Arts

Noise Annoys: The return of Belfast's Curfew Festival

Noise Annoys goes Curfew crazy to celebrate the return of the much-loved Belfast alternative music festival, defunct since 2009 but back for a one-off event on July 12

Curfew veterans Slomatics are playing the revived Belfast music festival on July 12 at Voodoo

ONCE an essential annual fixture for Belfast's alternative music scene in the 00s, the Curfew Festival was staged every July to counteract the traditional slump in live shows which coincided with the Twelfth 'festivities'.

This year, Curfew is returning for a one-off special at Voodoo and The Black Box on Thursday July 12. To celebrate, I quizzed Curfew's founder/organiser Pete Jez, a former music scene stalwart turned convenience store impresario, about the event's history, ethos and revival.

What's prompted you to revive Curfew?

I guess time. Over the last two years I've started doing shows again with [local musician/journalist] Hornby under the Solid Choice banner. It's been tough. Things have changed and so many new faces and less ease with getting a venue.

There was no plan for a Curfew, but I guess at the back of my mind something was niggling away. NI has seen a lot of hate over the last while and I guess I've spent a long time being too focused on my own things to take note.

We've seen communities drift apart, increased racism under the guise of 'freedom' and discrimination against LGBTQ communities. The Twelfth is already divisive and I just didn't want it to be all negativity up to then with no release.

I don't think Curfew will change things, but possibly it can offer a break from the daily nonsense. Something positive to lift us up. But it's not really the fest itself, it's the folks who get themselves up and decide to take the day back.

The crowd are the best part of Curfew. It's great seeing so many people from diverse backgrounds hanging out in one place at a time you would typically expect the city centre to be empty. It wouldn't happen without them.

How did the festival originally start?

We started curfew back in 2000, I think! [We think it was 2001 – discuss/fight]. I lived in a house where there was a lot of coming and going of people into music. A mix of the people who lived there, their partners of friends. It was great.

There wasn't much of a 'scene' as it were so we were able to do whatever we want and create our own space. Bars were appreciative of their spaces being used too. That's all changed, sadly.

I think 2000 was the first year I lived away from home and after growing up in north Belfast I kind of expected to not do anything over the Twelfth of July, the same as previous years.

As it drew closer, a few of us chatted about doing something. We realised we weren't the only ones not heading off on holiday, marching or protesting – so surely there had to be others?

I didn't want anything to do with NI politics at the time. It was alien and horrible to me. Just tit-for-tat and never progressing anywhere. There was and still is a need for a space for those of us who fall outside of a narrow green-orange politics. The general political leadership has really let us down.

I never thought Curfew would steamroller into something huge, but perhaps just lift the spirits for some folks over what could be a turbulent time.

I'd been doing shows at The Front Page for a while and we asked them about doing a show over two floors – they thought we were mad, but let us work away.

I think we had six bands and crammed over 200 people in there. It was tight and stupidly hot, but also amazing.

It was either Andy Henry or Ryan O'Reilly who designed the original poster of Orange amps marching and did some Curfew flags/flegs in orange.

How do/did you choose the line-ups?

I'll generally get a list of bands I like and pass them on to Hornby at Solid Choice or other friends, but usually I get too far ahead of myself and start booking people before they reply!

I try to keep it eclectic. But I'm generally a fan of the noisy end of the scale and mostly left-field music. There are a few people I ask every year: Barry Peak [Backwater/Torgas Valley Reds/Go Commando] has played every single one and I think the Slomatics have played everyone in some form or another.

Do you have a favourite Curfew line-up / moment?

Fave line up is tough. The Naut (pre-Slomatics) at the first Curfew in the back room downstairs at The Front Page was incredible and super sweaty!

Seeing Amanda Woodward and Aussitot Mort play was also incredible: two French bands hardly anyone knew here but everyone was up front for both sets. It felt somewhat surreal seeing so many people watching them – any other day of the year and it would have been 30/40 people max.

Seeing Not What play was a highlight: members of What What and Not Squares – think they practised once and it was just phenomenal.

I think Two Door Cinema Club played afterwards, but so many people were danced-out that the crowd thinned a little. Weird to think they're huge now!

I could go on: ASIWYFA, I'll Eat Your Face, We Are Knives, Before Machines, Torgas Valley Reds, there's been so many bands over so many venues it's hard to remember them all,

Why did the festival stop in 2009?

I guess Curfew stopped for a bunch of reasons – so many people moved away, got jobs/careers, got married, had kids, etc which just made the whole thing more difficult.

Though at the same time the local music scene got a big hype with some bands doing well – ASIWYFA, Girls Names, Two Door etc. Venues started realising bands could mean money. Clubs sprang up everywhere and there became a little competition booking local acts and touring artists.

I was never in this for money and it was just making life harder and me questioning if there was any void that I needed to fill anymore.

I had put a lot of time and money into shows over almost one decade at that point and decided to give myself a break. Turned out to be a very long break though!

Will there be Curfew 2019?

Probably not! But every year someone asks and this year was a surprise so you never know what happens. Maybe someone else will do it.

Any tips for budding promoters thinking of putting on their own festival?

Plan early and have a plan for all eventualities. Something will throw a spanner in the works. Make sure it doesn't clash with other similar shows.

If you're doing this as a career then spend the time looking for funding: definitely don't let egos get in the way and certainly don't get trapped in a small group of bands because inevitably many of them will move on and you'll be stuck.

Lastly, the bar always wants to win, the agents also want to win – in the end just try not to lose too much of yourself (or cash!).

:: Curfew, Thursday July 12, Voodoo & The Black Box, Belfast. Tickets £15 via Tinyurl.com/curfew18

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