Belfast's 24 Hour Party People

A multi-genre art event running non-stop across two nights may seem ambitious, but Undergrowth hopes to unite people of all ages and tastes in the spirit of the wider counterculture movement

As the summer draws to a close, there are still some spirits who want to keep the positive vibes of festivities going. Particularly for those who just want to keep dancing away the night. A unique event is taking place this weekend in the form of Undergrowth – 24-hour music festival at the Accidental Theatre, Belfast.

The event begins on Friday night and continues right through until Saturday evening. Non-stop party festivals have graced cities such as Barcelona and New York. So how come it has popped up in this part of the world? 

'My background is from the free festival movement of the early '90s,' says sound artist for the gig, Augustine (Gus) Leudar, 'where multi-genre 24 hour festivals were common place. But even today in a contemporary context these events occur often all over Europe and the United States.'

Accidental Theatre and audio-visual company Magik Door have collaborated to make this event happen in Belfast. Leudar is sure that a range of dance beats during the night and softer gentler tones in the morning will be enjoyed by all at the theatre venue.

Magik Door specialise in 3D audio installations

'The first night will be featuring some of Belfast’s finest DJs in the room downstairs with folk music, ambient music and live surround sound electronica performance in the chillout room upstairs,' he explains.

'In the morning we will have surround sound birdsong as well as Bernadette Comac's laser speaker installation, which directs sound to specific places. The second afternoon will feature poets and stand-up and then as the afternoon draws in we will have some of Belfast's talented hip-hop artists performing as well as some more electronic music such as drum and bass.'

Indeed the line-up for the 24 hour music festival in Shaftesbury Square is an eclectic one. The list of genres to be played by DJs is almost endless. From techno to dub, indie to electrofunk music, the beats will be many – including the genre of 'fidget house', of which this reporter had never heard of. Leudar explains that it has 'lots of wobbly basslines with quite hard techno-y house beats – it’s fun not moody.'

Fun seems to be a key part of the event. People who attend are encouraged to bring along and wear costumes, fancy dress and masks to embrace the frivolities. 'I would massively encourage people to source masks at Elliott's in Belfast who have been really supportive and have a great range,' says Gus. 'Otherwise make your own. I’m a big fan of The Residents who used to use eyeballs on their heads.'

The Residents

American Avant-garde art collective The Residents

But behind the event, lies a deeper message. Leudar describes it as a 'counterculture festival'. He explains how this movement is part of what Undergrowth is bringing to Belfast. He also tells how counterculture has shaped art throughout the past century and how it influences society to this day.

'I believe the counterculture that arguably started with the Beatniks in the '50s and then progressed by the hippy, punk, rave, and independent scenes has largely fragmented in our current day and age

'There is no cohesive countercultural narrative anymore. There are many small groups trying to do something different in many small scenes but they rarely unite as they did in earlier epochs.

'That’s why I think it’s so important to see something like acid techno, poetry, psybass and folk on the same bill – they may have different fans but they both supported positive social change and more importantly they all strive to make good art.'

And is Belfast a city suited to this counterculture festival?

'I think Belfast has amazing potential to engage with the international arts and music scene and especially after Brexit, this could become an important source of revenue if public funding drops off from the UK and EU,' says Leudar.

'The creative industries are worth around 84 billion to the UK at the moment – Northern Ireland is uniquely placed to take a larger share of that pie and it would be good for tourism too.

'Belfast is doing something here that would be hard to put on in London. I think it should be proud of that. To be able to put on an event that you might find in New York or Barcelona, but not London, certainly gives Belfast a competitive edge and I salute Belfast City Council for being forward thinking in this way and backing the event.'

The organisation to bring music, poetry and performance to a theatre in Belfast city centre has run smoothly and, according to Leudar, has even been a relaxed occasion. He explains how Accidental Theatre have been in charge of the logistical side of things, while for him it has been 'pleasurable as well as interesting to find a lot of Belfast’s secret creative geniuses as well as more well known ones. Belfast is brimming with talent.'

Undergrowth is welcoming all ages and music enthusiasts to come along to witness talented artists at work. It's an inclusive event, and Leudar is expecting families and people both young and old to be part of the audience. A slight curfew, however, will have to be in place for some.

'After 9pm is strictly 18 plus,' he says. 'The daytime would be more for families into the afternoon.

'However, we are not ageist. This is not a millennial hipster fest. Look at your dance parties throughout the ages they have been for young and old. This event is for underground culture. But not just for 20 somethings – if you are 25 or 75, if you got the moves you have a place at this event.

'Dad dances are more than welcome. We would ask that if you are older you take care not to strain your heart – the spirit may be willing but the flesh may not be quite as enthusiastic.'

John

The running time is billed for 24 hours (although technically the full duration clocks in at 28) but several types of tickets can be purchased: all access for all night; from dusk till dawn; or from dawn till dusk. Does Gus expect anyone to go the distance and be around from beginning to end?

'I very much doubt anyone will be there for the full 24 hours!

'We expect people to pop in for different periods over the 24 hour period to sample what is to their taste.'

And finally, for a festival that is playing right through the night until the morning, won’t the neighbours be banging on the celling wall and complaining to turn down that thudding bassline of techno music down?

'We certainly hope not,” says Gus. “We only have small PAs and we have complete respect for people’s sleep time. As it happens though the venue is not in a residential area and the early morning shows will be more of the artistic-floaty-ambient-birdsong-sound installation variety.'

Undergrowth takes place on August 24-25 at the Accidental Theatre, 12-13 Shaftesbury Square, Belfast. To purchase tickets and find out more information go to https://accidentaltheatre.co.uk/box-office/undergrowth. For more events happening as part of the Belfast Music Summer Season go to www.belfastcity.gov.uk/music.