Representing the underground of the underground: Chanoirs

They call themselves a bunch of fêtards or party animals. Driven by a communal thirst for nocturnal experiences from dusk till dawn, Chanoirs unites a group of artists, DJs, digital creatives and designers whose field of interest is the underground of the underground. Allergic to any kind of marketization and other forces of capitalism, they add a layer of consciousness to our capital’s nightlife scene. On occasions gently, on others radically, they challenge the ruling powers and any kind of status quo bothering them. Exported through their manifesto, photography, poetry, drawings, a 3D video game, parties or music compilations, Chanoirs remixes defeatism with hope and fresh perspectives. Indulge yourself into their world through a long conversation we had with two of their key members Antoine Grenez and Lucas aka Lux 18 at the Chanoirs headquarters surprisingly located somewhere above a luxury boutique in one of the more posh areas in town like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Hello Antoine, Lucas. If you were to describe Chanoirs to your grandmother, how would you start?

Antoine: It’s first of all a constellation of artistic personalities, who find each other in anti-conformist values and an urge to act against societal evolutions. Nightlife is what runs through our veins and what unites us in the first place, why we started to organize our own events where we are able to control every aspect of a night and simply have fun as a group of friends. Our events never serve commercial values, but are our means to express our musical identity. During the years our collective has turned into a vivid entity, always on the move due to ongoing projects, friendships, relationships, conflicts, high and low moments. All of the emotions produced out of this, are fuelling our artistic work.  

Lucas: As a group of friends, we have shared experiences that are inexplicable. There were highlights, for example our nights in the now defunct club Formatt in Brussels which I’ll never forget and then there were crises …  

Antoine: … We have lived identity crises when we collectively progressed from adolescence into adulthood with all its coinciding flaws and troubles. While our storytelling had for a long time been based on juvenile innocence, we became aware that our art had an impact on the generations to follow. The unconscious that goes along with nightlife and its hedonism, exaltation and rule breaking philosophy is since then being questioned. 

Lucas: We are always honest and don’t play any roles, we show ourselves in all our vulnerability. 

Antoine: This vulnerable position is the only one we have, it allows others to identify with the messages we share through our art. Both the highest mountains and the deepest valleys are part of who we are. 

When you’re fifty years old, will nightlife still be part of Chanoirs?

Antoine: I really hope that it will, but I also hope for another version, a more conscious and less destructive one. The current version is damaging since it’s not really offering a safe place, although many people and institutions now use this catchphrase all the time. Look at the afterparty scene in Brussels for instance, a constellation of informal gatherings all around town starting when the clubs close their doors, who sometimes last up to two days. I have been part of this enough to realize that through nightlife many people flee from the real world, indulging themselves into a non-existent dream where they don’t sleep for days and consume drugs. It’s not sustainable and the general hypocrisy of the anti-drugs policy run by our government is dangerous. In the past we even have been blocked from implementing harm reduction policies for drug use at our parties, at the risk of losing financial aid we had received. They only wanted to support us when a repressive anti-drugs policy was in place. What a shame. 

Lucas: Nightlife in Brussels is also often run by people who don’t party themselves. Many promoters just don’t participate in the actual dance floors. This unveils their real objectives that are commercial by heart. 

What’s your viewpoint of our Brussels nightlife scene? 

Antoine: There aren’t many parties or events left that aren't commercially driven. Everytime a new project or location pops up in town, the same small group of people appears to be behind it. Temporary occupation of buildings, which is only installed by wealthy project developers to propel gentrification, is completely globalized and a business model. 

Lucas: On the other hand, these people invest and allow other people to make a living out of nightlife. It’s very ambivalent.  

With Chanoirs you also collaborate with these projects or use their infrastructure. Why?

Lucas: We still do it to be able to touch upon their budgets, to be able to invite artists from other scenes, to pay our own people a decent sum. 

Antoine: But you often also feel manipulated afterwards. Club Open Air, an event space at Rue Royale in Brussels that invited us and many other Brussels collectives in the summer of 2021, proposed the collaboration to us as free of charge for visitors, while we later found out that everyone needed to be vaccinated or pay for a Covid test at the entrance. That to me isn’t free or neutral, but a clear political choice.

You can still host your own events, no?

Antoine: We have been looking for years to find a space with reasonable rental fees. We lack the budgets to enter the existing structures, with all its rules and specifications that probably have been installed for the better such as air refreshing machines to prevent the spread of viruses, but all of these measures and commercial set-ups are preventing us from finding spaces to host our own alternative nights the way we want to. The deals you have to make with existing clubs and the budgets you have to put on the table are simply outrageous.  All of this devalues our scene, we are in need of a real underground scene again to promote the richness of our scene. The open air parties happening this summer are all in the same location and they look exactly the same, only the music is maybe a little bit different. Our own version happening next week at Circle Park isn’t an exception to this. But there might be surprising news around the corner, with a new venue probably opening soon. We are hopeful. 

Is the 3D club space you are currently building and that is already visible in a movie clip on your website, your current alternative to this situation?

Antoine: Our 3D club is born out of a punk idea to create a space where the communities of like minded alternative collectives can gather and easily share stuff. From a tourist point of view, you could arrive in another city and use the app to find out what is going on and meet the key actors of the scene. The entirety functions as a virtual labyrinth of the European alternative scene and will also allow visitors to browse in art galleries and even support artists by buying NFTs or physical artwork. 

What drives you to put so much effort into building such a digital space?

Lucas: The previous channels we used on the internet have become blocked behind paywalls and commercially driven algorithms, such as for example our Facebook page. Before we were able to communicate with thousands with just a simple post or event, nowadays it requires a marketing budget to invest into promoted content. We much rather now build our own social network.

In a highly commercialized nightlife scene, is Chanoirs somehow representing the underground of the underground and taking a leading role to protect its values?

Antoine: We try to protect the richness of our scene and we aren’t the only ones doing so. Most alternative collectives are rather discrete and have their own public, rather hard to access for people who don’t know them. That’s why we are trying to collaborate with others to gain some more weight in our scene. We consider creating an ASBL/VZW and by doing so get a seat at the table of the Brussels By Night federation. The need is high, the state of our underground scene is poor for the moment. 

Lucas: From my point of view, I also see some positive things going on though. There are the Gay Haze parties and there is Horst Festival for example.

Antoine: But Horst Festival is also only for an elite, the entrance tickets are too expensive for many. 

Lucas: Okay, but they are musically innovating and really push forward our scene. And there is the Under My Garage collective that is also very much helping our scene. 

Antoine: Okay that’s right. But any event that starts at an entry ticket of 12 euro and a drink for 3 euro, ignores 45% of the population. At Chanoirs we have always experimented with options for people who don’t have these budgets. 

Lucas: For the moment we are forced to work with the existing institutions, but we will continue looking for other ways and remain independent. 

Antoine: I know of a few projects that should definitely open up in the future. There is an alternative kind of anti-club opening up in Molenbeek soon.  

Your values are anti-conformist and anti-capitalist. Is the world kaput?

Antoine: Nowadays I often pose myself the question: is this an appropriate time for partying? The world isn’t 100% damned, that’s not the point, but the world needs thorough work, there is nothing to celebrate right now. What do we really want for our future? If we don’t involve ourselves into fundamental changes of our society and our scenes here in Brussels, the same small group of people will benefit and a large number of people will be pushed out of the system.  

What do you dream of? 

Antoine: I would love to create a club slash cultural center in a circular economy, where the manager has the same paycheck as the bar staff, where all the profits go towards artistic production, where the club is designed for its clubbers who aren’t treated as mere drink ticket consumers and where we don’t rely on the logos of international beverage brands to survive.  

Lucas: That’s what Brasserie Atlas in Anderlecht tries to do for the moment, with Lyl Radio and their cultural program.

Antoine: We need an alternative for our current capitalist system. So many people have to do shitty jobs during the week to spend all their money on clubs and drugs on the weekend, is that how we want our world to look like? The same goes for the promoter’s point of view: is this really the scene we want to contribute to? At a party we hosted for new year’s eve a few years back, we had to make four stressful emergency calls during the event. Nightlife inhibits all problems of society, simply because clubbers use nightlife to ignore their daily issues. Their injuries are part of our nightlife and we don’t treat them properly. Why not invest in psychological support in clubs, next to first aid stations. 

Chanoirs has a strong musical identity, can you present to me some artists from Brussels that are part of this?

Lucas: I’m fond of the work of Maoupa Mazzocchetti, with whom I share a studio space in Elsene/Ixelles. Other very strong artists we have a relationship with are Mika Oki and Noamie Klaus. Real diversity is still needed more. For our collaboration with Listen this upcoming year for instance, we want to focus on these values of inclusivity and invite international acts that reflect this ethos.

Antoine: We use Chanoirs often as a diving board for young and local talents, for example in our residency at Kiosk Radio or during our events at Café Central. Someone as Manu aka Data Canem, who did his first set for us at Kiosk, is now playing at many parties. His talent was always there, he just needed a push to get to know the technique of DJing. 

Is the future dark or do you still see some light shining?

Antoine: Our boat keeps sailing and there is no way to jump off. We have hope for the future and we believe in ourselves, our friends, musicians, and everyone around. We remain very active and enjoy being together and seeing beautiful art emerge out of nowhere. That’s what keeps us going.

Thanks Antoine, Lucas! All the best!

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