by / March 6th, 2017 /

Interview: Sarah McBriar..”My vision was to create a world-class festival for Belfast”

Sarah McBriar is quite the inspiration. Quitting your monthly salary to pursue a non-financially rewarding dream is an anxiety riddled journey, but one that Sarah has passionately battled through.

Now in its third year, Belfast’s AVA Festival continues to illustrate the vast amount of local talent that Ireland has to offer, booking diverse and talented acts from around the island and blending them together with international and established names.

Andrew Moore caught up with Sarah to talk about extreme highs and lows, her favourite local acts and the importance of an educational element to the festival.

When you started planning the very first AVA did you ever see it coming as far as it has in such a short space of time?

Not, but yes. When I say no I mean you would never foresee your own success, but if I didn’t believe that it would be a success I wouldn’t have had the drive and passion to make it happen. My vision was to create a world class festival in Belfast. I fully believed in it from the beginning.

Are there any extreme highs and lows that stand out to you?

When I first set it up I went from working full time to working in my bedroom, so there were some pretty lonely moments. I think anyone that’s self employed goes through that. That feeling has only really started to go away during the last six months, since I got my own team together and a space to work from.

However, the extreme highs completely outweigh the lows! I don’t think anything will ever change the feeling of that last couple of hours of year one. I think those are always going to be the most special moments. Nothing will ever compare to quitting your job and giving up a lot to then standing on the stage and looking at two thousand people in front of you all having an amazing time. Your dad on one side of you jumping up and down, your mum on the other, your brother DJ’ing and your friends all around you, the place going off! That feeling of “fuck, we did it.”

The feedback and people actually getting opportunities out of your work are both so rewarding. Being seen on a Boiler Room and then getting booked for a gig off the back of it. Signing our emerging producer (Quinton Campbell) to a label and then seeing them on Seattle Radio a few days ago. I’m fortunate that I’ve had such a strong vision, and seeing that come to life has been incredible.

You’ve conducted talks with the likes of Rhythm Section boss Bradley Zero and the conference element of AVA is something that is taken very seriously. How important is the educational aspect of sound in addition to the party atmosphere?

It’s a huge part of what AVA is. Not just because we’re really interested in it but also because it develops artists, the industry – it’s giving something back. For me it’s pushing things forward. Having conversations about women in music, having conversations about licensing, having conversations about how we can progress our night time economy. People within councils and government recognising that you can actually have a conference about electronic music. There’s a lot behind what we do, it’s not just a party. The party is the celebratory showcase of that knowledge.

Is there an act you are particularly looking forward to seeing?

I’m extremely excited to see the Jeff Mills and Guillaume Marmin’s collaboration. I’ve seen Jeff Mills a few times but I’ve never seen the Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind show, so I’m buzzing for that.

I love Job Jobse. We booked him off the back of Twitch’s 10th birthday because he was amazing. I think Or:la has had an amazing year, so what we’ll at AVA will be a bit special, a lot of people will have their eyes on her.

Denis Sulta is going to be great. Fatima Yamaha is going to be unreal live as I’ve seen him myself. Peter Brien is doing some really cool things, and Hammer is going to have a pretty incredible 2017. I know his unreleased stuff is pretty epic, looking forward to both of them.

AVA has now evolved into a two day festival. Is there a particular angle that you’re going for with each particular day?

There is, but we’re releasing that information down the line. If you don’t mind, can you ask me that around April time!

The AVA Easter Saturday party takes place at Narrow Water Castle in April, a regular spot for Newry techno crew Clockwork. How important is it that the creative energy and sense of dance culture community generated from AVA is spread out throughout the country?

We’re curating a number of warm up parties. Last year we did a gig in Dublin and one in Belfast, and we’ve more coming for this year. We really just love what we do to be honest. We love throwing parties!

We had viewed Narrow Water last year and thought, with the licensing laws being so crap over Easter, let’s do a day party, and let’s do it in a castle! There were a few more artists we wanted to book and expose, and they felt right for this event.

Are there any local artists or events that you’re really into at the minute?

Swoose & Cromby got signed to Orchid in Berlin, so they’re doing really well. Timmy and Jordan obviously continuing to do The Night Institute and doing it really well. The Inside Moves lads, who are also doing a stage with us at the castle event, I think what they’re doing is really cool. Similarly the Jika Jika guys are killing it; they’re really spearheading the scene in Derry.

Ryan Vail is really interesting. Ryan isn’t your big club heavy hitter; he’s more of an ambient artist. That’s something that sometimes gets a little less attention, but we’re extremely excited to see his performance.

The people we’re most excited about are the people we’ve booked. I think Or:la is only going to get bigger, I think this is Hammer’s year, and I think Peter Brien is the next emerging artist to come through. Those would be the three if I had to say three.