It’s a wet and windy afternoon in Belfast as I approach the Oh Yeah Centre. Rain and hail bounce ferociously of the cobbled streets as people sprint to avoid saturation and painful stinging shots to the ear.
As the lift doors open an enthusiastic, ginger bearded man is waiting for me. Introductions are made, hands are shook, and we sit down.
I’m here to speak with Oisin O’Brien, the creative mind behind visual ideas company Guerrilla Shout, record label DSNT and the immersive audio visual project known as Lumen.
We begin by discussing Oisin’s back story. What was the inspiration behind Guerrilla Shout? Has the creator always maintained an interest in art? Oisin sarcastically explains that he has actually resounded art most of his life. The project was born out of irony.
“I hated art all my life. I only got into Guerrilla Shout as like a ‘fuck you’ towards art. My parents encouraged me to do art, but yeah, it’s something I enjoyed more than sports. When I was a teenage smick I got into graffiti, obviously, because it was the only way you could do art and still be macho; still be hard (laughs). I got a grant from the arts council when I was 15 to do a hybrid of graphic design in street art. I had a few attempts at college and every time dropped out. I eventually just started learning shit off the internet and realised that university wasn’t for me.”
Some of DSNT and Guerilla Shout’s best work.
The conception of Guerrilla Shout was the Headless Horsemen show at Attonal in Berlin. Apocalyptic imagery provided the backdrop to a dark techno set. Headless Horseman is an artist lurking in the shadows of the Berlin underground. In fact, he only played his first set in front of a camera last year for Boiler Room in Berlin. Information on him is scarce, so for him to reach out and involve Guerrilla Shout in a project is really quite something.
“I’d been on DSNT for about 4 years prior to Guerrilla Shout and obviously with that we already had established relationships with artists from me releasing records that were aligned with those guys. I’d actually done a piece of artwork for Perc Trax, and through association and through the industry Headless Horsemen approached me and said we really like your work, we’d like to work with you on this thing for Attonal. I’ve got this opportunity to do an AV Show, and we were like yeah, fucking right. I’d just finished this anti bullying project for Belong (trains schools in racial equality). It paid quite well so we just thought, fuck it, let’s go to Berlin and make some visuals for Headless Horsemen. So basically we went out and lived in Berlin for a month and spent all the money we’d made doing the anti bullying campaign making Horsemen visuals and eating veggie burgers and made a really awesome show.”
I adjust my sitting position as we move onto the next topic. One aspect that really intrigued me was the title of the company. Oisin informs me that it’s inspired by the definition of guerrilla warfare; “the idea is that you use unconventional means to be more efficient and more effective than a larger more institutionalised, bureaucratic organisation.”
The ethos of the venture is rooted in the DIY culture that is so closely related with the punk scene. Oisin has grown up very much immersed it, his dad being a part of the notorious punk scene of the seventies.
“The use of unconventional means is the tool that you use to excel and that would very much so be the ethos of the approach that we’ve taken; to utilise unconventional means to achieve our aims, be it through projection, be it through art direction, be it through whatever project we’re working on.”
As time inevitably passes by our conversation begins to wander down a deeper route. Guerrilla Shout looks to challenge people in a visual context. I wanted to know just exactly what that meant. Is there a specific type of imagery used? What other segments of the creative industry does this challenge show its face in?
“The basis of that is to me everyone has their own perception of reality; they have their own reality that’s defined by their experiences. The reason I connect so much with visuals, with film, with a variety of different art is because it challenges people’s perception on what’s real. Projection mapping is one example of it, where it augments reality to create a forced perspective to change your perspective on a space. It also occurs through film; Dan’s just finished his second short film. The first film he did was on synaesthesia, about someone else’s reality tunnel, about the reality that he existed within because he could see sound. It’s the basis of a lot of the work that we create but it flows through a variety of different pallets that define it.”
The passion that O’Brien has for his platform is truly astonishing. Every question I ask is met with an enthusiastic and purposeful answer. With my curiosity of Guerrilla Shout well and truly satisfied my attention turns to DSNT and Lumen. Oisin has created a unity of the arts, implementing visual aspects of Guerrilla Shout to further enhance the immersive, enveloping identity that both DSNT and Lumen are known for.
DSNT, or Dissent, was founded under the influence of hardcore, breakcore, jungle and acid techno. Raves in the Front Page (now Boombox) were essential to Oisin’s introduction to electronic music. A trip to Bang Face Weekender in England only enhanced the inspiration to engage with other artists.
“After a while I decided that I wanted to start a record label. I noticed there was a lot of good music coming out and a lot of artists I really wanted to work with and build relationships with because I identified with them at the time. Techno is going through a real resurgence in Belfast at the minute but at the time there wasn’t really the audience for it on a local level. I was seeing a lot more people cared about it in England and in Berlin, in all these other cities, and I thought I need to be doing this on an international level because that’s how I’m going to really form the music that I care about.”
The name Dissent symbolises a voice of prolapse in a musical and visual context. This again maintains a relationship with the punk scene and left wing socialism. The name is born out of anger and dissatisfaction. “It was just after the Tories had got into power and I was really pissed off at the current political institution, so I thought this is really a representation of how I feel about the current situation. It was just as bedroom tax had been introduced. All of this real wealth inequality.” Oisin explains that punk mobilised people to connect with political dialogue and a connection with techno is apparent here. The act of complete immersion is “at least a step in the right direction in terms of changing your perspective on reality.” Escapism is key. By engaging yourself completely you take the power from political and social entities and place it entirely within your own control. This in itself is almost a form of protest; a protest against anyone who attempts to dictate what you can and cannot do.
Our attention soon turns to the artists that are signed to DSNT Records.
“AnD are our kick drum poster boys. Andy’s originally from Belfast, Dmitri is just mental. Every time they play they just completely wreck the place. When they played at the last Lumen, the videos online, you seen the place going off for it. It was proper. Million percent stoked with the JoeFarr record that we put out with Truss and Tessela remixing it. Three of my heroes on a record. I was doing this illustration series and he really got what we were trying to do and really liked it and commissioned artwork of Hoodbats, which is one of our favourite illustrators/clothing lines. The record after that, Mr Jones, AnD again and Inigo Kennedy was whopper too. It gave me goosebumps seeing Surgeon play Inigos remix at Awakenings on Be-at.tv. We have eyes on a few other people that are doing real cool things. We’ve plans to do something with Ontal and plans to do something with Martyn Hare.”
DSNT are a label that like to get straight to the point. Build up sets and prolonged expectation are not aspects of electronic music that are integrated into the labels character. “We don’t really do warm up, you come to a DSNT party you’re not waiting around for 2 hours to dance. I fucking hate going to a club night where you’re going to see a DJ and you’re standing about like a dick. When are you allowed to have fun? When does it start?”
As my questions on DSNT reach their exhaustive limit we apply our thoughts to Lumen. “It’s all in the production, all in the experience and all in the line up. I genuinely believe people like good music, they just haven’t heard it in the right environment yet.”
Lumen is a night that looks to completely immerse it’s audience in lighting, visuals and sound. It abolishes pretention and a ‘too cool to dance’ attitude and instead looks to promote complete freedom and the euphoric, sonic fulfilment complete captivation displays.
For us it’s about people experiencing it in the right context, particularly with my pallet of taste as its rooted in raw techno. What I’m drawn to most is rawness. I think a lot of music compromises either because it wants to be popular or because it’s a bit mincy. With that being said, I love Little Dragon, I love that world of music but I think it still has an honestly about it and that’s what I connect with. A lot of stuff is just minced out and I don’t really care about it. A lot of people are alienated by industrial techno because they hear it in the wrong context. They don’t hear it on a proper sound system; they don’t hear it with a proper lighting rig. They’re not immersed in it.”
Lumen 002 was a sell out and has benefited from a large audience being exposed to the immersive nature Oisin is so passionate about. Lumen 003 will take place on the 28th of March with Mungo’s HI-FI, Jerome Hill, Mark Archer – Altern8, Agressors BC, Myler, DSNT and Thursdaze.
“A lot of the stuff that people are used to is stuff that gets in the Resident Advisor top 100. A lot of it’s boring and mediocre. Some of the best Dj’s I’ve seen aren’t in that list, and it’s because the people that can be fucked ticking the box to see that they’ve seen a DJ via Resident Advisor and then voting on that person, they’re not necessarily the type of person that goes out and has craic every weekend. Maybe some are, but I don’t think it’s an accurate representation. I think people want something more raw. The production for us is so important. They need to hear it on a proper sound system. They need to hear it while immersed in light and smoke. When the track, lasers and lights go off, or whatever light installation we’re doing in that point in time. We want to do something different every time. We want to grow.”
As our time together draws to a close the conversation turns to something that raises the temper of Oisin. He becomes visibly annoyed and enraged as we begin to talk about something called the surrender principle.
Before now I had always assumed it was the licensing laws denying clubs and bars the right to open as late as our friends across the water that was stifling Belfast’s night life economy, but as we talk about Lumen’s debut at culture night it becomes clear there is a bigger problem here.
“We premiered at Culture Night and we wanted to do something really special. We wanted to do something with lights, and that bank building is amazing. I was like, this year I want to do an installation. Every other year it had been a piece of sound design and had this specific piece of audio on a loop and I wanted to get access to building as it’s so rare. It should be a club; I don’t know why it isn’t. Well I do know why it isn’t; it’s because of the Surrender principle.”
“Imagine you wanted to start a hairdressers, and the only way you can start a hairdressers is if you have a hundred grand, and you buy the rights to start a hairdressers of another hairdresser. That sounds like a bit of a racket doesn’t it? Sounds like a bit of a monopoly. That is what our licensing law is.”
Oisin acknowledges that the licensing laws denying extended opening times are a problem, and an annoyance, but goes on to explain how this principle is restricting Belfast’s opportunities for job opportunity and cultural growth.
“One hundred grand to create jobs to stimulate the economy and create more venues for cultural activities that can become self sustaining?! Imagine you could just stick a license into somewhere and all you needed to do was make sure that it met healthy and safety regulations and met building control regulations and was permitted to an entertainment license and you ticked all the boxes. Surely they’d just give you a license? Nope. Y’know why? Because the lobbying that exists within our government sector is all favoured around the people that have already empowered themselves.”
“We talk about the brain drain; we talk about people leaving Belfast. Don’t get me wrong, Belfast is at its peak at the moment with night life. There’s a lot of people doing really good things. Twitch are smashing it. Shine are having a bit of resurgence too. There’s a lot more young people really getting involved and really caring about music, but the big thing is if you go over to university and you think, well clubs can stay open to 6am and I’m not being told what to do by anyone and actually it’s cheaper and more craic, why wouldn’t you stay there?”
Whilst admitting that this is a huge obstacle in the way of a city soaked in potential, Oisin looks to projects such as AVA and the refreshment they bring.
“It’s brilliant to see stuff like AVA come through, who are really ballsy and really trying something and really changing the face of the city and engaging a lot more people in that sort of music. We even see it with our parties getting this new wave of young people through working with various people. The big thing that still strangles the night time economy however is the lack of venues. It’s not because we don’t have them, it’s because of the surrender principle.”
I look outside to the rain and can’t help but feel it symbolises what we have just spoke about. Oisin’s passion is infectious. Just from listening to him you feel engrossed in his words.
The growth of all three projects is something to be admired. It’s further evidence of cultural and economic growth within Belfast. Projects such as these break down the boundaries of establishment; replacing them with freedom and a fresh liberal mindset.
As I leave the rain ceases and beer garden umbrellas begin to fold my mind is drawn to the progression and optimism that this city can continue its impressive development to one day become a household name within the creative industry. Guerrilla Shout, DSNT and Lumen are doing a marvellous job at pursuing that dream; providing fresh escapism from the darkness of political oppression and producing culturally important art. Long may it continue.
Photo Credit: Niall Murphy Photography