Reclaiming the beats

It’s opening night at Catwalk and the dance floor is heaving. A jazz saxophonist plays a solo beyond the leather booths of the bar while the DJ’s decks are wheeled towards the back wall to open up more space for clubbers keen to throw a few shapes. Formerly a pedestrian underpass littered with rubbish and dirty needles, today this sealed-in, subterranean club is home to Rotterdam’s beautiful crowd sipping mojitos and grooving to urban soul tunes.

It’s also the latest opening among the city’s new breed of eco-clubs recycling old public spaces for cool new nightlife.

Rotterdam is already The Netherlands’ premier clubbing city, with 10 000 revellers hitting the dance floors each weekend to catch house and electronica sets by local DJs such as Speedy J and Michel de Hey. Every summer, about 400 000 attend the Heineken Fast Forward Dance Parade, Rotterdam’s answer to Berlin’s Love Parade. But, more importantly, Rotterdam is the first European city to embrace the idea that clubbing can promote sustainability.

“Rotterdam is a great breeding ground for sustainable projects as it has a young population and a culture of collaboration between different groups,” says Michel Smit, founder of the Rotterdam Electronic Music Festival (, held annually in November. “People want to go out but not be lectured about how to live their lives. By making sustainability cool, we can get the message across to a wider audience.”

Across town in Delfshaven is Worm (, a multipurpose arts space with a club, cinema, record shop and creative studio. I’m met at the door by Mike van Gaasbeek, a squatter turned eco-visionary with an electric-shock hairstyle and a business card that reads “Chef de ping ping” (Dutch slang for “cash”).

“We opened in November 2005 with a plug-and-play construction to slot into disused buildings using 90% recycled materials and without even knocking in a single nail,” he says. Today, the walls at Worm are made from recycled estate agents’ boards, the toilets from oil drums and the door handles from bicycle handlebars. The only non-recycled items are the fire safety doors and emergency exit signs. “This is the pièce de résistance,” says Van Gaasbeek, ushering me into the cinema. The room is filled with car seats recycled from Volkswagen Passats. “Really comfy,” he winks.

What will really put Rotterdam on the map as the green clubbing capital of Europe, however, is a project called the Sustainable Dance Club. From a nondescript office block in a suburb of the city, developer Enviu ( is drawing up a masterplan to take eco-clubbing to the world.

The project is the brainchild of Stef van Dongen, who founded Enviu as a community of young professionals to facilitate start-ups based on environmental principles. Working with architects Doll and Professor Han Brezet of the Delft University of Technology, he unveiled the project at Rotterdam’s Off Corso nightclub last October. Enviu has allocated â,¬55 000 to develop a pilot dance floor for an existing venue. It then hopes to take the template to major European festivals, such as Roskilde in Denmark and Glastonbury in the UK.

“A nightclub uses 150 times the energy of an average household and produces around 12 000 litres of glass to recycle from bottles and glasses each weekend,” says Van Dongen. “I was out clubbing one night when the idea came to me to make a self-sustaining club that is mobile to plug into existing spaces.”

Alijd van Doorn, Doll’s social architecture project manager, says: “At the launch, we had intelligent LED lighting systems, rainwater-flush toilets, a water-purification system to turn urine into drinking water [a system developed specifically for the project], a cafe using recycled food [they use leftovers from the previous night to make vegetarian-friendly burgers and stir fries] and an electricity-generating dance floor, whereby the more people dance, the more energy they produce.”

There are three pilot dance floors in development, each using different technology to generate energy. The finished product could work according to pneumatic, mechanical or sensory principles.

“This is not recycling, it’s upcycling,” says Van Dongen. “It’s about finding ways for consumption to generate positive benefits via the interaction between clubbers and the club itself.”

Back at the Catwalk ( opening party, the dance floor is a mass of designer labels and vodka cocktails. Former record company executive-turned- club owner Raymond Contein sinks into one of the booths and smiles. “We’ve recycled a dirty space to give people a place to enjoy themselves,” he says. “Now that’s what I call green clubbing.” — Â

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