Reviewed: AVA Festival & Conference 2019
One of its kind and the biggest weekend in underground electronic dance music in Northern Ireland, AVA (Audio Visual Arts) Festival and Conference has grown immensely since its beginnings in 2015. In the time span of a mere five years, AVA has grown to become a two-day festival, a one day conference, a pre-party and a closing party. They also host events throughout the year in London, Glasgow and in a castle on the North/South border of Ireland.
AVA Festival and Conference is the brainchild of founder Sarah McBriar, and supported by many Northern Irish creatives. Belfast’s young community craves a creative outlet, and AVA provides so many needed opportunities that the industry lacks in Northern Ireland. With opportunities for volunteering, designing, light installations, general organisation of the festival and more, AVA festival allows for a whole community to be involved.
Whilst AVA provides an opportunity for creatives, it also provides a much needed space for party goers. The spirit of the festival’s attendees and the support they had, especially for local artists, was heartwarming. The passion and energy of the crowds throughout the whole weekend was infectious.
AVA is also embedded in promoting local Northern Irish culture and DJs. It is a festival born and bred in Northern Ireland, giving the opportunity for local artists to take the big stage, alongside world wide names. AVA also hosts an Emerging DJ competition, which allows the winner the honour of opening the main stage of the festival on the Saturday.
The conference was held on Friday morning in the Mac, a cultural hub and art gallery in Belfast city centre’s cathedral quarter. The conference hosted a keynote with The Black Madonna, a talk from Kevin Sanderson, alongside tech demos, the presence of organisations such as Help Musicians Northern Ireland, and talks on mental health in music.
After spending the afternoon at the conference, we arrived early Friday evening to the festival. We headed straight to Boiler Room to catch DJ Boring, who, when we arrived was filling up cups of vodka for the crowd, and playing Datura ‘Yerba del Diablo Part III (Datura 2K Remix)’.
We then went to explore the venue. This year’s festival was hosted for the second year in S13, a former B&Q warehouse with a capacity of 5000, which sadly saw AVA as its last event before its closure. Although held in the same venue as last year, this year’s festival had a few additions and alterations, and you can tell the team at AVA made their last year in this venue count.
The exit of Boiler Room led to the main building, which hosted the Main Stage, the Unit 4 stage, the chill out area, the merchandise stand and two bars. We continued out the exit of the main building, and this led us to the toilets, food trucks, a free water stand, two more bars and the loading bay, which hosted the Red Bull stage. The food trucks offered fresh food from Freight Belfast and Belfast Woodfired Pizza Co., both local restaurants. AVA gives local vendors the chance to showcase their food, and promote their businesses.
We returned to Boiler Room to see the second half of HAAi‘s set. HAAi ended both her set and the first day of Boiler Room with ‘Till I Come’ 9PM, a Belfast favourite. After the end of the Boiler Room stage, the crowd dispersed, and we headed to the Red Bull stage for Horse Meat Disco, just in time to hear Patrick Cowley ‘Do You Wanna Funk? (ft. Sylvester)’. Palms Trax followed, closing his set with Hot Butter ‘Popcorn’, which was completely unexpected and very well received by the crowd.
We then headed to the main stage to see Avalon Emerson, and then ended our night in Unit 4, with two hours of the man who never fails to impress, Mall Grab, before heading home for a well needed rest, to prepare for the following day.
On Saturday we were sure to arrive in time to catch the beginning of Honey Dijon’s set. Her debut in Belfast was much anticipated, and the crowd she attracted by 5pm was incredible.
We then headed to spend a sunny afternoon dancing to Irish born, Berlin based, Sally C’s Boiler Room debut. Playing ‘POP IT’ by Belfast favourite Kettama, Sally C kept the crowd bouncing with her curated selection of tracks which went down perfectly in a Belfast Boiler Room. After the end of Sally C, we returned to the main stage for the end of Honey Dijon, arriving just in time to hear Felix Jaehn ‘Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better)’ ft. Jasmine Thompson.
We then headed to the Red Bull stage for the end of Ben UFO and the beginning of Or:la. Quickly becoming one of my favourite DJs, and an act I will always look forward to seeing, Northern Irish Or:la has cemented herself as an artist who will get the crowd going. Her hard-hitting sets put fists in the air as soon as she comes on stage. After Or:la, it was time to sit down and have a pint, before the next five hours of dancing commenced.
After a refreshing Heverlee, we headed back to the Red Bull stage to see Berlin-based Rebekah and then headed to the main stage to see Hammer. We then returned to the Red Bull stage (so much back and forth) for Randomer. Having seen Randomer before, I knew what I was in for, but I’m not sure everyone else was. When we arrived Randomer was playing Brisk & Ham ‘Get Down’, a 173 BPM track which sent the whole crowd into an absolute frenzy. We danced and sweated until 11pm with Randomer, then headed to Unit 4 for Call Super.
The best set of the whole weekend had to be Call Super. Although I only caught the last half hour, Call Super really had the whole room in the palm of his hands. A combination of a Belfast crowd who are literally up for anything the DJ will play, alongside a set featuring ‘Freaks on Hubbard’ (Dave Clarke Mix), Tony de Vit ‘The Dawn’ and a remix of Destiny’s Child – ‘Independent Woman’ (which I am still searching for), this half-hour was definitely the highlight of the whole weekend.
We ended the second night at the main stage in the very capable hands of Daniel Avery. There was a disco bus into the city centre, with an afterparty in Thompsons nightclub, but after two days of partying, we decided to call it a night.
The closing party on Sunday was held in Thompsons nightclub terrace, with local DJs Jordan and Bobby Analog bringing the best weekend of the year for dance music fans to a close.
AVA Festival and Conference is a weekend with events in pockets in every corner of Belfast. The presence AVA has is felt throughout the whole city; noticeable through the buzz of hundreds of dance music fans gathered at the conference, the mass of crowds heading towards S13 in the south of the city, and the glitter on the seats in your taxi home left by the people before.
Belfast is an amazing city, and it’s thanks to festivals like AVA, which are improving the culture and dance music scene within the small, but vibrant, Northern Irish capital. A weekend in Belfast attending AVA Festival and Conference is the perfect way to begin your summer festival season. Belfast offers amazing hotels and outstanding options for food, and is still a relatively cost effective city. Do not miss this next year, you will not regret it!
The question now left on our lips is, where will AVA Festival be held next year?