Output Belfast 2020: Music Showcase Roundup (Part 1)

By on Thursday, 20th February 2020 at 11:00 am
 

Some may say they love the outdoor charm of a camping festival. But for me, the best reason to attend a city music festival is getting to know the town you’re in and its music-going citizens through their venues. Output Belfast is special in that the evening showcases are completely free to attend. That means if you are a music lover, all you need to do is happen to be in Belfast on the Thursday night, and the entire buffet of bands and artists is available to you and without separating you from your money for a pricey wristband. Pending venue capacity, of course. I regret that I did not make it out to Voodoo on this trip but that’s okay, because now I have an excuse to come back and see a proper show there.

I caught sets by nine artists in five of the twelve venue spaces. Based on my conversations with some artists earlier in the day, I was beginning to feel like there would not be much choice beyond hip-hop collectives and all-female bands. I found myself in the upstairs of the Ulster Sports Club, and its setup felt oddly familiar. Swathed in red light and sporting (no pun intended) a tinsel-themed back curtain, I felt like I was on the set of many a sleazy club music video. I was beyond delighted to begin my evening with an electronic artist and better yet, one with an intriguing voice.

Trick Mist Output Belfast 2020

Trick Mist is the stage name Gavin Murray, a one-man band who began the evening at Nialler9 and Pizza Pizza Records showcase. Originally from Dundalk, the electronic musician and producer now calls Cork home. On ‘Crumbs Abound’, the repeating, spare guitar notes acting as a simple frame on which the rest of the atmospheric track, including his emotional lyrics about love, can hang on. Imagine Matt Berninger of The National backed by moody folktronica, and you’ll be close to what Trick Mist sounds like live; you can also check out a live clip I recorded from the set for Instagram here. Be sure to check out his 2018 album ‘Both Ends’, available now from Pizza Pizza. For sure, Murray was one of my favourite finds at Output Belfast.

Laytha Output Belfast 2020

Following the spellbinding performance upstairs, I went downstairs to a completely different atmosphere in the lounge bar of the Ulster Sports Club for a few tunes by Laytha. Previously known as Taobh Eile, I’m going to guess they decided to go with a phonetically easier artist name to pronounce. The female representation (either full female bands or at least bands with at least one female member) at Output was quite inspiring. These two young ladies recently signed to the late Lyndon Stephens’ local to Belfast record label Quiet Arch did the Champion Sound and Word Up Collective showcase proud. I can appreciate that the singer/songwriter genre is impossibly crowded in Ireland. Niamh And Philana’s harmonies recall the likes of First Aid Kit and The Staves.

It was a relatively quick pop north and back up the street and under the “there are seven kinds of rain in Belfast” neon lighting to the well-lit Duke of York. Normal lighting made shooting Beauty Sleep downstairs at the Midnight Mango and Music Venues Alliance showcase an utter breeze. Cheylene Murphy and Ryan McGroarty used to be in another, more in-your-face band that Carrie and I saw some years ago at SXSW. That feels like several lifetimes ago, so I will not dredge up those drunken memories we would like to forget, but I am very glad that Cheylene and Ryan are still in Belfast, still friends and still making music. Their energetic performance in the crowded side room at the Duke of York was met with resounding cheers.

Beauty Sleep Output Belfast 2020

I mentioned to Cheylene afterwards that I could still hear whispers of their old band in their current music, though Beauty Sleep is definitely more chill dream pop, exemplified by their 2019 single and ‘Be Kind’ LP track ‘Rainbow Ballroom’. A veiled but loving dedication to Lyndon Stephens as part of an introduction to a song did not go unnoticed by me and others present, and it reminded me of why smaller music cities kick the arse out of the soulless conurbation that is London. Belfast has its own identity, spirit and energy.

Next up was a few songs from Gender Chores from Bangor, previously only known to me as the place that birthed Two Door Cinema Club. They appeared at the PRS for Music and Women’s Work showcase at the Black Box. They are unapologetic at their feminist punk ethos: their Facebook tagline includes the phrase “tackling life’s grievances and offending ur local white boy one angry punk song at a time”. As you might imagine, their live performance was satisfyingly visceral: “no, we won’t conform to the construct / to the misinformed, you can get f*cked”. I lean towards the more melodic punks, of which Gender Chores nicely fall with it. While as an American I cannot say I completely understand what Norn Iron is going through under the Boris, calling out capitalism and the DUP in Belfast in the same song is freedom of speech I can get behind.

Gender Chores Output Belfast 2020

I returned to Ulster Sports Club downstairs for the highly anticipated, very new (read: one single to their name) duo Dark Tropics, also signed to Quiet Arch. Self-describing their genre as pop-noir, there is a smoky feeling to their music, both from singer Rio’s sultry vocals aching with emotion and a suitably understated instrumental backing. This isn’t my cup of tea; however, this is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect the millennial market and shoot up the Spotify (and Deezer?) breakthrough playlists. Stay tuned and place your bets, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Part 2 of my roundup of the evening showcases at Output Belfast 2020 will post at 11 AM GMT tomorrow.

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