Death to boring Saturday nights
Wandering around outside an abattoir on a summer's night in Belfast is not pleasant. The vile stench sticks in the throat, clings to clothes. A man stops working to say he doesn't know anything about a club that is supposed to be happening there. "A nightclub, some kind of party?" he asks, wiping his hands on his overalls, his expression suggesting you are two steaks short of a carnivore's picnic. You leave in a taxi. The smell follows.
The above is a cautionary tale for anyone who hears about an underground happening that is taking place in Dublin next Saturday night. That July evening in Belfast, there was indeed a party going on in the killing room of an abattoir, it's just that it was in another one, miles away, up one of the mountains that skirt the city. Hearing about Deep Blue - an original club concept devised by a Belfast collective of artists, musicians, DJs, writers and photographers - is not enough. You must get your hands on an invite, Deep Bluespeak for a £30 ticket. And that is not as easy as it sounds.
"There is a vetting process," explains Chris McCafferty, organiser and one of the founders of the Deep Blue experience. The group is wary of revellers who are interested in securing entry because the event sponsors provide free champagne, Lanson as it happens, all night. "You have to want to experience something different. The night is for people that are tired of everything being the same and are bored of events that don't even have a spark of originality," he says.
Despite an extremely low-key advertising campaign amounting to the occasional studiously enigmatic flyer placed in the window of restaurants, these people "seem to find us", says McCafferty.
And when the latest crop of pleasure seekers stumble across Deep Blue, they will bring their invite, this time a holographic cube, to a pre-arranged pick up spot on Saturday night. A coach will ferry the 100 guests to an undisclosed venue somewhere in or around Dublin.
All we can tell you is that the secret venue will be one that is not normally home to the bizarre performance art, the quirky props, the startling visuals, the emotive audio tricks that are the hallmarks of Deep Blue. It could be, as was the case in previous Northern incarnations, located at an aquarium, a railway, a zoo or a sewer system. The Deep Blue posse believes Saturday nights should be "99 per cent anticipation and one per cent entertainment". No two nights are ever the same.
"There should be something uncomfortable about it, it should have an edge. You should be thinking, yes, this is a sexy Saturday night but I don't know where I am," says McCafferty. "It attracts those who are not catered for by the corporate, formulaic and unchallenging scene that much of the dance/club industry has become." At the Deep Blue held in the abattoir last summer, a girl sat outside the venue afraid to go in because of eerie animal sounds emanating from the speakers. Unsettling to say the least.
McCafferty and his colleagues are not new to the Belfast club scene. In fact, while Deep Blue has been sporadically springing itself on the city since 1993, the project has its origins in other alternative nights that pushed the boundaries of entertainment in the city over the past 20 years. "Since the early 1980s, the nights have been constantly mutating. The Leather Apron Club was held in a hairdressers and the lighting was hundreds of tiny candles placed in stiletto shoes. Another we called Hades was meant to shock and blow people away, it was not a happy-clappy night. There was roadkill hanging from the ceilings," he remembers. "Hard art terrorist". Chris North was and remains in charge of music and visuals. Club Mother Russia in 1985 evolved from the early House scene when the group was trying to create a "Belfast Sound".
They began to build big sets for each new night, inviting performance artists to shock and stimulate the audience. With every gig they learnt more about the logistics, about how far they could go, discovering what worked and what clearly didn't. A night held in the dungeon of Gosford Castle outside Belfast was called Middle Earth and provided the blueprint, in terms of scale, for the more recent events. "We were finding sensible ways to do mad things," says McCafferty.
The result is Deep Blue, where the only predictable element is the free bubbly. This is the first one to be held in Dublin and here's what the very cryptic press release has to say about it: "Blood sweat and tears are what you would expect to be shed at any artistic endeavour, but to extract those self same bodily fluids from the audience as they enter the arena is to turn the whole notion of performance on its head". Scared yet? A person who calls himself a "living artist" will hang from the ceiling in a "dripping bloody cocoon" which will eventually burst. Clubbers will be interviewed about their innermost desires and the results transmitted on to massive screens to for a "communication collage". Performance artist Grainne Kipper from Devon will exhibit sound-art, "through the use of corsetry and other body manipulation". Music ranges from opera to electronica. A night down the local it most certainly isn't.
"It's been called everything," says McCafferty. "A multi-media experience, an alternative club, which I hate. Some see it as a nomadic gallery, or theatre in the wrong place. It actually is a fusion of all the cutting edge and creative elements of Belfast. And you can call that what you want."
The group has already brought the concept to New York where they were well-received in avant-garde circles in the East Village. While McCafferty and co always want it recognised that Deep Blue was born in Belfast - "we are proud that the whole thing started here," he says - they want to take their baby further afield. It's like they are on a mission to save the planet from boring Saturday nights. Is it a night-club? Is it a house party? No! It's Deep Blue.
"We are not parochial," says McCafferty, with the confidence of someone on to a good thing. "We can take this absolutely anywhere".
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