Zillion: Why young people party like it’s 1999

The film was delayed due to the pandemic. Fortunately, because ‘Zillion’ could not wish for better timing. The trance, techno and platform shoes of the 90s are everywhere again. ‘Photos of the Zillion make me nostalgic, even though I’ve never been there’

Buffalos, blue tinted sunglasses, ring beards, ecstasy, bills flying around, pumping beats and a Matteo Simoni who looks suspiciously like Dennis Black Magic. ‘Zillion’, Robin Pront’s long-awaited film about the infamous Antwerp nightclub, is brimming with nineties decadence. “I’m talking about the nineties,” says the fictionalized version of owner Frank Verstraeten, played by Jonas Vermeulen, in the trailer. ‘Then everything was possible. Now nothing is possible.’

It is understandable that Verstraeten looks back on the heyday of his club with a swoon. But he is far from alone. From this week on, nostalgics can indulge themselves not only in the cinema, but also in the nightlife. Because although the disco closed its doors in 2002 and was irrevocably demolished five years ago, the Zillion will rise again from its ashes on 28 and 29 October in the Antwerp Waagnatie for a grand party weekend organized by Verstraeten himself.

When you have to deal with a climate, refugee and energy crisis, it’s nice to think back to a seemingly more carefree time.

Corinne van der Velden

Author of ‘Ninety’

‘It’s very alive’, says Dave Lambert, resident DJ at the Zillion at the time and responsible for the international bookings of the event. ‘Everything was almost sold out before we even started campaigning. Many old friends will be there out of nostalgia, but also a lot of young people who have never been to the Zillion and only know the club from parents, older friends or the wild stories from the media. We notice the same at the big reunion party of La Rocca later this month, also in the Waagnatie.’

Today, the Zillion and La Rocca look like faded glory. Yet even young people who have not even (consciously) experienced the nineties experience a kind of nostalgia for that period. Anyone who has recently dived into the nightlife may have already noticed: the hip kids rave about the music and disco culture of the 1990s. Charlotte de Witte regularly closes her sets with a Bonzai classic. The Dutch Job Jobse turned the HORST Arts & Music Festival upside down last year with an ecstatic trance set. Music center Trix and collective v23 recently organized Trancegression for the second time, a party concept that harks back to the trance, techno and traditional costumes of yesteryear. And the Brussels rave pop duo Ascendant Vierge can best be described as an edgy Milk Inc. And yes, they might consider that a compliment.

But the nineties revival doesn’t just happen in the clubs. On TikTok, young people are immersing themselves en masse in Y2K fashion. The new platform Époque archives the Belgian discotheque history. Jonas Govaerts had Dimitri Vegas cruise around in his new film ‘H4Z4RD’ to the sounds of Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ and Tiësto’s ‘Adagio for Strings’. And Flemish artists such as Chibi Ichigo, The Subs and Promis3 are increasingly reaching for genres such as trance and eurodance.

‘The late nineties and early nillies are really everywhere’, says Andras Vleminckx, who forms the hyper-pop duo Promis3 together with Brent Dielen. ‘That was also noticeable at the festivals this summer. When we covered ‘Summerjam’ and ‘I’m blue (da ba dee)’ on Dour, the tent exploded. Sevdaliza, a Dutch artist who usually makes slow, introspective music, unironically jumped on Gigi D’Agostino, while the rapper Slowthai on Pukkelpop suddenly added ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua to his set. Music that has been uncool for a long time. I also notice this evolution in myself: as a teenager I was more into the drum and bass scene, where someone like Gigi D’Agostino was seen as flat kitsch. Only now do I realize what a good producer he is and I happily allow that kitsch into my life.’

Parents who liked to show off their Good Taste in the 1990s may end up in an identity crisis today when their teenager proudly returns home with a ‘Dance Opera’ compilation CD from the Kringwinkel. Today’s hip kids embrace just about everything that the hip kids of yesteryear turned their noses at. And they mean it. Milk Inc. and Kate Ryan are cooler than dEUS and Gorki and the Johnny’s are the style icons of today. It says something about how much our dance scene was underestimated at the time. It is a piece of belpop history that was swept under the carpet until recently, but people came from far and wide to party in Destelbergen, Lommel and Halen.

Époque, an initiative of KNTXT (Charlotte de Witte’s label) and agency Andrea, wants to lend a hand by archiving Flemish disco culture and T-shirts inspired by Cherry Moon, Boccaccio and co. to release. ‘We try to tell the club’s history by translating the zeitgeist from then to today’, says Otis Verhoeve, who takes care of the graphic part and designs the T-shirts. ‘Belgian dance was very influential back then. Think of Bonzai, which is still internationally known. A new generation seems to realize that more and more.’

‘Suddenly even Studio Brussel is paying attention to our scene’, says Dave Lambert. “Back then you were either a rocker or a raver. And you didn’t meet rockers in clubs. Now everything is much less divided into boxes. Thanks to the internet and Spotify, young people listen to everything at once, without the prejudices of the past.’

Tipping point

An often-cited explanation for the revival is the twenty-year cycle, the theory that everything resurfaces every twenty years and so every decade becomes hip again at some point. In the nineties they were also inspired by the seventies. The comeback of the rave could be attributed to the pent-up urge to bang after two years of pandemic. But it seems more complex than that. The nineties were a turning point in many ways. The internet was in its infancy, subcultures were alive and kicking, fashion was bold and futuristic, the new millennium was just around the corner, and while no one knew what to expect, at least the future looked promising. Plus, it’s the first period documented online, which makes it just that little bit easier to wallow in nineties nostalgia.

Thanks to the internet and Spotify, young people listen to everything at once, without the prejudices of the past.

Dave Lambert

Former resident DJ at the Zillion

‘The nineties also heralded the end of mass culture’, says Dutch journalist, political scientist and teacher at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences Corinne van der Velden, who two years ago brought together the pop culture of the nineties in the book ‘Ninetig’. ‘We all watched the same TV shows, went to the same clubs and bought the same Top 40 CD, which we listened to for months. Even if you were a goth or a gabber, there was no way you could escape it. That’s why there’s something magical about the nineties. I can understand that young people are a bit jealous of that collectivist cultural experience.’

Indeed, time has not stood still since then. Not even in the nightlife. With exceptions such as Fuse, Versuz and Kompass Club, the nightlife has shifted from the clubs to individual events and festivals. The smoke around your head has literally disappeared. Like-minded people find each other faster online than on the dance floor. And more and more organisers, such as the all-female gabber collective Burenhinder, are consciously working on inclusivity, diversity, safer space and safe drug use. The latter in particular highlights something important: in many areas we are a lot better off in 2022.

‘We should not glorify the nineties too harshly,’ says Van der Velden. ‘It was a prosperous and optimistic period, but everything was dormant. The gap between rich and poor was widening, the multicultural society was more difficult than expected and globalization was not doing our climate any good. We just preferred to look the other way back then. Carpe diem must have been the motto of the nineties, but in retrospect that was somewhat naive. Today, problems are less obscured and young people are a lot more committed. At the same time, that may just encourage nostalgia. When you have to deal with a climate, refugee and energy crisis, it’s nice to think back to an apparently more carefree time.’

‘Of course we are only nostalgic for the good things that the nineties produced: the music, the aesthetics, the fashion,’ says Vleminckx. “Maybe because there’s so much mystery surrounding it for my generation. It seems like a different, elusive world: jumping into your car with two people too many on a Friday evening to drive to a dance temple in some Flemish village. I also remember a bizarre ‘Telefacts’ report about the Zillion, in which Frank Verstraeten lay at the bottom of his swimming pool. Images that quite appeal to the imagination as a child. (laughs) After the bankruptcy, I even went to the public sale with some friends to take a look at the building. It’s crazy, but when I see pictures of the Zillion or Boccaccio, with those big light signs on the facade, I get really nostalgic, even though I’ve never been there.’

Robin Van Keulen
©Christophe De Muynck

Robin Van Keulen, 23, Lommel

II’m really looking forward to the release of ‘Zillion’. I even bought an official T-shirt. And I’m in a Zillion fan club on Facebook, in my forties. (laughs) Flemish disco history already intrigued me because of my parents’ stories, but during the lockdowns I really delved into it. It feels like digital archaeology, with the internet as an inexhaustible source.’

‘The nightlife has changed enormously. At the time, you even had several dance halls in Lommel and you just popped in somewhere at the weekend. Now you have to plan where to go and every party is an event. With Trancegression, the parties that I organize with my collective v23, we want to bring the nineties vibe to the present and we mix trance with more internet-based sounds. Because there is also danger in nostalgia: if you cling too hard to the past, you lose sight of the future.’

Vera Moro
©Christophe De Muynck

Vera Moro, 23, Brussels

“During the pandemic, I taught myself to DJ, like just about everyone else. (laughs) I usually play a mix of psytrance, acid and hyperpop. Then it is almost impossible not to be inspired by the nineties. It was a tipping point, in terms of music as well as aesthetics and atmosphere. Or so it seems, because of course I wasn’t there myself.’

‘It’s funny that my generation experiences a kind of collective nostalgia for that period, but at the same time we can be happy that a lot has changed since then. I don’t know if I, as a trans person, would have felt so welcome in a club at the time. Today organizers are very busy creating a safer space where everyone feels welcome and young people are more aware of the effects of their drug use. In a way we are an improved, more inclusive version of the 90s club scene.”

Eva Bly
©Christophe De Muynck

Eva Bly, 23, Antwerp

‘I love retrofuturism, cyberpunk and turn-of-the-century fashion. I’m guessing that love started by playing a lot of ‘Tekken’. I also get inspiration from old movies and porn books that my uncle gave me. (laughs) TikTok helped fuel the revival: suddenly everything is hip again, although the style is also being milked out a bit.’

“Every brand is launching a 90s-inspired clothing line these days, but I prefer to buy second-hand through Vinted. Because I don’t want to spend a lot of money, but also because new clothes never evoke the same feeling. I dare to call myself an expert. I avoid search terms like Y2K, because then you mainly find sellers who want to cash in on the trend. I prefer to look for sellers who have lived through the nineties. For example, I google ‘elephant pipes’, a word that only people over forty use.’

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