This article was originally appeared on VICE Belgium.
For most of us, physical clubs are a sweet memory of the past and “meeting up” with a big group of people means surrendering to the audio-visual chaos of Zoom parties. Fines for illegal parties can reach £10,000 in the UK, and party organisers can even be prosecuted.
But some party heads just won’t give it up, even in the face of debilitating fines and the potential to infect people or be held responsible for any COVID-related deaths. Despite Belgium having one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world and current restrictions limiting contact to one person only, Belgians Jan*, Piet* and Korneel* say they built their own lockdown clubs – complete with soundproofing – because they simply can’t live without partying.
JAN, 34, THROWS PARTIES IN A 30 SQUARE METRE BASEMENT IN EAST FLANDERS
I park my car in front of a stand-alone house in a residential area. From the outside, nothing suggests that there is a full-blown, soundproofed rave cave beneath the house. Jan says he throws illegal parties to blow off steam and – in his own words – “stay sane”.
VICE: When did you come up with the idea of setting up a club in your home?
Jan: My friends and I used to party in my basement three or four times a year before the pandemic. But things really took off after COVID broke out. We started throwing raves more and more often.
How did you build it?
Mass is the best silencer and the basement is completely underground, so I didn’t have to do much in terms of insulation. I installed soundproofed air vents equipped with lead to stop noise traveling. The basement would even be radiation-proof if I used activated carbon in the vents.
What did you do in terms of decoration?
My basement already had a bit of a dark atmosphere, so I didn’t need much except some refrigerators and a semi-professional sound system. I installed some disco lighting to create that club-like atmosphere, plus a lamp that turns on when someone rings the doorbell. If I add everything up, I’ve probably spent €500.
Throwing parties can have serious consequences at the moment, such as fines and prosecution. Aren’t you afraid of getting caught?
I try to be careful. Nobody parks their car in front of my house and people arrive at different times. It’s not like I’m having masses of people over every single weekend and I only invite those I trust. I’ve come to realise that you don’t need big groups to have a good time.
Are you really not able to live without partying?
I don’t think so, and neither could my friends. We need partying to stay happy. During the first lockdown, many of my friends were struggling with their mental health, especially the ones who were single or living alone. That’s why I decided to take the risk.
PIET, 39, ORGANISES RAVES IN HIS SHED IN FLEMISH BRABANT
I park near the side of a busy road in Flemish Brabant, where I’m going to see Piet. He’s a hardworking father of two kids who feels the need to blow off steam on the weekend. When I arrive at his house, one of his DIY raves is just coming to an end. I find him in his backyard, in a shed that he has turned into a lockdown club.
VICE: How long have you used this place as a club?
Piet: I bought the speakers, mixer and CDJs a year ago because I wanted to produce some music with a friend of mine. In March I decided to take all my equipment to the shed and installed some lighting. We’ve used it for around six or seven get-togethers since then.
How many people do you invite?
Usually there are about 12 to 14 people. It’s a 56-square-metre space so it could fit more, but I only invite my best friends. They come over during the day so we can hang out and have something to eat, which then transitions into a party.
Aren’t you worried about getting caught?
No, not really. The doors close as soon as the music starts and the walls are well-insulated to prevent noise travelling. It’s impossible to see anything from the outside since the windows are covered.
Why can’t you just accept the lockdown rules?
Partying is an outlet for me that I just can’t live without. Without any social events keeping my energy levels up, I just get stressed, overworked and kind of annoying as a person.
KORNEEL, 35, BUILT A SECRET RAVE CAVE IN A HANGAR IN ANTWERP
As I drive through this Antwerp industrial estate, it seems an unlikely place for illegal parties. A narrow road leads to a house with a large hangar hidden behind it. It’s in this hangar – his own workspace – that independent craftsman Korneel decided to set up his own club, tucked away behind a false wall.
VICE: How did you manage to soundproof your club?
Korneel: The space is made up of a double timber frame. I lined the plywood sheets with two layers of stone wool insulation, and I left some space between the two layers in order to minimise noise transfer. It worked pretty well – you can only slightly hear the bass from outside. The acoustics were a bit shrill during the first test, so I lined the walls and the ceiling with egg cartons.
How long did you work on the project and how much did it cost?
Altogether I worked on it for about five days, and the project cost me about €3,000.
What do you like most about your DIY club?
It has no windows so you can immediately get into the right mood at any time of the day. You could just feel how much everyone had missed dancing and how much they were craving a good party.
Is it easy to choose who to invite?
It’s never easy when you can’t invite all of your friends to a party, but I try to be careful. It’s crazy how snitching on neighbours is so common now. I’m afraid it will be a long time before I’ll be able to legally host large groups of people again.