Polarities

On thursday I learned a valuable lesson about Google Maps while trying to locate the yoga class I intended to attend. Due to some bug, all street addresses on Frankrijklei over the number 100 are assigned to the same spot on the map –  which had me spending twenty minutes wandering up and down the street until I abandoning my fruitless search for the yoga center. Which I later found on the opposite side of the wide avenue, and some 300 meters southward from the area where I was searching.

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Later that night it was time for the first real taste of the antwerpian nightlife. My flatmate Lorena had said that some people from the Erasmus gang were meeting up for a night out by the main railway station (an opulent building currently beautifully wrapped for façade repairs) so I decided to join in. The target was a place called Cafe d’Anvers that boasts free thursdays for exchange students, undoubtedly a dubious concept.

Naturally the place was packed to the brim when we arrived so an excursion to a nearby bar was duly made. When a slightly decimated gang of Erasmusers subsequently made a later attempt at the club, success followed. If that is the right word. It was clear that this was the sort of club and event you wouldn’t attend even with a ten-foot pole in your hometown – in Helsinki the comparable place is probably Lux, which also has the free exchangee nights.

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This actually was my premier time at a famous nightclub, but I didn’t disseminate much currency. The crowd was in high spirits and of low age, and the atmosphere was thick and steaming, a veritable tropical warmth with a slight hint of grassy smoke in the air, that misted over the lens of my trusty G9 for the duration of the pictures above. The reason for the crowd’s young median age was later revealed to be that this particular thursday was a special night for highschool kids at Cafe’dAnvers. Highschool kids… and Erasmus students.

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Notice the look of the guy with long hair near the left edge of the image below; isn’t he adorable and filled with good intentions?

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Cafe d’Anvers, then, is the famous nightclub of Antwerp, mentioned first in all tourist guides, from which follows that it is quite mainstream and corny. An interesting aspect, if you will, of the club is that it is smack in the middle of the city’s red-light district, where commerce is furthered by display windows inviting prospective window-lickers and -shoppers. The general effect is bound to make you queasy if you are unused to this sort of publicly displayed commerce, even though the excesses I saw weren’t that excessive.

To the club’s favour it has to be said that the populist and eclectic DJ sets were well-executed and contained sort-of-current bangers like Boys Noize’s remix of Feist’s My Moon My Man (not a personal favourite) even though confusingly interspersed with crowd-pleasing things like the Bad Boys theme song. Not having been to LUX in Helsinki, I cannot tell for certain, but I suspect that you won’t hear Simian Mobile Disco’s We are your friends there, not now, or ever. Correct me if I’m wrong.

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Some mandatory Erasmus pictures were made; this charming piece above features, apart from myself, Lorena (hereafter referred to without the byname “my flatmate”), and a spaniard named Didac.

All in all, I still don’t think I will find the need to attend any further free nights at that particular club, even though this experience was fascinating in a way. But it does seem to get some interesting DJs from time to time, so I’m not saying never. A good thing is that people here don’t seem to liquour themselves up nearly to the extent that happens in Finland, which makes the clubbing experience more well-behaved, if only slightly. On the other hand, I’d be scared if the highschool kids would go to clubs and binge-drink.

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Following all this, my friday workday was a rather sleepy affair, which affected my attempts to wrap my head around some trivial geometry functions that figured in the neat web-based Python learning book How to think like a computer scientist that I’m currently chomping through.

Some interesting fridayly observations included highschool kids smoking weed on the lunch break, and a man crying manically over a sport bag in the street. Here cannabis posession is legal, but to legally buy the stuff you’d have to visit Holland. From what I’ve seen until now, it is silly to call Antwerp a city of contrasts, but the general air of the place is interesting and it has many aspects. From looking around it is quite obvious how well-to-do this city is.

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This Lynchian display of opulence in the form of a giant mosaiqued hand is a case in point, as are the numerous sport cars. The amount of stores for interior design objects in the most disparate but consistently luxurious genres is also striking, as are the many showrooms for kitchen designs. The populace is also generally well-dressed, in a rather decorative but subdued way – think the Danish brand Noa Noa. The exaggerated displays of genre styling that grace Finnish streets, particularly on teenagers, are much less prevalent here, though.

The general expensiveness is also mirrored in some of the prices. Eating out can be relatively costly, something which I experienced when I happened on this slightly improbable hippie-vegetarian place called Lombardia. The decoration scheme, if one can call it such, is of the seen-to-be-experienced kind, the owner seemed a jolly chap, and the prices are equally memorable. But this is to be expected for a cafeteria that has it’s own printed history book.

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For the above vegetarian sandwich and a fresh-made cup of ginger tea, both very good, I was set back 13 €. The sign on the wall did say that prices were set to the customer’s attitude – but it gets me if I did anything wrong there.

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For friday night I had planned to go and see a sort of two-day mini-festival event curated by the interesting Belgian record company / music / culture promotion organization KRAAK, myspace link,  at a place called Scheld’apen. KRAAK is probably familiar to those of you following The Wire, and can be recommended to everyone interested in music from somewhere out in the muddy fields that surround the beaten path – plenty of psychedelia, odd folk, experimental electronics and tape loops.

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This event and location quite obviously turned out to be a marked opposite to Cafe d’Anvers from the night before. Scheld’apen is a now very much established former squat, down by the docks of the Schelde river and some 1500 meters to walk from the city along a dark stretch of cobbled lane with wasteland on one side and container stacks on the other, where cars speed towards a road that connects to the motorway that goes under the Schelde.

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After a walk that seemed longer than the numbers indicate, as walks to unfamiliar destinations tend to do, I arrived at the place and found it rather welcoming. Not in the least because I got to have some interesting discussions with a local named Danny, a former student of fine art at Sint Lucas, who also thankfully helped me out with a bike ride to the city after the concerts. There was even the provision to eat at long wooden tables, and naturally, affordable beer, and the crowd was mostly earth-toned, soft-edgedly designery or vintage-undergroundish – no famous glitteryness in sight.

One could say that the mission to find interesting places where the locals go out was met with some success – Danny was surprised that I’d found the place after only a week in Antwerp, but this owed much to me being aware of KRAAK from before. So now I have experienced the most mainstreamlined nightclub and the main underground-arty hangout. It is not hard to arrive at the decision which place to visit more frequently, but I really will need the bicycle as not to be reliant on the kindness of strangers, although not too hard-won. But to the bands, perhaps the main issue.

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The opening act was a Belgian group going under the moniker Hash Buffalo. Their oeuvre consisted of  billowing mats of cosmic sounds performed with several vintage or otherwise quirky synth keyboards, drum machines and effect pedals. The five-person band was sitting in a circle facing each other in the center of the stage, looking very much captivated by their collectively generated soundscape. It was undoubtedly jam-like, but with an obvious direction – perhaps some hive-mind at work.

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The second band, Tit Machine, a girl group with a boy bassist, opened with a cover of The Shaggs‘ song My pal Foot foot and many friends in the audience. Obviously The Shaggs was of great influence on the band’s sound, and the vocalist / guitarrist admitting to not being able to play gitar, or something of the sort. An amusing high point was scored when they invited someone from the audience to come on stage and plonk a synthetizer keyboard for one song. Props should also be given to the general sonic no-wavy mayhem, and the drummer who performed with massive amounts of sillyness energy – even though this wasn’t necessarily a band I personally would listen to from a recording.

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The headline act, and only foreign band of the evening, was U.S. Girls, which turned out to be one girl singing, playing tape loops and distorting it all to a deep fuzz with effect pedals, the result reminding me of Ariel Pink’s haunted material. This made for a show that perhaps could be best rather daftly described as mesmerizing, for want of a better word. But hey, she was using magnetic tapes, after all. Har-har. Sadly the tapes proved to make for a show of only twenty-something minutes, since they apparently ran out. It would well have worked for a longer while, to give more time to simmer in the shimmering sound soup. But U.S. Girls definetly ended up on my checklist putting a cap on a nice evening.

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