The new kid on the block

Summary

How time flies. It was only a year ago that that the front page of this magazine was devoted to the venerable Brussels institution known as Ancienne Belgique and its general manager, the genial Jari Demeulemeester.

There is change at the top of Brussels’ most celebrated live music venue

How time flies. It was only a year ago that that the front page of this magazine was devoted to the venerable Brussels institution known as Ancienne Belgique and its general manager, the genial Jari Demeulemeester.

And now he's gone. Strange as it may seem to AB afcionados, Demeulemeester has retired after 31 years - the last 22 as general manager - on Anspachlaan. His unrivalled passion for live music, his never-ending enthusiasm and his shrewd business acumen made him one of the most famous - and best-loved - music personalities in the country. Add a beaming smile and a real gift for storytelling, and you realise that his will be difficult boots to fill.

Tellingly, the search for his replacement began almost a year ago. Thirty candidates were interviewed for this prestigious position, an arduous process, until the smoke finally rose. The new person in charge is 48-year-old Dirk De Clippeleir.

Your CV (general manager at EMI Music, managing director at Universal, chairman of recording industry lobbies IFPI and SIMIM) is impressive. Did you apply for this position or were you approached?
I applied in a totally straightforward manner, having seen an ad on the website - like a good boy! OK, I had heard about the vacancy though the grapevine, but I applied through the normal channels, just like all the other candidates.

Another more recent string to your bow is to be an executive consultant to high-flying CEOs. Will you run both careers simultaneously?
I have my own company, yes, which specialises in coaching and consulting. But that has now been put on hold, as you can understand. This [the Ancienne Belgique] is not a job you can give less than 100% to.

Glad to hear it! You are, after all, taking over from someone who quickly became almost synonymous with the AB. No pressure.
Let's be clear about this: Nobody can replace Jari, and I do hope nobody is foolish enough to think they can. He is an institution himself - like the Ancienne Belgique. I am a different person and will bring different qualities to the job.

What have you already identified as you most pressing priorities in your new role? It looks, to the untrained eye, that the Ancienne Belgique is already a well-oiled machine.
As general director, there is no need to change anything. The programming team is doing a sterling job, and long may it continue. Where I intend to be most active is in fighting to get the money to run the place properly. As you know, we are partly dependent on subsidies from the Flemish authorities. My goal is for us to consolidate the existing subsidies and to receive extra money which would be used to give a leg-up to emerging Belgian artists. I feel it's a real duty for the venue.

Without meaning to open a can of worms, where do you stand on the recent exchange of views regarding noise levels and the Flemish government's intention to set a cap on them?
All parties need to be heard; all parties need to talk to one another. We want to be at the forefront of the noise debate. It is essential for our credibility that we are seen as a key player in this debate. First of all, skilful sound mixing yields better results at a lower volume.

But sometimes, having the best intentions in the world just isn't enough. Some bands have built their reputation on being aggressively loud.
The AB has a duty to talk to these artists. Yes, some bands like to boast that they are "the loudest around", but we want them to look at it from a health perspective. You don't want people who come to your venue to enjoy some quality music developing hearing problems.

Being from Brussels, and from the Flemish community to boot, you inherit a place of the highest social - and symbolic - importance.
I cannot convey how excited I am about my new position. The Ancienne Belgique is not only one of the key musical places in Brussels, it is one of the key cultural places. It means so much to me as a Brusseleer, but also as a Fleming. I went to see the French band Indochine play the AB the other night, and it was such a perfect moment. A French band playing to a delirious French-speaking audience - in a Flemish venue in the heart of Brussels. To me it spoke volumes for the open-mindedness of the Flemish institutions. I felt immensely proud.

Immense pride is also what music fans from Brussels - and Belgium - feel when it comes to this venerable music venue. Over the years, the AB has acquired a kind of dual identity: the venue where established international artists genuinely love playing because of the sound quality, the warm welcome and the infrastructure; but also the place that so many budding Belgian artists know will provide them with the perfect environment to cut their teeth.

This double-pronged tactic is partly what made Jari Demeulemeester such a respected figure. How reassuring, then, to hear that his successor intends to perpetuate this tradition and ask for more money for young local bands. Here's to a prosperous future then - no need to shout it out too loud!

 

The new kid on the block

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