As clubs have opened their doors for a new season, I talked to Máté Iszak of Project Netherlands (formerly known as Project Rotterdam) to get to know the local nightlife industry from the inside. I asked him questions about Project, what they are working on now and what he thinks are the best clubbing locations in Rotterdam.
What is Project?
Perhaps familiar to many young people, Project broke into Rotterdam’s club scene only last November, experiencing immense growth this past year. Starting out as a student party organised by students, Project grew with its founders to become one of the most promising event organisations in the Netherlands. The latest event even brought the big name Kaaze to Rotterdam’s scene.
How it began
Máté and I met on Zoom, as he was visiting Budapest, his home city, before departing to Hong Kong for half a year. To get our interview on Project started, I first asked Máté about the way it all began.
“A little more than a year ago now, me and my three best friends, Max, Marco and Daniel, basically decided to start Project. (…) We weren’t completely satisfied with the nightlife scene or the party scene of Rotterdam. Specifically for us, it was the music. We wanted something different,” he says, referring to the more mainstream clubs with pop remixes that mainly cater to the university students in the city.
While Rotterdam is well known for its techno scene as well, Máté and his friends were looking for something in between: a mix of genre music that’s more niche (“no more Despacito”), without having the overpowering dark industrial techno sound that already has an established community around it.
All about the experience
They wanted to create something new, house and techno, ranging from melodic to deep.
And in many ways, Project is inspired by the Eastern European tradition of clubbing. “What bothered me is that people didn’t really put an effort into [going out].(…) A night out, coming from Eastern Europe I’m sure you know, is an experience that you want to remember.”
In this way, Project is all about the experience – not an occasion to get extremely drunk, but a way to have a memorable night.
And while Máté acknowledges that everyone has a different approach to clubbing, the four of them wanted to bring an alternative that gave people an opportunity to treat a night out as an event, something to look forward to.
A personal side
And this is another aspect of Project that seemingly contributes to its success. The fact that behind all these events stand four friends, who used to live together, is intriguing, but also seems quite much. So the first question I have when Máté tells me the other organisers and him were flatmates, was “How?”. How does one combine work, friendship and living together on top of that?
“Yeah, my work life balance is a mess,” Máté laughs, “it’s not an industry or a company where you can just take a week off.”
And yet because of this, working with people who are a walk down the hallway away from you has its bonuses. “You know, you can say, ‘Hey, you take out the trash.’ They ask: ‘Why are you not taking the trash?’ And I’m like, ‘well, I’m making the design”.
“At least you sometimes have good excuses that everyone can understand,” I conclude.
Bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy
Yet more than anything, the challenges came with figuring out the way to start a business in the Netherlands. “In general, starting a company in the Netherlands is harder than we thought. There’s a lot that goes into it behind the scenes. Just maintaining a company in the Netherlands, especially as internationals,” Máté comments.
Keeping their business legal and registered, the founders had to hire accountants, talk to lawyers, and reach for external expertise in general. A lot of it came from Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE for short). Through them they got an office in one of Rotterdam’s many skyscrapers.
“That’s also a good feeling,” Máté laughs, “Like, you go there and there are all these people in suits. And we’re just taking our Uni stuff, (…) working on Project”.
He concludes: “We got a lot of support from ECE. That was very valuable, I think. And just in general, [Erasmus University and ECE] are very supportive of entrepreneurial stuff – you can literally knock on someone’s door and they will help you. And I know that would never work in Hungary. So that’s really good.”
Where is Project now?
Growing (up) of the audience
As mentioned earlier, Project started as an alternative student party, switching pop for house and techno.
And while nowadays founders “feel like an older audience can usually better appreciate the artists, the venues, the visuals, everything that we stand for,” at the beginning they were very dedicated in their consideration of students’ preferences.
”I had this huge calendar of all courses: when they have exams, assignments, anything, just to find the perfect day that will work for everybody,” Máté remembers.”I talked to so many people just to get the perfect day and (…) I remember having to research how many people are in each course so I could have an understanding of which courses we should prioritise, and very specifically, what is the day that statistically everybody will have free.”
But as the audience was growing up with the business, organisators’ focus shifted more and more towards getting big, expert DJs to perform at Project. “With artists like that – that quality, fame, and hype, it’s not like, ‘Okay, can you come to Beurs next Thursday?’,” Máté jokes.
Big industry, small world
And while the planning became more complex, what made the organisation easier was the connections gained as Project became bigger and more recognised in the industry.
“The venues, the artists, everything is based on connections,” Máté states. “Obviously, as you go, you build a reputation. So now, if there is a new venue that pops up, we can show our portfolio proving that, ‘Hey, we’ve been to these venues, we sold out these’. Because that says something about you as a company”.
What’s interesting is that the value of reputation is especially high in Rotterdam, where “the venues are owned by three or four people, all of them, and they all know each other, they talk.”
As for the DJs, a lot of them, especially those based locally, would know each other as well and be able to vouch for the organisation, Máté explains. “They kind of recommend us, (…) ‘We had a good time here. They treated us well. The crowd was good’. And then [that’s how] we get a phone number [of another artist]”.
In the end it was for personal connections of Max, one of the founders, which got Project in touch with Tomorrowland – a large-scale Belgian festival of electronic music.
No more flyers
When it comes to Máté’s role in particular, his work includes everything PR-related: from arranging promo campaigns for new event phases to connecting with the photographers for the night.
“Everything you see on Instagram is made by me from scratch. So if you find something cool, just know that I was up at like 2am [creating that] in Photoshop and Lightroom and Illustrator,” he laughs. For Máté, work on advertising for the next event starts around five weeks before its date. Nowadays, it mainly involves promotion through Instagram and Facebook, although when their audience was younger, Project also incorporated flyers and stickers into campaigns.
“When we’re getting towards a party, (…) the last two weeks before an event, you can’t just not do Project for a day.” And then the event itself comes, while they try to have a good time, the organisers are still there to work. “I always have my laptop and everything I need just in case something happens.”
Collaboration with starting photographers
During the night, Máté’s main responsibility is coordinating photographers and videographers. And with the help Erasmus gave Project, the latter wanted to give back, for example by giving the photographers from Creators Association an opportunity to build a portfolio.
Being part of the association himself, Máté came up with the collaboration idea.
“They [young photographers] are motivated to build a portfolio, but don’t have any experience. And they will come to Projects for free so they can take photos and be assigned to one of my paid photographers. So someone professional who has been in the industry for years, who has to teach them and have them for the full event”.
Where to go clubbing in Rotterdam?
Discussing the history of Project and the event itself, left us with only one topic, that might be of the more practical interest to the reader: recommendations.
Máté says, “we love Toffler. I think for all of us Toffler was one of the best venues and we’re definitely going to go back.”
Máté even has a fun fact to share about the venue, that you could try to spot the next time you are there. “The way they make it always seem kind of full is that the wall behind the DJ is constantly moving back. So it’s not a real wall. It’s moving backwards all the time, centimetre by centimetre. It’s all automated. So when you arrive it doesn’t look that big and as more people keep coming in, the wall keeps going backwards”.
When talking about other venues, he notes that the “community aspect of parties” is often an important factor for why certain events become popular. “That’s why the student parties are so successful because, it’s really the people that make the party, and especially I think if you can build something like that [a community] around a niche specific type of music, it can be very valuable and just a very cool place for people to be”.
Namely, “Bird, Poing, and Mono – absolutely [are places to be]. (…) So I would definitely prefer [them] over the bigger venues. I think they can be a great experience – they have good communities and very nice staff. Time is a New Space is also one (…) I have been hearing about,” Máté summarises.
What to expect from Project
As for the Project Netherlands themselves, since our interview they have organised a number of new exciting events. To learn more about where Max, Marco, Daniel and Máté will bring Project in 2024 and see more of their past editions be sure to follow their Instagram.
Do you have other favourite venues in Rotterdam? Be sure to tell us about them in the comments!