AVA Belfast - An electronic festival determined to do its own thing

As well as hosting the likes of Jeff Mills and Neil Barnes of Leftfield, this year’s AVA festival aims to showcase the strength of Irish talent

The past two years have seen the Belfast-based AVA Festival establish itself as one of Ireland’s most innovative electronic music festivals. This June, AVA will return for the third edition to the T13 Titanic industrial quarter, this year expanding to a two-day festival with support from Generator NI and Belfast City Council.

It’s clear that AVA wants to further copperfasten it’s reputation not only as the island’s premier live event for local and international DJs and producers, but also as a conference and educational destination, which is open to the public for free registration.

AVA is aiming to make the conference “its own thing”, according to programme and assistant manager Emmett Costello, with tech drop-in areas from sponsor Native Instruments, Ableton, Modular Synth workshops along with “native sessions” featuring local talent such as new Jackson, Elll, Jordan and Hammer demonstrating how they create music.

The biggest draws of the conference will be the names that have shaped electronic music’s history such as techno legend Jeff Mills, Neil Barnes on the legacy of Leftfield, and Renaat Vandepapeliere of R&S Records, who has been at the forefront of electronic music for 31 years which includes releasing records from Aphex Twin, Model 500, James Blake, Jaydee, Blawan and Belfast’s own Space Dimension Controller.


But it’s in the panels that perhaps the most long-lasting connections will emerge. Dublin music agency This Greedy Pig will be talking to directors and musicians about music videos while Four/Four Magazine hosts a panel exploring the differences between the North and the South of Ireland’s licensing laws, a subject that Emmett Costello knows a lot about, having written his dissertation for MA Arts Management at Queen’s University last year on the subject.

The law in Northern Ireland means the sale of alcohol stops at 1am – which creates restrictions when it comes to clubbing in terms of development and outlets. Costello, who also puts on parties as Inside Moves, says that AVA wants to address this and that “change feels inevitable”.

“It’s a bit archaic. It doesn’t create the best atmosphere for promoters and people. The law hasn’t been updated since 1996 but that wasn’t much different from the legislation that was made in 1923 just after the partition of Ireland, so it’s a bit outdated you could say.”

All-Ireland focus
By bringing partners such as Four/Four and This Greedy Pig into a Northern Irish electronic music festival, and by booking acts like ELLL (Cork), Ryan Vail (Derry), Subject DJs, Techno & Cans and New Jackson (all Dublin), AVA is aiming to be inclusive to the whole of Ireland.

Costello talks to developing the “community feel in all of Ireland,” and points out that Four/Four’s talk will feature former Bodytonic booker Eoin Cregan and Belfast DJ Timmy Stewart talking about “how we can utilise the relationship between North and South and work together”.

AVA is playing a part in that and attempting to expand beyond Belfast as a brand. Since it started, it has put on parties in Mumbai, at the Amsterdam Dance Event, a castle in Warrenpoint featuring Mister Saturday Night (one half of which Eamon Harkin is from Derry) and Newcastle too.

Belfast looks forward
While these are ways to create hype and promote the festival says Costello, in his mind, there's a new focus spurring it on. That inclusive energy is reflected in Belfast city itself. The community are embracing their status as an emerging creative hub.

“The brain drain has been very real in Belfast,” Costello says. “A lot of young creatives have left. I’m a prime example, I left to go to university in Newcastle, came back to Belfast but wasn’t sure if I was going to stay. I got a job with AVA and it’s the reason I’m here.”

It’s not just a job that’s keeping people in Northern Ireland – especially when it comes to music which has seen names such as Bicep, Tommy Stewart, Space Dimension Controller, Brién, Phil Kieran, Bobby Analog Jordan, Or:La, Hammer, Ejeca and the Extended Play label break out of late.

“Belfast is such an emerging scene and there’s an opportunity to showcase the strength of the Irish talent about. There’s a scene developing that actually is making them stay and giving them something to work for. The community around the electronic music scene is very supportive, everyone wants everyone else to do well. Everyone’s working together to make Belfast a better place.”

  • AVA Festival takes place in Belfast's T13 June 2nd -3rd. Fo rmore, see avafestival.com