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The DJ Saved Our Lives Belfast Clubbing Documentary

The DJ Saved Our Lives Belfast Clubbing Documentary

Lyndon Stephens & Gawain Morrison have been putting together ideas for a Belfast Club & DJ History documentary spanning 60 years .. want to be involved?  Then check in at the Facebook page :


If you have any stories, photos, videos or memories that you’d like to share with us to build the noise around getting this made then please drop into our Facebook page :

Stuff like this .. a bunch of flyers & posters from the club night ‘Evolution’ :


In 1943 Jimmy Saville launched the first ever DJ Dance party by playing Jazz records in an upstairs function room in Otley.  In 1947 the Whiskey a Go Go nightclub opened in Paris, considered to be the first ever Discotheque.  Soon after discos spread across Europe and the United States.

Playing records in public to get a crowd dancing first occurred in the fifties in Belfast and Terri Hooley .. Belfasts godfather of punk first cut his DJ teeth in sixties Belfast ..

From those simple beginnings the DJ has helped to shape the cultural and social life of the North Of Ireland against a backdrop of political turmoil, murder, ceasefires, peace, the three major youth culture revolutions of Rock and Roll, Punk and Acid House, and the implosion of the music industry.

EPISODE 1 : 1951 – 1988

From 1951 and for the next decade in Belfast an enterprising young man called Dino began DJing in Clarkes dance studios against much opposition from the musicians union. He was allowed a slot on a Wednesday afternoon.  Armed with rock and roll records supplied by a sailor relative “Dino’s Hop” grew in popularity until his commercial success caused him to displace the original musicians who had attempted to hold him back.

Inspired by the rock and roll sound heard on the imported US wax local youngsters started picking up guitars and having a go.  The ensuing rhythm and blues craze of 1964-66, was so vibrant at one point there were eighty clubs in Belfast catering to the scene, the most famous local exponents being Van Morrison and his R&B outfit Them.

In August of 1969 however serious rioting and violence erupted in Belfast bringing the city’s nightlife to a halt, people choosing to remain in their own areas.  Travelling showbands took over as the primary form of entertainment until the Miami Showband murders of 1975, which created a total entertainment vacuum.

In some protestant enclaves that were far from the troubles a strong disco scene emerged.  One of the key large venues was Kelly’s hotel and one of the central DJs was a young budding entrepreneur called Alan Simpson – who went on to become Entertainment Manager of Kelly’s and then co-promoter in the superclub that was Lush.

The punk rock explosion of 1977-1978 shoved two fingers up at the troubles and venues began to come to life again as a new generation who didn’t want to hide indoors carved out a niche for themselves in some of the braver establishments across town.

This era laid the roots for a small underground club scene, readying the pitch for the next generation of Youth.

Jonny Wilkinson of ground breaking club night and Glasgow institution “Optimo” had his first taste of electronic music in a dingy bring your own Belfast Saturday night institution called the Plaza ..

A young Noel Watson was involved in the early days of the punk scene, but moved to London where with his brother Maurice he was the first DJ in London to regularly promote and play a new style of music which had crossed the Atlantic known as house music.  In time a bunch of acolytes came to the Watson camp, people like Phil Asher and a young whippersnapper called David Holmes.

House music was about to invade N.Ireland.

EPISODE 2 : 1988 – 1994

When this new dance music blossomed there was only one place you could go to hear it. You had to go underground. Most of the people who embraced the wave of freaky all night dancing and smileys that crossed the Irish Sea had their first taste of dance music at either the mod clubs or underground gay clubs.

Both had respectively opened people’s minds to black American music in the form of soul, funk, disco and hip-hop. To them, the natural progression to the four to the floor on the kick drum house beat seemed to be what they had been waiting for. They embraced it with a passion. These were the children of the underground, and for years it would be their secret. Small gatherings grew into medium sized venues until finally and relentlessly it reached the mainstream.

The people of this part of the island took to the house music club explosion with gusto, largely because of the resonance of house music’s message of togetherness, understanding and love. With the tense political situation at the time, it was amazingly appealing to escape every weekend into an alternative universe where everyone was welcome.

The most popular of the new clubs was Sugar Sweet at the art College with David Holmes and Ian McCready . People would queue from an hour before it opened. The visuals were amazing. The atmosphere was like a space launch. The early feeling of collective euphoria was what people went crazy for, in the midst of the troubles people lost it, even being joined on one night by two policemen who partied with the mass of raving clubbers in full uniform!

Orbital even named a track ‘Belfast’ after a long crazy weekend in the city. The list of DJs and acts who performed here reads like a who’s who of acid house. Notable mentions are deserved by, amongst others, Orbital (of course), The Dub Federation, The Dust Brothers (now the Chemical Brothers), The Aloof (especially Richie on the congas), Sabres of Paradise, The Sandals and Bandalu.

David Holmes quickly took to production and blazed a path of singles, albums, and an essential mix for Radio One before focusing on movie soundtrack work in Hollywood.

Like Punk before it, this initial period of Acid House was essential in breaking down the barriers that held Northern Irish society apart.

And it was only to continue to grow.

EPISODE 3 : 1994 – 2005

The legendary Art College nights inspired a young man called Alan Simms to start a night in the Limelight complex called “A Different Drum”.

Two years later, with peace on the horizon in Northern Ireland he moved his operation to the Mandela Hall at Queens University and Shine was born, which still runs to this day.  From Mr C to Riche Hawtin, from Green Velvet to Dave Clarke, techno was served up to the faithful, resulting in the 3 floor Supershines that pulled people to Belfast from far and wide to Belfast.
Radio One DJ Annie Mac had her first break at Shine as did a young Belfast DJ, now a successful recording artist Phil Kieran.

Many other clubs helped to shape the current scene, amongst them Vico’s, a rickety old Pizza joint in the heart of Belfast that each weekend crammed in four separate sound systems, on as many floors with about ten times as many DJs. Infamous local Techno outlaws Pete Donaldson & Colin Shields cut their DJ teeth here amongst the Evolution and Contents Crews. Gawain Morrison and Marty Locke promoted the Friday and Saturday nights respectively before this club was closed and a house of memories closed with it.

Also worth mentioning is Bedlam that split it’s parties between Giros & Vicos. Bedlam had basic facilities, hard techno, punks, walls dripping with sweat, and crusties. To the faithful it goes down in techno history as a dark hall of doom.

Breakdown, Beatsuite, Ski Bunny, Lost Sound, Numb and many others were integral to a thriving club scene and a wide variance in electronic music, all playing a part in moving the music to where it is today.
Outside Belfast the revolution had spread. In Portrush Kellys morphed into Lush becoming Northern Irelands first super club while in Derry the Celtronic festival was started by the Deep Fried Funk DJ’s and a young group formed as “Hedrock Valley Beats “ who were to split up and reform as the now legendary Japanese Popstars.

In 1998 The Belfast Agreement was signed bringing peace to Northern Ireland … and in some ways a generation didn’t seem to want to party as intensely any more as a future appeared on the horizon that no one ever thought had seemed possible before.

As dance music magazines folded, and clubs closed across the UK, similar fates followed the clubs & nights in N.Ireland.  But the cycle of dance music & DJs doesn’t stop, it just goes underground.

EPISODE 4 : 2005 – 2011

The final phase of the development came from the ruins of the huge club scene which had grown to epic proportions and collapsed under its own weight almost in tandem with the decline of the traditional music industry and a new confidence that was growing locally as peace took hold in Northern Ireland.

In 2005 Alan Simms and Phil Donaldson opened a new club called The Stiff Kitten.  It was a 900 capacity club which catered to cutting edge music fans, but also was to host live gigs and cater to most niches of underground music.

It almost overnight wiped out all of the competition in terms of small specialist music nights across the city but after the honeymoon period was over these began to spark up again here and there.

Today the electronic music scene in Belfast is more active than ever as a new wave of electronica connects with the world unhindered by the traditional barriers to market of needing a label and a physical product.
Artists such as The Japanese Popstars , Boxcutter, Space Dimension Controller, Phil Kieran, Scope, Jet Project, Calibre are all making waves beyond these shores.  Playing at clubs as far afield as Hawaii, Asia, Russia and headlining festival tents worldwide.

David Holmes often can be found DJing in a small pub in Belfast when he is back on one of his regular visits home from LA.

Large scale outdoor events had mainly been too dangerous to hold in the time of the troubles as they presented a very big target and were prone to bombscares. As peace has taken hold in the North these have exploded.  Shine Concerts Ltd now host the yearly Belsonic festival which takes place over two weeks in Custom House Square in August.

Fed by the factors of instant access to market caused by the internet, an increased focus of media reporting on cultural aspects of life rather than political ones, and a general upsurge in musical activity, Northern Ireland is exporting more and more locally created music overseas than at any other time in its history.

This is a generation that has never known the political trouble of the past who have grown up without the previous 29 years of tension and conflict being an everpresent factor in their lives ... Their confidence and optimism is infectious ... Not bad for country of 1.5 million.


Name :
The DJ Saved Our Lives

Tagline :
Rioting. Violence. Fear.  The result? No live music.
Step forward the DJ to save our lives.

Synopsis :
The north of Ireland has been through some great days and
some dark days but no matter what has happened the DJ has been the centrepoint of entertainment, going out and hearing new music.  When bands stopped touring all that was left were the DJs.  Over generations the potent mix of youthful rebelliousness and an environment of fear and violence made the clubbing safe havens electric and some of the most responsive and enthusiastic crowds on the planet. This selection of documentaries will cover the four chapters and time periods of the role of the DJ from 1951 to 2011.

Presenter : Joe Lindsay [Ex-BBC Broadcaster]
Genre : Music documentary
Demographic : 16 – 35 years
Time slot : Evening
Episodes : 4 x 15 minutes

Categories: Film & Video  

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