For the next instalment of our roots feature we caught up with Notts based, Belfast raised Nikki O to give us the down-low on the Northern Irish capital.
Pre-Covid times, you’ll find her in the booth at Audiobahn and Stealth, supporting the likes of Peach, D. Tiffany, Bruce, and Adam Pits. Whilst on the airwaves, you can catch her in the mix for her regular shows on 1020 and Subtle.
A flair for presenting, Nikki O won Best Female Presenter at the Student Radio Awards in 2018 and went on to present Radio 1’s Early Breakfast Show. This year she’s picked up a nomination for Best Specialist Music Show, with the final results pending. In her sets, expect to hear sounds tinged towards the darker end of the dance music spectrum.
1. David Holmes – Shake Ya Brain
David Holmes is one of the OG pioneers of the Belfast dance music scene. He ran Sugar Sweet and Shake Yer Brain in the Art College which were legendary according to anyone who attended (To find out more you can listen to my radio doc ‘Dancing for Peace’ here).
Orbital even named their track ‘Belfast’ after playing at one of the Sugar Sweet parties. He has gone on to compose film and TV scores such as the Ocean’s trilogy, The Fall, and Killing Eve.
2. Phil Kieran – Wasps Under a Toy Boat
A techno legend in the Northern Irish scene with a colossal number of releases. His output includes collaborations with Green Velvet and remixes of Depeche Mode, to name a few. For me, Phil’s techno reminds me of the major sounds of the city when I first started experiencing the Belfast dance music scene as a teen. Despite being a world touring DJ, he is one of the few who decided to stay in Belfast and not disperse to London, Berlin, etc. Showing that you don’t have to live in these big cities to carve out a career in music.
3. Timmy Stewart: Black Bones – Malukayi
Ask anyone in the Belfast dance music world to name a legend in the city’s scene and guarantee they’ll mention Timmy. A mainstay in the city for decades now, you’ll find his productions under a number of aliases such as T-Bone and this Black Bones project. Not just a key player in the history of Belfast’s sound, Timmy actively helps nurture the future of Belfast’s scene through his Extended Play label which he runs alongside JMX. And if that isn’t enough he also runs iconic party The Night Institute alongside Jordan (more on him to come). Timmy’s been a helping hand for me personally, and there’s plenty of people in the city who can say the same.
4. Jordan: Nocturne Edit – All Night Passion
Jordan has been DJing from a right young age and as such has cemented himself as a firm favourite on dance floors in Belfast and beyond. As mentioned, Jordan runs local party The Night Institute alongside Timmy which soundtracked many a Saturday night over the years. He also runs his label Nocturne which earlier this year released a compilation album titled ‘From Belfast with Love’. This highlighted the talent in the city, from familiar names to up and comers, while also raising money for food banks via the Trussell Trust. Jordan very kindly asked me to contribute to his Nocturne mix series too, which you can hear here.
5. Bicep – Back 2 U
I can’t talk about Belfast and not mention the city’s biggest export after George Best. Everyone who lived through the era of ‘Unreleased Bicep’ a few years back can account for how the duo’s music swept across the global dance music world. Those that have grown up in the Belfast scene know the feelings of nostalgia when hearing an old Bicep track like this one. It’ll bring back memories of parties large and small, from thousands in Custom House Square, to the final party in the tiny sweat box that was the Bunatee (RIP). Bicep’s influence extends way beyond Belfast, but just watch their AVA Festival Boiler Room to see how much the people of Belfast love a Bicep homecoming.
Honourable mentions also go out to Twitch & Marion Hawkes, instrumental figures in the city!
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