AVA Festival x Boiler Room | Review
Titanic Quarter, Belfast • Saturday 04 June 2016
By Conor Charlton • Photography Tremaine Gregg
Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m getting older, but I definitely don’t think I’ll be back to 100% till about Wednesday. The feeling of depletion is a direct result from giving it stacks at AVA (Audio Visual Arts) festival on Saturday. Now in its second year, AVA festival has once again acted as a major sign of progress for Northern Ireland. By this, I’m not referring to cross community relations and as this is 2016 if you’re still caught up in the “us and them” mentality then I don’t have a lot of hope for you and whilst the documentary “Dancing On Narrow Ground” showed us that the dance music scene was more than capable of bringing the two sides of the divide together even back in the 90s, the majority of us (I hope) don’t need help with moving away from sectarian nonsense, we’re already there.
Instead, AVA has shown that despite our local government instigating laws which have continuously hindered the success of the city’s nightlife, a great night (or all day session if you went to both the conference talks and Boiler Room set) can be put on with serious aplomb.
It’s hard to say what makes AVA so damn good. It could be the energy of the Belfast crowd which constantly ‘gives it stacks’. If there’s one thing about being from Belfast that I take pride in, it’s our ability to let loose and stay on our feet for hours on end. Although I wasn’t able to attend much of the day events due to prior commitments (see my article on Rollathon), I was able to enjoy a free Uber ride to the premises (T13) and strolled into the warehouse around 7pm. After getting through a brief police check complete with sniffer dogs and pat down, I went to grab a coffee. I can’t say I’ve ever had a coffee at a music festival before, so it was great to see an alternative to the usual onslaught of alcoholic consumption. I paused briefly at the main stage, before deciding it would have been an absolute crime to let any of the fantastic weather go to waste.
With the choice of three different sets, absolutely all tastes in electronic music were covered and all in glorious sunshine at that. I mulled around Jordan’s (Nocturne) set for about ten to twenty minutes, enjoying the Aether and Echo resident’s condensed set and its early peak. Something which Jordan obviously took great delight in delivering during his performance and this was reflected in the reaction of his youthful followers, particularly enthused by his well-timed drop of Tiga’s “You Gonna Want Me”.
Not wanting to miss the Boiler Room set, I took a dander round the corner and was immediately taken aback by just how much of a gregarious vibe the party people possessed. If one were to go onto YouTube and check out extended Boiler Room sets from greats like Solomon, they’d see a gathering of people who were almost ‘too cool for school’, keeping it casual and sipping sophisticatedly on their cocktails. None of this half-assed nonsense was going down in Belfast. When Shine veteran Phil Kieran pumped out his tunes, there were young women scaling the tent legs. When he finished up with his flagship ‘Skyhook’, he threw himself to the mercy of the ecstatic mob and crowd-surfed on the way out, having earned absolute rock star status among the revellers.
I kept it varied with my choice of sets until headliners Bicep did their thing on the main stage. This was the moment so many of the festival goers were looking forward to. Although I missed their former partner Hammer play a set which absolutely delighted the early attendees of the festival, I was more than ready for my old schoolmates (obligatory ‘I know the DJs comment’) to blow the crowd away. There was nothing about their performance that was anything less than stellar.
Since their emergence, they’ve gone from strength to strength, showing repeatedly that Belfast can produce some of the finest electronic music in the world. Their intelligent take on house music has come from years of obsessive scouring of LPs from record stores and honing their craft in bedrooms and student nightclubs before making it onto main stages and extended Radio One slots. Their masterful handling of the decks was coupled with terrific big screen visuals, experience enhancing, in perfect harmony with the well chosen bangers.
The dynamic duo were soon followed by a well rounded selection of tunes from Mano Le Tough who seemed to dial the big hits back a bit for a more atmospheric approach to the night’s round up, paving the way for the incredible Rohad to seduce the buzzing crowd with a closing two hour set.
The brilliance of AVA may be with the genius of its organiser, Sarah MacBriar. She has overseen the development of her vision since day one, winning the investment required to make the magic happen in terms of venue, marketing, acts and security (which by the way were fantastic, thanks for not throwing me out when I looked somewhat lethargic). If the event was bigger and braver the second time round, then there’s no reason to doubt it will be even grander next time round. Success like this doesn’t happen by accident though, but through hard work, sleepless nights and by recognizing the potential of a good time fuelled by home grown talent. This is how grassroots electronic festivals were meant to be, celebrating emerging acts as well as well-established ones, whilst attracting a crowd with the sense not to hospitalise themselves on recently banned research chemicals or upload moronic pictures of planned illegal activities.
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