Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: George Voronov
On Thursday 8 December, we’ve teamed up with Kopparberg to bring together Belfast’s creative community for an event in the soon-to-close Vault Studios. Ahead of that, Yeo Magazine founder Saul Duffin sat down with District to champion a number of the people and places that make the capital tick.
Now, more than ever, community is everything. Two years of interrupted socialising and events means cities are searching for a new equilibrium. The contentification of culture and increasing speed of social media trends hasn’t made this any easier for the inhabiting DJs, artists and creators as they find their place in a drastically changing landscape.
Despite the uncertainty, one thing is clear, real life experiences and connections are still king. Saul Duffin understands this better than most. For the better part of two years, he’s run Yeo Magazine – Belfast’s foremost music, arts and culture magazine.
Starting as a personal project to reconnect to the local scene when he returned from a stint in Manchester, Yeo quickly took on a life of its own. It linked previously disparate scenes in a way that didn’t compromise their respective values. Weekly event guides keep readers informed about what’s happening in the city, while his monthly music showcases routinely bring together live bands and DJs. Elsewhere, his regular comedy nights promote rising talents and provide a midweek antidote to life’s sharp edges.
With all this in mind, Saul sat down with District to champion the people and places at the heartbeat of the city. In his non-exhaustive list, he gives a taste of just a few of the deep-lying playmakers helping the capital ball out.
As founder of creative music management company, Zero Myth and Talent Development Officer in Belfast’s music hub – the Oh Yeah Centre, Charlene Hegarty has her fingers in a lot of pies. On a personal level, she assisted Saul in setting up his monthly night in the Oh Yeah Centre, but more broadly, she’s been an essential source of information and guidance for the future generation of artists.
“She’s one of the best ambassadors for Belfast. Especially with the ‘Scratch My Progress’ scheme, where younger bands or artists get like a year’s worth of mentorship to get help with publishing and releasing things. She’s worked with acts like Lemonade Shoelace and Problem Patterns. A lot of the people from the local scene hail her as the woman that showed them the way”, Saul explains.
The proof is in the pudding as Lemonade Shoelace went on to support Yung Blud in Mexico this year at The House of Vans and Problem Patterns were up for an award at the NI Music Prize. In a ruthless industry, practical resources and advice are a god send.
“The industry here is like kind of more of a market. Like a Sunday afternoon market instead of like a big industry. She would definitely be one of the bigger stalls in the market”.
In a time where Ireland is losing many of its important cultural spaces, community and the ones that remain become even more integral. As the Co-founder of queer night Ponyhawke and owner of Belfast’s most impressive record store – Sound Advice, Marion Hawkes is a shining light in both lanes. With the club night celebrating its seventh birthday this month and the record store becoming a unifier in the local scene through in stores and frequent events, Marion was an easy inclusion for Saul.
“Marion puts on Ponyhawk, which is an essential kind of safe space for the LGBTQ community to have a night of great music and sense of community and runs Sound Advice, which instantly became the coolest record store in town. It all comes down to one person’s impeccable tastes”, Saul says. “Not just the music but the environment, the atmosphere she sets and the fact she has the best shelf in Belfast. She worked in Voodoo Soup before which had a nice community, but she’s taken it to the next level in Banana Block.”
With in store performances from David Holmes in a multi purpose space that’s also hosted music videos from the likes of EMBY, Sound Advice’s reputation is growing beyond home shores.
“She’s definitely a curator of communities and a real champion of good music. She sits on the throne of the coolest woman in Belfast.”
There’s no shortage of club nights in Belfast. It’s a city renowned for its electronic scene that brought people together across divides and continues to endure and overachieve in the face of archaic licensing laws. However, Plain Sailing, a genre-agnostic night that extends out of the club into the world of zines and beyond stands out to Saul as a trailblazer.
“Obviously, they were another one where I came back from Manchester. These two were doing serious bits and doing solid nights and taking chances on things. That’s what I want to see – people taking serious chances on things. Regardless, it’s a guaranteed lethal night no matter what”, he says.
Whether that’s bringing forward-thinking rap acts from Dublin like Ahmed, With Love. and E The Artist to the North or forming lasting relationships with Berghain residents like Barker, the pair are showcasing the music that takes their fancy with no rules or restrictions.
“I love their dedication to booking interesting acts and in saying that I don’t know half of them – but that’s the point. They’re tastemakers, they are inspiring younger promoters to put on the nights they want to go to”.
“It’s an evergreen constant, year round venue that you find yourself in in at least three times a month at bare minimum. But in saying that, it is essential. It would be good if we had five Ulster Sports Clubs but the fact we have one is good enough”, Saul says.
The venue is a fairly recent addition to Belfast. One that attracts creatives from all walks of life without diluting itself or alienating any scene. It’s the kind of place you can go on any given weekend and know there will be good music and someone you know there. Kaidi Tatham and Jamie Nelson are the resident DJs downstairs at the weekends, routinely going back to back and having fun with it. There’s few places you could see two of the city’s best selectors every week for free.
“Goldie played to just three hundred people in there. There’s not many places you could do apart from Sports Club. It’s not just DJs there either. There’s live bands too. Chalk played there the other night and we did our first ever event in there”.
Clearly, for punters, it’s good, but it’s also become an essential space for promoters. With low (or sometimes free) fees for room hire, it’s become to the go-to spot for bourgeoning party throwers to cut their teeth and experiment.
“There’s no room fees like or hire fees like so it makes sense for a lot of promoters to kind of take a risk on putting things on because they won’t have as much financial risk, as well as the fact that do wonderful swalls in it. They just opened Out of Office brewery upstairs, which we’re doing a wee comedy night in. I like the lack of branding and the street art on the side, but it’s just you know for a fact people will be there whenever you go.
By no means the biggest or loudest gallery in the city, Artcetera is Saul’s underdog pick. The kind of place that sometimes is overlooked, but has been an enduring and important part of the city’s art scene.
“It’s feels like an underground gallery but they have really accessible shows in it. They’ve got really nice curation and do these ‘Melting Pot’ shows which any artist can submit to. That can be huge for upcoming local artists. Arcetera provides that space for them and being right in the centre of town means it’s dead easy to call into.”
Below ground level, the white walls of the gallery are adorned with local art as often as they are with work from international counterparts. As part of the late night art initiative on the first Thursday of the month, it’s become a fixture of the growing contemporary interest.
“It’s a small wee set up but it’s just a perfect blank canvas of a space with really cool exhibitions. If you ever go to the late night arts it’s a must. First Thursday of the month get down to Arcetera, meet some interesting people and enjoy some free drinks”.
Please drink Kopparberg responsibly.
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