What Might Happen to Belfast's DIY Music Scene After Brexit?

From Girls Names and Fears to venue owners, we caught up with some of the people mulling over creative life in Northern Ireland post-triggering Article 50.

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Apr 21 2017, 11:30am

Well, what a week it's been. Over the hubbub of currently unelected Tory Prime Minister Theresa May announcing plans for a UK snap election on 8 June, you could almost forget about Brexit. It's started to feel like a quivering, white noise background sound that sits somewhere louder than the whine of a TV in standby mode, and quieter than the hissed "yessss" your grandad let out with a triumphantly clenched fist when he heard the results of last year's EU referendum vote.

While we've been largely ignoring the Conservative Party being investigated for its pre-election spending in 2015, the reality of Brexit has started to set in for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Separated by a border and bound together by a tumultuous and sometimes heartbreaking history, splitting both countries along post-Brexit lines may have lasting effects. Within music, and in Belfast's DIY music scene in particular, some of those issues are poking their heads above the parapet already. Fair enough: Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Photographer George Voronov took portraits of and spoke to key players in Belfast DIY, from musicians to label heads, about how they're feeling now that Article 50 has been firmly triggered and the UK more broadly continues to reshape its political legacy.

Dawn Richardson, Gallery/Venue Owner at Framewerk

Well, what surprised me were the queues in the post office to get Irish passports. As soon as the Brexit decision was announced so many people went straight there to apply for Irish passports. It wasn't even just "nationalistic areas" – there were massive queues in the Ballyhackamore post office and that is considered a Unionist stronghold.

I went to get an Irish passport only because I believe in being an internationalist and I think the more we move against that, the more we say that we are different to the rest of the world. I don't feel this "our wee country" nonsense, I don't feel like I'm a part of any specific country. I'm part of a community that's international. I feel that the best music and art come out of struggle and I think that we'll find a way. We work in the creative industries because we're creative, so we'll find a way of making it work.

Mark Reid, Label Head at Touch Sensitive Records

All the pressing plants I use are in Europe. Within days of the result coming through, one of the manufacturers that I work with had bumped their prices up by 15 percent. Vinyl production is a pretty expensive game as it is, so that's definitely a concern. My main worries are financial but I don't see that impacting what I want to do. If anything it kind of makes me want to push the label more internationally. It's Belfast-based but it has an international outlook.

I don't see the UK cutting ties with the EU changing my outlook. I think that people make music because they want to and that will continue. It's one of the more pure things in the world. If I wasn't involved in this label and if I wasn't making music I would have less reasons to get up in the morning. It's just what I'm totally passionate about. So yeah, some bullshit from above isn't going to stop me doing that.

Fiona McDonnell, Illustrator and Designer

I don't think Brexit has been forgotten about as such but I think the majority of the panic and dread occurred when the results first came in. The actions of government and politicians can feel really distant. They purposely isolate themselves from the people and make themselves inaccessible. So months down the line, whenever you hear news of "we're triggering Article 50", you still have a reaction but it's nowhere near the same level as when the result was announced. Life has continued. You've been given this period of time to facilitate this weird form of acceptance and that's totally how they get you. They make it feel like everything is going ahead as normal but years down the line there is going to be a comparison made between life before Brexit and life after. It's going to have a legacy.

Chris Ryan, Musician, Producer and Recording Engineer

I think a lot about the market realities of something like music. You're seeing it already; this austerity thing and its effect on music. And not even in a "people aren't buying music anymore" way but even more subtly than that. It feels like there are more two-piece bands now because you can tour in a Renault Clio. It's all minimal. Look at the Great Escape line-up, it's 90 percent solo acts. Of course economics is going to have an affect on creativity. The very process of making the art is affected by things like austerity. No art is in a vacuum.

It should definitely be said that we all have no fucking clue what's going to happen after Brexit. We've never done this before. All we can do is speculate. Sometimes these massive sea-changes can just make you want to stay in bed. You have to make sure that these things don't paralyse you.

Constance Keane, Musician as Fears

I think that Brexit might have brought up a lot of old tensions to do with how Northern Ireland is still controlled in so many ways by somewhere that is actually quite far away. Northern Ireland voted to remain yet it had to go along with a decision that was made by people external to it. A lot of the frustration that I sensed also had to do with the result being decided by those who hadn't even considered the North in their vote. When you look at the panic that's now broken out about the border between North and South following the triggering of Article 50, I think it shows that the effects of a Brexit on Ireland were considered more by people in the Republic of Ireland who didn't even have a vote than by the people in England who did. If you don't consider all of the jurisdictions that the vote applies to, that's not very inclusive.

Cathal Cully, Musician from Girls Names and Group Zero

Northern Ireland is of no concern to anybody. I think the majority of the South don't give a fuck about here and they don't have to. As for England, I always say that in England, everyone here is just a Paddy. You're Irish, that's it. My thing is that although we're not in Syria or anything like that, things have always been steadily not the best. There's not that much money here. There is a lot of poverty. It's the liberal middle classes that have just woken up to the state of affairs. The rest of us were already only just about scraping by these last few years. To me, the whole Brexit thing was the slap in the face you needed like. It was almost like "now you're all gonna see what it was like for the majority of people across the UK".

Philip Quinn, Musician from Girls Names and Gross Net

I think at the end of the day, it's all money. The advertising behind the Brexit campaign was funded by people who were going to benefit. Millionaires don't back something that they think is going to wipe millions off their bottom line. Somebody somewhere is going to benefit. It's also a question of divide and conquer. Separate the white working class from people of other races and cultures and pit them against each other to distract them from what's actually happening. It's a story as old as time. And throughout all of this, our politicians aren't even in work and have arranged a pay increase for themselves. If I decided not to go into my job and said "oh by the way, you're gonna pay me an extra five pound an hour for this", I wouldn't last too long. The same result keeps being returned and people are expecting something different to happen. It's daft.

You can find more of George's photography on Instagram.