Interview: Rizon Parein, Founder of Us By Night

We speak with the designer about the dynamic three-day event in Antwerp

Antwerp’s Us By Night proved to be just what it promised, and more. While there are plenty of creative conferences the world over, and countless inspiring speakers at each one, UBN is especially stimulating because it feels like a party. That’s thanks to a perfect storm of programming, young and lively attendees, a strong community focus, and the pragmatic after-hours timeframe. The city itself also serves as an ideal location for a conference of this kind, as Antwerp is a true European metropolis brimming with museums, design stores, public art and contemporary cuisine. The Belgian hub fosters innovation within the artistic community, with one in six Antwerp enterprises existing within the creative sphere.

At year’s event we had the pleasure of listening to Camille Walala, Gary Card, and The Rodina speak—after interviewing each of them. While other highlights included Kelly Anna, Hassan Rahim, Helen Kirkum, and Nicole McLaughlin and Ibrahem Hasan, all of whom shared valuable insights into their practices and experiences. Perhaps the most impressive theme that ran through the discussions was an immense honesty about working within the creative sphere—whether good, bad or remarkably ugly, each experience was described with an authenticity that the audience truly learned from. Outside the intriguing talks, the event has an undeniable party atmosphere with activations and installations that were as interesting as the attendees.

After a stimulating three days, we spoke with Us By Night founder (and designer/illustrator in his own right) Rizon Parein about the event, and why authenticity remains at the core of its mission.

Can you tell us a little about the event’s origins? Because the city of Antwerp reached out to you regarding this project, right?

Yes, they were searching within each discipline for an ambassador and I’m a 3D designer, and at that time I was working for five years with Nike, and I also had got some attention regarding the Drive poster I did—that kind of became a hype. So the city reached out and initially I felt like, “OK I’m going to do small, small events—with five speakers, seven speakers.” Rent some small space, that’s it. But when I reached out to some colleagues, I immediately had a line-up that was too beautiful. And I thought this deserves a certain respect, and also it challenged me.

What made you approach it from a nightlife angle?

For me, if these creative events are well done, it’s like school camp—you bond and you’re blue when it’s over. And, I think us creative people when we meet, we like it with a with a punch. I thought why not treat more like a nightlife event? When I lived in New York—seven, eight years ago—the original Brooklyn Night Bazaar, I really liked because it was another way of spending a night out without going to a club or a bar. So the first year, we had the night market with the main stage, then we added the living room to create this more intimate setting—just this open stage, almost like open mic stages—the second year. We added the tutorials stage, but not in a separate room to make it very academic, but right in the in the center of the night market to keep that energy. Then the third year, we did everything with confidence, which was a good feeling.

And this year, you moved to a new location and attracted a bigger audience?

We were obligated to leave our previous warehouse so we went to a location that was my favorite place when I was 22—I had some of the craziest raves there! For some people in the city it’s like, “Oh not again this space” but I was super-convinced that if we would treat the building right and do it right, it would be smashing hit. And I think it was it was. For me, it was surreal.

So many creatives recognize themselves in those issues and the failures we all struggle with

How do you go about selecting speakers and figuring out who is the right fit for this event and your specific audience?

What’s super-important is accessibility and I always try to to curate on the basis of no rockstars, no ego—especially to encourage that community. Many people asked me, when I invited them to speak, “What is the topic? Are there any guidelines?” and I was like, “I don’t expect you to be a talented speaker, you’re an artist, it’s just not your job. Do what you think inspires the creative community and make it especially human and vulnerable, because I like that a lot. That sense of humility, or open hearts, and so many creatives recognize themselves in those issues and the failures we all struggle with. And that’s something I saw a lot this time onstage—people really showing some failures and backgrounds, some tough backgrounds, and you can feel that it really warms the heart of many.

I really appreciated the honesty and openness of many of the speakers. One of the most impactful—certainly for me—was Hassan Rahim. He really shared his story and how he got to where where he is. It felt very natural and unscripted and just very open and honest. I think people might have already appreciated the aesthetic of his work, understanding where his heart is makes a huge difference.

That gives me, instantly, tears. It was so beautiful… It was really a gut decision to put him on the main stage. It’s always a good feeling making the line-up and putting people on stage—sometimes who have never spoken before—and that turned out amazingly well this year.

There were so many fantastic talks. Another one was Pär Heyden, it was great because he didn’t play all of the political and bureaucratic games—he wasn’t wasn’t diplomatic. He just was honest, and people stayed in the room. That authenticity works well.

Yes, it’s a difficult thing to balance, because obviously we need brands. We want to work with brands that are valuable to the event—who will make the Night Market a rich experience.

What’s the plan for future iterations of Us By Night?

The dream is… For me this is still a speck of clay and we’re still shaping it. My mind goes crazy on how much stuff we could plug into it, but at the same time you have to protect it. I want to protect that community. I think if people are putting their shoulders underneath it, and sharing their losses in front of community, it can only lead to too many more adventures. But when people come to Us By Night, people surrender to the event.

I come from a graffiti background. And in graffiti, wherever we traveled, whatever city, is always a family. We have these graffiti jams for people come together to paint walls together. For me, Us By Night is a bit like that graffiti jam concept. Just all like-minded people having a good time together and hanging out there. That’s really the the essence of the event. And then having good talks makes it even better.

Tickets are available now for next year’s Us By Night online. 

Images courtesy of Daniil Lavrovski