For a country so small, for a country that has been so torn up by conflict, for a country with people who have many differences, dance music has always been there to unite them. Whether it was in the past during the infamous troubles in Northern Ireland, or in modern day when people care less about where you come from, the dance scene in Northern Ireland and indeed in the South has always been quite mighty, mainly fuelled by the tremendous crowds who are always up for absolutely anything. While the underground dance scene is seeing an incredibly healthy growth in the country at the moment, with the legendary Shine club nights in Belfast doing better than ever, and hometown acts such as the Bicep boys and Space Dimension Controller absolutely tearing it up in the dance scene, there’s one relatively new event in Belfast which is spearheading this growth. That event is the AVA festival in Belfast. Into its second year, the festival is homed in Belfast’s fabled T13 warehouse and took place on the 4th of June.
What’s remarkable about AVA is that it is a largely homegrown festival with the majority of the acts on display being local. Taking a look over the incredible lineup reveals a list of talent from the North and South of Ireland with names such as Mano Le Tough, Hammer and of course the Bicep lads who are probably the hottest act in house music right now.
The day itself began with a free-entry conference for all budding DJs, producers and industry professionals with talks and Q&A sessions from the likes of Bicep (who discussed their transition from DJ set to live show) and a roundtable discussion on women in electronic music. The keynote speech was left to Detroit techno hero, overall dance music legend and one of the originator’s of techno: Juan Atkins who told the incredible tale of how the sale of a TR-909 drum machine from Detroit helped house music godfather Frankie Knuckles in his productions. This was all done to stop fellow Detroit rival Jeff Mills from getting his hand on the classic bit of production kit. Also on offer was various pieces of production hardware as well as pioneer CDJs so everyone could get in on the fun.
The day really kicked off after the conference had ended however, and everyone moved down toward the Boiler Room. For those who are unaware of the AVA festival, the chances are you’ve seen the viral video from the Boiler Room last year, when hometown talent Space Dimension Controller played an entire set of house and techno, only to drop trance (and cult) classic Ayla to a quite frankly ridiculous reaction from the crowd:
After only being in the Boiler Room for a few minutes, with maybe only 20 or so people there you could already feel the vibe flowing around the place. The warm up DJs got the place well oiled and by the time opening DJs Swoose & Cromby came on, the crowd was going mad. What was remarkable about the Boiler Room, and actually representative of the whole day in general was just how mental the Belfast crowd was. Every single kick drum that pounded throughout the air that day was met with celebratory fist-pumps, maddening cheers as well as the colloquial “yeooos” which forever reverberated throughout the grounds of T13. For someone not from this country, it was a sight to behold, and for fans of the Boiler Room it was not what they were used to seeing at all as the Boiler Room is notoriously infamous for having somewhat unexcited crowds. We drifted between the Boiler Room and the brand new Becks stage throughout the day catching sets from Hammer, and Jordan who were both highlights, but perhaps what best summed up the spirit of the day was when local hero and Belfast legend Phil Kieran crowdsurfed towards the end of his set which closed out the Boiler Room.
As proceedings ended at the Boiler Room, we headed into the mainstage which was beautifully designed and curated. Credit must be given to the entire team who decorated and put together the mainstage and all of the little props and stands set up, it really was a sight to behold. After catching the tail end of Gerd Janson’s set, the crowd was more than ready for the UK debut of local lads Bicep’s live set, and safe to say they did not disappoint. Our expectations were completely blown away by the Belfast boy’s beautiful offering as they stormed through a set containing ridiculous edits of their hits as well as a number of IDs from their forthcoming album (release date is currently unknown). Highlights included Celeste, their Higher Level remix and of course what was most certainly the biggest tune of last year, Just, which they tastefully teased throughout the show. The production values on show at the mainstage were amazing as well, and while the light and lazer show was impressive, the music had to be there to back it up otherwise the cart is before the horse, but we most certainly were satisfied. For a day filled with incredible music, the Bicep boys stole the show and left it very hard for Irish lad Mano Le Tough and techno heavyweight Rødhåd to follow up, but just like the rest of the AVA festival they were incredible.
While Mano put on a nice blend of techno and house stormers to keep up the pace and have the crowd going mad, German producer Rødhåd caused a complete frenzy with his filthy, pounding techno bangers which were causing chaos among the crowd. By the time 1am rolled around everyone was begging for more, but alas the show had ended, and all much too quickly for many attendees who had quickly grown a deep love for the festival throughout the day.
It must be said that the AVA festival is by far and some length the best dance event to ever grace this country. Right from when the doors opened to when the last kick drum was played everything was masterfully curated down to a tee. The opening conference is a great way to engage upcoming and young talent and provides a wonderful way of inspiring those looking to get into the scene. The Boiler Room can only be summed up as just mental and allows the world to have a look at the growing dance scene in Belfast and indeed in Ireland as a whole. The Becks stage caters for those acts coming up in the scene who might not get this chance elsewhere, while the incredible mainstage proves that Belfast can bring in the talent, and in only it’s second year one can’t even begin to imagine the potential that AVA has for becoming one of the biggest dance festivals in Europe. While that might be peeking a bit far into the future it’s certainly realistic, and as someone who’s proud of where they come from, I couldn’t be happier to see Belfast’s small but mighty dance scene slowly growing, and I can only hope that we can become a city at the centre of dance music in Europe in the future. For now though, we can only look back in joy at an amazing day which happened far too quickly, and we are absolutely buzzing to see what AVA has in store for next year: