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What was the last gig that you attended in an independent venue? Although it may seem strange to think, but massive acts such as Adele and Coldplay began their musical ventures in small pubs in London. The 25th to the 31st January marks the annual, Independent Venue Week across the UK. This year, the ambassadors for the event are London based Indie band, Wolf Alice. Breaking onto the scene in 2010 as a pub band, they released their debut single, “Fluffy” in 2013. However, it was in 2015 that their debut album, “My Love is Cool” was released to critical acclaim and a Mercury Prize nomination. Their breakthrough in 2015 make them worthy ambassadors.
Despite Independent Venue Week only having one Northern Irish venue, the Oh Yeah Centre, Belfast. This doesn’t mean that there is an abundance of Northern Irish bands or venues. Throughout Derry and Portrush, the local music scenes are being celebrated for a large variety of musical genres, bands and artists.
Portrush isn’t a part of Northern Ireland that many would associate to have a large music scene. However, the Atlantic Lounge is Portrush’s biggest venue, running DJ nights and live music with many drinks promotions. They have hosted large acts such as The Strypes, Alabama 3 and Duke Special. Run by dedicated promoter, Steven Ross, he describes owning a venue in a small town as being stressful. “It is also very hard on your family as you have to work unsociable hours, making a venue succeed depends a lot on your personality and how you deal with people, you also need to include as many genres of music as you can due to the fact you’re in a small area.” Despite this, Steven admits to the positives, “You get to meet some great people from all walks of life, hear some great bands and DJs and plus you have the feeling that are doing some good for the music scene in Northern Ireland.”
One band who have played at the Atlantic Lounge in the past are Coleraine’s, Little Arcadia. Frontman, Eunan Brown spoke about the influence that the Atlantic Lounge has had in the North Coast, “It’s been a breeding ground for acts like Axis Of, And So I Watch You From Afar, Team Fresh, Bomb City 7 and Panama Kings. I feel like the Northern Ireland music scene is thriving. For me it is very much the pride aspect. I take pride in my music coming from Northern Ireland and the North Coast. I take pride in showing other people bands from here.” Running his own festival in Bellarena called Barnfest, Eunan speaks about the sense of community that is present in the North Coast, “Events such as Tweedfest and Barnfest pull crowds of all ages who respect the music respect the venue and respect each other.”
Closest to Belfast, Derry boasts a range of younger bands, inspired mostly by the Nerve Centre’s various youth music programmes, most notably, the Sync Project. Local blues rock band, The Blue Jeans are an example of this. They have been praised as one of Derry’s best live acts which proved this when they supported large Cavan band, The Strypes in September. Bassist, Miceal Sammon spoke about the tightly knit musical community amongst young people, “The local music scene in Derry is bursting with young talent. Many people are experimenting and going against popular culture, especially young teenagers. Taking influence from earlier eras and coming out with new music. Bands and solo artists stick together and help each other along in the local scene.”
Dan Acheston from Derry based band, The Wood Burning Savages, discussed the state of local venues in Derry, “The best local venues are probably Bennigans bar and Sandinos, or else a ‘pop up’ venue that a band/artists can arrange by themselves. “ However, Dan continued to talk about the lack of industry contacts within Derry, “Northern Ireland’s artists are producing a lot of great music, but I don’t feel that there is much of an industry presence here and I don’t feel that the population support the art enough to make it possible to build a career without a lot of luck and a lot of hard work.” However, it is despite this that many organisations and practise spaces in Derry are keen to improve the live scene. Link Music Academy on Magazine Street is run by 5 local musicians, creating practise spaces and live music opportunities for young bands in Derry. Rory Moore from local band, Strength pointed out Link Academy as being a vital building in Derry, “Link music is a great hub and meeting spot for up and coming musicians and bands.”
Overall, Northern Ireland’s music scene is set for another fantastic year. Discover your local music scene this week as part of Independent Music Week.
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