Horta Gallery, Brussels

This weekend, every metro station in Brussels will pump techno through their tannoy system for the 25th anniversary of Fuse, a venue that’s championed techno in the city since 1994. To the north of the city, ADAM – Brussels Design Museum is showing two exhibitions celebrating club culture. Coming from London, where the underground is consistently stifled, nightlife in Brussels is refreshingly supported by local government and dancers alike. As Frederick Boutry (LGBT+ and nightlife consultant for the tourist board) told me on the first night of Listen! Festival, “if you put barriers up, nothing will work.”

The fourth edition of Listen! welcomed around 18,000 guests to 13 different venues over five days. New for 2019, 19th century market hall Halles Saint-Géry became Sound District; a central hub for the festival during the day, Sound District hosted a label market, synth fair and talks across the weekend. Kiosk Radio streamed live each day, with one highlight being JazzDee, whose breezy selections were the perfect afternoon soundtrack.

Thursday saw Listen! host seven free parties, curated by Belgian collectives, in venues along Brussels Canal. The programme shone a light on the creative neighbourhood of Molenbeek, an area that’s struggled since the 2015 Paris attacks (the area was subject to international scrutiny when it was revealed that key suspects lived there). A complex of whitewashed galleries and artist studios, LaVallée was buzzing, with many punters enjoying beers in the courtyard before catching a live set from Patricia Kokett, the Lithuanian producer with a penchant for glitchy industrial rhythms. Later, up the road at Kanal Centre Pompidou, a former Citröen garage, Belgium’s Red D sent hands into the air with soulful house cuts.

However, the main festival took place across four rooms at Horta Gallery, situated in the grandiose side entrance of Brussels Central station. The main room, with a sweeping walkway and imposing white pillars, is reminiscent of The Guggenheim. Here, local artist Lefto curated Friday’s line-up, with his own set spanning Outlander’s classic Vamp right through to Persian trap. The following day, the atmosphere peaked for Palms Trax, who delivered soaring disco. Sunday’s line-up was weightier – Helena Hauff’s pummelling techno was complemented by green lasers slicing through the haze above the dance floor. Elsewhere, The Tunnel’s intimate space was the ideal setting for Andrew Weatherall’s sticky house jams. On Friday night at Horta’s C12 area, glowing in a white t-shirt, Avalon Emerson drew one of the biggest crowds, dropping blistering electro like Exzakt’s Start the Party.

It was in the fourth room, hosted by Boiler Room, that the crowd had most energy. Up-and-comer AliA impressed with garage-leaning selections on Friday, and Stellar OM Source sent the floor into a frenzy the following night with tracks like Slam & Green Velvet’s Take Your Time. The addition of Boiler Room meant that, aside from a stuffy indoor smoking area, there was no seating anywhere in the venue. Listen! would do well to rectify this for 2020, as Saturday felt overcrowded at times.

Still, with many insiders happy to wax lyrical about Brussels’ thriving scene, it was pleasing to see local talent granted as much space as the heavy hitters. On the strength of Listen!, it really is an exciting time for dance music in the city – and it’s clear that this festival is invested in pushing that trajectory.