Shine Through the Ages

Figureheads of Belfast dance culture past and present reflect on its longest-enduring club night turning twenty

This Saturday Belfast's longest-running electronic music promotion celebrates its twentieth birthday with a heavyweight roster of acts who have graced its club nights over the course of its tumultuous two decades.

An institution of nightlife in Northern Ireland, Shine has been a bastion of underground techno, house and other forms of cutting edge dance music since 1995, aiding in the rise of countless DJs in the process.

Two such artists forming part of this weekend's packed line-up are Phil Kieran and Jordan McCuaig. Representing the younger, more fresh-faced side of the dance scene, McCuaig runs house and techno night Nocturne as well as The Night Institute, a recently-launched residency at Aether and Echo.

Kieran meanwhile is a well-established and respected, homegrown fixture in the world of contemporary dance music who landed a residency at Shine at the age of 19 and for many years was its backbone. Ahead of Saturday's celebrations both share their thoughts and experiences of the legendary club night.

What was your first experience of Shine? How did you first come across the night?

Phil: I actually think the first time I played Shine was at its third birthday. I’d already played two or three gigs that month, under the name Igloo, I think it was, and Shine gave me the slot to play, which was a great opportunity so early on in my career.

Jordan: I think the first time I went to Shine I was still in my teens. I’d been DJing around Ireland doing more high-energy dance stuff for a few years prior to that, but it was long before I started going out clubbing myself as such.

I remember the Audio Bullies were playing, and it was a massive eye-opener; the crowds were a bit different, the music wasn’t so obvious or in-your-face.

So there was that, and I remember the first time I went by my own choice Derrick May was playing, and Joris Voorn...that was intense. That was one of the first nights that introduced me to after-parties as well, and the rest is history from there.

Shine 2

Do you feel Shine was particularly influential or important for getting you and your generation into dance music?

Phil: For meeting other DJs and gaining experience insofar as playing live it was great, yeah. It was a really fun time. I was young, it was a really good platform which gave guys like me a chance to perform and it also taught you very fast how to produce and perform directly in front of a crowd.

I suppose the first couple of times I played formed a good learning curve that allowed me to learn what worked and what didn’t live  some things which sounded great on a stand-alone recording, or in the studio, end up falling flat on their face in the context of a live show.

What made it fun too was that people knew your tunes, and playing them for that crowd at the time still sits in my mind as a positive experience.

Jordan: Yeah. For myself and my friends, and the people who are now running parties, or even just general clubbers, Shine was instrumental in getting us into the house, techno, and even the electro scene at the time.

You would go to the Stiff Kitten on a Saturday or you would go to Shine once a month and see or bump into the same people. It was a massive community and they really have earned their respect in that capacity.

Do any performances from down the years (seen or playing) still stand out as special?

Phil: One particular show does stand out. When Orbital played in 2004/5 (they hadn’t played the city since around the time of the 'Belfast's release in 1991), they asked me to sign my own record, called 'Vitalian House', for them. So obviously that was pretty amazing. I’d grown up listening and looking up to those guys and for them to ask me that just before going on to play that night was just an incredible feeling, and still remains a great memory.

In fact, friends of mine had been driving the Orbital boys around the city all those years before and, while they were viewing everything that was going on, they had the demo on of what would later become (signature track) 'Belfast'.

I think the experience of listening to the song in its early form, and seeing how the city was, ended up being a big pushing force in what motivated them to name it as they did. So all those threads kind of tie together on that one.

Jordan: The first time I opened the Mandela Hall, before Huxley and Sasha, was personally very memorable because obviously I could remember being on that same dance floor myself years before and sort of thinking –"Flip. That would be an achievement".

But then also at Halloween last year I started off at the Bunatee, which is of course the room everyone comes into before the Mandela opens, and the whole place was buzzing, the atmosphere was great.

Club nights can be passing, short-lived things at the best of times, and the media is currently replete with stories about clubs facing closure or severe restrictions imposed on them by local councils. What do you think has been the key to Shine’s staying power?

Jordan: Shine is more relevant now than ever before, I suppose. They’ve moved with the times. Maybe years ago they had line-ups with lots of underground techno. But in the years since they've expanded and aligned themselves with some of the larger changes in dance music.

From 2006 - 2008 in particular you would maybe have electro-house one week, then your Carl Coxes or Ritchie Hawtins the next. And now, it’s still very much in line with what’s going on at the moment – you’ve got the likes of Bicep; Heidi; Skream; Jimmy Edgar  people who really are at the forefront of what they do, respectively. 

Phil: I guess shrewd business practice would be as important a factor as any – ticket prices, bookings, venues and the like. They’ve also adapted well to the changes that have taken place in dance music over the past twenty years, and haven’t just kept on booking the same old boring acts. So, in that respect, they’ve moved with the times.

Shine Posters

For readers who don’t know much about Shine’s birthday events, what can be expected on each night?

Phil: Well, (Saturday is) supposed to be a classic night, so the expectation is for most of the fare to be made up of old stuff. But I’m not too into that as an absolute approach, you know. If you overdo something like that it can be a bit sickly sweet.

I’ve got something that’s coming out on Cocoon in November, so I might like to give that a spin. Some people will expect certain tunes which I might have to play, I suppose. But I guess it’s about getting that balance in between the older classics people will recognise and some of the fresher, to me, more interesting new stuff which hopefully I’ll manage to hit.

Jordan: As far as the October 31 line-up is concerned, Northern Ireland’s biggest dance music export, Bicep, are heading the bill, with Heidi from Radio One – who also has her own Jackathon series, which is just good, fun electronic music.

On the local front, there’s myself, Swoose and Cromby – who were Shine residents for years and continue to play when they’re home  and then there’s Ryan Elliott from Panorama Bar, who is also just a really nice guy. Finally the DSNT lads are in room three doing their banging techno-artsy-visual thing. So something for everyone.

Where do you see Shine‘s place in terms of the Northern Irish dance music landscape now? Will we be talking about Shine twenty years from now?

Phil: Christ. That sounds like a scary concept. To be honest I don’t really think I can say much about the longevity or mileage of the night in the face of coming times.

Like I said, I’ve played it a good couple of times over the years and the memories are fond ones, but I just can’t really speculate at this point as to how the future of the event will pan out.

Shine 3

Jordan: Absolutely. I mean, even if not purely through Shine productions, then the night will continue through the generations of clubbers and musicians who went along to the events and have gone on to carry the torch, so to speak, in their own way.

I think all the independent club nights which have been springing up over the past few years are very heavily inspired by Shine, and all those guys running the nights have been on the Shine dance floor at one time or another.

Queen's University Belfast Student's Union hosts Shine Classics this Saturday (September 5) while Shine celebrates its twentieth birthday proper at the same venue on October 31. Tickets are available to book at www.shine.net.