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“This is my bike” - How Robbe Van Bogaert is striving for accessibility in the nightlife sector

After being diagnosed with a bone structure problem, Robbe Van Bogaert uses his disability to empower the night-time industry to strive for accessibility whilst ensuring promoters and businesses are aware of the importance of creating an accessible experience. 

Robbe boasts 20 years of experience in the sector and in consistently breaking down barriers and stigmas surrounding accessibility in the industry. His mission is now far-reaching with his work as Founder of Eventsure and as nightlife expert for Antwerp, as well as creating the activist DJ and speaker project, Human Power, where his motivation is clear - make change by raising voices and pumping the speakers.  

This project has taken him across the world, from festivals to conferences, to emphasise the need for more attention to inclusion and disability in the growing nightlife scene. 

When growing up, Robbe was constantly integrated into music by his family, with DJing and event organisation being a part of his life for nearly 20 years. The DJ has a bone structure problem - multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, and has since fought to get out of his wheelchair and refused to have a disability so he can “have a life like every other child.”

GigPig spoke to Robbe about his work in the sector to ensure everyone can be on the dancefloor. The nightlife expert for Antwerp instantly broke down the societal barrier with me by addressing that his wheelchair is his bike. “I start any presentation in the wheelchair, and in the middle, I stand up and say that this is my bike because I want to make the explanation that my wheelchair is the same that you need your bike. But the perception of me in the wheelchair and the perception of you on your bike is that we both need it for the same way - long distance. So the way you look at me and the way I look at you should be the same. My wheelchair is my bike, it's for long distances, for long-standing, and for festivals.” From that moment on, there was no mention of a wheelchair, as Robbe consistently addressed it as his bike to further break down the perceptions. 

“There was a magic moment in my life when I realised that I don’t have to fight against this and use it as a power,” Robbe added. That moment came in 2010 for the bi-annual Boom Festival in Portugal, when he was photographed overlooking the lake on his bike. This picture sparked a change for the international festival to enable accessibility for users. “I didn't know that this picture of me in my wheelchair enjoying the sun could change the whole festival.”

Robbe Van Bogaert was pictured overlooking the lake at Boom Festival in 2010, the picture that sparked an accessibility change for the festival. Image accreditation

Two years later, the Human Power project started. It is an activist DJ project to improve the accessibility to club spaces internationally. He takes the project across the globe by spinning his tracks at various festivals to make people aware that they can be powerful and create something out of their lives, regardless of the barriers. This change is achieved by Robbe raising voices and pumping the speakers to festival and nightlife promoters to make them aware of creating an accessible, cool and sexy experience. 

Robbe continued: “I want to be a role model and try to motivate people mentally or physically whilst saying to festivals and nightlife spaces that it’s time to make a change. We should make a safe space with it because we are inclusive. So many people are already saying that nightlife is inclusive for the black and white community and the LGBTQ+, but I always say that you’ve forgotten the most inclusive part of the scene.” 

Once Robbe controls the decks, his tunes empower festival promoters on how to make a change to create an accessible festival experience for all music lovers and get everyone on the dancefloor. “This is my life, but you also have your life, and I want to bring the message that everybody can make something out of this life. So I want to try to kick festivals ass about working more on accessibility and inclusion.” 

The inspirational story of Human Power was amplified in 2018 when Robbe underwent surgery three months before his appearance at Boom Festival to prevent him from being paralysed, which would take him nine months to recover from. “I started walking again in three months and went to the Boom Festival with a one-hour set and I told them my story and asked them to play on the Funky Beach stage. Instead, I played for three and a half hours during sunset on the Funky Beach stage. I was standing for three and a half hours after being paralysed, and for me, that was the moment the Human Power project was born. This was my mission.”

Robbe now takes the Human Power project internationally to make people aware that they can be powerful and create something out of their lives, by raising voices and pumping speakers.

Beyond his work with the Human Power project, Robbe is the nightlife expert for Antwerp, where he guides the youth culture in the city to make it more accessible by facilitating their needs through various events. He also heads up the non-profit organisation Eventsure, which is a quality standard in events and creative project management but equally builds various club spaces in Antwerp for the youth. “I’m not just a guy in a wheelchair, I’m a nightlife expert.”  

Despite the incredible work that Robbe has done up to this point, inclusion still needs to be achieved. “Accessibility has to be normal, and it has to be part of society. My biggest challenge is that people with a disability are refused entry at the doors. I did a panel a few years ago with a few ravers in a wheelchair from Berlin, and they gave examples of clubs they can’t get into, and the names of these clubs are quite shocking. I tried to get into Berghain three times myself. But it's bullshit because I've been guiding organisations already about it. 

“Businesses can have an accessible policy. You have four strong bouncers in front of your door, and they can communicate by saying, ‘You're welcome in our venue, but you need to know this is the condition of the venue. We will help you. This is the toilet situation, and this is the situation with the venue.’ Utilising bouncers is not the solution, but it's the beginning. We need to make a safe space with it because we are inclusive.” 

The global work that Robbe does on his bike is truly inspiring to the sector. A multi-faceted industry has to be enjoyed by everyone, which was the one key message prominent throughout the conversation. The mission that Robbe is so keen to achieve is why we are seeing more and more barriers being knocked down in nightlife and event scenes.