AVA 2016: Placing Belfast On The Map

Fresh after yet another spectacular AVA Festival, our man Fiachra talks about the highlights of last weekend. Fiachra recently interviewed the festival’s founder, Sarah McBriar, which you can read here

The dust has settled, the lights have dimmed, the hangovers are quickly dissipating and another AVA festival has finished (for most). To say this year’s effort was amazing would be a feat of understatement. AVA mark 2 is even bigger, better and bolder than the festival’s first incarnation in May 2015. People from Belfast love talking about being from Belfast and is it any wonder why? When the world watched as a pandemonium broke out at last year’s Boiler Room stage, people paid attention and Belfast’s reputation as a dance music hotspot was propelled into the stratosphere; this year it went into outer space. The sense of euphoria and glee shared by all at that inaugural event set the tone for an even more impressive second coming. And by God was it good!


T13 was a hive of activity on the morning of Saturday 4th. Volunteers had shown up early, some organisers had worked through the night, artists were arriving to enthusiastic welcomes and the buzz was already electrifying. AVA is as much a conference as it is a rave. Event organiser, Sarah McBriar, summed up the lie of the land prior to AVA’s inception pretty well when she said: “[…]there wasn’t anything that looked at electronic music specifically. You’ve got so many great figureheads in the city who have been making a living of this kind of thing for years and it’s only getting better…So I think it’s class that we’re able to put something on in the city and that it’s so strong.”

The conference provides an opportunity and a space for people who are interested in the industry to come along, listen and talk to some the most inspirational figureheads in dance music. It’s as much about education and inspiration as it is about putting on a good show. The focus was spread out over a number of different topics, ranging from the role of women in the electronic industry to the state and future of our night-time economy. I don’t think it would even be possible to book anyone more inspirational to close your conference than the father of techno himself, Juan Atkins. And his story of the birth of Chicago house went down a storm, particularly when he suggested the genre held its roots in the sale of a 909 drum machine from Detroit to Frankie Knuckles in Chicago, so as to avoid it falling into the hands rival producer Jeff Mills in Detroit.

Building on last year, there were three stages at this year’s event. Every set of decks was curated by some of the finest selectors in the country and beyond. The main arena would’ve been the first port of call for most festival-goers, with astounding sets on show from all who made an appearance there: Optimo set the tone; Gerd Janson told a story; Bicep built a house and Rodhad tore the roof down. All emotions were covered. Out back and to the left, the smaller Becks Stage resembled a rowdy rave in Belfast’s Bunatee Bar at Queen’s, with energetic sets from the likes of Misfit DJs, Jordan, JC Williams and JMX and T-Bone.

‘Major festivals around the world should envy the boisterous enthusiasm (a word not always associated with Boiler Room crowds) that everyone, from event organisers to punters, throws into AVA.’

Out back and to the right, stood the performance area for Boiler Room Belfast, which is at this point becoming an online global phenomenon (if the number of Youtube hits and people who had travelled from abroad just to be there for the festival are anything to go by!). The energy sensed there is like no other: people embrace, swap stories, dance, hug, kiss, laugh and all the while the Boiler Room thunders on in the most well-suited of imaginable settings. Quality-wise, too, this year’s line-up was a good as the last, with a perfect mix that encompassed homecoming favourites, as well as local stalwarts and fresh Irish talent.

People will marvel for hours at the striking industrial backdrop that the iconic Harland & Wolfe cranes lend to the mise en scène. They will think about the industrial wasteland encircling the T13 venue, and some might even go so far as to link the rust on the beams to the deep-set urban decay that has taken place in Belfast, a process that has both inspired and cast a show over our flourishing electronic music scene. Seeing techno legend Phil Kieran being lifted up by the crowd at the Boiler Room at the end of what’s been considered one of the most feverous and excitable sets broadcast on the channel is particularly sweet, as it forms testament to the cumulative efforts by people like Phil who have been at the forefront of the music scene here for decades. Despite the aforementioned de-industrialisation and urban decay in the city, they have helped give us something beautiful in its place.

Major festivals around the world should envy the boisterous enthusiasm (a word not always associated with Boiler Room crowds) that everyone, from event organisers to punters, throws into AVA. This year’s crowd, like the one at last year’s festival, threw every ounce of energy they had into making the atmosphere at T13 one of the best this city has ever seen. With a smorgasbord of some of Ireland’s best electronic music acts performing alongside global heavyweights like Rodhad, AVA’s booking power has proven it’s going to be a permanent fixture on the summer dance music festival roster for years to come.


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