Exclusive Interview With Olaf Boswijk (Trouw)
Pictures: Thierry Vrakking (Television Photography)
You might not realize it every day, but the disappearance of an institution in the club scene is drawing nearer and nearer. From January 2015, Trouw is no more. As the Amsterdam crowd, loyal fan base and curious tourists are still indulging in every single night that the venue still has to offer, I went to visit the club on a weekday afternoon to talk to the club’s founder and co-owner Olaf Boswijk.
Trouw needs no introduction at this point in time. The acclaimed venue on the Wibautstraat in Amsterdam has been a second home to many since it first opened its doors in 2009. Focusing on international allure right from the start, Trouw has been able to capture the hearts and minds of not just the people of Amsterdam, but also of international visitors as well as all the artists who play there. Olaf and his colleagues have been able to endear nearly every DJ that sets foot in the club, building long-lasting relationships that transcend mere financial transactions.
As you enter the club during the day outside of the weekend you really walk into something bizarre, as it looks so different from the dark, crowded dance temple that you have grown accustomed to over the years. The dance floor was filled with random pieces of furniture, while a couple of guys were busy with the lighting and decoration. In the restaurant around the corner from the hallway, Olaf was sitting patiently at one of the tables. After a cup of coffee and a bit of chitchat on the uselessness of the ‘what is real deep house?’ discussion that is being waged nowadays, we sat down and started talking about more important issues.
So, first of all, which events should every Trouw fan come and visit before the doors are shut here?
Of course that’s a very tough choice and I could name you a dozen. Most importantly we will see the last editions of recurring club nights like Colors, Drukpers, Imprint or ADE, and as the end is drawing nearer, their last time will probably also be the most magical and memorable. And it goes without saying that if you’re able to pull it off, you should attend the closing night.
Any specifics you can already tell us about that closing night?
Not much more than it will probably occur somewhere in the last week of December, and that it will entail nine to ten days of closing parties in the club, but also special concerts, dinners and art installations of course.
That sounds intense.
When Trouw’s predecessor, 11, was about to shut, we held closing parties for eleven days in a row, and that’s something that we want to follow through on.
I saw a video of your very last moments in 11, with you behind the decks, full of emotion and in the middle of what looks like an incredible atmosphere. Do you have any idea on just how you will be experiencing the last hours at Trouw? Will it be different?
Yes it will. I think it will be more intense this time around, because there are much more people involved than with 11 and the amount of people that feels affiliated to this club is larger than at 11. That hard core we had over there has only grown over the years during the existence of this place. The biggest difference for me personally is that, although 11 felt like it was a bit mine as well, Trouw actually is partly my own creation.
Other than that, the last night will be somewhat of a bigger deal because the club has also had a bigger impact on the scene than 11. So grabbing hold of those tickets and being able to be here that night will be a crazy ordeal.
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Aside from the globalizing effects of social media, why has Trouw had a bigger international impact on the scene than 11?
We have very close contact with the artists, who love to come and play here and have spread the word on the club outside of the Netherlands. Amsterdam itself has become more relevant in the last five years, that’s also a very important factor. And it’s the venue itself. There is something going on here that you can’t put your finger on, but you can feel it. I remember very well the first time I walked in here, and it looked in no way as what it looks like now, but I could feel it then already. And by adding our own elements and ideas, a special kind of crew and bar staff and this and that, we made it something that was incomparable to something else. And that’s something that sticks with the visitor in his or her experience I hope.
Are there clubs or club owners who have inspired you?
Definitely. Ata of Robert Johnson is someone who I have looked up to for a long time now. Of course Berghain has always been a big inspiration. And the old-school disco club scene like Paradise Garage and Studio 54 still inspire me.
How was your first experience in Berghain?
That’s a long time ago. I think I first heard of it from Patrice Bäumel, who had to play there and asked me if I wanted to join. He had to play there from 9 till 12, so on Saturday night we went to bed early and got up in time and everything and we drove over the bridge to the east of the wall. Once inside the club, the feeling was indescribable, like everybody’s first visit over there as I can imagine. I was completely blown away.
And this was before the time that it became as hyped as it is now, so there weren’t a lot of people either. So at some points during his set he was playing for maybe 50 people or less. And as this was before social media, I didn’t have a clue of the zero tolerance policy on taking pictures. I still owned this antique phone, which had a crappy camera on it. At one point I wanted to take a picture of what I was witnessing and security nearly kicked me out!
Haha shame on you! Something that many saw as copied from Berghain policy was the new ticket approach that would let visitors buy their tickets solely at the door, dispensing online sales. Within a short time this policy was reversed. Why?
That ticket policy was something that we had in mind for a long time. It’s not copied as some people think, it’s simply the way every club in the world used to work and the way we experienced clubbing when we were young.The philosophy behind it was that we wanted to make club nights a bit more of an happening like in the old days. Sometimes events are flooded with people who just come along for the hype and bought their tickets from behind their laptop, without putting in much effort to dress up or add something to the party. If an event is sold-out like this, than there’s no place for those who decide to visit the event a bit more impromptu. But they are the ones that usually bring the party!We thought it to be unfair, and we wanted to turn the system around in our last year. We wanted to take away the predictability and add more excitement during a club night.
In the first weeks it actually worked out pretty well. Especially our most loyal visitors were very happy with the new regulation and saw it as an improvement that would even out different kinds of visitors. But eventually it kind of turned around on us: the rows got longer and longer, and instead of creating excitement it created tension and annoyance from visitors. The younger kids were fine with queuing for two and a half hours, but the old guard didn’t have the patience anymore for something like that.
So we gave it some very long thought and asked the public of their opinion on the matter and it turned out that the majority of people really didn’t like it. So we turned it back around and peace has returned at the entrance.
Okay, clear. On another topic, has the identity of Trouw changed over the years?
On the one hand the atmosphere of the club is more closed and mysterious than 11, especially in the first couple of years. On the other we have again become more open to the public. The website, our look and feel and general communication of the club were very stale and static at first, but have become more transparent and ‘user-friendly’ over the years I think.
We’ve also become more open in relation to Amsterdam as a whole, in a sense that we’ve profiled ourselves as a true Amsterdam institution, as an integral part of this city. And we have started to carry out the other pillars of Trouw more and more, like our restaurant, cultural side-programs and fun events like Bowling At Trouw. All in all we have become more open and colourful, I think.
And you can also see a change in the bookings we do. For instance Joris Voorn, who is booked here regularly nowadays. It’s something that we think is necessary and we can allow ourselves to do now.
Why is it necessary?
Again it’s part of our philosophy of having a very diverse crowd on the dance floor every night. What makes an act like Joris Voorn so interesting, other than his music of course, is that he attracts a relatively young audience, which is challenging for us because these people perhaps aren’t frequent visitors of Trouw, but with an act like that we can eventually build a relationship with them in the long run.
Speaking of Joris Voorn, how do you pull it off to fill every single day of the weekend with the biggest local and international headliners?
[laughs] We just do it I guess. I think that we have built up a relationship with many of the artists that come here; some relationships go back as far as ten years. Also, in some cases we were the first to book these artists in the Netherlands, so that creates a certain bond as well.
On the other hand though, it has become much harder to organize a solid line-up during specific nights. The explosive festival culture during the Summer has a lot to do with that. A lot of times these big, commercial festivals have certain exclusivity deals with artists, which means that they can’t play anywhere else in the Netherlands for a month before and after that festival.
I always had the idea that it would be much easier to book international artists during the Summer months, since many of them were hanging around in the city anyway for other gigs.
That used to be the case, yeah. But while the scene has gotten bigger and bigger, so has the competition. And now big festivals have the money and the power to force artists into these deals that will let them play only at their own event for a certain period of time. I have always found this ridiculous. I mean we’re a club for 700 people for Christ’s sake, how are we a danger to a festival with 40.000 visitors? There’s not a single soul who is not going to buy their ticket for a festival because for instance Soul Clap is also playing at Trouw a month before. It doesn’t work like that. But sadly, in their eyes it does.
I even think that clubs and festivals can support and strengthen each other if they would cooperate more. By the way, many of these festivals are looking at our line-ups to see which artists are popular and have sold-out here. If they notice that Mano Le Tough attracts a huge following when he’s playing in Trouw, then nine times out of ten those festivals will book him without hesitation.
Does the explosion of festival culture worry you?
Yes it does. It’s become more of a business, money is more important and it’s perhaps too easy.
How do you mean?
What we’ve just talked about regarding the factors that make a club night work, those factors don’t really apply to a big festival. Certainly not regarding the crowd. I mean buying your ticket six months prior to the event, and a flood of Facebook posts of the organizers or people stull looking for tickets on the event page every week doesn’t leave a lot of excitement and mystery left. It creates a different dynamic.
I guess there is some truth to that. Now imagine that after Trouw you guys will step back from the scene. Which organization is able to fill the void that you leave in the Amsterdam scene?
Tough one. I know for sure that certain people or parties will carry on some part of Trouw’s ideals after we’re gone. I strongly believe that, musically speaking, Dekmantel is very close to Trouw. But they have proven themselves on the festival front, not club-wise. To be honest I really don’t know who can, let alone who or what will take over for us in January.
What’s your take on the Amsterdam club scene in general right now?
There are a lot of cool new initiatives like the Tolhuistuin, Volkshotel, Radion. There is a lot going on and that’s a good thing. What I question sometimes however is whether all these new initiatives realize how hard it is to run a club and make a return on your investments. I have the idea that people think that there is mad money to be made with a club. Some people have that idea of Trouw, that we’re making tons without much effort. It really doesn’t work like that. Sure my colleagues and me can make a living of Trouw now, but in the first two years it was really hard to make ends meet – and I mean both the club and me personally.
Looking at other clubs I think they are going through a rough time as well. I know that Studio 80 has had a difficult year. And there is a reason why AIR Amsterdam has replaced some of their house and techno nights with more commercial programming. What I actually hope is that in time smaller initiatives will start to pop up, to give the necessary counter-reaction to the festival culture.
It sounds like you almost see it as a threat.
You bet. Festival culture absolutely has a lot of positive sides to it, don’t get me wrong. But if we’re honest, making money is what drives these festivals; they’re not doing it because they love to organize a festival. When the commercial aspect plays a bigger role than the love for music, than that is worrisome in my view.
Allright. Going back to Trouw, when you look back on your time here in forty years, what will be your dearest memory?
I can’t answer that until I have witnessed the final day of course. But up until now, I think it’s actually the first time I set foot in this building. It’s been the single most defining moment I think. Of course the venue looked completely different but I immediately had that spark. I knew that this was going to be the place; it was that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after a long quest for a new location.
Do you have any clue as to what you’re going to do after Trouw?
First I’m going to take some well-deserved time off. Club-wise we honestly don’t have any plans in the making yet. There was some time in between the closing of 11 and the opening of Trouw, and I guess that this time it will be no different.
Okay last one: if you could open a club anywhere in the world, where would it be?
[laughs] Wow, let me see. Maybe somewhere in South America, on the beach, close to the mountains. So that when I fee like it I can close shop and go surfing or snowboarding. But that’s just a dream for now.
That sounds like a good ending to the conversation.
As we went down to De Verdieping for the photo op and passed all the spaces that have a million memories stuck to it, I started to feel a bit gloomy. Next to being an integral part of the dance scene, Trouw has also earned a place in many people’s hearts since the very beginning, including mine. Thinking that I might never set foot here again felt awkward and a bit surreal.
While he was posing in front of the artwork by graffiti legend Delta, you couldn’t help but pick up on the same kind of melancholy coming from Olaf, while the sound of the camera shutter echoed through the empty hall.