As part of the PartyWith team, I was invited to visit Brussels for its Brussels Electronic Marathon (BEM). In my opinion, nightlife tourism = best kind of tourism, so of course I said yes.
Thanks to our Belgian summer intern Izzy’s connections with the organization, BEM had invited the team of PartyWith to go down to Brussels for the event, and I could even bring a guest! So Dennis and I decided to make a weekend trip out of it and drive down to check out Brussels nightlife.
Brussels Electronic Marathon is like Amsterdam Dance Event, except, of course, a lot smaller, with less foreign tourists, and with only homegrown talent from Brussels collectives.
I have to admit that we weren’t sure what to expect. After all, we were coming from Amsterdam, the apex of electronic dance music. As this was only the second ever edition of BEM, not much of a reputation preceded it. Which is one of the reasons I’m writing this review.
I have to say, I was blown away by Brussels Electronic Marathon!
BEM was an excellent way to visit the coolest venues of Brussels. The BEM team did an excellent job selecting only the most unique venues. Although this was already my fourth time visiting Brussels, I had never seen this side of Brussels before. I loved the fact that I could discover Brussels through its sound. 34 venues participated – a combination of the iconic Brussels clubs, bars, restaurants and other interesting spaces – do you think we were able to complete the marathon?
If you want to dig deeper into the Brussels nightlife & electronic music scene, packed with anecdotes and nightlife tips… then read on!
Where to stay in Brussels as a home base for nightlife exploration
We arrived on Friday night, and checked into the hotel. The best area to stay to explore Brussel’s nightlife is in the center, as most clubs and bars are there; everything else is a short metro or Uber ride away. We stayed at the Marivaux, which was excellent!
After changing into our nighttime outfits, we immediately went to meet up with Izzy at Brussels Electronic Marathon’s opening event.
Marathon Stop #1: Flagey
The opening concert was at the Flagey, a theater that’s also the home to the Brussels Philharmonic. The concert was an audiovisual performance. It was no doubt electronic music, but not the type that you usually associate with the genre. It was more of an artistic performance with people sitting in the theater appreciating the sounds and visuals. One of the really cool things about BEM is that it’s about electronic music of all forms, not just partying (that comes later).
Marathon Stop #2: Laundromat Party
Dennis and I then headed off to the most unique party I’ve been to in a long long time… a dance party in a laundromat! 10 minutes walking from Flagey was Quality Wash, and the Play Record Label Washing Room party was poppin’. They did an excellent job converting the laundromat into a dance club. I have to say, if every laundromat were like this, I wouldn’t let my clothes pile up for 3 weeks before taking them to the wash.
We especially loved how they transformed the venue. There were blinking strobelights sitting inside of the (unpluged) washing machines. By chance, washing machines also make a great place to store your coats. There were racks of clothing hanging off of strings along the walls. And at some point in the party, people started wearing the clothes and even the cloth hangers. Great party!
We left the party in search of food because we had only eaten 3 pieces of chicken nuggets and a milkshake each for dinner. After wandering the streets for awhile, we finally found a restaurant that had food at midnight. Although we didn’t have high expectations for a Cuban-themed Spanish tapas restaurant, the food was really good! We should not have underestimated an European city that’s on the top 10 list of highest number of Michelin stars in the world.
Beer break #1: Belgians vs. Dutch
After food, we wandered back to the Flagey Square, to a bar called Le Tigre. The bar was super packed, especially on the outside – everyone was standing outside on the sidewalk on an uncharacteristically warm night in October. The nightlife was super lively! We ran into Izzy again, who was with her local friends this time. As soon as Dennis went off to look for an ATM, a random guy came to talk to me. Man, living in Amsterdam makes you forget you’re a woman sometimes.
When the guys heard that I came over from Amsterdam, they exclaimed, “You like living in Amsterdam? You enjoy eating dinner at 6pm like the Dutch do? Ha ha ha!”
I cracked up at the fact that Dennis made fun of Belgians non-stop on our way down to Belgium, and as soon as I met some Belgians they made fun of the Dutch. Ya’ll are the same!
Marathon Stop #3: The Lodge
Izzy suggested that we go to The Lodge, which she said was closest to a Berlin-style venue you’d be able to find in Brussels. The venue was only open a couple times a year, so we were lucky to be able to experience it. It was in a rundown building, with an nondescript entrance via a garage door. It was a dark, “put your phone away” type of techno venue with a lot of character. The sound was good and even though it wasn’t that crowded, I enjoyed it!
Marathon Stop #4: Epicerie Modern
But the marathon was not over yet for the night. At some point we lost track of everyone else, so we decided to go into town and go to Zodiak. However, we somehow accidentally ended up in Epicerie Modern instead next door. It’s a long bar with a DJ in the middle of the room and the bar in the back, with the DJ playing house music. The atmosphere was quite cozy and relaxed, so we spent the rest of the night there.
At around 5am, we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel.
But not before inhaling a kebab.
And taking a hundred drunk selfies with the Grote Markt by night. It’s a beautiful square!
On Saturday, the marathon continues…
Beer Break #2: KWINT
Wait, how do you take a break before the marathon even begins? Shh, it doesn’t matter! It was a beautiful day, we were hungover, and we were tired from climbing the hill to the Coudenberg Palace. There are no hills in Amsterdam and we are out of shape. I think we deserved a beer and this view for being out and about at 2pm after a big night out.
Marathon Stop #5: Coudenberg Palace
Coudenberg Palace is a former palace of Brussels, with old ruins at the bottom of the building. The ruins belonged to a busy street in Brussels a couple hundred years ago, which they eventually covered up and built a palace on top of.
So down in the basement of the palace were the ruins, and that was also the site of the EXPO SynestheticS sound & visual art exhibition. 7 installations were featured by different artists, and the common theme was electronic music. One of the artists 3D-printed the sound waves from the album to create its album cover; another projected the ripples from sound on water onto a big wall. My favorite exhibition created a dramatic display of sound and shapes in a dark, cave-like corner of the museum.
I loved being able to explore electronic music as a physical art form. Experiencing this creativity in an unique venue was one of the highlights of my weekend.
Nightlife Marathon Tip: Use the Villo! Bikes
After a nap and a big meal, the marathon went on… by bike! After having spent €50+ on Ubers the night before, we decided we needed to save some money for the sake of being able to afford more beer. We noticed bikeshare stations all over the city, investigated, and saw that we can rent a bike for only €1.60 per 24 hours! We got our bikes and headed in towards town.
Biking in Brussels was quite chaotic. We miscalculated three things in our plan:
- There are often no bike paths, so we were often cycling next to cars and buses.
- Central Brussels was all paved by cobblestones! By the way it felt on our butts, they definitely didn’t maintain the paving often. Despite having dodged a couple big pits and getting sore rear ends, we arrived at our destination in one piece. That’s when we realized…
- We couldn’t park our bikes… if there were no free spots! And by the looks of the map on my app, there were 0 free spots in Central Brussels. Crap, were we going to have to bring the bike to the party? Thankfully, spots opened up in two separate stations nearby, and we rushed off on our separate ways to our respective stations before anyone else could.
Despite the setbacks and besides trying to use the nonexistent pedal brakes instead of the hand brakes a couple times, in true Amsterdammer fashion, we arrived at our destinations in one piece.
Beer Break #3: Taverne Mannekin Pis
After parking our bikes at different spots, Dennis and I rendezvoused by the Mannekin Pis. We had a Kwak beer at a bar next to the Mannekin Pis that we expected to be a crappy tourist bar. However, it turned out to be really nice and reasonably priced. I’m beginning to realize that there really is no such thing as a bad bar or restaurant in Brussels.
Marathon Stop #6: Cafe Des Halles
Our first Brussels Electronic Marathon stop of the night was Cafe Des Halles. It’s an old marketplace that has since transformed into a space that’s part bar, part art gallery. I loved the open format of the venue, with the monument in the middle seamlessly incorporated into the decor. The DJs were spinning vinyl, which is always interesting to watch, and the atmosphere was very chilled out. After a drink, we headed to the next stop.
Marathon Stop #7: Bonnefooi
Bonnefooi was one of my favorite venues of the weekend, hosting the Balaise x Bedroom Beats party. It’s a nice cocktail bar that doubles as a party venue. It’s super quirky and a hipster’s paradise in many ways – with a photomachine up at the front, nice balcony overlooking the bar, and sofas to chill at. I especially loved the speaker system (pictured below)! Oh, and their gin & tonics were the bomb.
I was pleasantly surprised that the club was not playing techno or house, but glitch hop! It reminded me of electronic music from back in the US. Glad to hear some musical diversity at BEM!
Marathon Stop #8: Zodiak
The next stop was Zodiak, which we accidentally missed last night when we went into Epicerie Moderne. This is a club you should definitely check out! There are two dance floors, a great sound system and a packed house. I liked the decor and Zodiak’s site says it’s going for an “intersteller” theme. This was the place to be for serious party animals – their party went on until noon!
We had an itinerary to follow and a marathon to complete, so we said goodbye to Zodiak after an hour and headed for our next destination.
Marathon Stop #9: Fuse
After a painful bikeride up the hill we had cycled down earlier that night, we arrived at Fuse. Fuse is probably the most well-known, long-standing techno nightclub in Brussels. The upper room was dark and smokey, and a bit too heavy for my taste. However, the downstairs room was a totally different vibe – wide and spacious, with a striking laser & LED system running along the wall of the stage. The techno was right up our alley.
Dance music is usually a young man’s world, but we found ourselves enjoying the most a set from the resident DJ of Fuse, who was an older guy called Pierre. He reminded me of my dad, who is a professor, in the most endearing kind of way! His love for the music and the atmosphere really shined through, and it seemed like he thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. As did I! The music was great and we’re still trying to ID some of the techno tracks.
At around 5am, with a bit of protest from my side, we went back to the hotel as we had to check out at 11am and drive back to Amsterdam… we have to be somewhat responsible, right?
So in the end, we didn’t have the skills to complete the whole marathon. We blame it on the top quality of the music at each venue that sucked us in and prevented us from leaving. Ok, visiting 9 Brussels Electronic Marathon venues out of 34 in a weekend is actually pretty solid. Even though we didn’t deserve a medal, I think we should definitely at least get a pat on the back for this.
Thank you Brussels for showing us your nightlife scene, and thank you Brussels Electronic Marathon for inviting us! We shall be back!