Rizon Parein on creating the biggest Us by Night to date, and his non-stop hunger for more

On Thursday 26 September the fourth edition of the design and creativity festival Us by Night kicks off. This year in a new venue in Antwerp’s former harbor area 'Het Eilandje', which is the perfect spot for three nights of inspiration and endless night-market experiences. Over the past four years, we have interviewed Rizon, 3D designer and curator of Us By Night, multiple times. Today we are catching up with him to learn more about the upcoming edition of Us by Night.

Hi Rizon, the fourth edition of Us by Night is almost there, are you excited?

It’s about time it’s finally gonna happen :) This edition was the toughest one to date, new location, new scenography, 2 months earlier, shift in team, artists portal development, etc… I can’t wait to see it all come alive. It’s gonna be epic, trust me, people will rave about this, did I already say we have the biggest Disco Ball in the world? :)

You developed an artists portal! I’m really curious can you share why you build it and how it helps you, the team and the artists.

As I give quite often lectures myself, I always get in a panic attack state when I see long emails coming in, you often flag them, they get lost and work related stuff gets priority. During the year we need to collect quite some info and at some point it easily gets cluttered. It is a nightmare to keep an overview with 70 artists. It’s hard to ask extra questions, do a survey or even just checking on how comfortable they feel on stage. The portal is made to give this sense of peace, it’s nicely designed, easy to keep an overview. it’s being received really well, speakers praise the experience and it’s not seen before in our industry, always a good intro :) On our side it also works really well, all submitted info immediately ends up at the right desk, a huge timesaver.

Rizon Parein
Rizon Parein

Since the last edition of Us by Night, a lot has happened. But first, can you describe what the premise of Us by Night is, for the people how don’t know the festival.

It’s at night, it’s wild, it’s made to connect and to feel blue when it’s over. Throughout three evenings, more than 60 speakers shed light on the worlds of design, illustration, photography, film, motion design, sound design, and modern art.
Us by Night is like an evening out with friends – but one of those extraordinary, extra-special ones. At the huge Main Stage, you’ll hear from the world’s best creatives. The intimate set-up of The Living Room dissolves the barrier between audience and speakers and will inspire you with stories from design studios and creative entrepreneurs. Want to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in straight away? Then you can learn the tricks of the trade from the cream of the crop at the Tutorial Stage. Alongside inspiring talks, there will be an indoor and outdoor night-market with video installations, art interventions, arcade games, table tennis, air hockey, live painting and acts, plus a range of street food stalls. Us by Night’s unique night-market, inspiring energy, close-knit community, and sheer playfulness make it a must-visit event.

What is the story behind the festival's name?

The friendship, the community, that’s what the Us refers to. We are a cult of good-hearted people, celebrate creativity and passion, egos on the side, create friendships, encourage cross-pollination and all of this in a theme park for adults, 3 nights long. Raise this flag and shine :)

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Photo: Us by Night / Daniil Lavrovski
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Photo: Us by Night
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Main Stage Photo: Us by Night / Daniil Lavrovski
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Intimate sessions at Us by Night Photo: Us by Night

After the past two editions, Us by Night got a fair amount of critic on presenting a not so diverse and equality speaker line-up. By speakers on stage, on Facebook and from some online design publications. We talked multiple times about this in the past years. But I’m curious how have these critiques and the comments on those critiques influence you and the team?

True. Us by Night was started pretty naive, it was and still is a passion project. I never had the intention to do more than one edition. The first line up was made out of a bunch of friends, clients, the people I was connected with through agents and so. I am a 3D designer and when I started out doing 3D around 2000, it was an all-male world, ask any 3D software company for the stats of their license holders and that’s the reality. At that time I honestly say I didn’t give gender equality any thought, it was simply not brought to my attention, Us by Night started as something little on the side, an excuse to invite friends to my hometown.
The second edition, someone for the first time tapped me on my shoulders saying "Hey what about 50/50?" I was caught off guard, and it started growing on me… I started investigating and actively taking this into account, started sending invites for the 3rd edition to a more diverse group, at least the excel sheet was balanced. Along the way I had numerous conversations about this, I tend to listen to all parties, I am not the type that shouts, there are always nuances and the problem is often much more layered and complicated than making a bold statement.
When we finally went live with our complete line up for UBN3, I was shocked, how could this happen, it was on the agenda and still here we are with again a male-dominated program. I had no immediate answers to why this happened, it frustrated me big time. Sending the invites is an organic process, it takes you a year to get them all together, and you don’t have the luxury to just pick anyone you want. To fill up 70 slots you probably have to send out about 250 emails. At some point it comes down to simple math, the ratio within certain disciplines is just not in your favor and then when people start declining you easily are left out of options when you want to keep your disciplines balanced.
Until months after UBN3 this stuck with me, I took it close to the heart and it made me quite emotional, to be honest… Maybe the toughest part was that there is not this one simple truth to hold on to, it was hard to take a stand or seeing things clearly.
At some point I took the risk to start this conversation on Facebook, a risk because this can easily derail in a ranting non-constructive discussion, one shitty remark and everything gets polluted. But this conversation almost, you could say, became some sort of a manifest, I actively started inviting people to join the conversation that had a strong opinion about this, and this was for me unexpectedly a relief, it was mature, people sharing insights, no pointing fingers, very constructive… plus suddenly you’re not carrying this alone anymore, it feels like the community is putting their shoulders under it. During this, I finally concluded, a more clear stand, which is that Us by Night acknowledges we have a social responsibility, that we can be an activist, that we can encourage change by example and that this is our obligation. Kicking the role model, yes, please!! But at the same time, we can also say it’s not about forced quota, we think there’s no bigger insult to be on stage simply because of gender. This is now clearly part of our DNA and we move on, together!

What is changed these past four years in the way you approach the curation of the program? How do you find new voices?

It’s an ever-ongoing conversation, I'm constantly on the lookout for new talents & trends and at the same time, you also grow, get more mature into certain disciplines which you were less familiar with… I love the idea when you can collectively grow and cross-pollinate to the max! :)

In the podcast we recorded last year, you encourage people to pick at least one keynote from an artist or discipline they are not familiar with, which one is that for you for the upcoming edition and why?

Lukas Kaiser, stand up comedian, ex creative director of Comedy Central, now the guy behind the Instagram and Youtube account of Will Smith. Atypical profile and new business model.
Drieke Leenknegt, who worked 20 years at Nike, was involved with numerous collabs between Nike and artists like Kanye, Tom Sachs, Virgil, etc. Alone the 3 Skype calls I had with her were so inspiring and motivating, wow, a true power woman! As I said earlier, kick the role model by example.

Jun-GOSHIMA
Jun Goshima / Drieke Leenknegt
LUKAS KAISER : WESTBROOK
Lukas Kaiser and Will Smith
KELLY ANNA
Kelly Anna
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Na Kim
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Wang & Söderström
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Us by Night logo type
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Us by Night typography style

The Us by Night branding is very minimal and has this sporty New Balance feel to it. Can you share the thinking behind it and how UBN this translates to the different social platforms?

Our graphic designer, Ines Cox, is amazing. I fully trust her, she has carte blanche… You should ask her :) [Note: Interview with Ines Cox is in the making!]

Lastly, on a more personal note. Can you share how organizing Us by Night influence your life / work?

The festival is quite aggressive in my agenda. It’s grown so fast and there’s also this non-stop hunger to try new ideas and do new things, and it’s weird because my whole network used to bring me jobs and now they’re contacting me more and more to get involved with the festival. It’s weird how your network starts to re-orientate.

Us By Night 2018 aftermovie.

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