The first time I went to AVA was when I played in 2018, and my mum was right up against the barriers the whole time! She and my dad love coming to see me when I DJ in Belfast; they even came to the AVA party I did on New Year’s Eve. The first show I played at AVA, I was on the main stage early on and Mella Dee and Hammer were both playing on the same stage. I think I was the first person that day to play vinyl, and the turntables weren’t set up right. Harry (Midland) came over and fixed the needle while I was playing!
That’s the thing I really love about AVA. It’s a family affair, and you can feel that, whether you’re from Belfast or not. It started in 2015 but I couldn’t go for the first couple of years as I was in Berlin. One year I was working at a bar and I set up my laptop to watch Cromby’s stream during my shift.
Since the first time I went, in 2018, it’s been held in a former B&Q warehouse and has four stages. It’s a huge concrete warehouse space and the main stage area is vast. To the left is the greenhouse where all the Boiler Room streams take place, but my favourite spot is The Loading Bay. It’s where everything used to get loaded on to trucks, so it’s on a bit of a slant. I remember watching Helena Hauff there and it was incredible!
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AVA is always backing new talent, both from Ireland and outside. They’ve given a leg-up to people like Or:la, Cromby, Holly Lester, Brame & Hamo, Hammer and myself. The list goes on.
The other thing that makes AVA stand out is the effort and attention to detail put into the production. Obviously the sound’s great, but the lights and visuals are insane too. AVA stands for ‘Audio Visual Arts’ so it makes sense that they put the effort in – it’s something that sets it apart from other festivals.
As AVA has the conference element, it feels like an Irish version of ADE. The conference is in the morning in the city centre, in the area where all the ship-making used to take place – a really unique part of the city. AVA does an event in London at Printworks every year now as well; I went last year and saw Mr G give a talk. He’s one of my favourite producers in the world so getting a chance to be up close and personal with one of my heroes was really informative and special.
The other sets that have really stood out for me over the last few years were Moxie closing the festival in 2018, which was incredible, and Bicep come back every year and smash it. Sarah, who’s one of the organisers, is Matt from Bicep’s sister, and she and the rest of the team work so hard all year to create an unparalleled experience for people.
The scene in Northern Ireland has always been strong, but before AVA there wasn’t much that stood out to people from outside the city or Ireland. It’s shone a light on Belfast and shown it to be a strong musical hub. Belfast has come so far since The Troubles, and AVA shows it’s a progressive city with a sense of unity.
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