Zillion: Why young people party like it’s 1999

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

When you have to deal with a climate, refugee and energy crisis, it’s nice tothink 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 timeand responsible for the international bookings of the event. ‘Everything wasalmost sold out before we even started campaigning. Many old friends will bethere out of nostalgia, but also a lot of young people who have never been tothe Zillion and only know the club from parents, older friends or the wildstories from the media. We notice the same at the big reunion party of LaRocca later this month, also in the Waagnatie.’

Today, the Zillion and La Rocca look like faded glory. Yet even young peoplewho have not even (consciously) experienced the nineties experience a kind ofnostalgia for that period. Anyone who has recently dived into the nightlifemay have already noticed: the hip kids rave about the music and disco cultureof the 1990s. Charlotte de Witte regularly closes her sets with a Bonzaiclassic. The Dutch Job Jobse turned the HORST Arts & Music Festival upsidedown last year with an ecstatic trance set. Music center Trix and collectivev23 recently organized Trancegression for the second time, a party conceptthat harks back to the trance, techno and traditional costumes of yesteryear.And the Brussels rave pop duo Ascendant Vierge can best be described as anedgy Milk Inc. And yes, they might consider that a compliment.

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

‘The late nineties and early nillies are really everywhere’, says AndrasVleminckx, 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, unironicallyjumped on Gigi D’Agostino, while the rapper Slowthai on Pukkelpop suddenlyadded ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua to his set. Music that has been uncool for a longtime. I also notice this evolution in myself: as a teenager I was more intothe drum and bass scene, where someone like Gigi D’Agostino was seen as flatkitsch. Only now do I realize what a good producer he is and I happily allowthat kitsch into my life.’

Parents who liked to show off their Good Taste in the 1990s may end up in anidentity crisis today when their teenager proudly returns home with a ‘DanceOpera’ compilation CD from the Kringwinkel. Today’s hip kids embrace justabout everything that the hip kids of yesteryear turned their noses at. Andthey mean it. Milk Inc. and Kate Ryan are cooler than dEUS and Gorki and theJohnny’s are the style icons of today. It says something about how much ourdance scene was underestimated at the time. It is a piece of belpop historythat was swept under the carpet until recently, but people came from far andwide 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 inspiredby Cherry Moon, Boccaccio and co. to release. ‘We try to tell the club’shistory by translating the zeitgeist from then to today’, says Otis Verhoeve,who takes care of the graphic part and designs the T-shirts. ‘Belgian dancewas very influential back then. Think of Bonzai, which is stillinternationally known. A new generation seems to realize that more and more.’

‘Suddenly even Studio Brussel is paying attention to our scene’, says DaveLambert. “Back then you were either a rocker or a raver. And you didn’t meetrockers in clubs. Now everything is much less divided into boxes. Thanks tothe internet and Spotify, young people listen to everything at once, withoutthe prejudices of the past.’

Tipping point

An often-cited explanation for the revival is the twenty-year cycle, thetheory that everything resurfaces every twenty years and so every decadebecomes hip again at some point. In the nineties they were also inspired bythe seventies. The comeback of the rave could be attributed to the pent-upurge 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 itsinfancy, subcultures were alive and kicking, fashion was bold and futuristic,the new millennium was just around the corner, and while no one knew what toexpect, at least the future looked promising. Plus, it’s the first perioddocumented online, which makes it just that little bit easier to wallow innineties 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 AppliedSciences Corinne van der Velden, who two years ago brought together the popculture of the nineties in the book ‘Ninetig’. ‘We all watched the same TVshows, went to the same clubs and bought the same Top 40 CD, which we listenedto for months. Even if you were a goth or a gabber, there was no way you couldescape it. That’s why there’s something magical about the nineties. I canunderstand that young people are a bit jealous of that collectivist culturalexperience.’

Indeed, time has not stood still since then. Not even in the nightlife. Withexceptions such as Fuse, Versuz and Kompass Club, the nightlife has shiftedfrom the clubs to individual events and festivals. The smoke around your headhas literally disappeared. Like-minded people find each other faster onlinethan on the dance floor. And more and more organisers, such as the all-femalegabber collective Burenhinder, are consciously working on inclusivity,diversity, safer space and safe drug use. The latter in particular highlightssomething 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 wasa prosperous and optimistic period, but everything was dormant. The gapbetween rich and poor was widening, the multicultural society was moredifficult 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 beenthe 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 thesame time, that may just encourage nostalgia. When you have to deal with aclimate, refugee and energy crisis, it’s nice to think back to an apparentlymore carefree time.’

‘Of course we are only nostalgic for the good things that the ninetiesproduced: the music, the aesthetics, the fashion,’ says Vleminckx. “Maybebecause there’s so much mystery surrounding it for my generation. It seemslike a different, elusive world: jumping into your car with two people toomany on a Friday evening to drive to a dance temple in some Flemish village. Ialso remember a bizarre ‘Telefacts’ report about the Zillion, in which FrankVerstraeten lay at the bottom of his swimming pool. Images that quite appealto the imagination as a child. (laughs) After the bankruptcy, I even went tothe 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 lightsigns on the facade, I get really nostalgic, even though I’ve never beenthere.’

Full screen display

Robin Van Keulen ©Christophe De Muynck

**Robin Van Keulen, 23, Lommel **

‘II’m really looking forward to the release of ‘Zillion’. I even bought anofficial 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 likedigital archaeology, with the internet as an inexhaustible source.’

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

Full screen display

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 isalmost 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 forthat period, but at the same time we can be happy that a lot has changed sincethen. I don’t know if I, as a trans person, would have felt so welcome in aclub at the time. Today organizers are very busy creating a safer space whereeveryone feels welcome and young people are more aware of the effects of theirdrug use. In a way we are an improved, more inclusive version of the 90s club