Review: Ava Festival 2016

Art & Culture

As the shutters on T13 wound down, AVA 2016 followed suit. Having hosted a diverse melting pot of talent and sounds from both local and global acts across 3 different stages their third event next summer might already be at the forefront of many minds. The one-day festival came to an end with astonishing energy. 

Early attendees headed to Belfast’s Titanic Quarter for the industry conference, Dave Haslam and Mark Lawrence discussed clubbing experiences and closures, urging promoters to take a step back and nurture local. Their words worked to reaffirm the importance of AVA, a grass-roots festival coming to life and pushing on as a true passion-project – a far cry from the increasingly brand orientated, supersize events and large scale club experiences. 

Bicep followed with a frank, humorous and insightful discussion on their transition from dual DJ sets to a heavily equipped live set, later debuting the incredible A/V show to a raucous crowd. Other topics and workshops included shesaidso’s discussion on the industry’s gender imbalance. Shanti Celeste’s frank input drew interest.

 “I want to play because I’m talented, not because I’m a girl.”

She noted that the importance of programming should remain based on genre and flow, not gender.  

As well as Ableton sessions and Belfast Underground’s record fair, the focal point for all involved was the appearance of Juan Atkins, who rounded off the conference with a keynote on the origins of Techno. Attendees shifted downstairs feeling educated and inspired. Work was left above as a swift beeline was made for the Boiler Room. 

Revelers rolled in from the word go, homage to the native approach to partying. It’s these attitudes, mirrored and catered to by the likes of Jordan and T-Bone at the Becks Stage which particularly manifest during early sets. 

Sunil Sharpe’s relentless and unapologetic techno mixed with faultless precision thundered out and beyond the confines of the Becks’ Stage, reaffirming his place as one of the finest Irish DJ’s on the circuit. New to 2016, the area also played host to local acts including JC Williams, JMX and The Night Institute players. 

Proof of the unique Belfast energy, seemingly alien to non-natives, was once again visualized through Boiler Room. Their return was hugely anticipated following a groundbreaking Belfast debut at AVA festival last year. The streamed session culminated in the ultimate contrast to any other Boiler Room stream, as local Techno legend Phil Kieran was lifted up into a crowd surfing session. 

Hubie Davison’s woozy house set eased the crowd in, while Hammer’s set was a body jerking journey and a fine display of one man’s patience in an open booth. Optimo hit it hard, bringing Glasgow’s similar club energy with them. A whole host of others stepped up, weaving crowd-pleasers in and out of heady house selections and a few leftfield oddities for measure. Native and not-so-native dancers welcomed all of the above, with raised fists, water bottles and piggy backs galore. 

As Rodhad took to the main stage, the crowd was anything but jaded, despite many having rolled in from elsewhere The dystopian kingpin picked up after Mano Le Tough: tantalizing moody cuts, transformed the boisterous, full throttle atmosphere with which Feel My Bicep’s debut live set filled the venue creating an avenue for Rodhad’s enigmatic journey ahead. A cliché, if you will, though I urge anyone to testify that his set was anything other than that. The industrial backdrop of Harland and Wolfe set the scene, and as a sea of bodies swelling with energy bounded inside the warehouse, Rodhad navigated revelers towards a bare-chested, shirt swinging climatic end. The coinciding laser show mesmerized the crowd, co-ercing even the soberest dancers down the rabbit-hole. AVA came to an abrupt end, the wide-eyed crowd hungry for more struggled to get taxis, ushering tense jawed comrades to after parties. 

This place had reminded me of my swell affection for a Belfast party. A hint of sadness crept in whilst leaving the city again, London doesn’t carry quite the same enigmatic, boisterous, chaos of Belfast’s dance culture. 

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