Het Paard in The Hague grew from a scruffy youth club to an adult pop temple. The common thread in the programming is the local music scene. “We want to be a springboard.”
It is displayed like an archaeological find: the old dressing room door, covered with a dizzying amount of tire stickers. It is a collage of musical footnotes in the turbulent history of the Horse, which you can gaze at for a long time. The ‘excavation’ is significant, because tangible memories of the past of the pop temple in The Hague have hardly been left since the renovation.
Stories all the more. Visitors are invited to share their personal anecdotes about the Horse in the video booth, in the former smoking area. ‘Memorable concerts, awkward situations or even love stories’ director Majel Blonden hopes to collect. “We want to release it as a compilation.” The occasion is the fiftieth anniversary of the stage, which opened its doors on the Prinsegracht on 21 October 1972 as the Trojan Horse.
“The Hague was longing for the Horse at the time,” says keyboardist and Hague doctor Robert Jan Stips. ‘Beatstad’ The Hague was regarded as the Mecca of Dutch pop music at the end of the sixties. Big names like Shocking Blue, Golden Earrings and Sandy Coast spearheaded a scene that reportedly had more than 2,000 bands.
Musical discovery and experiment
“A lot of subculture, but without a stage of its own,” says Stips. “The 1970s were dominated by musical discovery and experimentation. An exciting time from an artistic point of view, but commercially uninteresting for sports halls and discotheques.” The Horse came to the rescue.
The crowd was great when Stips performed there for the first time with his progressive rock band Supersister. The converted meeting hall of a former Catholic girls’ boarding school turned out to be no match for the band’s popularity. “The building was a labyrinth of corridors and rooms, crawling with visitors who didn’t fit in the room.”
Ten days of party
With a ten-day anniversary program from 21 October, the Horse will skim past, present and future. In addition to performances by the Belgian dEUS and White Lies from London, there is a ‘Kitchen concert’ by artist and chef Jasper Udink ten Cate and the festival evening The Time is Now is all about women ‘swimming against the tide’. , including Dutch-Iranian singer Sevdaliza and rap duo Lionstorm.
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The Paard van Troje, located in three 17th-century mansions, was therefore intended as a youth center, initiated by municipal welfare work. The founders thought it was a fitting name, because they wanted to conquer the neat Hofstad from the gut. With a range of activities that breathed ‘freedom’. For example, there was yoga in the confessional room, drawing lessons and a women’s café in the basement and ‘naked dance’ in the chapel.
The aim to offer a meeting place for ‘all young people in The Hague’ brought together a remarkable mix of visitors. Groups of hippies, Surinamese and Hells Angels gathered around the football table, the billiards table and the steaming kettle of the teahouse in the attic. But it didn’t want to be a melting pot, says Paard chronicler Robert-Jan Rueb. “It was a multicultural powder keg, with drug use as the proverbial fuse.” A violent incident and complaints about disturbances and drug nuisance led to closure twice in a short time.
‘I went there secretly’
The negative image remained attached to the center for a long time, according to Rueb. “I secretly went there when I was 15, because my parents thought it was a place of destruction.”
The center also played a prominent role in the Dutch culture of tolerance. The presence of a house dealer in hashish attracted a lot of attention from the media and policy makers, and in 1978 served – on the intercession of a municipal drug advisory committee – as a blueprint for a national soft drug policy.
The rise of the squatters’ movement and punk music ushered in a new era, in which, in Rueb’s words, ‘Indian strings and floaty dance’ were exchanged for link chains and ferocious pogo. Shabby but cosy, musician Henk Koorn sums up the atmosphere at that time. “You kept your coat on or you threw it on the ground. There was no wardrobe.”
It became the musical living room of The Hague, where Koorn’s band Hallo Venray enjoyed the designation ‘house band’ for a long time. “Because we lived in a squat across the street and could therefore be called up quickly to provide the support act or to test the sound system.”
Despite the organizational and financial chaos of the early years, Het Paard succeeded in its ambition to become one of the defining halls of the Dutch pop circuit. For domestic, but also foreign bands. The hall could boast of impressive posters of bands such as The Cure, U2, Pearl Jam and Radiohead – which had not yet broken through at the time. And, never unmentioned, the nightly surprise concerts of Prince and Mick Jagger.
The property remained a problem
The inefficient layout of the property remained a problem. “Luring renowned foreign artists to The Hague became increasingly difficult,” says director Blonden, who worked as a programmer in the late 1990s. Also because the Dutch hall landscape went through a process of modernization around the turn of the century, whereby scaling up was the norm. Het Paard cannot stay behind and eventually the municipality gave in.
After a four-year renovation, in which only the facade was spared, a new large hall was taken into use in 2003. The concrete and soundproof box-within-a-box construction, designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, can accommodate 1,100 people – a capacity doubling. Less characteristic perhaps, but the Horse (now without Troy) was back on the international map. Blonden: “We are now one of the largest cultural institutions in The Hague, with a quarter of a million visitors a year”.
The Hague music scene
This was also the result of a more audience-friendly and broader programming, with space for art and literature, student evenings and political meetings in addition to music and dance. “We are no longer a niche stage, but we propagate pop culture in the broadest sense of the word,” says Blonden while Guus Meeuwis’ roadies set up his show in the main hall.
The common thread in the programming remained the music scene in The Hague, with new generations of talent. The first Paard performances were also the starting point of their careers for newly arrived bands such as Di-rect and Son Mieux. “We want to be a springboard for artists by guiding and supporting them.”
The most logical place on earth
Beginning musicians have had a harder time since the pandemic, Blonden points out. “People have so much to catch up after two years of corona: parties, concerts, weddings. That seems to be at the expense of the lesser-known bands that we present in the small hall or the Paardcafé.”
Hague veterans such as Henk Koorn still find shelter in the Paard. ‘The most logical place on earth’ to christen the new Hallo Venray album last month, according to Koorn. His Joy Division tribute in the upcoming anniversary week is a nod to the time when he himself could be found daily in the Paard.
Or was everything better in the past? “The Horse has changed from a dirty knickers club to a clean knickers club.” He smiles. “That’s not a value judgment.”
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