Open the night: Conversations on accessible nightlife

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With passion comes hard work and hefty expenses. Nightlife collectives share their behind-the-scenes of crafting memorable and safe experiences while striving to be inclusive. In light of the surge in ticket prices, we present insights from MONTAGE, Yalla Nightlife, OVERLAST, Toverberg, Club Détour, Microwave, nacht, In vitro, VIERNULVIER and our very own DC team. These voices echo the significance of collaboration and fostering inclusive spaces where artists, organisers, and audiences can bring to life an experience that resonates with a passion unique to nightlife culture.

What are your thoughts on exclusivity, whether in your scene or the art scene and nightlife in general?

Somto (nacht): Sometimes I feel like the term ‘community’ gets thrown around and is losing its essence. Community is at the heart of nightlife but I wouldn’t necessarily say everyone gets to be part of a community. Intentions get lost and eventually, you foster exclusivity. Although, I can argue that exclusivity is needed for safer spaces (a term which sadly has also become a bit hollowed out). For example, Black queer spaces address how issues of intersectionality and discrimination within the queer community are often overlooked. Not all queer parties are safe to navigate for people of different ethnicities. Providing a space to not only party but to also just ‘be’ is exclusive but also necessary.

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Mya (Different Class): Creating safe spaces for niche groups in nightlife is crucial, and sometimes it relies on the principle of exclusivity by way of protection. But financial exclusivity is a big no-no. Good art, culture and parties should be accessible to all. We all deserve to enjoy ourselves (even a little recklessly), and that’s all. That’s what Different Class works towards; for less than 10 euros per month, we can provide people with free spots at ticketed events. Every month we have around 20 events on our agenda, with their prices mostly starting from 10 euros each. Say you go to one event a week, the membership saves you at least 50 euros per month!

How has the rise of ticket prices affected your experience in the music/nightlife scene?

Lodewijk (Club Détour): For me, it made my nightlife experience less spontaneous, less casual. Nowadays I think twice before I go somewhere. 

Florian (Toverberg): For Toverberg it has always been important to decrease any barrier that people might have towards entering an event. Events should be open to anyone. Experimental music shouldn't be put behind glass and catered to ‘exclusive’/’art’ audiences. It is the most lively form of expression and should be subject to a lot of eyes and opinions. When prices of tickets rise, you're pulling the ground out from under this scene, as we try to cater to people discovering things they might not yet know. Often, there's no headliner pulling people in, but just a collective curiosity. We have to be very careful to keep people with that curiosity on board.

Experimental music shouldn't be put behind glass and catered to ‘exclusive’/’art’ audiences. It is the most lively form of expression and should be subject to a lot of eyes and opinions

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Jef & Ran (In vitro): In our particular scene, the ticket prices have stayed pretty much the same, despite the inflation. This is because its main objective is to optimize the artistic output and atmosphere using the least amount of capitalist barriers. However, we do want to be able to offer reasonable fees to artists, so we can’t make the events free, but we do the best we can.

Bader (Yalla Nightlife): Yalla’s main focus is connecting people from all generations and backgrounds through art and culture. Ticket pricing is something we focus on as we try to make all our events accessible and free or cheap by working with venues that support the UiTPAS card. When it comes to private venues, it is always a struggle to curate a high-quality lineup and keep the price of tickets low. There we try to reduce other expenses to be able to invite people who have less access for free. Through this, we keep the dancefloor at all our events balanced and diverse.

We keep the dancefloor at all our events balanced and diverse

Seppe (Microwave): The rising ticket prices in the cultural sector are raising important questions about how we consume and experience it as an audience. For us, a big part of the music scene and nightlife is currently happening outside of the clubs.

Have you noticed any changes in audience, or environment since ticket prices have risen?

Mathilde (OVERLAST): I feel like people, myself included, are getting more picky about the events they attend. People will have to choose, and so the pressure to make your event stand out is higher than ever. It also creates more competitive attitudes between organisers, which makes me a bit sad.

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Mya: I’ve noticed fewer people come to events. That worries me. It’s a little bit like protests. We need physical bodies in the spaces, actual presences to show that something matters. The more people come to events, the more they can support art and culture. 

We need physical bodies in the spaces, actual presences to show that something matters

Where do you think is the right balance between giving artists fair compensation and maintaining an affordable space for audiences

Jonathan & Laura (MONTAGE): We enjoyed working with an open budget but it can be a double-edged sword. It forces most involved to be paid fairly, but you also have to price responsibly; your audience can see how much everything costs and might feel disinclined to come if you overpay and overcharge. In the meantime, we think it’s interesting how the effort for diversity in the music scene is often only reflected on stage. In the audience, overpriced tickets still push for a markedly middle-class audience. Sadly, in Belgium, wage inequality in class and sex is still very much present. Furthermore, behind the scenes, a strong dependency on precarious freelance work often excludes people from less fortunate backgrounds. Maybe we need a union for nightlife workers?

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What are your thoughts on the prix libre/pay what you want concepts

Ilse & Elisah (VIERNULVIER): The 'pay what you can' principle applies to many performances at VIERNULVIER: we offer 3 ticket prices, with the middle rate being the standard price of the performance. You choose whether you pay the standard price or the higher or lower rate. We use this system as an alternative to a classic discount policy where the discounts sometimes just end up with those who don't want or need them. This principle can, of course, only work if there is sufficient solidarity. 

Jef & Ran: We think it works for certain events, but we have always been using a fixed price. We do our best to keep the ticket prices as low as possible (at great personal risk), but we know what income we need to make the event work for everyone, so we don’t hesitate to ask for it. However, our audience can reach out if they are having troubles financially. We wouldn’t want anyone to miss one of our gigs just because they’re a bit tight on cash.

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Do you think there are disadvantages that come with more accessibility?

Bader: I think there are no disadvantages for the communities when they have easier access to culture and nightlife events so I think subsidised venues need to give more space to the new generation to create and curate new cutting-edge programming.

Somto: You might lose the intention of your space. Safer spaces transform into braver spaces when you expand your audience. You navigate your audience through the potential discomfort that comes with gathering people from different backgrounds. It can come with a lot of disadvantages which is why you need to communicate your policy as a collective/space. What do you stand for? What are your non-negotiables? What are the shared responsibilities you want your audience to take? You acknowledge the disadvantages but also seek solutions.

Safer spaces transform into braver spaces when you expand your audience

Mya: Accessibility is crucial. Arts and culture should be a right and not a privilege. However, I hope that it doesn’t make people feel like they have no responsibility towards supporting the artists and venues they like. Yes, there should be structural help. But making an event doesn’t come easily. And we still need both individual and structural support to exist.

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What initiatives or developments do you hope to see shape the industry in terms of accessibility and ticket pricing?

Jonathan & Laura: We think collaborations can reduce the economic risks when the financial burdens of organising events are shared. But more importantly, they allow us to embrace artistic risk and enhance accessibility to broader audiences. We like working together with other collectives and other artists. There is always room to learn :).

Somto: Giving insight into your budget is a great way to start thinking about initiatives towards accessibility and ticket pricing. At nacht, we believe in being transparent to our audience about the reasons behind increasing our ticket prices. We acknowledge that this might exclude some, therefore we keep the dialogue open to find solutions. It’s easy to say that you don’t need money to create. But money gives you the time and space to get creative and truly engage with each other. I got more into nightlife by becoming a Different Class member. My friends and I got to attend events in different big cities. We need to build more platforms that allow you to explore and discover culture.

We need to build more platforms that allow you to explore and discover culture

Lodewijk: I hope to see more accessible(!) government funding. This is one way to let our scene continue to flourish, not only locally but also across borders. It would help to give promoters stability, so they can continue to book artists and pay them a proper fee while still keeping a fair price at the door. I want to stress accessible funding, especially for those who don’t have the privilege of being able to invest in organising events out of their pocket.

Jef & Ran: TAX THE RICH! Lower fees for students and unemployed people …

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What would you change about the space or scene where you currently work?

Florian: I'd like to have a lot more venues. More growing opportunities for young artists. More collaborations and open conversations between ‘local’ collectives and established venues. There are so many artists making powerful work in Belgium, I'd like to see more of them find their way into pre-shows in these bigger venues. This way we could have a subset of underground artists have more of a voice and showcase them to an audience that might like them. Just because it's underground doesn’t mean it shouldn't be seen.

Mathilde: A lot of collectives, organisers, promoters, labels - OVERLAST included- organise events purely because they are passionate about it and they want to contribute something to the scene. I think that, as an audience, it’s important to change the way we look at events and perceive the people organising them. If there would be more awareness of what it takes to organise an event, I am convinced people would be more willing to pay for the event or contribute in any other way. The price of an event can only be low if every party-goer involved is aware of the cost and effort.

The price of an event can only be low if every party-goer involved is aware of the cost and effort

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What do you wanna see more of in the industry?

Somto: More inclusivity and transparency. Instead of having the umpteenth talk about inclusivity in the cultural sector, we need to take action. Less talking, more doing. And how about we also have more panel discussions of white cisgender men discussing how they have contributed to an inclusive industry instead of always inviting marginalised people to address the issue? It could lead to very interesting and important conversations. I also hope more tools and opportunities will come for marginalised communities to truly create a scene that they have historically built.

Instead of having the umpteenth talk about inclusivity in the cultural sector, we need to take action

What advice would you like to share towards others that are trying to address the issue of accessibility and rising prices?

Lodewijk: Be more transparent! Especially about the financial and organisational side of things. There would be more appreciation for nightlife actors if we all did this. Sometimes, looking at the numbers for an event, you could consider us crazy for doing this. A lot of us do this voluntarily with our own money, out of need and passion. But I feel like people don’t always realise the effort that goes into organising nightlife.

Florian: Join the MONTAGE Telegram, they're having a lot of important conversations on the future of organising events! 

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<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> Photos shot by Briek Verdoodt, Zephir Moreels, Club Detour, Tarek Al Khattab, Jente Waerzeggers, Jitse Roels. <br/><br/> Different Class is built on accessibility and connecting audiences to their favourite artists and events. The question of ticket prices has always been at the core of our work, and we felt the need to explore it further with other collectives. It’s the very reason for our membership to exist. <br/><br/> We hope to reach even more of you with our new pricing for students.<br/> You can find all info here </div></div>

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