Interviewer: David Bola
Photo Credit: PIP Den Haag
First, what should we know about you and PIP ?
My name is Steven Van Lummel, I was born in 1981 in The Hague city. I’m an artist. I studied at the Royal Academy of Art, and first I became a teacher at Pleysier School and then I started PIP in 2007 with my partner, David Schoch, so that’s 14 years ago. And right before COVID, we were doing 120 events a year, 50,000 visitors, five festivals, eight international exchange, like New York, Barcelona, Berlin, Tokyo. And now during COVID, we changed our business, we started a book publishing company called People In Print and PIP TV channel, which nobody watches, which is super. And yeah, so that’s it.
You switched over to different types of media because of COVID?
In the beginning we did 12 weeks of The Big Quarantine Show. So we made a TV show every Saturday. And we didn’t just want to have DJ showcases with a stream or anything, because there was so much, and it just didn’t feel right. We did this Quarantine show in which we had sort of a showcase where people could perform , we had fashion designers and new music and it was nice. And then we went silent for a little bit. I think we all just sort of, in a sense, panicked or…
Yeah, we really didn’t know what was going on. I mean, the world was on fire and and at the same time, we heard that we were getting another four years of money, because we were funded by the municipality.
So actually on the one end, we were quite happy, and in the other end, the world was on fire. So for me personally, I really didn’t know what to do and everything was going quite to shit. And then we reinvented ourselves and sort of started all these new branches of activities which really gave us energy. And now, I don’t know. We’re still alive.
So is this what you think the restart of culture in Europe should look like, the changing, switching, what you’re doing, or could it be different?
One thing that I don’t understand that a lot of people are really waiting for things to become normal again. And even though we know that our lifestyle was not sustainable, we know that change had to come. And then there’s the perfect opportunity to change. There’s one part of me that really, really wants to change. Change is going to come. Another part of me really feels like the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It’s always been like that and it’ll continue to go on.
It’s as if the gates were closed the whole time, and now the gates are opening and our normal world has been waiting for us. It’s just not true. To come back to your question about what should Europe do, Europe should love itself and should accept people from different backgrounds. This is, I think, the biggest issue that there is.
You saw that the second COVID hit, every single country was closing its borders and all these right wing politicians, at least in a lot of countries, were gaining popularity. It’s just the fucking stupidest thing there is to do, to sort of stay in these white castles and be afraid of different input. I mean, it’s a new day. It’s a new dawn. Open your eyes and welcome new cultures. It’s not even new cultures. These cultures have been there for a long time.
This is really a time for me actually to be silent as a white 40-year-old male. And I’m also happy that you’re here. (Editor’s note – The interviewer – me – is of african descent) I’m honest. And it’s strange to say that. I shouldn’t be happy. It should be just fucking normal. But it still is not. All these European funds, I have a feeling that it’s maybe 90 percent going to the white organizations and white plans and they’re trying to be more inclusive.
If you’re talking about black people, they have just the same voice as everyone else. And now even when I say this now I feel condescending as well. I’m saying “every voice is the same”. Of course, it’s the same. I shouldn’t be saying this. I should…
It’s just empty words.
Empty, yeah. And this is for me actually, the last years has been very troubling. I want to speak out, but at the same time, I should be silent.
So with PIP there’s maybe something you can do. Are you looking to have more diversity or more inclusivity?
We’re looking at it in a different way, I guess. We’re the only club in the Netherlands that has no door policy. So unless you’re you’re too drunk to walk, but even then, we’ll get you a chair and make you sit.We grew up with hip hop, and so our friend base is already multicultural in a sense. From day one, we never said: “all right, drum and bass is a thing, so let’s program drum and bass”. No. If drum and bass is a thing then we would invite people from the scene to program for themselves. And in PIP, we have no structural night, like it’s not Friday disco and Saturday techno – this is super unpractical.
Everybody can join. We’re aggressively friendly. For instance, we’re helping some black-owned businesses and black-owned organizations to write plans. It’s an exchange. Now we’re really busy in showing friends like : “listen, there’s fucking a ton of money around the corner. You should get it. I mean, this is your time now.” Some people are like “fuck it, I don’t need it”. We’re just trying to convince people, don’t rob yourself, but rob them.
Just to clarify, you’re helping communities by showing them how to get funds?
Yeah, we did a competition together with Patta which are long friends of mine. What we did is we took money from the local government and then we put it in a fund, €10,000, then we did a competition in which anybody can apply with a creative idea. From Indonesian kids to a white magician, a young kid who wanted to make cards, kids who wanted to make a video, kids who want to record an album. We committed for four years at least, to create a new generation that sees that PIP and Patta are working together to promote creativity.
Right now what we see is that a lot of black kids want to be in front of the camera. So one of the objectives with this project was to show that working with lights, being behind the camera, and interviewing, all these different aspects are also important. You can really clarify your voice and your culture while being a movie director.
If they’re just in front of the camera, it’s a show. It’s not a real thing.
It’s a show. And the difficult part is that it might be seen as a sort of a puppet or something people can play with or like a trick. “If you want to have diversity you can just ask this rapper to preform and then everything is cool.” But it’s not cool.
At the same time, it’s interesting how we as an organization can empower the people in our direct environment.
For the first time, growth is at every cost is not really the main thing on the agenda anymore. What should be the main objective now ?
The problem is that the people that only think about growth are the top level executives and they’re growing at an insane rate. Look at Amazon and all these people that were already filthy rich. They’re getting richer and richer.
But I think one of the biggest problems right now is the hyper value of individuality. We need to realize that we’re here together now and that we have to create and build a society in which we want to live together. Sports and creation, are some of the few things that we can do straightaway. If there’s a ball, we’re both soccer players, and if there’s a pencil, we can be both artists.
Who do you see at the center of the change? Should it be activists, should it be artists, should it be communities, or medias?
Activists and artists have been trying to provoke and trying to change since the early time. We can address things and we can create things, but we cannot really change things. I think it’s time we should accept that mankind will always be mankind. There’s no such thing as an easy world. There’s no such thing as absolute equality. Equality doesn’t exist. Chaos is the start of the world. And it will always be there. I guess if there’s one thing that is for me important is talk to your mom and ask her how her childhood was and and and then talk to your child and explain that life is a struggle and it will never be perfect.
This is the biggest, biggest problem of nowadays, I think is the belief that every individual is unique. That’s just not true.
And the second (problem) is that we’re all going to die.
I have the best segway for this. I don’t actually. I have a question about local scenes. PIP is a representative of The Hague, a city that can have the reputation of being an institutional place. Did you want to create a space to showcase another side of the Hague ?
Of course, we started PIP because we wanted to create our own small country. And we have our own coins.
You have a flag also.
We have a flag. Actually flags is a large part of our identity. We always bring flags.
I remember the end of The Crave Festival in Den Haag. The flags from PIP were there also.
The Crave started with PIP. They started with their internship at PIP. They took this whole flag thing it’s one of the few things that really can create your identity or your own country, which is a strange thing. And then some of the things that we do is we change colors of flags and we change the slogan of a city or country and and make it our own.
And then I think we really need to… At the start of PIP is really trying to change our own city for the positive, being a positive role model. I mean, if you look at movies or if you look at stories in books, the cool guy is always the shooter, right? And he saves the world.
It’s so hard to be positive and a role model at the same time. Do you know Whodini? One of the coolest hip hop groups for me of all time. There’s of course “Friends“. And then one of the lines is, “Smoking in school was against the rules so I did not smoke and I still was cool.” I think it’s one of the coolest lines in ’80s hip hop because it’s saying that I don’t have to break the rules to be cool but sort of be myself.
It’s easy to break something to create your own identity. “Yeah, I’m crazy. Yeah. Fuck this.” But then it’s super hard to say, like, yeah, I’m building this small power and still be sort of on the edge of society and not be a serious architect.
Let’s talk about another type of local creators. What do you think of the rise of web radios in Europe?
It’s perfect. Every sound, every song should be heard. Do it yourself is such an important message, I think, which comes from skateboarding and hip hop culture. If it’s not there, if the music you like is not being played, then fucking play it yourself.
What do you think of creating some kind of union of web radios in Europe? Could it be the same for clubs?
There’s an Internet radio station festival in Amsterdam, there’s Operator Radio in Rotterdam, and we started a European network for Internet radio station, but it was just a couple of weeks ago.
It’s super important to learn from each other and the same with nightclubs. This is one of the things that I find a little bit strange about COVID. We’re part of an international network of clubs and there’s an organization called VibeLab and they’ve been researching the economic footprint of nightclubs on the global scale. So they did Tokyo, Berlin, and New York and Amsterdam to really try to understand the importance of nightclubs.
But at the same time, COVID hits and everybody’s looking at their own belly. Even me, too. We were just talking about the sensitivity. I’m also more sensitive and just more like in not a hibernation mode but a defensive mode. I’m more defensive about my own territory. We’re all waiting for this one moment that everything will be back to normal in a sense. But it’s not going to happen. It’s back and forth. It’s like a dance. It’s like a dance with the devil.
This exchange was recorded in June 2021 during European Lab in Lyon. Steven Van Lummel was invited to the event to participate in a talk focused on the response European independent creators could bring to a new, post-Covid- social and cultural Europe.
You can find another exchange recorded during that event here, with Sarah Gamrani, poetess and lead author of the book “Au-delà du club” (Beyond Club).