Regardless of the COVID-19 situation, some people never really stopped partying. All around the country illegal events took place. Even when infection rates amongst young people in Belgium spiked in October 2020 (according to data from Sciensano, ed). Many got busted, but some managed to fall between the cracks of an inevitable hide-and-seek game with the authorities. We got in touch with a promoter who frequently hosted 200-person-raves in Brussels. Why did he do it and how? Why and how did he do it despite the circumstances and regulations?
At first, I was simply doing this with some friends, but now I have a real team with technicians, bartenders, entrance stewards, security guards and great line-ups with some pretty well-known artists.
When and how did you start organising these illegal raves?
“I had already organized a few regular events in clubs before the crisis. I threw two raves in September and October, and two in May this year. There will be a final one soon before we move on to regular open-air events. The spot we found is absolutely perfect. If I hadn't stumbled upon this location, I don't think I would have done any of it”.
How did you find your location?
“Sometime mid-September, I was hanging in a bar with some friends, and we went to this guy’s place for the after party. Where the host then showed us his cellar. I figured it was, a pretty big and cool place that could definitely be the location for a cool rave. I outweighed my options and concluded my chances of getting caught would be close to none. The host didn’t mind us renting the space and so I threw the first party one week after”.
How did the first night go? And how did the event evolve from there?
“The first edition in September was pretty basic, but once I saw people loved it, it changed everything. Most people who were there hadn't been to a rave for almost a year. The vibe was unbelievable, even if the sound wasn't all that good. It just felt too good, too liberating. Even the artists told me the vibe was incredible. One of them had started his career playing in the 90’s when most raves were illegal - he told me this reminded him of those times. The fact that it’s an illegal operation made it even more exciting of course”
“After that, I decided to get serious and up my game for the next edition. I linked up with a sound engineer who could handle the sound, acoustics and gear. From the second edition, things looked a lot more professional. At first, I was simply doing this with some friends, but now I have a real team with technicians, bartenders, entrance stewards, security guards and great line-ups with some pretty well-known artists. Tickets now sell out in less than 15 minutes”.
How do you even go about promoting unauthorised secret events?
“Mainly through email. I've built up a mailing list to send out announcements with a private link to buy tickets online. First, I created a Facebook event for just one day, with a ticket link. Tickets sold out fast, and I then reused the email addresses from previous guests. Then I also posted a story on Instagram in which I asked people to send me their email addresses to attend the party, which got a lot of reaction. In general, my audience mostly consists of people that I don’t know personally, but who follow me online”.
Throwing a rave isn’t just a trivial endeavour, what do you really do for it?
“Because there haven't been any real parties in Brussels, not even in the summer. As the winter months and the third lockdown came about, a lot of people started struggling with their mental health, me included. People were just aching to party, and so was I. On the first night, I couldn’t get over the fact how happy people were; I had to continue. It was thrilling, exciting; everyone was so hyped. Plus, it gained me a lot of legitimacy too, I’ve gathered a solid audience that trusts me, which is good for the next parties, festivals and open-airs I'll organize later legally”.
When the public health situation is truly critical, I understand there's a lot of criticism. But you can’t underestimate the need to come together and dance.
What about the possible consequences for yourself and others in a health crisis like this?
“When the public health situation is truly critical and there are hundreds of people in the ICU, I agree that throwing a party isn't very smart and I understand there's a lot of criticism. At the time of the second lockdown, in October 2020, I almost cancelled all plans. But you can’t underestimate the need to come together and dance, especially after a stressful year like that. We were indeed concerned about people’s safety, so we did ask people to run a quick COVID-test beforehand so they wouldn’t put others at risk. Many friends got tested after the events, and were still negative. To be fair, I didn’t get a single report of anyone who got infected at the party. We did choose to withhold throwing parties between October and May because it didn’t feel ok to do so. As the situation gets better now, and even if it isn't legal, I don’t think it's the end of the world to host a party either”.
So you’ve never even been worried about getting caught?
“Not really. The worst thing that could happen, of course, is to get caught by denunciation or due to noise complaints. Even if I still got caught now, so be it. I know I’m screwed when that happens. I’ll get a massive fine, but I don’t think I’ll risk being put on trial. Also, I’m not going to continue these events, nor promote them later. There must be about 400 people in total who’ll ever know about the existence of these lockdown parties. As long as there's no curfew and the numbers seem ok, I would do it a hundred times over again”.
Even if I still got caught now, so be it. I know I’m screwed when that happens.
What can you say about the crowd that comes to your events?
“Many different people, from different backgrounds, but united in the desire to let it all out. People who work really hard all week, and then just want to dance like maniacs to the music they love. We’ve had a lot of people who travelled from far away, many even all the way from the South of France. I’ve been going out for a while, but I’ve never seen ravers so enthusiastic, yet grateful and respectful at the same time. There were no bad vibes whatsoever”.
How have you managed to get away with it all this time?
“First of all, the location is pretty isolated. It's a cellar in a private building at the end of a parking lot. You really have to know about it to find it. We also ask guests to keep quiet about the event and we only send out the exact location a couple hours beforehand. Doors close at midnight and only reopen at 6 AM. Attendees need to enter by groups of three, and they have to scatter in separate ways when they leave. Anyhow, we're very careful and our organization is pretty solid, making it less likely to get caught randomly”.
As the global lockdown and social isolation has put everyone through challenging times, the subsequent frustration has instigated the transgressive nature of humans. Rave culture may be one of the most polarizing topics for the music scene within the current context. Even if we can’t condone such initiatives, it is pretty clear that illegal parties will likely never stop, no matter the circumstances and consequences. Especially for those with a rather robust and stubborn personality and an insatiable “can’t stop won’t stop” attitude towards partying.