“I’ve never seen an atmosphere like it, never seen such madness in a crowd. Any time I dropped a new record it felt like a riot. The ceiling was pretty low, people were hitting it and broke it in the end,” says Jeremy Underground’s take on his experiences at Shine, Belfast’s longest running club night that has spanned over two decades; a legacy that's indicative of a town that takes debauchery seriously, where the resident population holds partying close to its heart.
Timmy Stewart, aka T-Bone, is a local legend who runs the Extended Play imprint with cohort JMX, not to mention the unthinkable alongside another native hero, Jordan. Their weekly, The Night Institute, consistently sells out, in an age wherein weeklies have all-but died out. A fixture on the after dark landscape since the early 1990s, when we speak he recalls how the arrival of acid house and techno culture encouraged catholics and protestants to put differences aside and share the same dancefloors.
Skip forward to 2016 and, for many of today’s youngsters at least, those troubles largely seem like ghosts of the past. Meanwhile, Belfast’s club scene is in rude health. Artists like Space Dimension Controller and Phil Kieran have put this town on the global map, rising stars such as Ejeca, Swoose & Cromby, and OR:LA represent a promising future. Exciting times indeed.
“It feels like there are a lot of young people interested in good electronic music again here,” explains Stewart. “The underground scene feels like it’s very relevant again, which is great. We’re definitely in the middle of a very strong time for our scene, where you’re having to choose from all the options for parties every weekend, rather than struggling to find what’s going on.”
Those trying to understand what sessions in Belfast are like need to realise one thing — it’s important to put London’s love for 6am finishes out of your mind, along with any thoughts of lost weekends in Berlin made possible thanks to near-endless opening hours. Because here licenses prevent the sale of booze after 1am, and the music stops an hour or so later. This means starting as you mean to go on.
“The upside to the early closing times are that people cram what in some European cities is 76 hours of partying into about six, so the energy is intense,” explain Bicep, a duo some might say are the biggest names to ever emerge from this city. “It's very much driven by a strong resident and locals culture as opposed to big line-ups and headliners, although it certainly gets its fair share.”
“It’s pretty much kicking off properly by 11pm,” says Sarah McBriar, mastermind behind the electronic festival and conference, AVA. “Then you’ll all end up at an after party. There aren’t really official after-hours parties, when things close it all closes. But there’s always something to do once an event finishes, and these run for, well, at least until the next day. We’ve had some pretty special ones, I remember one Boxing Day — a friend, without telling many people, put on something in an old office block on top of a car park in the centre.
“There’s just lots of really good nights going on right now, great talent coming through,” she continues when we ask about what to expect from the coming year in Belfast. “We had fantastic feedback from the first year of AVA, giving people from outside a great opportunity to come over and experience what a full weekend is like over here.”
All of which leaves us thinking: let's book some flights.
Clubber’s Guide to Belfast
Where: Northern Ireland
Getting there: From elsewhere in the UK, Belfast International Airport offers cheap direct flights with Easyjet, to and from major cities including London (Gatwick, Stansted and Luton), Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Newcastle.
Five venues: Queen Mary’s University Union, Thompsons Garage, AM:PM, Hudson, Aether and Echo.
Five parties: Shine, Twitch, Misfit, The Night Institute, AUX
Five names: Bicep, Timmy Stewart, Jordan, Moodtrax, Phil Kieran
Functional — Botanic Rest Queens Quarter, Cromwell Road (Less than 1mile to Queens University, 11am checkout, double rooms from £49 per night)
Party — Apple Apartments, Donegall Quay (waterfront location, 11am checkout, three bedroom apartments from £204 per night)
Historic — The Merchant Hotel, Skipper Street (central Cathedral Quarter location, Grade I listed former-Ulster Bank HQ, 11am checkout, double rooms from £179 per night)
ANYTHING ELSE? This year sees AVA Festival return on 4th June for its second edition, taking over T13, an industrial space on the docks where the Titanic was built. 2016 will bare witness to Bicep’s debut live show, Mano Le Tough, Gerd Janson, Optimo, Rodhad, Psychatron, Jordan, Timmy Stewart, Phil Kieran and plenty more besides, including a conference programme and Boiler Room takeover.
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