The sun shines on the facade of Oudegracht 245, one of Utrecht, The Netherlands’ most illustrious buildings. The wide, dark green door is a bit cramped. It doesn’t really matter, soon it will probably be replaced anyway. At the end of March, Kytopia, the experimental sanctuary of Colin Benders and his followers, will disappear from the building where it replaced pop venue Tivoli Oudegracht almost five years ago. With a special release show in the main hall, Frank Wienk aka Binkbeats will say goodbye to the place where he brought an EP trilogy and his special live set to full maturity.
Written by: Dirk Baart
Photos: Nyré Tiessen
It is a bit strange that the release show of Private Matter Previously Unavailable, Pt. 3 is at the same time Wienk's farewell show from Kytopia. “But it also came together nicely,” smiles the Dutch producer. "It's a hello and goodbye show at the same time." Wienk is in his studio, a dim-lit space that is completely filled with all kinds of instruments. On the cupboard are empty oil drums and liquor bottles, a collection of small bells is displayed on a table and in the middle, a series of keyboard instruments are arranged in a circle. Wienk highlights the pieces from his collection one by one on Instagram. “It is a lot, indeed. First I had a room here in Utrecht, of twenty square meters. We had just started Kyteman's Hiphop Orchestra. I didn't have a lot of equipment then, because I also had little space. I had that vibraphone over there, it was under my bed. I had a conga set and some other small things, that's all.”
All that changes when Wienk becomes involved with Kytopia, the breeding ground where Colin Benders (Kyteman) brings like-minded musicians together. Initially, Kytopia is located on Utrecht’s Zeedijk, where Wienk shares a large studio with Bram Hakkens, the Orchestra’s drummer. “Then those few instruments I had were suddenly very lonely. And I had always wanted to have such a loft. I just love a lot of instruments. How they look, how they sound. Then I slowly started collecting them, because the space was there anyway. I wanted a marimba, so I bought one. I then probably bought half of the instruments in the Netherlands on the internet.”
At the Zeedijk, about two kilometers from the former Tivoli, a new chapter in the career of Binkbeats begins. Under the name Beats Unraveled, he dissects songs by J Dilla, Aphex Twin and Flying Lotus, among others, and then puts them back together live, all by himself. The results are utterly fascinating and garner praise from all corners of the world. “Before that I sampled and made beats, but I never used my own sound world. That series gave me the idea that that was the way to make my own music.” Little by little, Wienk is developing a live set, which will be presented at Le Guess Who? in November 2014. That year the festival will take place for the first time in the brand new TivoliVredenburg, in which Tivoli Oudegracht and Music Centre Vredenburg have merged. One month after the opening of the new temple for pop and classical music, Kytopia moves from the Zeedijk to Tivoli Oudegracht’s vacant building in Utrecht’s city centre.
“I had to prepare for that concert, but didn't feel like starting it just before the move,” says Wienk. “So then I moved in two days.” That does mean that the producer has to limit his collection somewhat. The space in which he ends up is a lot smaller than his previous studio. “I also have two timpani, but they are behind a cloth somewhere in the hall. And here in the hallway I have some flight cases.” Together with Bram Hakkens, who moves in across the corridor, Wienk is located near the entrance hall of the former stage, a bit isolated from the rest. “Because we make the most noise.” Wienk builds his studio in the former cloakroom of the building. “Behind this, it was completely open,” he points out. “And through this space here, you handed in your coat. I boarded that up. There were all kinds of clothes racks here.”
The pop temple of Utrecht
Just to indicate: from 2014, Kytopia is housed in a building with the necessary history. The oldest parts of the building belonged to a monastery. In that period, the great hall fulfilled a kind of church function. “But I think it burned down or fell into disrepair in some other way,” says Wienk. Later, the gigantic complex, which also includes a courtyard garden, turns into an orphanage. During the Second World War, it fell into the hands of fascists, while later in the twentieth century it was converted into a banquet hall and meeting place for railway and tram personnel. The union was located on the Oudegracht until 1970. Then the building was bought by the municipality of Utrecht, which neglected to provide the complex with a new meaning for nine years.
A group of squatters calling themselves Committee Tivoli Temporarily saw an opportunity to establish their desired pop stage in the building in 1981. Two years earlier, another squatted building, the former concert hall Tivoli on the Lepelenburg square, went up in flames. The situation at the Oudegracht initially lead to riots with the riot police, but later Tivoli was tolerated and even legalized.
Soon, renowned musicians from all over the world manage to find the new-fangled music stronghold. Before the 1980s came to an end, Tivoli had welcomed The Fall, Tears for Fears, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Nick Cave, The Feelies, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ramones, Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine. In the following decade, Pearl Jam even formed such a special bond with the stage that Eddie Vedder wears a dingy Tivoli shirt at his Dutch shows to this day. Frank Wienk only set foot in Tivoli much later. “I first came here at a dance party,” he recalls. “I grew up in Hengelo (in the eastern part of the Netherlands, ed.) myself. There was also a kind of disco there, but it was only visited by local farmers and the like. If you knocked over someone's beer there, you really had a problem. You got slapped. When that happened to me one time here, the guy just said, "Oh dude, it could happen. Would you like a beer too? That was a real revelation to me, that things were very different here.”
Wienk has just started his studies at the Utrecht Conservatory. He is already making some beats, but doesn't know anyone in the local scene yet. Tivoli Oudegracht will soon change that. There he meets Pax, the Utrecht rapper who will later play an important role in Kyteman’s Orchestra and will ensure that Wienk also becomes involved. “He had another band back then, Illicit, who played here at Clash of the Titans, a band competition. I liked him so much that I just walked up to him. That was really my gateway into this scene. Later on, I played here a lot.”
The acoustics of the stairwell
And then Wienk returns to the Oudegracht, about five years ago. The studio he built there has become strongly associated with a certain period in his career, a phase in which he has focused almost exclusively on his own creations. “The Beats Unraveled series is still connected to the Zeedijk, but my live set and the EPs have developed here. When you leave, it's nice to look back and be like: I've created something here in recent years." In those years, Wienk gets to know every corner of the building. Every echo is known to him by now. The one in the stairwell on the other side of the building, for example, where Luwten singer Tessa Douwstra spontaneously recorded a vocal part when she was working on her album with Wienk in his studio. "I don't remember how she came up with that, I think she was just walking around a bit while we were working on the song. Or maybe she knew about that reverb. In the end, it just sounded cool, even though she'd just recorded it on her phone. Of course you can imitate those acoustics, but why would you?”
His own space is not very interesting acoustically, says Wienk. And that big hall, it works especially well when you make fragile folk music. So the producer often looks elsewhere. He recorded the clip for recent single 'Drones In My Bones' under(!) the stage of the main hall and regularly visits producer Simon Akkermans, who runs his Epic Rainbow Unicorn Studio in Kytopia. “He has completely organized his space acoustically,” explains Wienk. “And the nice thing about being all together in such a building is that you can walk in and borrow some equipment from each other. Simon, for example, just bought an old Simmons drum. I wanted to see what it could do and immediately made a track with it.”
But still, the producer prefers to work in his own universe that he created in that old wardrobe. “There’s no daylight in here, so in the summer it's nice and cool and I'm not distracted by nice weather or people who are having a drink,” he laughs. “It was different when I was at the Conservatory: the percussion room looked out onto the bars. You would see everyone sitting outside at two o'clock in the afternoon, while you were working inside. Here you can completely lose the idea of time.” Will he also be making different music when he works in a different space? “I don't know, but a new space is inspiring. You get energy from that in a way.”
Looking for shelter
That thought offers little consolation: in less than a month, Wienk has to empty his studio. The property has been sold, so Kytopia has to leave it. It’s no big surprise: the news has already been announced in the autumn of 2018. Kytopia had officially leased the building for three years, but stayed there afterwards, as part of a municipal anti-squat scheme. It is already clear by then that the municipality of Utrecht wants to sell the property. While Wienk is walking around the large hall, a group of people in suits pass by. “Probably the new owners.” Wienk can laugh about it. “We are not at all angry that we have to move on. We just hope that the property gets some good use. It is a beautiful building and many people have memories of it. It would be a shame if it became super commercial, a place that you can no longer reach.”
Fortunately, the cultural function of the building is partly preserved in the current plans by developer Stadswaarde Vastgoed and initiator Douwe van Akkerveeken. The large hall will turn into a restaurant, but the stage will remain available for Utrecht organizations such as De Coöperatie, Le Guess Who? and the University of the Arts. Furthermore, the former Kytopia will include a hotel, a childcare facility, a coffee roaster, a brewery and a bakery.
"I can't just put my stuff at home, but as a musician you are not really welcome anywhere"
And Kytopia will continue to exist. "At least, that's the aim." The search for a new location for the incubator, led by Colin Benders and his father Erik, is not going smoothly. “They looked at a lot of properties, but nothing was suitable. We were lucky here that there were already spaces that we could enter in such a way that we didn't have to change a lot to make it workable. So much needs to be done to the buildings they have now visited that it would never be doable.” In addition, Kytopia would like to leave it at two moves: Benders is looking for a permanent place for his sanctuary. Only then can the collective take the next step in its joint development, Wienk thinks. “At first it was just a chaotic club that started making music somewhere, but now we have all grown into independent ‘companies’ with a career.” Benders currently has his eye on a farm, outside of Utrecht. There is simply nothing suitable to be found in the center or just outside it. There is now talk of a building nearby where those involved can store their belongings.
That is indeed the primary concern. After his farewell show in Kytopia, Wienk starts an extensive tour across Europe and therefore has little time left to move his things. “And I can't just put it at home, I really have to go somewhere. A garage is not useful, because I also have to be able to work.” The need is so urgent that many musicians involved in Kytopia are now also looking for new studios and workshops on their own. “But I haven't come across anything yet. It often concerns office spaces, so you cannot make any noise there. And business premises are too big, or you have to buy them right away. As a musician you are just not really welcome anywhere. So I still rely on Kytopia.” Editor's note: this article was originally published in Dutch. Some quotes may have been altered in the translation.