An Overview of the Belfast Club Scene

Belfast has had a vibrant and exciting club scene since the early 1990s

Belfast has had a vibrant and exciting club scene since the early 1990s, only marginally behind the underground dance explosion that flourished across the UK.

One of the first successful DJs/promoters to emerge from Belfast, David Holmes, is now known internationally. He started with Sugar Sweet at Belfast’s Art College in the University of Ulster. Run in partnership with Ian McCready and Jim McDonald, it was the first established underground club night in Belfast. Only a couple of years later, they set up their own record label, Sugar Sweet Records, which had the excellent motto of ‘In Your Hearts, Not In The Charts’.

Another club that opened its door’s in the early 90s was Thompson’s Garage, originally a car garage. Still going strong, it is located in the heart of the city at Patterson’s Place. Having undergone a number of refits and name changes over the years, it is now just called Thompson's.

Thompsons’s main resident, Steve Boyd, has been there since the doors first opened, and continues to entertain the crowds on Friday and Saturday nights with a variety of house, breaks, funk and garage. The club runs seven nights a week with a wide variation in music policy, often featuring international guests.

Around the same time, a young Alan Simms spun his first record at the now infamous late nightclub, Tokyo Joe's. This was swiftly followed by his own night, Different Drum, held at the Limelight. As crowds grew, Simms moved to the Queen’s Students’ Union, and Shine was born.

Shine has been running an extremely successful Saturday night for the last ten years, attracting many international DJs including Carl Cox, Pete Tong, Dave Clarke, DJ Shadow, Fabio, Billy Nasty, David Morales, Jon Carter, Slam, Marco Bailey, Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, David Holmes, Green Velvet, Giles Peterson, Felix Da Housecat, Silicone Soul, Yousef, Umek and many more. 

Shine has also always been at the forefront of introducing lesser known international and local talents to the Northern Ireland club scene. Their music policy has diversified from mostly techno and house, to hip hop, breaks, downbeat and, indeed, anything else with a cutting edge vibe.

As the club has grown over the years, so has their overall contribution to the music scene, and over a year ago they started the record label, Shine Recordings.

In the late 1990s, three young Belfast DJs, Timmy Stewart, Glen McCartney and Mark Bell, came together through their love of funk and soul, and started the fortnightly Digital Boogie at O’Neill’s. With no concrete music policy, and a wide selection of local and international DJs, it was difficult to ever have a bad night at Digital Boogie, although numbers were always turned away from the door.

In July 2002, they decided upon a change of name and venue, and moved to the riverside Edge bar complex with Tsunami. Their first night was a revelation for Belfast clubbers when they introduced soulful house legend Miguel Migs with Lisa Shaw. Nevertheless, Digital Boogie started up again in the Back Bar of the Garrick at Chichester Street, close to Belfast’s City Hall. The trio are now globally received as credible music producers with releases on labels including their own Product Deluxe, Paper Recordings, Classic and Siesta.

The most recent addition to the list of successful clubs in Belfast would be ClubMilk. It opened in a derelict warehouse close to Belfast’s docks and the Cathedral Quarter.

A lot of Belfast’s trendier bars now provide DJs to prepare you for a hedonistic night on the town. Bars you might want to check include the Apartment on Donegal Square West, AM PM on Upper Arthur Street, and Bar Bacca on Brunswick Street. They usually feature DJs or live entertainment from around 9pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Dress casual but smart, and you’ll have no worries.

© Roddy O’Flaherty