What began as an infatuation with an alien sound and an escape from the backdrop of a polluted civil war has grown into a supportive network of talented creatives and a scene that is legitimately on the map. Belfast is well and truly in bloom.
Timmy Stewart and Phil Kieran have been a part of Belfast’s dance community since its conception and in doing so both possess an unrivalled musical wisdom. Timmy now runs The Night Institute alongside Jordan every Saturday Night, as well as seeing over proceedings at local record label Extended Play, where he has built a platform for local artists to grow and develop within a feel good, family like atmosphere.
When Phil isn’t crowd surfing during Boiler Rooms he’s working with international stars such as Green Velvet, and local emerging artists such as Koichi Samuels. Experimenting in the art of production has led to Phil creating not only cutting edge techno, but also film scores, a label in the form of Phil Kieran Recordings and a sound that remains distinctive yet loose, floating peacefully between the boundaries of genre restriction.
Saturday 18th February plays witness to the debut back to back set from two of the legends of Irish dance music folklore. With an immense arsenal of sonic weapons, it looks set to be an absolute cracker.
How has dance music and club culture in Belfast evolved since you both started getting into it?
Timmy – Things started off well here to be honest, with clubs like Sugar Sweet who placed importance in all the right areas, great music policy, huge PA, interesting bookings, great flyer designs & visual art. So my first experiences here are still among my best memories as both a punter and DJ. I think the high level of interesting stuff on the independent side has returned due to the demise of corporate clubbing that took over for a while in the early 2000s. I can feel the excitement level on nights from the people attending now, it feels like Belfast is in a very good place at the minute with promoters putting extra effort into creating interesting line ups, back drops & environments to heighten the experience.
Phil – When I started DJ’ing in Belfast, it was during the troubles. When we were going to the Art College, a key club at the time, we were in an era when the news was filled with shootings and bombs. The rebellious nature of clubbing then meant that we would be able to forget about this, with the excitement that someone like Andrew Weatherall would have been playing later that night, and we knew we would be able to meet up with complete disregard to the politics. The tensions of the city by day almost made the atmosphere more exciting at night. We went to the venue knowing we could trust the promoters bookings, whereas these days its a lot different with the internet helping shape peoples tastes, and of course its safer nowadays.
Is there a particular record to you that represents the sound of Belfast?
Timmy – Levon Vincent’s ‘Man Or Mistress’ is a bit of a Belfast anthem due to its rowdiness & unpredictable arrangement. I heard he road tested it here to rapturous reaction, even though no one could have known what it was at that point.
Phil – On a personal level, my Alloy Mental project took my influences of the city – punk and techno and merged the energy of both.
Belfast’s underground movement is really flourishing at the moment. Concepts such as Shine, Twitch, The Night Inst and AVA Festival have really put it on the map. How far do you see the city’s scene developing?
Timmy – I think it would be great to have a larger visiting contingent at the weekends, so the people who are into what they hear emitting from the Island get to sample it first hand. This would be a strong development. Dublin has that mix of locals and visitors in their clubs and I think Belfast really deserves that too.
Phil – With the energy in the city being similar to that of the likes of Glasgow, and great bars and restaurants flourishing, Belfast completely has that potential to become a clubbing destination.
Can it become one of clubbing capitals of Europe? Or is that simply not the point- Perhaps its appeal lies within its underground nature?
Timmy – It’s probably not going to be able to compete with a weekend visit to Berlin or most other European cities anytime soon especially with the early finishes to our nights because of licensing limitations. These things have to start somewhere though and Belfast being known for it’s music is a step away from it’s darker past. Globally the underground scene is larger than ever, so it would be nice to be considered as an important destination on that map, no matter what.
Phil – At the minute, as a small city we are pushing boundaries as far as we can do as DJ’s and promoters. It’s now in the hands of the politicians who are holding back the evening and night time industries with the restrictive licensing.
The diversity of the sound coming out of Belfast has to be applauded. From Bicep to Space Dimension Controller and Robots Can’t Dance to Chris Hanna, there’s great range in their music. More experimental concepts such as RESIST are also popping up. How important do you feel diversity within sound is in order for Belfast’s underground scene to thrive further?
Timmy – I think Belfast laps up raw energy, I can feel that from the crowds on most of the nights I play at. They always want the night to kick off at some point (or we’ll have our money back type attitude). There have been flourishes with Drum & Bass, Grime, Breaks, Electro & Soul nights but as diverse as it seems at times, it’s always gonna come back to house & techno. It’s a 4/4 town with a real passion for peak time sounds in my opinion. I think globally it’s recognised for more through people like Boxcutter, Calibre & SDC though.
Phil – I tried to encapsulate the diversity of the city and my own tastes recently with my “ANON” pop-up parties. We use diverse spaces like abandoned buildings and art galleries and I play all night, with everything from 105bpm weird disco to Primal Scream via the techno I’m more well known for. I do think diversity is essential for any movement to flourish.
Are there any particular Belfast artists or labels that you’re particularly fond off?
Timmy – There are loads of great people from here to be honest, I love all the guys on our Extended Play label and the list of artists and DJs from here goes on and on these days. One person I’ve a lot of respect for is Nez, he’s a great DJ with a real passion for the music and is involved in loads of important things in the city. From bringing OGs like The Egyptian Lover & Lil Louis to Belfast, releasing proper acid numbers on his Computer Controlled label to his role with local collective DSNT and a host of other more experimental nights. He basically lives and breathes it, which I admire.
Phil – Local artist Kapoor and his label Four Sides are impressing me. I saw that he recently played Tresor which is no mean feat. Local label, Touch Sensitive is sounding really interesting. I also don’t think Calibre gets mentioned enough. He has worldwide recognition but for some reason doesn’t seem to get the kudos locally. On top of that, Koichi who I have been working with under the name SPIRES is definitely a talent to keep an eye on.
Timmy, The Night Inst has seen you bring a varied range of quality guests in for sets, to which the crowd has always been grateful. What is it about a Belfast crowd that is so great?
Timmy – Put simply it’s the fact people here drop their inhibitions in order to have a good time. As a DJ that is always gonna be more fun to play to than a crowd who are worried about ruining their clothes or hair by sweating too much.
Phil, you recently released the latest EP as part of your SPIRES project with Koichi Samuels. How important is it for more established names like yourself to reach out and collaborate with those trying to push through locally?
Phil – My motivation to work with people isn’t a career move – Koichi just did his PHD at Queens University (SARC) in music and although he currently doesn’t have a full time career in the music industry, I found him fascinating to work with which is what music should be – trying to do something interesting and new.
Any particular nights or moments that stand out in your memory from Belfast?
Timmy – Not too many we could put into print unfortunately haha. I could honestly write a book on what I’ve seen and experienced in the night time world over the years. I’ll say the Exploding Plastic night at the docks is up there in the memory banks as one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to and The Night Institute crowds are providing me with my best residency hands down.
Phil – Strangely, the one that came to my mind too was ‘the night Richie Hawtin played down at the docks’ so that’s a weird coincidence that Timmy thought the same. I could list plenty of others but that one really stands out.
Any future plans you can tell us about in regards to Extended Play and Phil Kieran Recordings?
Timmy – Yip we’ve a heavy duty year lined up with singles from MrMur, Jordan, Scoper & Bubba, Brien, JMX & myself, JC Williams, Embezzlement Society, Bobby Analog, Chris Hanna and more. We say this every year but it’s looking like our best year yet for home front releases.
Phil – I have potentially got about three albums and four EP’s of my own I could put out, but I’m imposing a new quality control on myself now, so I’m letting things sit around for a year or two until I’m ready to release it.
Finally, what can we expect to hear from your debut B2B on February 18th?
Timmy – There will be a fair few techno nos involved I’d say but as we both love electro and various other styles and the collective amount of years djing between us, I’d say we’ll be joining the dots between quite a few genres and the old and the new.
Phil – We have zero plan or preparation – we’ve never played together before, which I think will add to the fun. We are both passionate about music and you can rest assure that it will be a real mix of sounds.