Music & concerts
October 2023

Underground Love

20 years De Helling

De Helling started out as a gritty pop venue in a remote corner of the city, eventually developing into a full-fledged podium in a trendy hotspot. But one thing has never changed: the focus on originality and a love of underground.

‘We started out as the feisty little brother of Tivoli Oudegracht,’ says director Arlette de Jong. She’s been director for two years now, but has been involved with De Helling for much longer. The history of this podium dates back to 2003, when the Tivoli De Helling Foundation took over the bankrupt De Vloer, which had previously made waves in a squat underneath the Paardenveld car park. Artists such as Nick Cave performed there, and it was the birthplace of Urban Dance Squad, later to become the pride of Utrecht. In 1995, De Vloer was forced to leave Paardenveld and move to a former museum depot on de Helling, before its final demise.

Remote corner

When Tivoli De Helling took over De Vloer, Rotsoord was purely an industrial area. In Oudegracht, they weren’t supposed to disturb the residents, but here in this remote corner of the city, they could make all the noise they wanted. However, enticing visitors to this new pop venue wasn’t easy. It’s difficult to imagine now that they’re in the current trendy Rotsoord. People thought that De Helling was too far out of the city centre, Arlette explains. ‘I was responsible for the opening campaign, and we used arrows with the caption: Just a 12-minute walk.’

Tinlicker – photo: Paul van Dorsten

In 2014, Tivoli Oudegracht moved to TivoliVredenburg, and Tivoli De Helling became an independent foundation: De Helling. A programmer was appointed specifically for the club nights and concerts. De Helling is no longer the ‘extra room’ at TivoliVredenburg, but a separate space with its own identity. The pop venue became a place for harder music genres, such as techno and drum & bass. Thanks to this clear choice of direction, after a difficult start, audiences started finding their way to De Helling. Arlette: ‘Anyone who went to De Helling went there because it was De Helling, whereas people dropped into other podiums in the city to see whether they liked them. If not, they left.’

So it’s important to stand out, she adds. ‘We choose genres that tend to get forgotten in Utrecht, but which deserve to be in the spotlight. We work alongside organisations looking for a venue for special projects.’ Le Guess Who? is a good example, as is the ‘daytime rave’ by The Funky Cat, and Magic Tom & Yuri’s festival of magic. Arlette: ‘That’s a crazy show with a punk image.’

Frayed and gritty

These days, there’s plenty of room for genres such as metal, (post)punk, global sounds and indie. ‘We feature artists who are too big for EKKO but too small for TivoliVredenburg. It’s important to be part of the Utrecht music chain, which starts at dB’s and ends in Ronda.’ Arlette cites Raven van Dorst’s rock band Dool as a typical ‘Helling band’. Not totally unknown, but ‘frayed and gritty’, says the director. ‘This type of music doesn’t fit in with the existing conventions. And this is exactly what De Helling is aiming for.

Like IAMX, for example: strange, cross-genre synth punk. Another band that plays ‘out of the box’. That’s what De Helling is all about.’

So in two decades, De Helling has grown from being the feisty little brother of Tivoli Oudegracht into a mature pop venue. Arlette grabs her list. ‘Just look at all the bands that have performed here: unbelievable!’ Which shows made the biggest impression? ‘Ooh, that’s a tricky one. Damien Rice in the opening weekend was fantastic. He’d just released his first album. The 1980s acid and Italian music by the Hague-based DJ I-F were also a firm favourite of mine. Carl Craig, a techno DJ from Detroit, really stood out. As did Caribou, Hot Chip. And Froukje was great, a real eye-opener. I was there with my daughter. It was her first concert.’

The try-out by Kyteman is definitely worth a mention. ‘It was a new sound: a hip-hop orchestra with a young Colin Benders.’ But she’ll never forget the Spinvis rehearsal during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘There you are, at the back of room, finally listening to live music again. It was so intimate, it brought tears to my eyes.’

And then of course, the unexpected showcase by global star Paolo Nutini in 2022. ‘De Helling is famous for its excellent sound and didn’t we know it. You could have heard a pin drop in the room, the sound tickled your ears. Stunning!’

Can’t wait for the future

De Helling also programmes shows outside its own doors. The annual HE:LEEN festival, with a programme of family performances throughout Rotsoord, is a good example. And this month, it’s time for an ode to the past two decades. A special programme will celebrate the careers that started in De Helling, as well as all the legendary dub evenings, raves and unforgettable concerts. But De Helling is also looking to the future. ‘We can’t wait for the future,’ says Arlette. ‘We’re always on the look-out for new sounds, new collaborations, new perspectives, more diversity, new audiences, better social safety. It’s an ongoing, inspirational quest!’

This month, De Helling will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a series of special evenings featuring artists such as Figgie, 030303, Ruben Block, IAMX and Fresku. For the full anniversary programme, go to: 


De Helling

De Helling is a music venue and nightclub with a strong focus on heavy, bass music, hiphop and boundary-crossing music.

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