A History of NI Club Culture (II)
The continued development of the underground sound suggests a bright future
Follow The Leaders
In 1993 a young Alan Simms launched a night at the Limelight called A Different Drum, which later moved to the Mandela Hall, became Shine in 1995 and has grown over the last ten years to become Irelands’ longest running, most successful underground club venue with a cutting edge music policy.
Spawning its own record label Shine Recordings and the most widely used club message board in Ireland Shine is now definitely an institution. It has long been a bastion of underground techno, electro and the tougher forms of house music, with the secondary rooms showcasing hip hop, drum and bass and the more leftfield forms of dance music.
One DJ who was playing at the Limelight at the time, Phil Kieran, landed a residency at Shine in Belfast at the tender age of 19 and over the nine years since has provided a backbone for the legendary club.
Phil finally won acceptance to the DJ fraternity, international recognition and recruited a loyal following with the release of his anthem tune ‘Vitalian House’.
A barrage of Phil Kieran releases ensued, under a variety of labels including Skint, Soma, Kingsize and Yoshitoshi, with some other pseudonyms such as Pil Hearin. Soon, Phil could hardly fight the floods of artists requesting his Midas touch remixing style. Notorious amongst these re-workings are Agoria ‘L'onzieme Marche’, Nitzer Ebb ‘Murderous’ and Justin Robertson ‘Acid Rave Music’ all treated with the unnerving, jagged energy and throbbing basslines that are a feature of everything Phil does.
Having travelled extensively with his DJing, Phil has 'been around the world' more times than Lisa Stansfield, recently playing gigs in Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, Ibiza, Greece, Germany, Holland and Spain, regularly playing alongside international heavyweights such as Dave Clarke, Billy Nasty and Christian Smith.
Recently Phil locked himself in the deepest depths of a smoke-laden studio for the last year, with only vocalist Martin, front-man of post-punk band Corrigan for company; the coupling has produced a manic body of works as Alloy Mental. This musical mayhem will be the basis of Phil's first album; the first release Body Blueprint already causing chaos in clubland, its completely new sound always causing confusion and curiosity amongst clubbers. Phil also regularly hosts BBC Radio One’s late night dance show, standing in for another Northern Ireland DJ Champion Fergie otherwise known as the legendary Tony De Vit’s prodigy.
Elsewhere, inspired by events at the Art College another group of young DJs Timmy Stewart, Glenn McCartney and Mark Bell started their own night, Digital Boogie. Mark Bell recalls how his first trip to the Art College blew his mind:
'I’d heard about the crazy scene at the Art College and got down to check it out. Before that the only music I’d heard was chart music and was into alternative music like The Doors, Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, the music blew my mind. It was the only place at the time playing underground dance music; you couldn’t hear that type of thing anywhere else. The energy and enthusiasm of the whole thing was definitely what inspired me to become a DJ and start a club.”
After many years on the DJ and production circuit the lads formed their own label to showcase their production work called Island Hopper where releases under the names The New Aluminists, Scoper and Bubba and Crashdaddy reflect the output that they aim squarely at the Dancefloor.
Mark Bell teamed up with local lad Paul McMahon to form Bellcrash. They discovered that they not only had a mutual interest in jazz, funk and latin music but also all forms of music technology. They agreed to work together on an EP which was eventually released on 7th sign recordings. The EP was called the Coalition EP and it exceeded their expectations.
Not only did it sell out but it was picked up by some of the most influential DJs today. They got wholehearted support from the likes of Danny Krivit, Laurent Garnier, Richard Dorfmeister, Osunlade and Rainer Truby. LTJ Bukem liked the Bellcrash sound so much he asked them to contribute a track for the now legendary Earth Series. Another massive supporter of Bellcrash has been Gilles Peterson who continually played their first single at clubs and on his worldwide show (BBC Radio 1). He has even debuted material on his show months before it was due to come out.
Together they decided to compile an album, called Suzume Park which was released late in 2004 to a very positive reaction on the nu-jazz circuit.
In 1995 another young DJ, Chris Cargo, began playing house music to a loyal following at The Venue, Thompson’s Garage and The Network. His aptly named Sleuth night, a monthly event in Belfast attracted the worlds finest DJ/producers from the progressive house scene, running for 4 successful years until its demise in 2001.
Recently Chris departed from the successful club night Imprint, which he co-ran; and he now resides over Rise in Belfast, where his music style is a mash up of disco, house and tribal beats. Worldwide Chris has really built up his fan base though and one look at his list of gigs merely confirms this - from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam via Mexico. He has produced and remixed a total of almost thirty tracks to date.
The Network club, one of the most prominent city centre venues opened it doors in August 1994 - where the Sleuth nights primarily were held - and was important in the early careers of Mark Jackson (moving on from his early Circus Circus days), Eamon Beagon and Jay Kay. Network promoter Paul Langsford still works actively in the music industry, having managed Belfast based clubs Milk and now the recently opened Cathedral Quarter Potthouse.
Many other clubs helped to shape the current scene, amongst them Vico’s, a rickety old Pizza joint in the heart of Belfast that each weekend crammed in four separate sound systems, on as many floors with about ten times as many DJs. Infamous local Techno outlaw Pete Donaldson cut his DJ teeth here amongst the Evolution and Contents Crews. Gawain Morrison, of Fabulous Beard was also one of the ringleaders. Also worth mentioning is, Bedlam. Bedlam had basic facilities, hard techno, punks, walls dripping with sweat, and crusties. To the faithful it goes down in techno history as a dark hall of doom.
Breakdown, Beatsuite, Ski Bunny, Lost Sound, Numb and many others all played a part in moving the music to where it is today.
The Revolution Was Spreading
Lush on the North Coast stands alone as one of the few super clubs that is still standing. Scooby who now does the sound did the first rave gig at Kelly’s, then Chris Hurley came in as resident which lead to Glen Molloy, Harmony events (Scottish promoters), M8 nights, X-Ray and Sci as residents. Then in 1994 Kelly’s was shut down and later re-opened as Lush, changing their music policy to house.
It helped put Northern Ireland on the map with the first Essential mix from Ireland, Cream residencies and playing host to most of the globe’s superstar DJs. Much of its success has been due to the work of Alan Simpson, Col Hamilton and Nigel Wilson. Colin has both DJed and promoted Lush! Arenas at Planet Love, Creamfields, Homelands and festivals in Ireland and has secured coveted DJ sets at Creamfields & Homeland festivals in the UK.
Colin has also dabbled in production by himself and in collaboration with others, notably Chris Agnelli and Chris Cargo. Col Hamilton released a massive uplifting house track ‘On a Good Thing’ on Manifesto Records (alongside NI producer Aaron McClelland) which received massive support from many top DJs including Erick Morillo, Pete Tong, Judge Jules and Seb Fontaine.
Other out of town clubs of particular note included Kilwaughter House near Larne (1994 – 1997) and Circus Circus in Banbridge (1991 – 1994). Both were exponents of the more hardcore end of the genre, with Circus Circus being blamed in the press for everything from devil worship to armageddon until finally it was shut down.
Gleave Dobbin, Dee McAuley and Fergie are also DJ’s from outside Belfast who have impacted on the national and international scene. All three have played regularly at the clubbers island that is Ibiza and have gone on to do their own productions.
Fergie’s journey in music began at Kilwaughter House following the likes of Gleave Dobbin and Robbie Nelson. It was there that Tony De Vit homed in on his talent and brought him to the UK. Now he is one of the biggest names on the trance/techno front, presenting his own show in a local Larne accent on national BBC Radio One and starting his own record label.
A young man from Newtownards Paul Masterson who had a deep love of disco music honed his production skills until he had a huge hit 'Synths and Strings' under the guise of Yomanda. He produced and remixed many other tracks and collaborates with Judge Jules.
In the North west, Derry still is hosting regular club nights with Deep Fried Funk in Sandino’s and bigger nights at the Nerve Centre. The boys also run a yearly festival of electronica called Celtronic which is as good, if not better, in the line-up and atmosphere department as many of the national ones.
From that same city both Hedrock Valley Beats and the Sirocco MC’s have made waves in the live dance music/hip hop arena and local hip hop DJ JP McGonagle won the Ireland DMC mixing championships a few years ago.
In September 1995 Eddie Wray and Judith Farrell-Rowan launched Bassline Magazine connecting with the burgeoning dance music scene at that time and growing with it. In 1998, Bassline merged with Belfast magazine Blank to become BBm and the following year, the magazine became the first in local history to win the prestigious IPR/BT Magazine of the Year award.
The magazine and their sister company Eddie Wray Entertainment were behind many clubs including Exit 15 @ Dungannon, The Awakening at Kilwaughter House, Dance Against Drugs at the Kings Hall, Magic Kingdom and many smaller nights across the province. In 1998 they launched Planet Love a major dance music festival which obtained the first ever outdoor dance music license in Ireland opening the floodgates for others.
Despite population size, location and venues being stacked against us, Northern Ireland has regularly, all over rocked at some point. Capturing the true essence of electronic music is the Jigs & Rigs Festival located on the tranquil Rathlin Island off the North Coast of Antrim. The festival is driven by Force 10 (Damien, James-e, Chuck, Phat Controller) and all those involved offer their services free of charge or as volunteers. Started in 1997 and running pretty much yearly Rathlin, as it is also known, has begun to increase in size (2000 attendees in 2004) and statue but maintains its original concept.
Some Pockets of Resistance are Re-Arming for a Counter Attack
All of this growth had to come to an end though as the dance music industry grew to such epic proportions that it quite literally toppled and fell over on itself. The roots were unaffected however and in back rooms and dingy basement clubs, new techniques, styles and sonic weapons were being tested. A new wave, harder, faster and stronger than before were getting ready.
Early hardcore legend speaks of the Hellraiser nights at the Ulster Hall, organised by Karl Graham (aka Judge Dredd) who went on to host the legendary Drumology nights at the Menagerie with DJ Kato. Drum and Bass made its first mark on the city here and has grown in popularity leading to the Step nights at the Menagerie (with DJ Chill), and the recent Sound Koalition nights at The Front Page.
From the drum and bass scene local live acts such as Cappo Regime and Spree have risen, with Spree notably playing the Glastonbury Festival and London dates at Cargo nightclub. As a testament to their growing popularity Spree found themselves with London Electricity and I Kamanchi in the final of the Knowledge Magazine Awards 2003.
One young man from Belfast has set the Drum and Bass world on fire however, Calibre or Dominic to his friends. He originally started producing at a young age and has spent many years refining his sound and first started to make a name for himself with a string of releases on Fabio's label Creative Source. Since his initial releases Calibre has consistently released quality tunes with his own signature style and sound, and eventually set up his own label Signature.
Calibre is a very diverse producer and has made tunes ranging from soulful vocal melodies to dubby rollers. One of his strengths it seems is that his sound was able to develop away from the 'scene' and has a unique freshness to it.
On the edge of the underground, inspired by the more leftfield techy production branches of house music and electronica are the Electrotoxic crew, who throw parties regularly in the Menagerie and DJ in smoky back bars and dingy club basements.
One of the most prolific of the crew is Gary Spence or T-Polar, who started producing in 1997 inspired by the patchwork melodies of The Orb, the funky future soul of Moodyman and Theo Parrish and the solitary oddness of Two Lone Swordsmen. Relying on the instinct of making things sound original and as personal as possible with a disregard for current trends and fashions in electronica remains his inspiration these days. His work has paid off with gigs in Dublin and London.
Jupiter Ace (aka Gregory Ferguson) is a young dance producer aged 24 who has spent the last 5 years honing his studio skills to develop a fresh and distinctive house music sound.
Jupiter Ace has been subsequently hunted down by none other than Fatboy Slim who was so impressed with his work that he has asked him to remix new track 'El Bebe Masoquista', forthcoming on Skint records.
Hip Hop is represented well by Chris Caul, a scratch DJ who rates with the top in the country, who has been slowly producing his own beats and Roysta, an MC who definitely could not come from any other city.
So large clubs such as Shine, Lush, Club Matrix, Thompsons, Deep Fried Funk, smaller crews like Homespun, Hydroponic, Imprint, Funkasaurus, Champion Sound, Release, Force 10, and events such as Digital T, Rathlin Island and J2Z still flourish at the present moment.
Artists such as David Holmes, Bellcrash, Hedrock Valley Beats, Filaria, Barry Lynn, Astromech, T Polar, Chris Cargo, Gleave Dobbin, Scoper and Bubba, Spree, Dave Lievense & Conor Magavock, Cappo Regime, Welt, Sick Joke aka Graeme L, Jupiter Ace and Alloy Mental (aka Phil Kieran and Martin Corrigan) all are producing work to critical and commercial acclaim.
The widely reported death of dance music is definitely premature and ultimately untrue. In the underground corners of Northern Ireland things are starting to heat up and become really interesting as the second new wave prepares for its assault.