Noise Annoys: Legendary Belfast club Skibunny returns
Noise Annoys gets nostalgic for the late 90s as legendary Belfast indie club Skibunny returns for a special 20th anniversary party
TWENTY years ago, there weren't many options for maladjusted Belfast weirdos looking to spend their Saturday nights enjoying alternative music in the company of like-minded types.
The Limelight had Helter Skelter, but by that stage Belfast's premier/only alternative Saturday club night was resting on its laurels to an infuriatingly coma-esque extent, with the same songs played week in, week out with regular-infuriating predictability.
Johnny Hero's Disco at The Duke of York was good fun if you could actually get in, but the playlist was mostly old stuff with a punk slant: if you're looking to strut your stuff to The Jam's A Town Called Malice of a Saturday evening, Mr Hero is still your go-to guy.
With beloved Belfast saloon/social melting pot Lavery's then desperately locked in a war of beige with none-more-mainstream 'nite spot' The M-Club over the road – dark days indeed, my friends – that was pretty much your lot. Until Skibunny.
In February 1998, Mark Gordon and Tanya Mellotte from Belfast's John Peel-approved indie rock stalwarts Tunic started their revolutionary club night in the ground floor of Vico's in Brunswick Street.
An unassuming pizza restaurant by day, after dark Vico's became a multi-floor mecca of alternative sounds running the gamut from vintage soul and US alternative to hip-hop, drum 'n' bass and banging techno – with Skibunny as its cornerstone.
Naming their endeavour after a Boss Hog number, Mark and Tanya's masterstroke was to take a magpie approach to DJing, mixing up classic and contemporary indie rock, old-skool and fresh hip-hop, Krautrock, northern soul and new-fangled big beat at a time when it was impossible to hear them all in the same room on the same night.
Unsurprisingly, Skibunny was a huge hit with jaded alternative types across the city, who quickly made the club their Saturday night destination of choice.
Sure, heating/ventilation and health/safety might have been questionable/non-existent at Vico's, whose owners definitely stretched the limits of their restaurant-based liquor license to a mirth-inducing extent – revellers could munch on cold pizza until stupid o'clock – but it was unlike anything else in Belfast.
This quasi-legal late night set-up was more akin to some sort of edgy after-hours New York club, minus any form of inter-punter aggression (the bouncers were a different matter, sadly).
Even the cops seemed to like Vico's. Well, we must assume they did, as it mysteriously kept reopening in the wake of the regular bi-weekly 'raids'.
Indeed, Vico's quickly became the post-kicking out time destination of choice for Belfast's more clued-in revellers, who would inevitably find themselves moving to a Marlena Shaw classic on the black and white checked tiles of the Skibunny dancefloor before rubbing their heads in bewilderment as it segued into the slightly less soothing sounds of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
Having branched out into live music by booking bands – touring visitors included Drugstore, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Come, usually supported by fellow Peel-endorsed local favourites Backwater (more about whom in a moment) – Skibunny was a well established 'brand' by the point Mark and Tanya were forced to take the club up the road to Auntie Annie's, where it continued to thrive until 2008.
While the Skibunny name lived on in the form of the duo's post-Tunic band and remixing activities, the club night is still fondly remembered by those for whom it was once part of the weekend ritual.
Thus, you can expect a run on Belfast babysitting services on the night of Saturday July 28 as the city's former indie kids flock to Skibunny's special 20th anniversary revival at Voodoo.
As you might expect/demand, Mark and Tanya will be on hand to DJ a mix of classic Skibunny floor fillers and complementary contemporary choons.
However, nobody was expecting the Skibunny founders to also revive Tunic for the occasion. Having played their last back in the Vico's days with farewell show which climaxed in a good-natured audience 'stage' invasion/pile-on, it's entirely fitting that Tunic should return for this one-off Skibunny reunion, though sadly not in their classic five piece incarnation.
They should complement the evening's other live performance nicely. Yes, it turns out that Backwater are indeed back (minus Boyd Lowe and original drummer Richard Basset), and how: Barry Peak, Ryan McAuley and latter-day drummer Shaun 'Oppenheimer' Robinson will be treating the crowd to classic singles like Shady and Supercool alongside favourites from their subsequent project, Torgas Valley Reds.
To say Noise Annoys is excited by this would be an understatement on a par with describing molten lava as 'warm'.
Throw in the fact tickets are a mere £7 with all proceeds going to The Samaritans and it all amounts to a pretty unmissable evening of nostalgia-tinged fun. Be there or beware.
From that indie rocking blast from the past, we now thrust confidently into the indie rocking present for words on a brand new compilation featuring some of our top modern turns.
With not a single duff track on offer, A Litany of Failures Vol II is a glorious 18-track testament to the fact that left-of-centre Irish guitar music is currently in rude health.
Faves include Limerick/Glasgow combo Fonda's downbeat doom pop number You Don't Know, the Camden-lurch/industrial crossover of [no Comment] by Dublin's That Snaake and the Sonic Youth-worshipping churn of Entertainment by their fellow Dubs Nervvs, Year of The Sofa (a fine album title if ever there was one, hint-hint) by Belfast's own slacker anthem kings, Junk Drawer, Galway garage popsters Dott's sunny side-up compilation-opening blast You Don't Have To and catchy melodic pop-grunge nugget Take It Back by Derry trio Cherym.
Those other stars of the Belfast indie rock scene, the Hot Cops, also offer up a stand-out moment in the form of their shapeshifting, bass-led slow-builder Belle Of The Tar Pits, which segues nicely into chiming two chord lo-fi drone/thrash Here Come The Elders! by Ghost Office (also Belfast), while there are more experimental sounds to be enjoyed courtesy of Tuath feat Veil's Lark Song (Donegal), Coitus by Blue Whale (Belfast again) and Shield by Alien She (Dublin) – minimalist electrogaze abstraction, instrumental jazzrock skronkiness and moodily abstract art rock respectively.
Alas, you've just missed the Belfast launch gig for A Litany of Failures Vol II, which at time of press was scheduled to take place last night at The Art Department; however, those reading in the People's Republic can see comp contributors The Sunshine Factory, Any Joy and Nervvs in action at The Roundy in Cork city tomorrow evening, while Limerick types can enjoy Fonda, That Snaake and the seemingly irrepressible Nervvs at Pharmacia on Friday July 27.
As for the compilation itself, you can get hold of it at the aforementioned shows or via Litanyoffailures.bandcamp.com – don't miss the sexy limited edition double vinyl – while, completists should be advised that the four track Vol I is still available via Littlelrecords.bandcamp.com while stocks last.