by a lot of people from the gay community, like Tomorrowland for example. But the difference between both worlds is the sexual aspect. Gay events are usually focussed on the experience of meeting new people, so the sexual tension in the air is a lot more present and direct. That’s why you can often find dark rooms where promoters of gay events have the necessary space to accommodate this. That said, we’re not exclusively gay. Women and straight people have always been welcome. But obviously, these non-LGBT guests would need to be open-minded enough to handle this. Some like it, some don’t mind it, some are a little put off. But yeah, that’s a personal choice of course.

How do you see the future of La Demence in the next 10 years?

Sometimes I do wonder how long I will continue to do this (laughs). But I still love to promote La Demence over anything else. The only thing that has become a little harder is the effort I need to recover from a night out! I mean, I’m 51 years old now, so those nights out weigh in more and more (laughs). As long as I’ll be physically able to, I’ll continue to do this!