In the project NIGHT CULTURE NIEUW-WEST, Manuela Piccolo researched the club scene in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. She also looked beyond the borders of this district. In this interview she speaks to curator, writer and researcher Manique Hendricks about the exhibition “To Dance is To Be Free: Club culture in Amsterdam from 1980 until now” that she curated for the Amsterdam City Archives.

Manuela Piccolo (MP): I saw the exhibit you are curating at the Amsterdam City Archives, which prominently displays the intangible heritage and oral narratives of the night culture and of those who have experienced certain waves of the last 40 years. “To Dance is To Be Free – Club culture in Amsterdam from 1980 until now” shows how music and clubs are not just places of peace, love, and freedom – as if this wasn’t enough -, but also of innovation, emancipation, experimentation, and creativity. From where did the need to show these aspects of Amsterdam come from?

Manique Hendricks (MH): I’m happy you saw the exhibition! When the Amsterdam City Archives approached me to work on this exhibition in the summer of 2022 it became clear that they hold the archives of Club RoXY, Club 11 and Trouw. These became the starting points for my research. By going through all of these archives – which are really amazing and I can recommend everyone to do so since they are publicly available through the City Archives – and by talking to a lot of people that were involved in Amsterdam’s nightlife back then but also people who are active now, it struck me that a lot of values that are the core of club culture in Amsterdam are the same then and now. Also it’s impossible to make an historical and chronological exhibition about all the clubs that have ever existed in Amsterdam. I wanted to narrow it down to those shared core values that are intergenerational: innovation, emancipation, experimentation and collective creativity. I think it also shows that club culture is more than just a night out, or a hedonistic escape from the world. It shows that club culture is based on collectivism (do it together instead of do it yourself) and it also shows how clubs are an essential breeding ground for the arts. A lot of artists make their first steps in clubs before they enter the museum for example.

MP: I think in an exhibition it is important to take people on a journey. To Dance is to be Free does not have an obligatory path but is a ride between past, present, and future. Through images, stories, and atmospheres. What was the message you wanted to spread?

MH: It was important to highlight the interconnectedness between past, present and future. To highlight the legacies of people and organisations that have paved the way, to inspire people who want to do things in club culture now. But also to show an older generation of club-goers that people working in club culture nowadays are still building new narratives, looking for experiment, expressing themselves in an ongoing search for freedom. I also feel that a chronological timeline or obligatory path through design would not fit the subject of the exhibition, isn’t the dance floor the place where you forget about time and place?

MP: I really want to compliment you on your work on the vision of Amsterdam’s Night Culture, I think it is a breath of fresh air for the need for representation that clubs, and club-goers, need. Your work is inspirational. With your historical research in clubbing do you see a change now from how clubs were before?

MH: Thank you so much! One of the participating artists in the exhibition, Juha van ‘t Zelfde once said “Clubs are like schools, museums, libraries, theaters and cinemas, but they don’t have the same status and value within our society”. I hope my work contributes to a shift in thinking about and the appreciation of club culture, especially within a cultural context.

There definitely have been quite some changes of the past decades regarding clubculture in Amsterdam. I think one of the most visible changes has been that there was more room for experiment and temporary locations because squatting was legal until 2010. With increasing regulations and laws I think it has become more difficult to ‘just start something’ in 2024. What also changed, probably because of what I just mentioned, is that people used to go to a physical space, a nightclub that became their (second) home. Nowadays people more often follow organisations of specific parties that move across the city nomadically and find their place in various clubs.

MP: To connect to the work done by New Metropolis Nieuw-West I’ll ask you a super general question that was made during the evening of February 2 as the conclusion of the project Night Culture Nieuw-West: What does clubbing mean to you?

MH: What a beautiful and personal question to ask! When I turned 18 and started studying art history at the University of Amsterdam my best friend and I got a job at the local club in Haarlem; Club Stalker. Stalker used to be the oldest still existing night club in the Netherlands until it closed down in 2019. Together with my colleagues and friends we started organising club nights, and Stalker became my second home. This is the place where I met my best friends and shaped my identity. It has had a huge impact on who I am today, what I value, how I work, what I love. It was also the queer club scene in Amsterdam that showed me the freedom in expressing yourself in various ways, experimenting with this, finding yourself and like minded people. What it means to share collective feelings of love, to imagine together what collective liberation could look like.

MP: NIGHT CULTURE NIEUW-WEST is a collaborative experience between some of the clubs located in the area of Nieuw-West. We did a series of round tables to exchange ideas and experiences, to build a community of night in our neighbourhood. How important for changing the outside vision of nightlife could possibly be an experience such as this, that is creating a community of clubs?

MH: Such a great initiative! I think it’s really important to put in the work in all those various elements that comprise club culture, one of them being community. Mutual understanding through dialogue is essential in the process of working and living together in the same area. I do see that the outside vision on nightlife is changing, which takes place on a lot of different levels at the same time: politically (through the ‘nachtvisie’ articulated by the municipality and collaborators, culturally (through exhibitions, lectures, events) and socially (through events, dialogue). Organising is key to move towards change, so I’m really happy to hear that NIGHT CULTURE NIEUW-WEST has taken the initiative to get all of these various organisations together.

MP: As you know, in 2021, Amsterdam formulated a vision of Night Culture with the Night Culture Implementation Agenda 2023-2026. We created a joint manifesto because we realised that the club community in Nieuw-West needs more support from local authorities. This manifesto adds on to the current ‘Night Vision’, how important would it be for clubs to be active in dialogue with the municipality? Do you think it is possible in the current scenario?

MH: I think it’s just as important for the municipality to be active in dialogue with the clubs, as it is not just a one way street. And I do see that this has been happening more frequently and with more attention in the past period. What seems to be complicating various situations is the fact that the vision on nightlife can not always be translated to action because of regulations, permits and bureaucracy. I hope that will change.

MP: We are trying to be and produce change, especially in the way night culture is perceived by both the municipality and the residents of Amsterdam. So our goal is to make awareness about permits, policy, designing and accessibility, to be safer spaces where we can all feel welcome, and comfortable, and in which we can experience all our unique shades. These are some of the topics that we could deal with together and where we all must be on the same page. How do you think we can work together to do that?

MH: It’s always motivating to see that there’s people who want to contribute to produce change, especially with club culture and nightlife in mind. The events that have taken place are a great starting point for future exchange and collaboration.

About Manique Hendricks

Manique Hendricks (she/her) is a Dutch-Peranakan Chinese art historian. She works as curator of contemporary art at Frans Hals Museum and was guest curator of the exhibition ‘To Dance is To Be Free: Club culture in Amsterdam from 1980 until now’ at the Amsterdam City Archives. Previously Manique worked on the exhibitions “The Rhythm of the Night” at Frans Hals Museum (2022), “All Good Music Comes from an Open Mind: 36 Jaar Club Stalker’”at 37PK (2019) and collaborated with Spielraum in 2022. As a curator, writer and researcher she specialises in contemporary (media) art, visual- and digital culture. In her practice Manique touches upon themes as identity, representation, the body, drag and club culture. Her writings have been published by Stedelijk Studies, NXS Magazine, Mister Motley, The Institute of Network Cultures, Tubelight and The Hmm.