Fifteen years ago, it would have been inconceivable that someone could suggest that Belfast is a more attractive option than Dublin for a young person to live.
Many a Troubles baby still felt the scars of a destructive past, with a fragmented nightlife, underdeveloped music scene and hint of concern of where anything could fit into a city still recovering from its complicated history.
Fast forward to today and a lot has changed for better and for worse. Despite the uncertainty of Brexit looming over the North and the subsequent increase in tensions harboured by Arlene, Boris and the rest of the goons, there is still much to celebrate about Belfast.
Dance music has long presented an outlet for those looking for a release from the stresses of life in both cities. Unfortunately, in recent times we have seen the closure of Hangar and District 8 and this persistent deterioration of communal social spaces is all too common. These closures are not limited only to larger venues, with smaller spaces also on the receiving end of what feels like a relentless anti-cultural crusade. More recently it was announced that The Bernard Shaw would close and despite subsequent news of its relocation it represents a lucky escape rather than part of a curative response to a bigger systemic problem. Importantly, emerging acts and creatives have tested ideas, made mistakes and grew in The Shaw and without spaces like these how can any vibrant underground culture exist?
Conversely, Belfast’s night life has continued to grow despite its shite licensing laws and the government’s apathy towards the arts. In contrast to the high profile closures in Dublin, Belfast has seen the emergence of The Telegraph Building and The Ulster Sports Club. The former provides the ideal setting for big name acts and an introduction to the genre for many of the younger generation, while the latter alongside the ever-present Menagerie presents more modest settings for bourgeoning young creatives to experiment. Both of which host nights of varying genres in a city traditionally less welcoming to weirder sounds, exemplified by the likes of Plain Sailing who have dipped their toes in genres not limited to garage and grime.
It’s also worth noting the sustained success of independent nights like DSNT and Twitch and the emergence of artists such as Holly Lester, Bicep, Bobby Analog and Myler in recent years. While the aforementioned relative success is great, evidently there’s not the same size of varied nightlife in Belfast. Despite this there is a sense that a wider range of underground culture is beginning to blossom under the knowledge that it is not subject to the same barrage of attack seen in Dublin.
In spite of said adversity Dublin’s creative scene is thriving in terms of the number of talented people it’s producing. However the rising costs of studios, venue hire and lack of creative spaces is only going to stifle the artist’s potential, not to mention people’s inability to afford or desire to pay for €6.50 pints in the venues that do host any events.
Comparatively the creative scene as a whole in Belfast is still relatively raw, however that’s genuinely exciting in itself; It’s primed to be shaped by the next emerging generation of young people. With an increasing number of studios opening their doors and new creative spaces slowly but surely surfacing it is a great time to be a creative in the North. The local hip hop scene is a good example of a quietly growing force representing an increasingly diverse population.
I’m trying to cover this on a podcast. But how many of ye are moving out of Dublin? Not because ye can’t find work. But because it’s too expensive. And where are ye moving?
— Rubber Bandits (@Rubberbandits) September 17, 2019
For the unconvinced it’s worth noting that people can leave their parent’s homes and gain a sense of independence in Belfast with rent being affordable for the most part. Coupled with the reasonable costs of a night in the Cathedral Quarter it’d leave you scratching your head why anyone visits Temple Bar or spends €13 on a cocktail.
With that said even high-profile, successful people are being pushed out of Dublin, illustrated by David Kitt’s decision to exit the capital due to soaring rent prices.
The ridiculousness of that alone should encourage the consideration of options outside the confines of the capital. While it’s been noted that Belfast clearly isn’t devoid of glaring issues either, the hugely lower cost of living is the primary factor sure to turn people’s heads. Understandably these aren’t easy decisions and the move up North isn’t particularly common as of yet but as frustration grows and more opportunities arise it’ll be a more common conversation.
In spite of Dublin’s brazen issues and Belfast’s lower cost of living it’s not a definitive answer but it is a dialogue worth having. Even outside the realms of fiscal decisions, Belfast’s increasingly diverse nightlife, creative culture and undeniable character provides an attractive proposition in a time where Dublin is rapidly being stripped of its authenticity. Belfast isn’t the finished product and in essence that is what makes it enticing. It wears its imperfections on its sleeves, the kind of imperfections that once characterised the capital but now lay waste to homogenous, corporate entities that now reside in their place.