Antwerp Central station isn’t just an impressive landmark in itself; beneath the tracks leading to this locomotive cathedral you’ll find a jewel of the city’s nightlife as well. Ampere is the first environmentally friendly club in Belgium, although the people behind the venue prefer to call it a “sustainable creative event space.” That way, even the local Rabbis are OK with you raving to Moodymann, Nina Kraviz, or DJ Premier until 7.00 a.m. in the morning.
Joachim Marynen, Ampere’s 38-year-old creative and musical director, made a name for himself in Rotterdam with his label, Sound Architecture, its eponymous club nights, and the legendary cinema turned club Off Corso. On returning to his homeland, the Belgian started promoting Saturday nights and his own monthly Sound Architecture events at Antwerp’s renowned Café d’Anvers. Yet he felt the city was lacking something: a place where creatives could meet on a regular basis; a location with state-of-the-art facilities, where young promoters with fresh ideas could make a name for themselves with guidance from the pros. So he built it himself.
Opening up a club in bureaucratic Antwerp? That seems easier said than done.
If I had known what I know now, I would have given it some more thought. Four years ago it became clear that we could obtain the property on Simonsstraat, and since then I’ve been occupied with this project every single day. Even drilling a hole in the ceiling is a mission in itself. However, obtaining a permit went smoothly. I wanted a sustainable club with forward-thinking programming, which also cooperates with the environment in which we sit. This interaction is important to me. Involve your neighbours in what you do so the atmosphere in the entire community can grow. This was a derelict area of Antwerp, but now it’s regenerated. This neighbourhood is the gateway to our beautiful Central Station.
Ampere is located in the famous diamond quarter, right?
True. Many of our neighbours are Orthodox Jews [traditionally the district has a strong Jewish population, including the largest number of Orthodox Jews in Western Europe] who were, of course, totally opposed. A 'party hall' – as they call a music venue or club in Belgium – is not what they wanted. I went to all the rabbis and sat down with them to have a chat. Eventually I convinced them.
"Last week we had 2,500 people on the dancefloor. We used their body heat to keep our radiators running for more than two weeks!"
How did you do that?
By ensuring them that a party hall was the last thing I wanted and by explaining the concept from start to finish. Ampere is a sustainable creative-event space where quality and education are key. The aim is to bring international partners, artists, and projects together, and to offer education and support for young artists, organisers, and musicians. Ecology, tourism, and innovative economics play an important role in that. Up-and-coming artists will be prepped for a national and international launch.
If you can convince your neighbours that it’s a good thing for the community, doors will open. Also, our closing times are well thought-out. We can stay open until seven in the morning, so our nuisance is restricted thanks to a natural outflow. Plus, people can get home safely by using public transportation.
So that’s the trick? Your fellow promoters indicated that partying in Antwerp is not easy.
That is true, but I’ve never used the words techno or dance when talking to the authorities. Dance music is still linked to drugs and taboos, while we all know that it is so much more. You have to present it in a different way. Belgium was at the forefront of progressive electronic music in the early 90s – new beat, acid, new wave – Dutch DJs came to Antwerp to buy the best records and the coolest clubs could be found in Belgium, so it’s certainly in our DNA.
Why a sustainable club?
This is our small contribution to a better world, plus it was easier to grab the attention of our local politicians this way. In collaboration with B-architecten, a famous Belgian architect collective, we developed a plan. The contractors got on board at an early stage as well, and we went searching for the most sustainable materials out there. All the steel is recycled from the Port of Antwerp. It doesn’t show, but it’s all residual material. Old tires absorb sound vibrations, the floors on the upper levels are made from discarded wood residues, and the heat that our visitors produce is collected and stored so we can re- use it. In the future, we want to install one of Energy Floors’s reactive dancefloors. The plan is to finance it with crowdfunding. Once the central dancefloor is in place, it will generate energy from the movements of the dancers, actively involving guests in the sustainability story too. Some of the innovative aspects of the space can be seen in the Lockerbox lockers that have replaced the classic cloakroom and a system that allows guests to scan their own entry tickets. Last week we had 2,500 people on the dancefloor. We used their body heat to keep our radiators running for more than two weeks!
Ampere is literally inside Antwerp Central Station, right?
The dancefloor is right under the railway. We sit under the track that comes from Antwerp-Berchem. Underneath us runs the Thalys train from Rotterdam to Paris. We are in between those two paths.
What are your future plans with Ampere?
Under the Sound Architecture flag I opened a record shop two years ago on Antwerp’s Kammenstraat. That went very well, but I didn’t want to divide my attention, so have decided to bring the shop to Ampere. In late February 2016, our vinyl-only store will open on the first floor. Underneath that is our lunchroom, where you can drop by for a good coffee as well. All this has been designed by students of the Design Academy Eindhoven. On the other side of the premises we are building a recording studio. This is part of the backstage area and will be used for Belgian radio broadcasts, but artists who are inspired to use it are also more than welcome.