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What do you get when you combine kitschy 60s R&B, Flemish DJs, dim lights, Leffe beer, and a sluggish tempo that’s just right for blues dancing? The answer is what writer and musician Bob Stanley has called “Possibly the last truly underground music scene in Europe“. Equal parts quirky American rock n’ roll, lounge music, Broadway show stoppers, and whatever crooner vibe catches the cult-status DJ’s fancy that night. Popcorn Music is a uniquely Belgian experience that few tourists ever get a chance to sample. But it won’t be that way for much longer.
The history of Popcorn: Barns and beats
Historically an underground scene, Popcorn music (or “Belgian Popcorn” if you insist) sprung up in a packed sweaty barn on the outskirts of Antwerp in the early 70s. Thousands of young people would drive from miles around to converge on the place where American soul and blues music met and the surreal mashup of downtempo blues and eclectic fervour has been both oddly popular and strangely off the radar ever since.
Enjoying brief forays into the limelight every decade or so, the Popcorn scene has somehow managed to avoid mainstream exposure, for the most part. Only a handful of dance halls still play “real” Popcorn music in Antwerp, but they’re jealously guarded secrets.
Popcorn music in Antwerp today
One of the best places to sample that authentic Popcorn Sound is the aptly titled Club Local. Located on the Schedlt River banks just a 5-minute cab ride from the Hotel Indigo Antwerp – City Centre, Cafe Local is a cathedral for real Popcorn lovers. Act like you belong (aka: don’t take selfies in line) and you’ll sample delicious cocktails and sumptuous melodies all night long.
If you want to know more about this Popcorn music malarkey, brush up on your classic grooves and get a feel for the modern scene at Fat Kat Records on Vleminckstraat just 1km west of the hotel (and also near the river). This iconic record store has been pumping out the jams for years. They recently recommended Brzzvll‘s new release “Waiho” for new Popcorn fans: “[Waiho] is a record that got so many good reviews, but seems yet to be discovered. It’s a very funky record with an international sound. It deserves a spot in many people’s record collection.”
The last European Indie scene
Popcorn is a music style for people that crave connection. Dim lights, strong beer, and sultry swaying rhythms drive music lovers together in out of the way places and forgotten corners. Popcorn music is a remix of a sub-genre of a forgotten era, but this distillation of musical styles is what makes it so captivating. Culture Tripper Nana Van de Poel wrote that “Popcorn found its fans in a devoted subgroup, a young crowd that created underground dance meccas for themselves and wanted them to stay that way: places untouched by the status quo.”
It has remained so far “unspoiled by commercialism”. But the fragile underground Popcorn scene is coming back into vogue. Sample what could be the last gasp of this endangered species in the local clubs of Antwerp before it’s well and truly gone. Because if you hurry, you might just get a glimpse of the Belgium that only exists on the “beer-sodden dance floors” that shaped the sound of a generation.