Disrupting Amsterdam’s Creative Nucleus
As a youngster, Hans Brouwer devoted an inordinate amount of time to learning and playing the bass guitar. But he wasn’t just getting into the funk – he was also, unwittingly, nurturing all the characteristics of an entrepreneur. For Hans, you see, it was never about the fame, it was (and still is) about the fun. Unlike the lead singer or guitarist, the bassists are the guys with both feet on the ground which, for Hans, meant organising and managing over 600 gigs for his band.
The skills he learnt as a young band member stood him in good stead, as he’s since set up global music agency MassiveMusic, invested in a plethora of other companies, and part-founded Amsterdam’s latest icon; A’DAM Toren (the 22-storey multifunctional creative tower that’s the new home of MassiveMusic).
LBB’s Paul Monan caught up with him to find out more…
LBB > You’re one of the three founding investors in the A’DAM Toren - where did the idea come from and how did the project happen?
HB > When Shell moved their headquarters six years ago, the building was given over to the city government who in turn opened it up to developers. One of my partners had always wanted to create a viewpoint in Amsterdam, but there aren’t many tall buildings here and none of them have a viewpoint from which you can see the whole city, so when this came on to the market it was a very exciting, unique opportunity – it’s a landmark building with the possibility to finally open it up to the city’s population. A huge amount of interest was generated in the tower and there were 34 separate bids.
Fortunately, we won the bid – and that decision was based on our concept, which was to make A’DAM Toren the home of music and creativity. It’s the only high building in Amsterdam North and my partner wanted to utilise its unique viewpoint, so the idea really started with that. From the top down, we were coming up with the concept for the rest of the building. We wanted to make a vertical city where you can sleep, eat, work, dance – everything in one building, that was really our goal.
LBB > MassiveMusic is officially the first company to move into the tower, what does it mean for the company to be an integral part of such prestigious project?
HB > It’s an honour to be the first tenant. The move should only bring positivity for MassiveMusic, I’m sure about that. It definitely feels like it’s the start of a new era for us. We have some vacancies – we have a bigger building now! We will be growing and we’re really looking forward to the next chapter.
Working together with the other music companies will also be a fantastic experience. We hadn’t moved in yet but we were already co-operating with one another. Gibson will bring the artists that they’re sponsoring into to the tower, and this opens up opportunities for working with MassiveMusic, the labels, the publishers and the other companies. We’ll benefit from each other, you get so much more than just being a tenant in the building.
LBB > MassiveMusic will be moving from its own independent office space into a building that will be shared with a number of other like-minded companies – what are the benefits of the move for MassiveMusic?
HB> Working so closely together with other creative companies is only going to be a good thing for us, there’ll always be a lot going on in the building and that should make for a lot of fun! Although, with a number of other companies being around us, I wanted to ensure we didn’t lose our identity. That’s why I started getting involved with the concept of the tower and I really pushed for the building’s musical concept. When we first came up with the idea, it was originally going to be dance music orientated but we realised that was too narrow minded. Now it’s the home of musical collaboration and creativity, the A’DAM Toren will have a reputation as the music building. Particularly with A’DAM&Co., the members club, luring Amsterdam’s greatest creative minds together under one roof. I think we’ll have a lot of fun networking with those guys…
With everything under one roof, it’s incredibly convenient for the time starved amongst us. If you want to have a lunch meeting, you can go to one of the three restaurants without spending half an hour in the car travelling there. If our partners from LA or London come over, they’ll sleep downstairs in the hotel. It’s really convenient. Everybody will know that there’ll be lots of visitors to the building, which is good for the visibility of the company.
LBB > The tower will be home to offices, cafés, restaurants, a hotel, an observation point and a revolving restaurant, used by hundreds of employees and thousands of visitors – is the plan to make the tower Amsterdam’s cultural and creative hub?
HB > That’s definitely the idea. First of all, there’s the lookout on top of the building for tourists who want to see the city from a high viewpoint, then we’ll have the hotel, the restaurants, the clubs and the bars. There are eight floors of office space with studios which are all for music companies, from Gibson and MassiveMusic, to ID&T and AIR Events.
The tower will also play host to A’DAM&Co., a members club that’s really focused on Amsterdam’s creative industries. You could compare it a little to Soho House but with less advertising and more creativity.
It’s actually one of the few buildings in the city to have a 24-hour licence. So when Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) is in town in October, we can open up on the Wednesday morning and close down on Monday morning. We can go 24 hours day!
LBB > The tower was already situated on the north bank – but what is the importance a project like this being situated north or the river? Is that a deliberate attempt to disrupt the creative nucleus in Amsterdam?
HB > Amsterdam is built from the Central Station towards the south and the tower is only 200m from the station, although it’s separated by the water. That’s great because you have to take the ferry and there’s a sort of romance about the journey.
Despite being incredibly central, it is still very much Amsterdam North – a district that you could say had been ‘forgotten’. Although, the area is developing into the new edgy, creative part of town and you can already feel the energy there. The NY Times puts it as the third Most Creative Neighbourhood in the world (after Williamsburg in New York and Shoreditch in London). Our tower wasn’t even open and it was already in the New York Times!
LBB > Other than MassiveMusic, you’re a founder and investor in a host of other creative companies – how do you manage to keep on top of everything?
HB > It’s not about me – it’s all about great people in the workplace. I never come up with an idea myself. Actually, that’s not completely true… What I mean to say is, I always work together with others who put their heart and soul into it. Mostly, I’m the only investor and I put my time in at the start, getting things up and running. If you have great people who you can rely on – people whose dreams you can help build into reality – then I’m very much willing to help if the opportunity is there. It gives me energy.
MassiveMusic is by far my main focus. That’s where I spend the most time. It was my first company, although I recently realised that everything I’d been doing up until Massive could be deemed a ‘company’ too. I played in a band and we played around 50 gigs a year, which was a company, right? I never looked at it that way because I was playing the bass, but I was doing the bookings and the tour management when I was at university studying music science. It didn’t feel like running a company, it was just a way of earning a little money whilst studying. I did a lot of things before I started Massive. It was all in music; I organised parties and I DJ’d but to me it didn’t feel like work.
Hans Brouwer, Founder of MassiveMusic
LBB > Having put so much time and effort into establishing so many creative companies, you must have faith in the Amsterdam creative scene. How do you feel the scene in Amsterdam is doing currently? Where can you see it going in the next five years?
HB > It is a great place to be. You can see that international agencies like Wieden+Kennedy are successful and it’s a city that attracts a lot of brand headquarters. So where there’s headquarters, the agencies follow. There’s still growth here. The people are open-minded, creative, and tolerant – these are good bases for creativity and there’s incredible staff to find here. Everybody can speak English so you don’t need to learn the local language here. There are expat offices that hardly have any Dutch natives working within them, you don’t need to. There are people from the States who’ve worked here for over a decade already without any problems. The real estate is still affordable, so you can live here and find reasonably priced office space, which also helps. We have one of the best airports in the world, too. It feels like a village, but a global village, plus you can do everything on a bicycle!
LBB > What’s currently exciting you in the industry, both locally and internationally?
HB > The advent of brands is an exciting development for our industry. They’re becoming increasingly powerful, hiring in house experts and specialist agencies to work with them, and they’ve forced us to change the way we think. We’re now an industry that is built on specialists.
Brands are starting to think more about their music strategy too, we’re talking to quite a lot of really big brands at the moment. Music is such an emotional part of the brand experience. Campaigns already have music. It’s smart to think about how to use music in the most effective way. MassiveMusic started out as company creating compositions for TVCs but now our scope of work is incredibly broad; activations for brands, music strategy, sonic branding, publishing, licensing, talent search. We can now offer the whole scope of what a brand wants and needs musically, and there’s so much for a brand to gain if they can optimise their music usage.
LBB > Outside of advertising, what gets your creative juices flowing and why?
HB > I grew up as a bass player and still try to play as much as possible. Unfortunately I don’t get to play as often as I’d like, although we had a great gig a couple of weeks ago at the ADCN (Advertising Design Creativity Netherlands) awards. We were the Massive Late Night Show band playing in between every category. It was awesome.
I still have a band and we play five times a year or so. It’s a lot of fun and to make music with your friends is, for me, one of the most beautiful things. The only issue is you have to find the time – arranging for everybody to be in the same place at the same time is incredibly difficult!
LBB > Who are your creative heroes and why?
HB > As I’m all about music, it’ll have to be two artists that I have the utmost respect for – James Brown and Prince.
James Brown was one of my heroes. I was lucky enough to meet him in 2003 when we were doing a remix of Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine. He hardly ever does syncs for commercials, especially not remixes, and just as I was about to meet him his manager Super Frank said ‘by the way, don’t tell him that you’re remixing his song. Mr Brown doesn’t like people who mess around with his stuff’. This was thirty seconds before meeting him and I was like, what should I talk about?!
It’s also very tragic but Prince was my hero, too. I’m honoured to have seen him six times or so. For me, Prince was the best performer in pop music history.
LBB > Finally, tell us something that your colleagues or peers don’t know about you?
HB > Ooh, that’s a hard one. I’m a pretty open book, so I don’t really know. I could come up with something stupid, like I have all the Asterix and Obelix comics. There aren’t many secrets I’m afraid!
LBB > What are your goals for the rest of 2016?
HB > My main ambition is to take MassiveMusic into a new era. It would be great for the company to continue growing whilst continuing to strengthen our foundations. We’re in the middle of recruiting right now, so we’ll have a new office in a new place with new staff. I think 2016 will be a start of a successful new phase for Massive. Now we’re in the tower, we may be 65 metres in the air but we’ll be more grounded than ever!