Booming creative industry transforms Rotterdam's old port areas

Rotterdam is a great setting for TwitchCon, which will be taking place at Rotterdam Ahoy from June 29-30. While the city boasts iconic landmarks like mirrored residential towers, the majestic Erasmus Bridge and the enchanting Market Hall, making Rotterdam one of Europe’s best-loved film and streaming settings, its true essence lies beyond its cinematic facades. Delve deeper into the raw and vibrant heart of Rotterdam, and you will find old city harbours brimming with creativity and century-old warehouses reclaimed by the creator industry. We spoke with three tastemakers who represent the port area around the clock, and who invite everyone to step off the beaten track...

Header photo: Thys Boer (l), Arnold van de Water (c) and Joep van Lieshout (r).

A visit to this area is like an exciting treasure hunt of artists and creative minds, an inspirational journey along the city’s edges and home to new opportunities and possibilities. Many artists and creatives have left their mark here and helped transform Rotterdam from a hard-working city into a creative hotspot. Joep van Lieshout, artist, Arnold van de Water, immersive experience hub and Thys Boer, chairman of the N8W8 R’dam, stand for art, nightlife and the future.

Joep van Lieshout is regarded as the patriarch of this creative area. “Back in ‘87, I was among the first to settle down with Atelier Van Lieshout. Initially squatting, I then went through the area, from Radiostraat to Keilestraat and from there to Katoenveem.” Since about 15 years, he has been at the current location and the buildings next to it. Van Lieshout’s work shares similarities with gaming objects and figures. His intuitive approach and captivating 3D installations ignite the viewer’s imagination, offering endless possibilities for streaming or serving as the backdrop for yet another new setting.

Design, music, video

Van Lieshout says: “I work very much from my intuition and I dare to follow it. The big question for many artists and creators is ‘where do you get your inspiration from?’ And do you have the courage to follow it? Fortunately, I have the confidence to pursue whatever sparks my imagination. This sometimes leads to thought-provoking, bizarre and startling art and installations that challenge social norms, yet remain accessible and appealing to a wide audience. While the game industry lives in a digital fantasy world, I strive to create a real fantasy world.”

For gamers and streamers alike, a visit to Van Lieshout’s sites and buildings will be a feast of recognition and inspiration. From design to music, video, conceptual art and sculptures… The Brutus Foundation offers a publicly accessible haven with a sculpture garden and an ongoing exhibition programme. “I would love to organise something around TwitchCon as well. This year, we will see if people manage to visit M4H. Following that, we will take a groundbreaking approach together with the community. Everyone is welcome, just as they have always been in our ‘kind of Free State’. That will never change, as far as I’m concerned.”

Photos in the above image gallery: Guido Pijper.

Van Lieshout, Van de Water and Boer agree on one thing: the unique atmosphere in M4H. As far as they are concerned, the communal spirit and experimental character of the creators’ area provide the perfect preconditions for a grand and compelling support programme around TwitchCon. Ideas abound, including festivals, accommodations, and round-the-clock experiences.

M4H has always been a place where possibilities outweigh constraints. That liberal-minded culture is still alive among the area’s entrepreneurs and artists. Thys from N8W8, Rotterdam’s independent night council, has initiated discussions with Weelde, among others, and we are not ruling out that several small-scale initiatives will pop up in the area this year. It is a dynamic area with enterprising people who thrive on possibility, not limitation.

Freedom and emancipation

Thys Boer from N8W8, a foundation dedicated to establishing a permanent space for the city’s nightlife and always on the road for music and night culture: “Rotterdam is a city of music. Always has been. In the 1920s, Rotterdam thrived as a jazz hub. It was the New Orleans of Europe. The port has always served as a gateway for diverse musical movements. People who emigrated to Rotterdam brought their music and cultural influences with them. For instance, Rotterdam has been called the tenth island of Cape Verde. Moreover, in the 1960s, it witnessed the birth of Morabeza Records, the world’s first Cape Verdean record label, which played a significant role in the country’s struggle for independence from Portugal. Morabeza Records symbolised freedom and emancipation.”

In the 1990s, Rotterdam emerged as the epicentre of hardcore music and had superclubs like Las Palmas and Now & Wow. Rotterdam’s many warehouses were legally and illegally transformed into dance venues and nightclubs. Underground music and techno celebrated their heyday. This raw, unfiltered essence remains intrinsic to Rotterdam’s identity, visible to those who venture into areas like M4H.

Photos in the above image gallery: Nick Bookelaar.


Arnold van de Water is driven by the boundless potential he sees in the area, a sentiment that inspired the start of Katoenhuis. “We are creating a hub for Immersive Experiences (IX) and technology in the heart of M4H”, van de Water explains. “We are a place in the making that revolves around music and technology, offering experiences that fully immerse you. For us, it is clear that digital technology is the key to solving all kinds of social issues. That is why we’re building clusters where different creators can come together, including large-scale installations. The digital world knows no bounds. Taking on a different identity? Possible! An innovation that turns the world upside down? Possible! Many people find museums daunting, but in the digital world, one can encounter and engage with everything in a different light.”

Within Katoenhuis, artists and creators will find studios, workspaces, exhibition areas, and event spaces. “By bringing together a diverse array of artists and creators under one roof, we’re providing support for exploration, experimentation, and presentation of immersive experiences, thereby strengthening the growth of the immersive technology sector”, van de Water elaborates.

We are really looking forward to the cross-pollination that will take place between different disciplines and areas of expertise. A place where kinetic artists and programmers come together did not yet exist in Rotterdam. Or in the Netherlands. I am proud that we have chosen the raw environment of M4H as our base, where the vibe among creatives in the area is absolutely unique. I am convinced that the early TwitchCon visitors will declare M4H as the epicentre of the gaming and streaming world in the years to come.”

Source: This article was first published in the TwitchCon Visitors Guide, with the title ‘Discover the future amidst the raw charm of Rotterdam’

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