Normally at this time of the year it is ‘all hands on deck’ for Darklands organiser Jeroen van Lievenoogen as his team prepares for the annual Darklands Festival in Antwerp (formerly known as Leather & Fetish Pride Belgium). But 2021 is different, as we all know too well. Alphatribe took the opportunity of the recess to talk to Jeroen about his future plans for Darklands.
Are you enjoying this rest break with Darklands skipping 2021?
At first, I was looking forward to having some time off and skipping those exhausting months of preparation for once. But to be honest, right now I am missing the hustle and bustle. But it also means that we will have had two years to work on the details of the 2022 edition.
Do you have any doubts that Darklands will be able to go ahead in 2022?
I don’t have much doubt, but I’m being realistic. The situation has changed so often and so much that it is difficult to make predictions. Parties and mass events are the very last things that will get government approval. But my contacts in the medical and pharmaceutical communities are convinced that by the end of 2021, everything will be back to normal. Darklands might even be the first major real-life fetish event after this dreadful period. I’ve got my fingers crossed and a lot of patience.
Whatever happens, our plans for the 2022 festival are ready. The dates are set, we have options on venues, and no less than 15 hotels have joined our host-hotel partner program. It is just a matter of pushing the play button as soon as we can go ahead. Whether that is at the beginning of 2022, later on that year, or in 2023. We’ll see.
Wait, you have dates, please tell us! And what about the venues? Is Darklands moving?
The dates will be released as soon as we are 100 percent sure the event can take place. I expect to know that around August or September 2021. Perhaps sooner, we might get lucky for once!
Regarding location, it is no secret that our current venue – Waagnatie – has plans for renovations. At this point we are unsure if Darklands can remain at Waagnatie. I do hope so as the building is a perfect match for our kind of event. And it carries so much Darklands history. But we have a great alternative lined up if necessary. It’s the same distance from Antwerp’s Central Station, just outside the city. The venue is an exhibition centre that has been recently renovated. It offers us more space, modern amenities, and solves some of the issues we encountered at Waagnatie in terms of safety and the use of space. Whatever the future brings, we’ll have a place to call home for at least the next five years.
Why is there no online edition of Darklands in 2021?
We entertained that idea for quite a while. During 2020 we had a number of meetings and made plans for a digital festival. For several reasons, those plans were never realised. One of those reasons was that we expected bars and clubs would reopen by February 2021. And who wants to sit behind a screen if you can go out? Another reason was the poor feedback from several other digital initiatives.
What’s the feedback from vendors, are they looking forward to coming back to the market?
There have been talks and online meetings with many vendors over the past few weeks. There’s a lot of eagerness to come back to Antwerp. We also have several new vendor submissions. To my surprise, two of them are from the United Kingdom. That is something I did not expect after COVID and Brexit.
But let’s be honest, not every business is doing well. Many retailers depend on events like Darklands for their sales. Many people have stopped buying outfits as they have less need for something new to wear out. We have already lost one big brand to the COVID crisis and it is likely that one or two others might not have the financial resources to make it to Darklands in 2022. It costs quite a lot to get your team, stock, and booth to Antwerp. And you need to arrange accommodation and food for your personnel. I do hope they will be able to return by 2023. But so far, it looks like there will be more new vendors joining than old ones disappearing. The crisis has motivated many people to start a new business. That’s a spark of hope.
Does the current situation have any effect on the programming for the next edition?
We had some crazy (and expensive) plans that we’ll have to put on hold for a while. They have been filed under ‘Extreme experiences.’ For example, we have had preliminary talks with a classical orchestra who would accompany the DJ at the beginning of one of the parties. A dance festival has been experimenting with this for the past three years and the result is astonishing. It was easy to see the link with our ‘Classic Meets Fetish’ event during Darklands. It is not something that you would think could work at a fetish party. But it can.
We also want to extend our efforts to expand the education part of the Darklands program. The idea for 2021 was to build a new workshop-village in a separate tent so that the education events could take place in the perfect environment. Again, this is something that will have to wait, but hopefully we can introduce it in 2023.
The rest of the program seems to be secured. Depending on feedback from all the organisations and individuals who contribute to Darklands, it may even be bigger than expected. Those people have had a lot more time to organise themselves and are keen to get this circus going again.
What new things have you got planned?
There are a lot! Including:
For the first time we will offer official Darklands after-parties on three nights (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). They will be held in a club within walking distance of Waagnatie. People who want more play will still have the option to go to The Boots, but those who want to dance will have the option of the after-party. It will help relieve the overcrowded situation at The Boots.
European Puppy and Handler Contest
The team behind the Mr Puppy Europe election have already announced plans to shift to a European Puppy and Handler Contest. It will be open to all sexes.
New, live variety show
On the Friday evening we’ll offer a great live show featuring performances from people in our scene. And they’ll come from all over Europe, and even Australia.
50th anniversary of MSC Belgium
The next edition of Darklands will celebrate the 50th anniversary of MSC Belgium that was originally planned for 2021.
Daniel Dumont Memorial Dinner
In remembrance of Daniel Dumont, one of the great men who made Darklands possible, an annual Daniel Dumont Memorial Dinner will be inaugurated at Darklands on the Sunday evening. Proceeds from the dinner will go to the Daniel Dumont European Solidarity Fund which is currently being established by ECMC. The fund will support the development of new fetish clubs and organisations in Europe. This will enable ECMC to continue Daniel’s work.
For the first time, portions of Darklands will be livestreamed so those at home can take part.
There are several other initiatives in the pipeline, but they will be revealed at a later date.
We’ve heard rumours about Darklands getting a ‘brother’ event abroad. Is there any truth to these rumours?
There are no concrete plans to venture abroad with the festival. What I can disclose is that we are working on a new event for late 2023. The project is codenamed ‘Alphatown’. It will be an extremely immersive experience with focus on fetish gear, the fetish community, and its history. We’ll rebuild fetish bars and shops from around the world under one roof. You’ll be able to visit both existing venues as those that have been lost to our community for a long time. Alphatown will be smaller than Darklands, but it will offer an environment with a strict fetish dress code. There will be specific parties for specific fetishes. That’s very different to Darklands which aims to bring people from different tribes together so they can get to know each other and gain an understanding of other fetishes. In terms of location, we are looking at either Brussels or Antwerp. More details will be announced as soon as we know we can proceed.
WRITTEN BY ALEXANDER MÜLLER for Alphatribe