Belfast’s electronic music scene is going through quite the purple patch right now. Techno is the primary soundtrack as hundreds of us set out every week, intent on sweating to the point of complete dehydration. We love it, and why wouldn’t we? A chance to escape from the dreary depression of everyday life so that I can jump around with my mates and look on as ecstasy fuelled hugs and chats crop up in almost every direction? Sounds bloody great.
Amongst the infectious madness lies a concept that swings a little more in the melodious direction. Ambiance amongst the doof, if you will.
I sat down to have a chat with Ryan Macfarlane, the founder of Collate, to discuss the ethos of the project, the impact concepts such as Collate have on cultural regeneration and the booking of Max Cooper who will be performing his Emergence show at The MAC art gallery on the 16th of April.
“The idea behind Collate is to bring people together with different perspectives on electronic music using art or different aesthetics to create unique experiences. My desire is to use different spaces, be it old or new, with some artistic or cultural value to promote a broad musical perspective across the city as with the current lack of venues there aren’t as many opportunities to experiment.”
The idea was planted in MacFarlane’s mind after an enlightening summer in Ibiza. He was approached by a chap called Andy Hennessy who was keen to get started on a project together. A little black book chalk full of ideas had sat untouched in that Ibiza apartment for too long.
“Nothing happened for months after that, so I went to the Berlin, a small bar in Liverpool. It was nice and chill. I started playing there with Adele Moss and Jenna Dooling helped us promote. Then we met Paul Nolan and brought him in to do a live set. I just thought, here’s this random dude that owns a small studio, and then he started to tell me he wanted to start a label. I learned loads being around those guys. They gave me a bit of a push to go on and start doing what I love.”
The events were small and low key, but provided an educational and enjoyable experience for not only Ryan but his clique too.
“The vibe was always good there because all of our friends would attend, and it was perfect like that because it was pretty much just a basement. I met Conor Miley (Fourth Mind) and started playing with him. There’s no one in my inner circle that I regard as having ‘it’ as much as Conor. He really knows what he’s doing from a musical perspective.”
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Our chat is paused periodically to flip the Guy Andrews record that is playing in the background of our conversation. In Autumn Arms begins to play out its inspiring sound as our attention turns to the individuality of Collate. What sets it apart from other events in an already thriving scene?
“The music, I feel has a broader approach. I want to work outside the genre label to show a wide outlook on electronic music. From beautiful electronic music to techno parties and darker more intense atmospheres I want to express different ways to experience the music. Belfast’s scene is powerful. It’s got that real energy. I want to use the energy from that scene and fuse it with a more artistic concept. I want something that isn’t restrictive.”
“It’s just going to do different things in different ways, I love this city and the events that run within but I want to experiment. We want to showcase art in an environment where the audience can be fully engaged. It’s designed to inspire. People might come along who have never even thought of electronic music in this way before. They may leave inspired and curious.”
A return to Northern Ireland after university has seen Macfarlane bring his project back home. The steady growth of Collate is clearly visible with a host of top artists performing such as Just Her and, most recently, Legowelt. Now Max Cooper returns to his native Belfast to deliver an experience unseen anywhere in the city before.
Emergence tells the story of the birth of modern society. Visual art and electronic music are fused beautifully together to illustrate the timeline upon which underlying natural laws developed and resulted in the big bang, star and planet formation and reality as we know it today.
The theory is something that Ryan, and Collate, feel they can relate to.
“As an individual I think we’ve been repressed and transformed into a capitalist machine. I like the Emergence concept as it displays the timeline of that transformation. The modern culture that’s been created is a society where people make decisions for other people, rather than people making decisions for themselves. You go to school and you get taught all this stuff, but no one actually asks you what you’re interested in.”
“As you grow older you are restricted to these paths that have been created for you. Shows like Emergence encourage you to think differently. To connect more to what we live in. To follow your imagination and your own thoughts, because that’s what’s going to change the world.”
I’m keen to hear about some of the other artists performing. Cooper is a massive name, but who will be his partners in crime in delivering such an intriguing and immersive experience? And what can we expect to hear from them?
“Chris Hanna is warming up before Max. I think Chris is a really good electronic/techno artist. He really presents the parts of techno and electronica that I really love. Chris is on Extended Play.”
“Paul Nolan, as I mentioned before, played during the Berlin bar days. It’ll be really nice to see him there, because he was there at the beginning. To show him how far it’s come will be really, really cool. He’s on Chapter 24, his own label. They’ve come on leaps and bounds and present real journey music which is something Collate relates to.”
“I’m playing under the Celestial alias, I hate generalising stuff but its my love for interesting sounds in electronica and techno that drives me. I’ve always been a huge IDM fan and that influence will probably come across, it should be a bit different.”
“Peter Gibney will also be playing. He’s the label manager of the Soundspace record label. His A Desk Outside Piscis Park EP was released on Attache Records last month and got a pretty warm reception. I’m looking forward to hearing what he has in store.”
The choice of venue is the next topic we discuss. Collate set up its home in Love and Death in Belfast before hosting the Legowelt gig at The Bunatee. Now the scenery has changed to somewhere that maintains a more artistic personality.
I chatted briefly to Stuart Campbell, the programming officer at The MAC, who told me a little about the venues aims and past projects that have involved both visual art and electronic music.
“The MAC’s main aim is to be a centre of artistic excellence that makes a positive difference to people’s lives.”
“We’ve had a few projects that have mixed the visual art and music scene quite nicely. Phil Kieran did a live project in the carousel; he did his album launch here. That was interesting because he worked with Glen Leyburn; he’s a filmmaker and artist. Glen designed his album cover and he created a massive backdrop for the live show. When the live show ended they actually cut the backdrop into 12 inch squares and in each of the 12 inch squares was an original, limited edition 12 inch vinyl. It was 12×12, so there were 144 limited edition vinyls quite literally inside that piece of art.”
The choice in venue has been carefully planned. Ryan is keen to inform me that he aspires to work within “culturally rich spaces.” The setting is of the upmost importance. The immersive aura depends heavily upon it.
“Whenever I first saw the MAC I really loved what they were doing. It was trying to inspire creativity and was doing all these things that I felt very passionate about. It’s an interesting performance space that can allow people to view music differently. The setting is important. How the performance is portrayed and taken in is hugely dependant on the setting.”
As our time together reaches its final minutes we begin to converse about cultural regeneration. The very mention of those two words visibly ignites something within Macfarlane, it is clear this is something he maintains a strong passion for.
Unused, abandoned spaces are heavily documented with our friends across the water, so much so that you could be forgiven for failing to notice there are discarded spaces drenched in potential right on our doorstep.
Ryan studied property development at John Moore’s University in Liverpool and whilst he may have spent most of his time dreaming up ideas outside of the classroom there was one aspect of the course that would later become a fountain of inspiration.
“I didn’t really love my Real Estate course at university, it was a conforming decision but one part I researched outside of the course that made me understand more about all that what I was passionate about. My Dissertation was on the cultivation of the creative sector through the reuse of old and historic buildings and the role that music plays in doing this to develop cities and creative communities.”
“I think the more events that people get to engage with, the more you create a happier environment. Cities should have a really positive image. People should be looking at Belfast and think, yeah, we can do loads here. At the end of the day Belfast is underdeveloped. Things are starting to change, but it still has road to travel down.”
“I think the creative industry is something that is going to be central to economical growth, and a positive environment, in Belfast. That’s why Collate is important; it’s a segment of that creative industry. When you look at major cities, yeah everyone has a serious crowd to it, but at the same time there’s this group of people who just want to have fun, and it stops bother from happening. What Collate is doing will provide a larger perspective on involvement with dance music. It’s simply broadening what’s already there. This can stop violence; this can encourage economic and cultural growth. This is imperative.”
“There’s a space up near Belfast Zoo that used to pull in 130,000 people a year and now it’s closed. There are so many unused spaces in Belfast, or spaces that are being used in the wrong way. These spaces are rich, they still have value. Someone can create something there, not just in the sense that someone can create a party, but you can create something really forward thinking and encourage development and change. My focus is to use spaces in Belfast that are underused. If you look at it economically it will generate more activity, and therefore a healthier economy. Educate, inspire, change. We have an opportunity to give people something they can truly engross themselves in so let’s take it.”
We end our discussion with an all too familiar theme, licensing laws. Throughout the interview it is clear that Collate is something much more than just an event. Ryan wants to make a real change to Belfast. Be it encouraging artistic and cultural growth or transforming an empty space into something beautiful, there is clearly a lot on his mind, and it doesn’t seem to bother him one bit, in fact, it’s almost as if he gets a buzz off of it.
“The aim is a twenty four hour policy for Belfast. We need one venue to come along and do it. They’ll then be able to present something so friendly and beautiful that is part of the cultural community. I don’t want to just do the events now. I want to create something where people can go and be involved and enjoy something cool.”
“The people at the top are going to negatively impact our city. They’re going to gentrify places that have great elements and turn them into an office space. I want to surround myself with cultural involvement and create opportunities to utilise these spaces which will build towards eventually getting that space. The space where people can go and sit on their sofas and order something nice, then go buy some nice threads and then go have a drink and a dance. How cool does that sound?”
Pretty damn cool.
Tickets for Collate presents Max Cooper at the MAC are available from the MAC’s website and physical limited edition tickets are available to pick up at Belfast Underground Records. £12 tickets have sold out, the price now stands at £15.
You can watch the trailer for Max Cooper’s Emergence show, which will be presented at The MAC in Belfast on the 16th of April, below.