The sad thing about temporary creative spaces is… well, the fact that they are temporary. When the guys behind KERK started their adventure in the quiet Ghent suburb of Gentbrugge in 2014 - with good intentions, but without experience – they never imagined this journey would last way longer than expected. Almost three years later, the former plastic factory has become a professional organization that hosted hundreds of nightlife events, food festivals, roller disco’s and flea markets – as well as artist ateliers, a ping-pong club, a temporary bike repair service and a pop-up coffee bar. But all good things come to an end – and for KERK the end comes this March. Before we say goodbye to one of Ghent’s most defining event spaces of the last few years, we invited main honcho’s Jules Gahide and Victor Luyckx for a conversation about their experience running the show.
KERK is almost over and out. What will you miss the most?
Gahide: The feeling after an event. It always involves a ton of blood, sweat and tears – but when you succeed and everything has gone like planned, you feel incredibly satisfied, especially considering we’re doing this on a location we have built up from scratch.
Luyckx: I’ll miss the unique people that define KERK. It’s all these enthusiast creatives that create this sort of synergic miniature city.
How many people were running the show? What does the organizational structure look like?
L: Well, we started out with 5 founders, but today only 2 of them remain: me and Jules.
G: But we’re not doing everything ourselves. Angke Wullus and Klaas Windels have joined the core team in the meantime. Additionally, we have a legion of reliable volunteers and personnel that helps us out every day of course. We really ask everyone to be the best version of themselves.
L: That’s not easy – but it’s necessary in order to get the best results.
I can understand that. Just thinking about all the work needed to refurbish this old factory into the creative space it is right now must have taken a lot of work…
L: That was by far the biggest challenge, although it was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it required unexpected amounts of work to clean and rebuild the place - take into account that this place had been completely neglected in the 3 years prior to KERK. But on the other hand, you had the possibility to start from scratch, a blank sheet on which we were able to draw whatever we liked. That’s a unique privilege.
G: We never actually stopped to upgrade the space. In order to keep it interesting we continually looked for ways to improve the quality of the events by improving the locations, facilities, etc. Even now, in anticipation of the closing event, we’re still working hard on getting rooms ready we haven’t used before and will never use again after this one time. We believe it’s this constant evolution that appealed to a lot of people.
Did you actually receive support from the city?
L: We did, with some ups and downs. In the beginning they were quite reserved, as there had been some complaints from the neighbourhood. They composed a strict framework for us which we had to oblige. That was necessary to keep good relations with the residents in the area, but it could be harsh for us sometimes. Looking back, they have been very supportive of us – and some people in the city council have really gone the extra mile for us.
That said – unlike many sceptics may have assumed – we never received any direct subsidies. However, there was a certain fund which we could use (‘Fonds Tijdelijke Invullingen’, red.) to upgrade the space for cultural events. This was no budget for parties or nightlife – but for refurbishing and rebuilding parts of the old factory.
G: The most important thing was to convince the city we weren’t just there to throw big raves. Once they saw that we were putting a lot of effort in a wide variety of events, including neighbourhood flea markets and food truck festivals, support has been a lot more genuine.
So how did the relation with the nearby residents develop over time?
G: There was a rocky start – the neighbourhood was not our priority in the very beginning, as we assumed that we would only be there for 8 months. But we soon realized we had to invest more time and work in things that would benefit the area. Better sound isolation, an upgraded parking policy, preventive calendars for all the residents nearby, a monthly limit on the amount of nightlife events, etc. All these improvements resulted in the healthy relation with the locals we have today. In this last year, we didn’t receive any complaints what so ever.
L: That proved to be a unique learning opportunity. When we started out no one really had any relevant experience, so we made a lot of mistakes. But the city and the neighbourhood were very patient and understanding and slowly but surely we learned how to do it right.
Are there things you would have done differently in hindsight?
L: Well, in the beginning you are easily overwhelmed, so we bit off way more than we could chew. Looking back, it would have been better if we focussed on certain goals instead of doing everything at once.
G: Of course there are things that could have been done better or more efficient, but we don’t regret anything. We gave everything we had – and we can be proud of that.
Despite the fact KERK was never really a nightclub, you nonetheless proved that Ghent is in short supply of a middle-sized venue that is open for alternative electronic music. What’s your take on that?
G: It’s definitely difficult to organize a financially successful party with a more adventurous line-up, especially since 300-500 capacity venues are scarce in this city.
L: Yes, keeping the balance between niche and popular acts is hard, but crucial. With our monthly limit of 2 nightlife events, we experienced this first hand, as we had to turn down a lot of proposals from event promoters. As for the city in general, the inception of Kompass Club has been a large improvement, but there’s still a lot to be done.
How are you guys going to look back on this chapter in your life?
G: A three-year-long rollercoaster that went by way too fast. There have been times where we were extremely close to giving up, at the brink of stopping overnight – but we managed to deal with these situations, and that’s what I’m proudest of.
L: KERK has been one long experience for us to learn about everything: not just practicalities, but people as well. We started this as a hobby, but we will end this as a professional organization.
What will be the moments that will stay with you forever?
L: The moment after a party ends. An empty room with the lights on after a long night of loud music and happy times. This gives an incredibly satisfying feeling. The feeling that something has happened here.
So what’s next for this location?
G: The whole space is going to be demolished before a new building project will do its thing here.
And what’s next for you guys?
G: We will continue doing events with the core team. We’re in a good position now, we have proven ourselves to be young and creative, but with relevant DIY experience. First up after KERK is the closing party of the old city library slash opening party of the new one, ‘Boeken Toe’, in collaboration with Democrazy, Charlatan & Handelsreizigers in ideeën.
L: But we don’t want to limit ourselves to just events. We can’t be pinned down really. After a well-deserved break we’re open again for new challenges – and we have the ambition to take it to a higher level.
As a parting question, what can we expect at the very last KERK event on March 17th and 18th?
G: The idea is to re-organize everything KERK has done over the last three years, in one weekend. Think: a food festival (only this time exclusively with local restaurants), combined with a roller-disco and a proper goodbye party. For the latter, we will make use of 5 different rooms, each with a different host: Dekmantel Selectors, Kunstencentrum Vooruit, Nachtvogels and ourselves, KERK.
L: We asked KASK (School of Arts Ghent, red.) to creatively redesign the spaces in its entirety. It’s really going to be extraordinary and there will be something to do for everybody. When you arrive at KERK on Saturday the 18th of March, you would be able to stay entertained for 24 hours straight. We’re proud to go all out for one last time.
KERK’s final event, ‘De Sloop’, will take place on Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th of March. All information can be found on their Facebook event page.