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Celebrating 10 Years of BIRD in Rotterdam (Interview)

Today, we'd like to celebrate the legacy of the exquisite club BIRD in Rotterdam that's recently reached their 10 years of existence milestone. The arched space, deeply rooted in jazz, hip hop and electronica has been truly pivotal to Rotterdam's music scene. Venue to many magical moments including the legendary Boogieball afterparties to the North Sea Jazz Festival, multiple Boiler Rooms and memorable performances by Kaidi Tatham, Hiatus Kaiyote, Kamasi Washington, Roy Ayers, Khruangbin and many more. At this special occasion, we've interviewed the artistic director Philip Powel, one of the founding fathers of BIRD to learn a bit more about the history, the vision and the stories behind the space.

BIRD’s tag is a nod to the American jazz saxophonist Charlie ‘BIRD’ Parker’s poetic nickname. What is the philosophy behind this special space, what was the original vision for the venue like and how did it all come together in the beginning of it all? How did you stumble upon the iconic arched space?

Philip: BIRD was initially founded from our need in Rotterdam for a place with focus on black music ideas with hip hop and jazz as main ingredients. While working as a programmer at other music venues, I recognized the value of focused programming and the right context. The former Hofplein station ticked a number of important boxes as a location. Situated in an area with musical history in the cultural heart of Rotterdam, only 400 meters from the central station. The arches also have a lot of symbolic worth because a lot of jazz originated from such places in several metropoles on this Earth. In Rotterdam it was also one of the first places where jazz and soul from overseas settled in the city because it was a popular place for the first generation of Surinamese.

The opening night of BIRD in Rotterdam allegedly took place in 2011 with Gregory Porter blessing the stage early on in his career. What was the atmosphere like? How was the Rotterdam club scene at the time? Was there a warm reception for the space since the very start?

Philip: Well the honest answer is that he wasn't playing at our current location but at a different location called Heidegger. Our stage was still under construction at the time and we organized several concerts at other locations during that phase. If I'm not mistaken, the first time physical concerts took place at our current location was Boogieball, the afterparty of North Sea Jazz. That's when The Roots and Robert Glasper jam went on until morning hours. Nonetheless legendary I would say ;)

June 2021 marked the 10-year anniversary of BIRD Rotterdam and as a celebration, there’s now a compilation called Hummingbird Archives that’s available on streaming (also vinyl pre-order is in effect). What was the idea behind the curation of the selection?

Philip: The record reflects the musical vision of BIRD curated by the two main artistic forces in BIRD. Myself and Guido van Dieren. This all comes down to a record with a balanced blend of tradition and modernity with focus on Rotterdam. The record's energy is also curated, meaning it is both mellow and energetic. It's been great fun compiling this record with Guido van Dieren, since he has a very strong musical vision which is very inspiring to me. Careful listeners can also clearly hear this musical vision resonating in the BIRD programme.

The real essence of BIRD Rotterdam is BIRDfest, a tradition that started in 2010 already with Kaidi Tatham, Norman Jay and Christian Prommer on the lineup. This was before the come up of the venue we know as BIRD today. How do you remember the event shaping up for the first time?

Philip: I think the first BIRDfest was the introduction to the current BIRD. We thought it was important to give people a taste of what was to come. With an eclectic program that clearly has one vision and has both 'club' and 'live' elements.

The location was also very symbolic because it was organized in the Station which is a few hundred meters after Station Hofplein and which is the current location of BIRD.

Mark Prodanovic Photography

BIRDfest had a virtual edition earlier this year with livestreams from multiple cool locations. Was it the first time the happening entered into the online realm? Are you planning on continuing the tradition of livestreams in the future?

Philip: When the pandemic hit, we experimented with online streams reaching various degrees of success. We quickly noticed that streaming programs only work if you have sufficient (financial) resources for this and are able to share unique content. Unfortunately, we weren't there quite yet in the early stages.

The connection with North Sea Jazz Festival launched in 2013, when the official festival afterparties a.k.a. Boogieballs began to take place in BIRD. This is also when the epic closing jam by Robert Glasper & The Roots occured. Can you describe the concept behind these jam sessions and how they were created?

Philip: This was indeed the jam I've referred to earlier. Boogieball has a high 'jam' factor which applies just as much to the 'live' as to the 'deejay' performers. Both will be playing improvised music for the most part. This can sometimes lead to magical moments such as the session with Roy Hargrove and Snarky Puppy, the full Prince band 'The Time' and therefore also the jam with Robert Glasper & The Roots. Moments when everything seems to be right and the musical energy rose to unprecedented heights.

There has certainly been plenty of memorable and beautiful moments in the 10 years time. Would you perhaps like to share a few of those that are especially close to your heart?

Philip: There are several concerts that really stayed with me because they were of an unprecedented beauty, energetic or very special. I personally thought the concert of jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato and Roy Ayers was wonderful. But also Khruangbin and Christian Scott. I think Rotterdam is not always aware what kind of black music legends have played in the port city via BIRD. I once tried to make a list and called it quits somewhere at 250 acts. I believe you could fill some great North Sea Jazz editions with this.

A few years ago we made a film based on a poem by the Amsterdam poet Wonder, who unfortunately passed away much too early, that gives a nice picture of the diversity of artists that we had the pleasure to receive. And this was just a selection from one specific month.

Looking ahead, what future do you see for BIRD in the years to come? Are there any unfulfilled hopes and wishes yet to be manifested in the Universe of BIRD?

Philip: I hope that BIRD will inspire a new generation of artists, program makers and club promoters and that it will have a lasting impact on the musical ideas of the port city of Rotterdam.

Much love & Happy BIRDDay from Steppin' Into Tomorrow <3


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James Brown
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