Regenerating the art of rave at Horst Festival

“Our generation is getting ready, preparing itself, getting armed for the coming fall. Of the ecosystem, of capitalism, or an illusionary democracy, of humanity, of ethics? Rather than succumbing to a nihilistic cynicism; rather than surrendering to useless emptiness, this apocalyptic mood entails the promise of a new start…” 

It’s not often you’d describe a festival as having “post-apocalyptic art rave vibes”. And yet, there we were– dancing amidst an industrial wasteland, sweet electronic beats wafting through the cool September air– inspired by the art of rave in a way we hadn’t been before. 

The scene was Belgium’s Horst Arts and Music Festival, set in a former military telecommunications development along the Senne river in northern Brussels. Taking over the ASIAT site for the first time (the previous five years took place in an abandoned castle in the nearby student town) this once desolate urban environment was now resurrected, inviting us all to immerse ourselves in a cutting-edge cultural experience. 

A summer-long art exhibition titled The Fallen Empires and Refound Desires had been open to the public. Now, we were closing off the summer with a three-day world class electronic music festival, showcasing some of the finest emerging and local DJs and artists alongside legendary names we know and love. As a partner, Mixcloud gifted the 50 DJs on the line-up with their own care packages: tote bags to carry their gear and water bottles to stay hydrated behind the decks. 

Feathers stage designed by Fala Atelier

Each of the four stages was an art installation in its own right; an individual artist had used the urban landscape as their canvas to design an immersive dance floor. At the 90*360 stage created by Berlin-based studio Brandlhuber+, the DJ stood amidst a 90° floor-to-ceiling mirror in the middle of a massive open air warehouse.

Laser lights and pumping bass beats came alive through visual soundwaves bouncing off the reflecting glass, creating a space that was both intimate and infinite. Here we danced to explosive sets by rising stars like Paquita Gordon, Objekt and Mall Grab and local horst residents Walrus and Bjoer– not to mention an epic 4 hour set of Craig Richards b2b with Joy Orbison.

With surreal sounds and heavy beats piercing through the air, we couldn’t help but sense the echoes of the lesser-known Belgian dance culture movement and rise of new beat that had thrived here in the 1980’s.

An installation Making the Milky Way by Amsterdam-based Children of the Light

Minimal red and green bicycle lights twinkling amongst the wild greenery (soon to re-arranged and upcycled by festival-goers who created new playful formations and pinned them on their clothes) guided us between mazes of concrete corridors and warehouses to other art installations and stage.

Sherelle’s Friday night set at the Ceiling For a Crater stage

Ceiling for a Crater, a designed theatre stage by Atelier Tomas Dirrix where performance, sound, talks and dancing collided, was possibly our favorite. Here we discovered exciting local talent we recognized from around the Mixcloud community. Like AliA, a young Belgian woman who effortlessly blends a love for Jazz and Funk with breakbeat and techno. 

More smashing sets ensued from fresh-faced talent on our radar including Nosedrip, Josey Rebelle, Eris Drew, Shanti Celeste and Lawfawndah.

Taking a break from dancing, a short walk from the festival grounds across the Senne river brought us to de-activated cooling tower, where a Berlin/Lagos-based artist Emeka Ogboh created The Way Earthly Things Are Going, an awe-striking sonic installation like nothing we’d experienced before.

Back at the camping grounds, our friends from Kiosk Radio– a community radio station who typically play from their resident wooden shack in a park in the heart of Brussels– provided the tunes during a big family-style brunch each morning.

A new favorite on the flourishing global festival scene, Horst enchanted us with its mission to deconstruct remains of the past so as to reimagine a hopeful tomorrow. Forgotten urban space was brought to life through amplifying art, architecture, music and community. People came together to celebrate rave as a regenerative force. Those are all things we can get behind.

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