National and international street artists and bands descend on the Ulster Hall for a family-friendly weekend event
Beams of sunshine pour in through the giant windows of the Ulster Hall, spreading a golden glow over the hustle and bustle of street artists, musicians and festival-goers at the Winter BASE International Street Art & Music Festival.
The European Commission and Peace funded event is organised by Trans Belfast, who also run a summer Trans festival at the Waterfront Hall. One of the defining qualities of the organisation is the commitment to working with international artists as well as Northern Irish talent. In their own words, 'We bring the world to Belfast and Belfast to the world.'
The Ulster Hall is packed with a rich selection of individual artists and collectives, including Melbourne’s cartoon graffiti artist Jack Douglas, Copenhagen’s gritty urban artist Lints and some of Belfast’s very best street artists including Friz and KVLR - the man behind the surreal hooded characters that can be spotted in and around the city centre.
The artists get down to work clutching spray cans, paint brushes and marker pens while visitors enter the space for free and look on at the works in progress. The hall is mainly taken up with large white boards - one for each artist or collective - but there is also plenty of space in front of the stage so festival-goers can enjoy live music throughout the day.
Artists’ work from last year’s event is strategically positioned on the street to lure in the public and there is, of course, a flock of regular enthusiasts in attendance. It’s a healthy, manageable number of visitors that includes plenty of families with smiling kids darting about.
The standard of work is very high. Lucas Dillon - a Belfast artist currently attending art school in London - makes his mark on a wall with pink and purple paint and slowly but surely creates mystical wizard-like animations. Across the way, and in a world of his own, Eindhoven-based street artist Erosi perfects a cartoon style Geisha with a palette of moody blues and greys.
Another fantastic artist in attendance is French-born, but Madrid-based, Remed. He works with bold signature colours and shapes and has been featured in exhibitions and worked on street pieces in Miami, London, New York, Rio De Janeiro and more.
While the artists concentrate on their boards, festival-goers help themselves to bottles of free Becks beer from one of the big buckets of ice. Unsurprisingly this pleasing freebie runs out quickly, but it was good while it lasted.
During the afternoon there are performances from an eclectic mix of bands, including Wonder Villains and Bocs Social. One of the musical highlights is Cork-based electronic musician Toby Kaar. For most acts a daytime slot can be a tricky set to pull off, but his quirky electronic sounds and mellow crushed-up beats provide the perfect sunny soundtrack for the day.
Often music and art events in Belfast attract the same well-seasoned crowd of gig-goers and art lovers. Winter BASE, however, is very much a family-friendly affair because of the daytime hours, and the World Zone room designed especially for kids. When Lucky Dragons, an LA-based lo-fi soundscape band play late in the afternoon, kids and adults both are given weird and wacky instruments to join in the set.
There are CD discs that make wobbly sounds when held to a projector light, wooden pipes attached to ropes and cymbals that the adults enjoy bashing as much as the kids. Miraculously - considering the number of spontaneous participants involved - the sound created is really rather beautiful. The fact that anyone can join in makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
The night draws in eventually and the artists disperse for a well-earned break, returning to finish their masterpieces on the final day of the festival. Belfast’s goth-pop trio Girls Names take to the stage with a certain nonchalant confidence.
A London act called Ghostpoet is next and enthusiastically warms up the crowd with lyrical rhymes and melodic post-rock guitar riffs. Unfortunately, though, many of the words are drowned out by the vastness of the venue.
Finally, to finish off a supremely satisfying day, the hyped up US noise-pop band Sleigh Bells rock out for a throng of excitable fans. Eight Marshall amps ensure they make a positively loud impression at their first ever Belfast show.
Overall, Trans Belfast should be proud of assembling a fine-tuned festival. It is also encouraging to see such a high standard of original street art being made in Belfast. Thankfully the work will not be wasted. All of the pieces are donated to local community spaces or otherwise stored for display at next year’s Winter BASE.
Before next February, however, there is the Trans Summer Festival instalment to look forward to in July - keep an eye on the Trans Belfast website for further details.