Plus Mano Le Tough, Rødhåd, Shanti Celeste & more...

When you walk into a party at 3pm and it’s already packed full of hyped up people pushing their hands in the air with enough force to burst through the ozone layer and punch a star out of the sky, you know it’s on. The scene we witness as we first step in the Boiler Room area of Belfast’s AVA Festival is electric. Usually Boiler Room can take a little while to reach that pivotal 100 degree temperature, but this one was boiling over right from get go…

AVA Festival is now in its second year, kicking off in 2015 with an event that was half the size of this year’s ambitious follow-up. Combining a conference, hardware playground, food court and three music stages, it’s Belfast biggest (and only) electronic music festival and has been spearheaded by Sarah McBriar. With around 4,000 capacity this year, it's kicking off at T13 in the city’s Titanic Quarter at Harland & Wolff, where the ill-fated Titanic was built.

The day begins with a mini conference. The set up is intimate, with seating for around 80-100 people, and a lovely rustic stage with clever use of palettes and lighting to give it character. This is the first of many simple, yet effective details DJ Mag observes throughout the festival that really make it a treat for the senses. On the stage, Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson from the mighty Bicep discuss their all-new live show quite candidly, and very amusingly — it sounds like a huge challenge for the duo but they are fully dedicated to making it a success.

A panel discussion on Women In Electronic Music raises some very interesting points about progression in a male-dominated industry, and a keynote interview with techno pioneer Juan Atkins throws up some of the most insightful stories we’ve ever heard. A rapturous round of applause shows just how much the audience enjoys the insightful chat. Elsewhere, we see festival-goers playing around with a range of equipment from Ableton, and Pioneer via their masterclasses.

As the Juan Atkins chat comes to a close, music begins to pump outside and we make our way to Boiler Room, where local lads Swoose & Cromby are in full swing with an upbeat selection of vinyl that sets the tone for the rest of the day. Though the day is overcast, temperatures soar in the outside area as the duo smash the place to bits — tops come off left, right and centre as wave after wave of arms fly into the air at every big drop, and it’s only just passed three in the afternoon.

During the event’s 10-hour duration, we don’t see any bad behaviour, just consistently high energy and good vibes from all. Not only that, but we make tonnes of new friends for the night and enjoy some seriously good music. As Phil Kieran crowd surfs during his Boiler Room set, we know that the nighttime part of the festival is going to be just as loose and celebratory as this epic end to the outdoor part of AVA.

Inside the huge warehouse that has been converted for our raving pleasure, every DJ turns in a sterling performance. Shanti Celeste brings the funk and soul on the main stage, and Gerd Janson puts in a standout performance for us, probably something to do with throwing down Dead Or Alive’s classic ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ just before his set comes to an end

Local boys Bicep steal the show with their live set. Full of hits, it’s uplifting and keeps us (and everyone around us) dancing nonstop. During their conference interview they speak about how frightening their complicated set-up is, having performed just one proper show before the one we’re bopping to right now — at Moogfest in the States. Their serious faces are a sure sign of nerves and concentration, but they needn’t worry, tunes like ‘Just’ have everyone whooping and throwing their hands up in the air. It’s the highlight of the day so far, and we haven’t even experienced Mano Le Tough or Rødhåd yet.

Needless to say, Mano crafts a serious smooth transition from emotive house into the deeper side of techno before we’re left with the red-headed wonder himself to close out the impeccable evening. Looking at the crowd losing their minds to the potent beats, as friends clamber on shoulders, fists pump the air and people holler for more every time Rødhåd drops in a new banger, it’s clear that this has been a hugely successful second year for the Belfast festival.

And it’s not over! Once the main event comes to an end, the lucky ones among us get to carry on partying at a secret location outside the city, where a very kind person hosts an after-party for 150 or so revellers, until the next morning. Most of the AVA inner circle are there, keeping it strong right through until the next day, when we all head back into town and carry on for a while longer!

DJ Mag already knew of Belfast’s reputation in terms of music and parties, but this exceeds any expectations. Faultless in every way. We'll be back! 

WORDS: Marcus Barnes