Review: Ava Festival, Belfast

By Jade Hamill

Since its launch in 2015, AVA has amassed a following unlike any other having been named the best festival in Ireland. Friday 5th- Saturday 6th June saw sunshine return to the city with a buzz of excitement in the air as internationally renowned artists, Drum and bass extravaganzas and techno acts hit the stage.


The main stage saw acts like electronic music duo, BICEP who commandeered the stage with their tension building beats which amassed in thousands jumping in ecstasy, throwing their hands up in the air and dancing freely because if there’s one thing to know about AVA festival, it’s that there’s no judgement. Everyone came together to immerse themselves in the experience, the glorious weather, the ultimate joy of dancing as a collective without repercussion.


Over sixty artists played in a triad of venues, as there were four stages unique to the acts across Titanic Slipways, including the Main Stage, The Grasses, The Baltic and the Nomadic Stage. Founder Sarah McBriar who had previously worked at Glastonbury as a producer laments that the location is substantial to the area, as it’s held in Titanic Slipways, an industrial area with boats for a backdrop which cements the relationship techno music has with its roots. AVA is the bringing together of avant-garde electronics and celebrating that with thousands. As McBriar said: “Belfast is a very electric city- a fun, vibrant city.”


Building a representation of recreational events for people with disabilities, AVA has dedicated its time to achieving a festival that’s fully accessible. Gig buddies allows for someone who has a disability or a mental, physical impairment to bring a carer for free which is implemented at AVA as those of you who attended might have seen. There was a particular woman who caught the attention of the Nomadic stage as her friends heaved her crutches in the air whilst the crowd carried her above their heads and as a collective, the crowd pulsated with joy.


The Nomadic stage, home to the Boiler Room which has debuted many successful artists streams the set on YouTube for those that may miss this must see line-up. Seven of the twelve artists onstage are international Boiler Room debut artists, including Matheson, Skin On Skin, TSHA, PROSPA, BKLAVA, Mark Blair and BRIÉN. Skin On Skin was an amalgamation of techno and experimental beats with dance floor anthems that created a thrum of excitement as lively festival goers climbed atop each other’s shoulders and waved their arms through the air while excitable screams travelled throughout.


AVA succeeded in bringing an eclectic mix of festival goers, all seeking the long awaited music experience of the year. With a colossal line-up of new and old names, the festival was thriving with alternative, house and techno music. Festival goers flitted between sites aiming to see as many acts as possible. HY:LY imbued the audience with energy resonating from the hypnotic passages to the amped up techno that dictated the crowds movements with rave dance taking centre stage. AVA is more than an alternative dockland festival with an idyllic location, it’s a state of mind in that everyone is there for the purpose of enjoyment and carefree sentiment which follows even after leaving the site.


In a development towards environmental advances, AVA supplied reusable cups this year for a small deposit so that the consumer is only purchasing the one cup instead of multiple disposable cups that primarily end up in landfill. There were a variety of options for drinks, from cocktail bars to rum bars and even a water station which became a must after several hours in the sun, although the marquee-like tents were perfect for cover. The shade was essential to the discovery of local talent from acts like Gemma Dunleavy who pays homage to where she grew up in Dublin, in particular her songs which are written from differentiating perspectives. Belfast native Kessler also completed an impressive set of obscure sounds which contribute to his reputation as a groundbreaking yet fluid DJ, musician and producer.


AVA doesn’t stop the fun at festivals though as there are even after parties which included Thompson’s, Banana Block and Ulster Sports Club. On Saturday 3rd June, Banana Block featured sets from Prospa and Nikki 0 which created a finale to remember. Divisively different, Nikki 0’s set was retro-futurist based whilst Prospa revelled in deep house, both of which amassed a cult following and clapping that resonated outdoors.


With so much in the works AVA has brought back the freedom we once thought was dispelled during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with that they intend to expand. Sarah McBriar commented on the world of music and how delving into other genres would assimilate people from all walks of life: “Our main plans are to expand into other genres: world music, alternative indie, hip hop- those are the areas we’re focusing on and the electronic which is always at the core.”