A closing day tradition during Listen Festival, the Sunday afternoon party hosted by Gay Haze and Spek was a once again one for the books. More than 1300 clubbers were present at the industrial warehouse Buda - right next to the canal in the north of the city - dancing together for twelve hours until 2am. It's quite difficult to describe the exuberant atmosphere that hung in the room, but I'll try anyway. They moved, tripped, stretched and pulled as if it were a delight, with great respect for each other's bodies, to hard acid house, melodic trance or uplifting techno. They created an exciting vibe that crescendoed as it got later, culminating just before the end, where they expressed their climax jointly and theatrically. They provided the party of the year, at least according to everyone who attended.
Spek is Antwerp’s monthly-not so monthly queer dance party, for freaks by nature, as they describe their audience on social media. Gay Haze is their Brussels twin sister, a household name in the capital’s party scene since 2017, a place for the whole queer community based on a freedom to be weird and to dance together against any kind of discrimination, as they mention their mission statement online. To find out more about the infamous Gay Haze parties known for their mysterious artwork, exhilarating line-ups and state of the art scenography, I sit down with founders Guillaume Bleret and Diego Cozzi. Diego is well-known behind the DJ booth as Fais Le Beau and cuts hair during the day. Guillaume works for visual artist Ann Veronica Janssens and is an active member of 24H Brussels, an initiative to improve dialogue between the actors of the Brussels night. We meet in Guillaume’s appartement in Vorst with the most beautiful view over Brussels.
How do you look back at the party in Buda?
Diego: We had been looking forward to this event for such a long time. Apart from a few small events this was the first rave we held in our prototypical circumstances since the pandemic, so our expectations were really high. But it was well worth the wait.
Guillaume: The whole thing was quite spectacular. As it was our first time in this venue, such an undertaking is always thrilling and it turned out really well. We are a Sunday afternoon party, so the relationship to daylight is really important for the ambiance. At Buda, the balance between all elements - our audience, the music, the light and scenography - somehow was completely right.
From the first parties on in 2017, the relationship with the locations has always been a strong point for Gay Haze. Has this always been the idea?
Guillaume: Yes. We try to appropriate a location and give it a twist through scenography, which is definitely one of our specialities and allows our audience to bond with a space and our esthetics every time again. On the other hand, we’re craving for a place where we can set up camp on a more structural basis, since reinventing yourself every time again is also time and energy consuming. So if anyone has a place, please do let us know.
Diego: We always need to make a space more gay, that’s for sure! (laughter) Buda for example is a big room so a strong intervention was quintessential. We turned to Neversceno, a collective of architects and scenographers, who came up with the idea to hang huge balloons in the form of chains.
Guillaume: Using chains as a party decor continued building on the decor of our previous Sunday rave at Listen Festival three years ago at Quay 01. Diego initially came up with the idea of chains hanging behind the dj booth. One of the goals of our collaboration with Neversceno this year was to reactivate the reference, turning the chain into something new.
Guillaume, a few days after the rave in Buda you posted two pictures. One showing a balloon chain taken on Sunday at the party and another one showing a glass sculpture by Belgian visual artist Ann Veronica Janssens. Why did you post these together?
Guillaume: I work for Ann Veronica Janssens, the second picture was taken at her show in St-Paul de Vence in France, where I had to be the day after the party with just a few hours of sleep in between. Ann Veronica teached me a lot about occupying spaces and utilizing natural light. I made the post as I was seeing a relationship between these 2 cool jobs
So a Gay Haze in a dark club will not happen soon?
Diego: It would definitely not be the same for us. I don’t mind the light changing during a party and seeing a room go darker at dusk, but somehow I experience the vibe of a dark nightclub more hectic and aggressive, while seeing people dance and smile in a bright space adds a great layer to a rave.
I once was very disoriented during one of your DJ sets due to the excessive usage of the smoke machine. To my liking! That’s also a Gay Haze classic, right?
Diego: haha, yeah. Using fog to fill the room allows us to create a discrete atmosphere, we rely heavily on it. It’s our way to play with intimacy on a dancefloor in a room filled with daylight. And when I DJ, I always ask the promoter to go hard on the fog machine.
Guillaume: We actually borrowed our first smoke machine from Ann Veronica Janssens, fog is also part of her art practice. At a party in Molenbeek at a certain point we lost track of the smoke machine, someone had displaced it without warning us. The room was quickly filling with dense vapor and it didn’t take long before you couldn’t see who was dancing next to you.
Diego: I remember being a bit freaked out about this, becoming worried about the safety of our audience. I browsed the floor with my smartphone’s light until I was able to locate it and switch it off, only to realize a couple of minutes later that literally no one had really cared about the extravagance of smoke and everybody was just kissing or dancing their asses off.
Fog or smoke can create a haze, but where does the name Gay Haze comes from?
Guillaume: A haze has different meanings for us. There is the fog, but also the haze we smoke and the state we can be in. And hazing also refers to a way of initiation or baptism into for example a fraternity or a group of students, which in our case can be liberating.
Diego: We needed a name and Guillaume came up with it. Actually we had a friend in common who at the time commented on the cannabis that Guillaume grew at home, for it being too soft in his opinion. He than mockinlgy referred to the weed as gay haze. (laughter)
Now I understand why the flyer you made for the first Gay Haze party in 2017 has a leaf of cannabis on it. Your artwork is often mysterious, not given much details about the party or even lacking the line-up and often also using sexually suggestive imagery. I remember a picture which added a giant penis to the Schtroumpf statue in front of the entrance of C12 for example, a quite hilarious intervention. Who is responsible for the artistic direction of Gay Haze?
Guillaume: It’s definitely a team work between the both of us and a few designers. The Schtroumpf picture was a Photoshop joke I made when we hosted a party in C12 in 2018. Our first ever flyers were all designed by Georges Chaulet, who sadly passed away in January 2021. He really helped us to define our visual identity and a mood for our communication, with humor and mystery. Later we started to work with several talented creatives such as Steve Jakobs, Nicolas Stolarczyk, Waldo De Keersmaecker and David Crisci, but Georges definitely set the direction.
Diego: We often started with an amusing image, such as a dog or a parrot. Or a guy peeing on another but with the urine stream erased, stuff like that. By not revealing too much about the party, we also wanted to make sure not to sound like boasting our events or promising the best or safest parties. Today our philosophy has changed a bit though, we now communicate more about our DNA and values. Certainly society has changed over the past years and there is much more attention now towards important issues such as sexism and diversity. By the way, I believe Listen Festival did a great job in communicating on the matter of safer spaces and organizing the night signals panels.
Guillaume: Although we never had any incidents, complaints or accidents, we wanted to create a context for our parties, outlining what kind of behavior is okay and what isn’t and speak more openly about it through our social media. But we have been doing this since the very start of our events, since we soon noticed that some people at our parties wanted to get really wasted and instead of censoring them, we decided to set up a dialogue. Already at the door, our staff is carefully trained to welcome people and explain our values. And we share short messages through playful media, for example a t-shirt saying ‘Your G-Hole Is So Unsexy’ to tackle the excessive use of drugs. That one was a bit shocking, I admit, but it worked and clubbers gave appreciative feedback about it.
When you created Gay Haze in 2017, did you found it to create your own space, something that didn’t exist yet in Brussels?
Diego: For me the reason to start Gay Haze was to claim our own space and by doing so add a new kind of events for and in the queer scene in Brussels with a vibe and musical identity that didn’t exist yet before.
Guillaume: I really wanted to create a day-time event, but apart from that, we actually never really had long-term plans. The gay scene at the time was a bit out of breath and we felt like giving it a boost.
I as a heterosexual always felt welcome and included at Gay Haze, you are definitely not a strictly queer space. Would you agree that what unites everyone at your parties is a freedom to express themselves with their bodies?
Guillaume: Definitely yes! We never aimed at any kind of exclusivity or privacy. The gay in Gay Haze also refers to joy and freedom, everyone is welcome.
Diego, as a DJ do you think there a difference when playing for a dominantly gay or rather mixed crowd?
Diego: A queer crowd is without a doubt more able to unleash and let loose and as a DJ, such an audience relaxes me more. I’m able to take more risks, with a higher fun factor. Minorities celebrate life more, somehow! (Laughs)
How do you prepare the line-ups for Gay Haze?
Diego: By searching for small names, not really well-known yet, who are habitués in their own local scenes, mostly queer as well. Somehow we were always lucky to book DJs before they got bigger, expensive headliners are not really our cup of tea anyway. And our latest event was 100% locals only, held during the PRIDE weekend in Brussels.
Is Brussels a gay-friendly city?
Guillaume: Well, let’s say that we are gay, we live in this city and we organize parties, so it’s not impossible to live and work here, but nevertheless we still cannot walk hand in hand with our boyfriend in the streets. Some people have the courage to do so, but we stopped because of too many bad experiences. The city invests throughly in promoting Brussels to tourists as a gay-friendly and open-minded city, but in my opinion these budgets should instead be allocated to education and orientation in schools, instead of city marketing. Also the PRIDE festivities are for me too much part of a marketing, product placement and event policy, with a lot of branding going around. While at the foundations of the movement lies a story of emancipation and liberation of gay rights, the original focus has been forgotten somewhere along the way.
Diego: Already at school at a very young age, children should be told about the many different identities , colours, sexual orientations, etcera that are part of our society. I’m sure that little by little change can be made, with a new and more woke generation that is growing up as we speak. But there is still a long way to go. And until real change happens, we won’t be walking hand in hand. It’s not even about courage, but about being prepared to lose plenty of time dealing with other people’s opinions, getting involved in senseless discussions on the street, and so on.
Is the key in the hands of politicians?
Guillaume: On both the right and left side of the political spectrum, plenty of LGBTQ+ people hold important positions and their presence in society has become somehow mainstream, but the shift now must become embedded in every corner of our society, not only in favor of LGBTQ+ groups, but on many other issues as well by the way, such as the deconstruction of the patriarchy.
Are there cities where you feel more at ease as a gay?
Guillaume: Definitely! London, Berlin, Cologne, …
Diego: Madrid as well. You feel so much more relaxed on the streets, less stared at. On the other hand, Brussels has a great structure when it comes to protection of human rights. Many things are happening or have been changed over the past years, which is hopeful.
Guillaume: Belgium still is a pleasant democracy with good foundations and mechanisms to protect people from extreme ideas. I recently discovered there is a law prohibiting the media concentrating in the hands of just a few people for example, something that doesn’t exist in France. So it’s not a bad country to live in.
But we still have work to do! Thanks Diego & Guillaume!
pictures by Jente Waerzeggers