Music brings people together at the Les Nuits festival

The Botanique – where the festival was held

The Botanical Garden of Brussels which hosts the Les Nuits festival.

The Les Nuits Botanique is a festival in the heart of Brussels that aims to bring people of all nationalities together.

Les Nuits Botanique is an annual festival held in the heart of Brussels. Its main aim is to integrate the French community with the Flemish and international communities of Brussels. Music-lovers come together to see new and exciting international acts in a number of genres. The Botanique is a beautiful, scenic garden, which makes the atmosphere at this festival unique. Unlike average festivals, Les Nuits attendees have respect for the picturesque setting they are in.

In a famous quote, Victor Hugo, writer of Les Misérables, said; “Brussels possesses two unique wonders of the world, its Grand-Place and the panorama of the Jardin Botanique.”

Originally, the Botanique was a centre for scientific and botanical studies. The building carried out this function for over 100 years until eventually it became a centre for culture and art. The main turning point for the Botanique was when it became the cultural centre for the French community of Belgium, on the 23rd of January, 1984.

Kris Mouchaers, communications and media director of the Botanique, believes in the success and fame of the Les Nuits festival. “The festival is in its 20th year, I think this shows how successful it is. It costs around one million euro to run each year, but it’s worth it,” he says.

The festival aims to integrate the thriving French community in Brussels with the Flemish community. The language divide in Belgium is one of the most interesting and controversial aspects of the culture. Cultural centres like the Botanique are constantly trying to integrate the two. Mouchaers says, “A good mix of both the French and Flemish communities come to the festival, depending on the concert. This is slightly unique as Brussels contains mainly French-speakers. It is also interesting to note that a lot of other nationalities such as Irish, English, Italian, Spanish, Moroccans, Turks and Sub-Saharan Africans are also settling here, so we can expand our integration that way too.”

The festival itself ran from the 30th of April to the 13th of May this year and included a wide range of international acts. Mouchaers explains the aim of the festival, “We are presenting in 10 days a sample of what we’re doing during the whole season. We are giving the public the possibility to discover unknown alternative bands in all kind of genres in a very charming garden setting and under very professional circumstances.” He goes on to say, “We like to include a variety of genres including; rock, electro, pop, singer-songwriter, chanson, classic, soul and hip-hop.”

The festival has gone from strength to strength as it’s now in its 20th year of production. “The past few years we have had around 30,000 festival attendees of all nationalities. This year we are closer to 40,000 guests, which is a great achievement,” says Mouchaers.

Les Nuits 2013

A banner advertises the Les Nuits festival in Brussels.

The concerts take place both in an amphitheatre set up outside in the garden itself and an indoor hall, which has 2,000 seats. This means the Botanique can host thousands of international music-lovers at a time. Mouchaers clarifies how the acts are chosen, “Paul-Henri Wauters is the main organiser of the festival and he chooses the acts, based on their tour dates in Europe mainly but also how he thinks they will fit into the atmosphere of the festival.” The atmosphere experienced at the festival is electric. Everybody is happy to be there and enjoying the music. Because the Botanique is such a beautiful setting, it somehow makes the attendees of the festival appreciative of the location. It is not the usual type of festival scene where everybody is covered in mud and dirt; it is a scenic garden, which makes Les Nuits unique.

Jaecob Franke is a 23-year-old Flemish college student. He is a first-timer at the Les Nuits festival and says, “I moved to Brussels two years ago from Hasselt to attend the Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel. I wanted to move here because it’s the capital of Belgium and because of the atmosphere. This is the first time I have been to the Les Nuits festival and I’m really enjoying it. I definitely think it’s a great opportunity for Flemish people to mix with the French speakers in a casual environment. There is sometimes some animosity between the two groups but I didn’t sense any here.”

The Botanique at night

The Botanique lit up at night during the Les Nuits festival.

Another festival attendee is Marie Beaudin is a 25-year-old is a regular visitor of the Les Nuits festival. She says, “The festival is a great time of the year. I love the different and alternative acts they have here. It’s a great time to relax and enjoy music with my friends. I have lived here in Brussels all my life and it is a great festival for the French to come together and meet other nationalities too. I love it here because the atmosphere is always great and everyone has fun.”

Even someone working in the French cultural industry in Brussels believes that the festival can integrate the French community with all of the other nationalities present at the festival. Corinne Lapage often volunteers at French cultural events. She is a 21-year-old student of Human and Social Science at l’Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), “I volunteer for a lot of cultural events here in Brussels and I think some of the most effective events are musical ones. Music has the ability to make people forget about their problems and grievances and just enjoy the moment with everyone around them. Les Nuits is a great event for bringing people together, which is really what we aim for in the cultural sector!” She goes on to say how being involved in cultural events has helped her decide her career, “I really enjoy being involved in festivals around the city so I have decided to pursue cultural studies after my bachelors degree. I would like to eventually create and run my own festival, I can only hope it works as well as the Les Nuits festival.”

The festival this year boasted international acts such as Girls against Boys, Mathieu Boogaerts, Rebekka Karijord and Miles Kane. Matthew Edwards is a 20-year-old English student on Erasmus in Brussels. As a lover of all things music he decided to go to the Les Nuits festival while he was living in the city and he describes the atmosphere there, “I had seen advertisements for this festival for a few months in advance of it actually happening so there was an excitement about it and there were a few acts I couldn’t wait to see. I went to see Miles Kane, an English singer-songwriter, and he was unbelievable. He really made a huge effort form the start of the show to engage with his audience and really brought the entire crowd together. He played old and new songs, which all of us fans appreciated.”

The atmosphere experienced at the Botanique is second to none. A picturesque setting with historical background in Brussels is ideal for the Les Nuits festival. Volunteer Corinne Lapage says, “There is a great sense of integration and excitement about the festival, let’s hope it goes on for another 20 years!”

Les Nuits at night

Attendees converse and drink at the Les Nuits festival in Brussels.