Whilst sitting in on a talk about birthing your own music festival at the Oh Yeah Centre, I can’t help but admire the passion and enthusiasm of the blonde, dungaree wearing woman in front of me. I’m here to meet Sarah McBriar, the creative producer behind AVA Festival.
For those that have been living under a rock, AVA Festival is a festival based in Belfast that maintains an ethos of celebrating and developing electronic music and digital visual arts talent in Northern Ireland.
Year one was a massive success. Bicep, Ejeca and Space Dimension Controller (to name just a few) provided the soundtrack to Guerrilla Shouts culturally important art. Year two has recently been announced, taking place on the fourth of June, which will see dystopian techno artist Rodhad make his Belfast debut alongside the more local faces of Mano Le Tough and Bicep to name just a couple. However, I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the exciting new collaboration project between AVA and The Exchange.
The Exchange is an initiative by UK Trade and Investment, in collaboration with Submerge that aims at creating business opportunities between the UK and India. It’s primarily based on concerns within the music industry building platforms for future collaborations. The partnership between AVA and The Exchange is one of cultural exploration, the 9th of March sees them fly out to Mumbai.
We take a seat, down our lukewarm coffee, and begin to converse.
“It’s interesting that we picked Mumbai and not somewhere like Berlin or Amsterdam or any other city that’s regarded as established. That’s just not what we want to do; we want to work with emerging scenes.”
The inspiration comes from AVA’s Belfast roots. The city’s electronic music scene is no doubt thriving at the moment, but in comparison to locations that are world renowned for their contribution to electronic culture it is still very much materialising.
“Bhavishyavani Future Soundz is the promoter I’m actually joining with because he runs a festival called Eden, a cool little festival in Mumbai. We kind of just clicked in terms of music genres, in terms of minds, in terms of thinking about music. He’s really good friends with Matthew Johnston, Matthew played at his wedding. The way we talked about music, we kind of just clicked. That’s how that partnership came about.
From a basic funding level Generator NI is our partner for the conference. They have partnerships with Belfast City Council and connected us with the Mumbai Office, and I went out to a music trade event in December and I was connected with all the right people. We said look we’re thinking about doing this, and people just jumped at it. Again, because it’s an emerging scene. It’s new, it’s fresh. There’s a hunger to grow it.”
Mathieu of Bhavishyavani Future Soundz has developed something of a cult following in India since its birth in the mid nineties. A platform that looks to promote the most experimental sounds of the Asian underground, it was created by creative’s Mr Tee, Bhaisaab, Insat and Kutklass Masta Justy.
“Inspired by more than 10 years at the forefront of the Indian electronic music scene, Bhavishyavani has become a leading agency when it comes to ambitious music projects for brands and their audience. Over the years we have made it a point to introduce ground breaking talents and push a variety of emerging global and local trends in music and event experience.”
Our attention turns to the Indian music scene, just before a visibly proud mother suspends our conversation to say goodbye to her daughter. This is very clearly a family affair, and it’s extremely refreshing to see, especially in an industry that is notorious for isolation. She says her goodbyes, apologises profoundly, and we begin to discussing EDM, Bollywood and the underground world of Mumbai.
EDM is pretty big in India due to massive commercialisation. Sarah explains that many alcohol companies will heavily advertise EDM festivals as it’s the only way they can promote their product. “EDM is massive there; I have no interest in it. It’s not cool, or even good, in my eyes. What’s interesting is there’s this gorgeous, bubbling underbelly. What you have to remember, and this is what’s mental when you go somewhere like this, Mumbai city has a population of 20 million people. A bubbling underground scene is still actually quite big.”
Whilst acknowledging the underground scene Sarah informs me that the true source of passion in India is still Bollywood. Electronic producers are incorporating Bollywood in their work, the fusion of the two creating a sound culturally unique to India. “So I went to this festival and seen proper Bollywood and I was like, wow. People are losing their shit to this. Going crazy! You see a lot of Bollywood blending in with electronic music and you see a lot of different instruments being used. I think it’s really exciting.”
As people start to gather for the next informative talk our attention turns to some of the most exciting producers coming out of India and, of course, the line up for AVA x The Exchange, Mumbai.
B.L.O.T is the biggest name in techno in India, but will not be making an appearance at the project. “He plays in Mumbai about 5 or 6 times a month so we thought it would be more interesting to not book someone who’s playing all the time.” Instead AVA looks to focus on emerging artists, pushing further to discover new and engaging genres and sounds.
Sarah is visibly exciting when the conversation turns to her favourite Mumbai based artist, someone who will be performing at the event. “I’m really excited that my favourite artist to play from Mumbai is female, she’s called Sandunes. She’s really cool. She’s also going to do a live act called Perfect Timing, which is a little mellower so we’re going to use that to open the evening. To incorporate the visual side of things we’re taking out Guerrilla Shout, so Oblique (Indian Visual Artist) is going to do the opening and then Oisin will do the last 3 hours.”
Space Dimension Controller will also be flying out to perform. He has had a tour of India arranged with Munbir Chawla and Kunal Lodhia from Magnetic Fields. “Magnetic Fields is in Rajasthan. It’s in a fort in the middle of nowhere in India. They book Dj Koze, Object, Ramtrax. We met those guys in December; Kunal is going to be involved in our day time conference.”
Also on the panel for the day time conference will be Sandunes, Mital (heads up the creative industries in Mumbai) and Sarah herself. Someone that Sarah hopes can make an appearance is a techno artist named Pearl. “I met this girl called Pearl who’s married to Nikhil Chinapa. He’s the daddy, the main man for music in India. He used to run MTV, he runs Submerge, who we’ve partnered with, he also runs Super Sonic Music Festival. Pearl is a techno artist and she’s been playing techno for about 15 years. She’s really cool. When I met her I was just like, wow. You’ve been doing this for so long in this society. I was amazed. I’m so fortunate that I’m in such a supportive environment. It’s still always going to be harder for a woman. It’s really exciting.”
So, what’s going to be the backdrop for this expedition? The location of choice is called The Social, a collection of creative and cultured spaces. “The place that we’re doing it in has a little skate park out the front, a really cool restaurant and terrace space, box studio place. We’re opening the studio space. The beauty of this is that we’ve got the different spaces.” The different spaces will no doubt symbolise diversity within the perspectives used to evolve underground culture.
As the sound of the next host’s voice begins to expel its wisdom to a keen audience we end our discussion by thinking about the future. Where is the next city that AVA are planning to go to and expand their musical and visual knowledge further? Sarah clarifies that due to other projects she hasn’t had much time to think about the follow up event. Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York are all cities that have been taken into consideration. Vancouver is a city that Sarah is already very insightful of. “I actually lived there, it’s sort of an interesting one because Toronto is massive but again, Vancouver is emerging. I’m going out there at the end of August to check it out, but nothing has been decided.”
Seeing a project that began in Belfast reach out to different cultures and experiences is something that is truly exciting. The opportunity to implement different styles and understandings into our very own music scene is something every music enthusiast should yearn for. Concentrating on emerging cities is a fresh change to the household names, and AVA itself is emerging into an iconic name. “The really exciting thing coming from my perspective is that it’s so fresh and new, going to a new city with a new project, the people you connect with and the people you meet with and the artists. The way you look at a city and the way that you navigate around it are so different and amazing.”