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5 cities at the vanguard of Ireland’s hard dance revolution

Words: Andrew Moore
Artwork: Paul Smith

Ireland has a storied history of legendary parties and productions. Likewise, Buckfast and dance music, especially techno and other sounds on the harder end of the spectrum go together like slip-matts and dubplates. Andrew Moore took a virtual road-trip to all corners of the country to explore the disparate thriving micro-scenes and get a snapshot of the sounds shaping their cities.

It’s no secret that when it comes to dance music, Ireland has long had a fascination harder sounds that live on the peripheries of mainstream club culture. Whether that’s the raw power of Hard Drum, frenetic energy of Hardstyle or nocturnal attraction of industrial sounds, even the most niche movements have found their pockets on the Island. Examining their presence across a whole country is no easy task and for every through line that binds harder sub genres together there’s a unique and important distinction that sets them apart. While Boiler Room most recently coined ‘Hard Dance’ for their industrial led series exploring concrete sounds, for the purpose of our examination we’re also going to allow harsher techno styles to live in that world.

Most ‘scenes’ in Ireland are a result of a post-music channel, internet-age boom; a community of oddballs making music in their bedrooms and collectives throwing raves in old pubs because no one else is. From techno in Buncrana by SOFIA to Touch of Techno and Maedbh O’Connor in Limerick, and from the experimental noise of Fomorian Vein in Kilkenny to the break-core of Harmful Logic in Drogheda, Ireland’s harder sound sub-cultures are rich and diverse despite the government blocks that stand in their way. Free parties in fields, raves in rural bars and full-blown headline shows; just scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that the techno bangs, but there’s a whole island to explore. We’ve taken a closer look at five places in particular whose residents have been killing it when it comes to the harder sound.

05

Waterford

Techno dominated the Waterford soundscape in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Like Cork, things became a little house-ier. Gobsmacked was a very small night in the city where ravers could go to see the likes of Diarmaid O’Meara and Luke Creed – two artists that were a massive influence on Waterford native Myler who played a lot of their music in his Boiler Room performance at AVA Festival in 2019.

Most recently, Cailín has emerged as one of Ireland’s leading techno figures with legend Dave Clarke even taking to social media to announce she was in his top ten current producers. Since exploding onto the scene a few years ago, Cailín has performed at Boiler Room and ADE, supporting the likes of Paula Temple and Jeff Mills and garnering production support from Surgeon, Ben Sims, Perc and more for her incredible productions on wherethetimegoes and Modem Records.

“There have been a few places in Waterford that could act as some sort of hub”, she says. “Sadly, like everything at the minute the rates go up and they need to close. Waterford turned into a bit more of a house music place, but I feel that post-pandemic – when we’re finally out the other side – that there will be some sort of techno resurgence here. Hopefully, anyway.”

With young producers and DJs such as Alt, Symone and Paul Griffin making themselves known on the local circuit it feels that techno renaissance may well and truly be on.

Cailín

Phantom Love Affair

Cailín’s “hardware focused Techno” on Phantom Love Affair is equal parts hypnotic and unnerving, a paradoxical dance-floor focused trip.

04

Dublin

Dublin, much like its Northern counterpart in Belfast, is known for its techno. It has produced some of the island’s most acclaimed hard-sound talent – most notably Give Us The Night founder and Earwiggle label head Sunil Sharpe who has been dominating sound systems for over two decades.

Speaking to ravers on electronic music forums I gathered that Dublin post-pandemic (and pre-December closure) was moving towards a groovier techno sound and away from the industrial sounds that had existed before. Sunil (alongside collaborator DefeKt as Tinfoil), Tommy Holohan (from county Dublin), Subject, Bunkerterror, Offtrack, Billy Spike Iland and Research (and resident Taint) walk the tightrope between heavy and groovy. Many of these sets take place at Index, where Paula Temple, Jeff Mills and Rebekah can be seen regularly making headline slots. Newer promoters would have found it difficult to put their stamp on the city with such a small amount of time between restrictions, but there are still pockets of individuals putting their own distinctive take on the harder sound.

Slither is a night that has catered for the gabber crowd in the past, collaborating with Research to bring Casual Gabberz and Gabber Eleganza to capture the brute and in-your-face sound. Eomac and his collaborative project Lakker have been behind some of the most exciting techno to come out of Ireland in recent years with releases on Planet Mu and The Trilogy Tapes. Meanwhile, emerging producers such as Rory Sweeney, darkmavis, Julia Louise Knifefist, sohotsospicy and the Bitten Twice Collective represent a sub-sector of sound exploring breakcore, power-techno, jungle-footwork and hyper-pop in pushing the boundaries of what is expected of the harder aesthetic in Ireland. 

Julia Louise Knifefist

INERTIA

Jungle-inspired breaks, bit-crushed vocals and dense noise coalesce in Julia Louise Knifefist’s unique brand of music to thrash to.

03

Cork

There’s something really interesting brewing in Cork. Producers Doubt and Tension launched their label, Flood, in 2017 with a joint EP and since then it has gone on to become one of the most consistent labels in Ireland with its distinctive and future-facing hard drum aesthetic. Releases can be clocked from Ozwald, Syn and USA based producer Ovid. Their in-house releases are created in a small, industrial warehouse space. “There was a stark contrast between the industrial, grey and decaying warehouses and the beautiful view out on to Cork harbour,” said Doubt in an interview last year with The Guardian.

ELLLL, another Cork native who has also been making a name for herself on the European circuit, shed some light on the local sonic community in an interview with Plain Sailing last year. “Pre-pandemic times…”, she says, “Plugd Records would always support upcoming artists by putting them on gigs that they threw. I like to keep an eye on what’s happening there because I know if they’re promoting it they’ve good a good reason behind it.”

“The hard drum thing that started coming out of Cork really piqued my interest. It was something that came up through the antithesis of everything that was happening in the city.”

ELLLL

“The hard drum thing that started coming out of Cork really piqued my interest. It was something that came up through the antithesis of everything that was happening in the city. I mean, in most cities in Ireland and the UK the predominant type of music is house and techno, so when something else pops up it’s pretty cool.”

Lighght is another producer who doesn’t limit himself to exclusively harder music, but certainly isn’t shy in making the odd stomper. Through deadly blends of hyper-trance, elements of footwork and ambient the Cork producer stands out in what is typically a house-ier environment – the rebel city staying true to its name. Shanghai-via-Cork artist Numbertheory is also well worth checking out for those on an electronic-metal buzz. 

Numbertheory

Horrible EP

Gabber motifs, Hard Drum-inspired sounds and industrial soundscapes frequent the fast paced claustrophobia of Cork native NumberTheory’s debut EP.

02

Belfast

Belfast, like Dublin, has a bit of a fascination with the harder sound. Perhaps it’s the fact that – on most nights – clubs can only go to 2am, so there’s an internal need to peak as quickly as possible. Perhaps it’s the city’s obsession with Buckfast – or both? Known predominantly for its techno, Belfast is in fact incredibly sonically diverse for such a small city when it comes to the heavier aesthetic.

You can’t talk about a hard sound in Belfast without talking about hardstyle and hard-trance. It’s the type of sound that will have acted as an introduction to electronic music for many young people in the city. Although perhaps shunned by those belonging to the house and techno scenes, it’s an essential scene in the Northern capital. It’s worth noting that hard-trance was the soundtrack to many a set at this year’s AVA Festival, with the genre making a resurgence under many contemporary techno productions. 

If trance and hardstyle isn’t your thing there’s plenty more on offer in Belfast. IMNOTYOURMATE has been making quite a name for himself as one of the city’s most exciting emerging producers, and Son Zept has been making his distinct mark on the scene with a string of creative and heavy-hitting releases on local label and art project RESIST who cater for the more experimental sound, as do Hellhole and Bass Invaders who provide the city’s residents with their gabber, hyper-pop and EBM fix.

“I started Annaghtek because I wasn’t hearing the music in clubs that I wanted to hear, there was a gap”.

DC Swede

In terms of promoters, it really depends if you want to party in a club or a field. Wonderlust and EMTEK have the club circuit on lock with their blends of industrial and hard-house, but it’s Annaghtek and DJ/producer DC Swede who truly reign supreme when it comes to Belfast’s techno kingdom. A free-party that takes place in various spaces throughout Ireland (but mostly Belfast), Swede has established a loyal following for his authentic take on traditional hard dance culture. “I started Annaghtek because I wasn’t hearing the music in clubs that I wanted to hear, there was a gap”, he says.

“There’s no business model. It’s purely about the music, the people and the party. I love driving away the next morning. When nothing bad has happened and we haven’t got busted. Then you can think back to the party. You’re sickened for a week or two, but you need to get back at it. There’s nothing worse than being bored.”

Son Zept

B

Deconstructing hardcore, house, minimalism and a host of other sounds, Son Zept’s B puts them back together in his own image.

01

Galway

Take a trip West and look no further than the G TOWN records crew for all your heavy sound needs. The duo of Shampain and Kettama are well known on the international underground circuit, touring the UK and Ireland with a series of sold-out G TOWN shows, with the latter particularly making a name for himself as one of the biggest names currently in house and techno. Fiercely proud of where they are from, the pair named their record label after the city they call home and have released records from Kettama and Brisbane heavy duty duo X CLUB.

The recent closure of Electric Galway has created the classic Irish situation – all this talent, but nowhere to use it. The lack of any real fit-for-purpose dance music club means that Galway residents may need to look to other towns and cities for their heavy fix, but it wasn’t always like that. Shampain and Kettama cut their teeth at a club night called Maze (ran by Gerard Mannion and Ervin O’Donnell) where they would hold down a residency in the second room for two years. This would provide the template for what would go on to be their club night – VSN – inviting artists like Sputnik One, Miley Serious and Tommy Holohan to Galway.

“I think it’s important to be proud of where you’re from”, Shampain told me in an interview in 2019. “Galway’s big enough to be a city, but small enough that you know everyone. I think a lot of people have a really negative attitude towards Galway, which I’ve had as well. There’s an in joke where they always say “eugh, small, minded Galway”, because it’s sort of a small-minded place. I grew up in Inverin and that’s a really small place. You know who everyone is and who their parents are. Here, in the city, there’s a real buzz about town and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

From small places to big stages, Shampain and Kettama are arguably two of Ireland’s most prolific DJs, consistently selling out big-stage shows and leaving a huge, G-TOWN shaped mark on the minds of everyone who sees them. Vault Galway are also well worth checking out – inviting IMNOTYOURMATE, Cleric, DefeKt and more to the city.

KETTAMA

G​-​TOWN CLUB TRAX 001

Fierce hometown pride and uncompromising production make for a collection of peak hours cuts on KETTAMA’s G-TOWN CLUB TRAX 001.

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