Rock Werchter.

Rock Werchter grew from a Chiro event into a four-day festival with bands and visitors from all over the world. The 2017 festival | Belga Image, 1952486

Arts & Sciences
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Rock Werchter

Festival Culture

In the summer of 1975 in rural Werchter two bands performed to an audience of a few hundred. The initiative of the local Chiro youth group laid the foundation for one of the biggest music festivals in Europe.

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Since then a growing group of young people gathered annually in Werchter to celebrate together the end of the school year and the beginning of the long vacation. In 1977 collaboration with kindred spirits from the West-Flemish town of Torhout led to the legendary double festival Torhout/Werchter. By having the same artists perform first in Torhout then in Werchter, the organisers could involve bigger names.

From 1999 on the festival was only organised in Werchter. Rock Werchter became a reference point in the pop and rock music world. U2, Patti Smith, R.E.M, The Chemical Brothers, Faithless Kendrick Lamar, Metallica and Lady Gaga are just a few of the international names who have stood on the stage in the Flemish-Brabant village.

Arno Hintjens.

Belga Image, 69150255, Peter Croes

Arno Hintjens (1949-2022) from Ostend, in 1980 a founding member of the influential band T.C. Matic and later a successful solo artist, at work in the Lokeren Festival of 2019.

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Festival Culture

Torhout/Werchter quickly grew to become the best-known music festival in the country, but the real pioneer of summer festivals in Flanders was Jazz Bilzen. That multi-day event took place for the first time in 1965 and programmed jazz, folk, rock and pop. Soon Jazz Bilzen was attracting up to 15,000 spectators a year, the majority of them in their teens and twenties.

The rise of such young people’s festivals in the 1960s fitted in with the zeitgeist. Thanks to the increased prosperity the babyboomersthe two decades after the Second World War had a high birth rate, hence babyboom. – the generation born shortly after the Second War – had a youth with unparalleled opportunities. They could study for longer and had more money and free time than their parents. Partly through music they rebelled against the norms of the time – neatness, discipline, abstinence and a strict separation between boys and girls.

To begin with, older generations looked uncomprehendingly at the music festivals, where young people demanded the right to enjoy their freedom according to their own values and norms. Yet the popularity of festivals went on increasing and the musical counter-culture actually grew into a profitable market for entrepreneurs. Jazz Bilzen disappeared, but new successes like Tomorrowland put Flanders permanently on the map as a festival region.

Focal points

Wannes Van de Velde.

Humo (1967)

Wannes Van de Velde (1937-2008) sang in Antwerp dialect and made old songs known and popular again.

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Wannes Van de Velde

At the end of the 1960s many young artists linked their revolt against bourgeois culture with broader social criticism. Their cry for freedom went together with the anti-war slogans, a growing consciousness of the environment and criticism of capitalism.

One of the committed artists was the Antwerp folk singer Wannes Van de Velde. In 1967, as a young musician, he accompanied with his bagpipes festival visitors from the station to the site of Jazz Bilzen. However, Van de Velde was not a real festival singer – his small-scale work was more suited to dark auditoria and traditional pubs than great meadows. But he had lots of sympathy for the hippies, the provo’s and the whole counter-culture of the 1960s. So in his song texts he opposed the new building projects in the centre of Antwerp and the growing power of king car. Van de Velde also sang of the ‘old people who are fed up with the torment’ in his I want to lose myself in the streets tonight/Dans cette nuit j’ai envie de me perdre (1973).

For the politically committed music theatre show Mistero Buffo Van de Velde translated and adapted Italian folksongs. In his later work he also remained critical of society, for example, of the arms industry, in the song Oorlogsgeleerden, an adaptation of Bob Dylan’s Masters of War.

New Beat.

Antwerp, Gazet van Antwerpen

At the end of the 1980s the New Beat developed into a subculture with its own style of dress. Elaborate coifs, fluorescent colours and smiley badges were typical.

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New Beat

In the 1980s the Flemish discos emerged as laboratories for music renewal. DJs experimented full on with the possibilities of vinyl and technology. By playing discs at a lower speed, they created a slow, sultry beat that was combined with heavy bass. This ‘New Beat’ immediately caught on on the nightlife scene, where a hit like The Sound of C by the Confetti resounded until the early hours.

The music was quickly commercialised, as a result of which the pioneers of nightlife lost interest. At the end of the 1980s New Beat had passed its peak. But as a trailblazer for electronic music like techno, house and acid, the genre had a lasting influence.

Electronics became a recipe for international success. Belgian artists, bands and record labels were in the forefront. Among the latter were Bonzai Records and R&S Records, both of whom built up an international reputation. The group Technotronic even scored a world hit with the house number Pump up the Jam, with lyrics by the Congolese-Belgian artist Ya Kid K.

Electronic music developed in a completely different biotope to rock music. Initially the genre was subsequently not to be heard at the big festivals, which were often rock-orientated. But the success of electronics was unstoppable. Gradually both cultures found each other and DJs also conquered the festival stages.

Folkfestival Dranouter.
Sally Meysman

In 1975 a few folk fans started a festival in the playground of a school in Dranouter, a village south of Ypres and Poperinge. Today Festival Dranouter is the largest folk festival in Europe. Duplicate of poster of the first edition, 1975.


Jazz Bilzen.
Bilzen, Visit Bilzen, Jean Schoubs

Festival-goers for Jazz Bilzen. In 1973 the paper Het Belang van Limburg characterised Jazz Bilzen as ‘Woodstock in miniature’, referring to the legendary hippie festival.

In de zomer van 1967 stonden Ferre Grignard (1939-1982), Wannes Van de Velde, Boudewijn de Groot en Procol Harum (met zanger-pianist Gary Brooker op de foto) op de affiche van Jazz Bilzen.
Bilzen, Visit Bilzen, Jean-Pierre Schorpion

In the summer of 1967 Ferre Grignard (1939-1982), Wannes van de Velde, Boudewijn de Groot and Procol Harum (with singer-pianist Gary Brooker on the photo) were all on the poster for Jazz Bilzen.

Walter De Buck Gentse Feesten.
Ghent, Amsab-ISG, Rol

At the end of the 1960s the anarchic artist Walter de Buck (1934-2014) and a few supporters relaunched the Gentse Feesten (Ghent Festival), evoking the sphere of the student protests and the leftist turn of the ‘May 68’ generation.

Antwerp, Het Laatste Nieuws, Didier Verbaere

Discothèques like Boccaccio (1986-1993) in Destelbergen, Cherry Moon in Lokeren (1991-2013) and La Rocca in Lier (1993-2022) became the temples of a new electronic music culture.

Rhyme Cut Core.
Jeroen Windels, 9000 toeren

Rhyme Cut Core was one of the pioneers of the hip-hop scene in Flanders. This shows the hip-hop band in full swing at the Ghent Festival (1990).

Discover more on this topic

Jazz Bilzen
Actualiteit 1965

Bron: VRT archief – 10 jan 1990

Jazz Bilzen rock
Magazien – Jazz Bilzen

Bron: VRT archief – 12 sep 1968

Lichtjes van de Schelde

Bron: VRT archief – 29 jul 1992

Mistero Buffo
Horen en zien

Bron: VRT archief – 15 nov 1972

Pump up the jam
Zeker Weten

Bron: VRT archief – 16 jan 1990

Rock werchter
Belpop – 40 jaar Werchter

Bron: VRT archief, Live Nation – 29 sep 2014

Sound of C

Bron: VRT archief – 8 jul 1989

People of Tomorrow

Bron: VRT archief, De chinezen – 26 okt 2014


Buelens Geert
Werchter: de wei. Belgiës bijdrage aan de rockindustrie

In: Tollebeek Jo (red.), België, een parcours van herinnering. Plaatsen van geschiedenis en expansie, Bert Bakker, 2008. 

Buelens Geert
De jaren zestig. Een cultuurgeschiedenis

Ambo Anthos, 2018. 

De Geyter Anja, e.a.
Pukkelpop 25

Ludion, 2010. 

Delvaux Jan
Rock Werchter sinds 1975

WPG, 2014. 

Delvaux Jan
Belpop Bonanza: de mooiste verhalen uit de Belgische popmuziek

Uitgeverij Sylvain, 2017. 

Delvaux Jan
Rock Torhout: biografie van een verdwenen festival, 1977-1998

Uitgeverij Sylvain, 2021. 

Duvillier Jeroen, Broos, Robin & Coussens Evelyne
BelgaCult: 25 momenten die cultureel België veranderd hebben

Lannoo, 2015.