Something significant happened in the world of electronic music last Saturday, and I think most will agree. It came in the form of the AVA Festival. Set in the Titanic quarter of the city, a relatively small team organised what could be the biggest thing to happen to dance music in Belfast.
T13 was the perfect choice for AVA. It is characterised by the qualities and attitudes found in the electronic music scene in Belfast, rough around the edges but does exactly what it says on the tin, what you see is what you get, and is much like Samson and Goliath which tower over it; robust, capable and substantial.
A skate park inside a huge hangar, T13 is a not-for-profit ‘shared cultural space’. Just take a look at their manifesto and you will see they have the right idea when it comes to art, sport, music and dance.
My only concern upon arriving was whether the sound would be up to scratch considering the sheer size of the place. There was no need to worry, the sound was distinct, resounding and balanced around the whole main stage area, which was especially great considering the place was packed and it was difficult to wade through the crowds to the front!
The conferences started early in the day. A series of talks that were free and for all ages that were designed to inform and instruct the wealth of talent here in Northern Ireland. With a opening keynote from international hip hop heavyweight DJ Numark, the AVA conferences catered to all, from beginner producer to established artist.
The first round of talks were ‘Next Generation Electronic Music Production’ hosted by locals Timmy Stewart, Psycatron and of course Bicep, coupled with ‘The Visual Art of: Romain Tardy’ – a projection mapping artist and VJ who has worked with the likes of Flying Lotus and Squeaky Lobster – in room 2. At the same time a beginners introduction workshop to Ableton Push was being hosted by Jesse Abayomi, its creator.
After a quick lunch break the talks started again with ‘Think Local, Act Global’. Hosted by Paul Hamill (Inflyte), Mark Lawrence (AFEM), Terry Weerasinghe (Beatport), Joe Dougan (Shine) and Grace McCracken (Listen Up), this conference laid out advice on how to raise your profile as a producer or DJ through digital marketing and Beatport campaigns, how to devise an artist development plan and which gigs to take.
In a second room ‘Synch or Swim’, hosted by Sentric and Hospital Records, discussed the expanding synch business, the value of having your music used in TV, film and games and how to go about doing it. Rounded off by a closing keynote from director Adam Smith the AVA conferences paralleled the nurturing vibe that was emitted from every aspect of the festival. Both the quality of the speakers and the ‘learn skills and how to apply them’ format of the morning was something that is not usually so readily available in the city without going into formal education or spending a fortune.
The next highlight of the day came in the form of a windswept Boiler Room. First to take the helm was Schmutz. Rising stars in house and techno, the duo recently made their Panorama Bar debut and they were an obvious choice for the Boiler Room line up.
Next on the controls was Extended Play hero Timmy Stewart living up to his reputation as a man with an ear for what’s contemporary and fresh. Following Timmy Stewart was a hefty supply of deep grooves from Galway’s own John Daly.
Its not every day you hear ‘Ayla’ in a boiler room set, but Space Dimension Controller somehow managed to incorporate it into his, and to great effect. Howling acid lines and euphonious rhythms were on the Irish Sea air as the cosmic time traveller took the crowd along with him on a ‘mission of groove’.
Only Bicep, Belfast’s own ‘first port of call’ for current techno, house and disco, and ascending international virtuosos, could follow that. Their prodigious set, which concluded with an obligatory ‘One more tune, One more tune!’, was just a taster for the world of what, we in Belfast, were going to experience from the AVA main stage. You can read my thoughts on the Boiler Room in more detail by visiting yesterdays post.
While the Boiler Room raged on outside, the warm up acts were cranking the temperature on the Main Stage. Typical of any local act, a throng of devoted followers danced in support of Twitch DJs, Chris Hanna B2B with Bicep collaborator Hammer and regular B2B duo Swoose and Cromby.
As the party ended outside, those venturing into the main area were greeted to the thumping pulse of local techno legend and world renowned producer Phil Kieran. The crowd quickly swelled and was awash with fist pumping.
Something I realised at this point was how the entire event seemed to be going off without a hitch. For an event this size there is usually a certain amount of security enforcement taking place, but this didn’t seem to be the case, not for lack of vigilant bouncers. I most definitely felt safe. I didn’t see anyone being thrown out, or anyone who needed to be for that matter. The atmosphere in the place was one of elation and unanimous gratitude.
People didn’t have time for that kind of nonsense, they were here for the talent, and the next act was a big one. The eclectic, glitchy set that came next was trademark Ejeca stuff, in as much as it was innovative and diverse. After an hour of thumping, ocsillating house Ejeca’s set came to an end paving the way for a change of pace in the form of a laser illuminated journey across the galaxy. Space Dimension Controller took to the stage and brought the tempo back down a bit, allowing the crowd to lose themselves in a completely different way altogether, all hypnotised by the lightshow beaming over head.
Next on the line-up was Glasgow’s Optimo, brandishing their ‘anything goes’ philosophy steering away from typical club hits and traditional palettes that appeals to the unconventional tastes among us. Diverging from the norm, Optimo’s set was full self assured techno encompassing Belfast’s appetite for something off the beaten track.
The night concluded with Bicep returning to the stage for a spectacle that could have brought down the cranes just outside, replete with 90’s house, Disco and of course some pioneering fresh cuts straight off the press. Ending the party with ‘Spacer’ by Sheila B. Devotion, the Bicep boys left the crowd in great spirits and hungry for more with a feeling of exhilaration unparalleled in my experience.
Reflecting on the AVA festival I have come to realise it was about a lot more than just putting on a show for people. There was a buzz I haven’t felt here before but have in other cities, that something great was happening, and it was exciting to be a part of it. It was a genuine drive to push Belfast’s electronic music culture into the spotlight, and I think it was pulled off to great effect. Hats off to everyone involved. Roll on AVA 2016!
By Sean O’Sullivan