Clubs, Drugs and EDM: A closer look at club culture in Northern Ireland

On 7 February 2014, emergency services treated over 100 young people outside a music concert in Belfast. The performer was Hardwell, a Dutch dance music producer and DJ. Small quantities of drugs were seized, Hardwell’s subsequent gig in Edinburgh was cancelled, and the situation was declared a “major incident” by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).

Families across the country, in particular those who had children or family at the event, scrambled for more information as panic swept the nation.

Many of the young people were unconscious and in a life threatening state, as ambulances and police cars surrounded the venue. The whole thing, visually, was striking and reminiscent of what you would expect to see at the scene of some sort of major attack, not a music concert.

Police gather outside Hardwell’s 2014 Belfast concert

This event was one of many that helped shape the public perception surrounding both the clubbing scene in Northern Ireland and illicit, dance music associated drugs such as ecstasy and MDMA.

There was public uproar and mass hysteria, the type that previously surrounded breakthrough forms of music such as punk rock and heavy metal.

But just how warranted is it? Does Northern Ireland really have a problem with illicit drugs in club culture? How do the facts stack up? And what can be done to improve the image of the clubbing scene and, in particular, dance music?

Numbers don’t lie – an assessment of the problem

Firstly, let’s look at the facts. The Department of Health’s 2014/15 Drug Prevalence Survey reports that around 27% of respondents had admitted to using illegal drugs at some point in their lifetime. However, across all of the responses, cannabis was by far and away the most widely used drug.

Contrastingly, 61% of respondents, over three fifths, reported drinking alcohol in the past month, with a fifth of adults admitting that they should cut down. So, from the offset, alcohol appears to be much more widely used than illicit drugs – and the majority of those illicit drug uses are concerning cannabis, a drug that isn’t widely considered to be dangerous.

A very telling statistic is the fact that 13% of respondents said that alcohol had caused them to have relationship or family problems as a result of their usage, while it was only 5% for drugs.

So, statistically, “clubbing drugs” such as MDMA and Ecstasy are grossly underrepresented, while alcohol is very highly represented and leads to many more problems concerning quality of life than any of the illegal drugs do.

The NI Drugs Misuse Database from 2015/16 provides some clarity on these statistics: of those who reported to healthcare professionals for drug misuse, Cannabis was most represented (66%), with Cocaine coming in second (35%), and Ecstasy only accounting for 10%.

So, even when only illegal drugs are considered and not alcohol, traditional clubbing drugs like Cocaine and Ecstasy are still not as highly represented as you might expect.

Research conducted by St. George’s University of London showed that, surprisingly, the top five drug killers in Northern Ireland were all legal drugs, not illegal. So why isn’t there a perception surrounding painkillers, or a crackdown in policy surrounding such drugs?

An inside opinion

It appears that the numbers and the facts don’t match the stigma.

I went to get the perspective of someone who’s in at the heart of the Northern Irish electronic music scene, Belfast-based producer Jamie Lowry, notable for his chiptune alias Casion and his bass music duo Anchorite.

Casion performing at T13 in 2015

I asked him what he thought about dance music’s long term association with illicit drugs and overindulgence:

I can understand the association,” remarked Jamie.

“Drug use and dance music culture have been tied up together for a long time.

“However, a lot of music and art culture can be linked and is linked to drug use.”

When asked about what kind of people are attracted to the clubbing lifestyle, Jamie stated that, “Perhaps it’s that the kind of people drawn to those kinds of scenes are more likely to experiment with illicit substances.

Who knows? It’s very hard to make any kind of definitive statement,” and proceeded to give some advice for club goers:

“I think it’s fair to say that drug use is common at some dance music events but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing as long as people are careful, safe and well informed.”

 Eventually, the conversation turned to drug laws and the current policing regarding them. I asked Jamie what he thought on this front.

“I absolutely think that drugs should be policed differently. I think education and regulation should be the strategy adopted, as opposed to just locking people up because they’ve made a mistake,” Jamie stated.

“Too many lives are ruined for something that doesn’t harm anybody else, and I think it would be safer for society and safer for the individuals using them if drugs were handled in a more calm manner.”

I finished by asking him on his thoughts about “club culture” and the fear that many members of the public have concerning it. “I actually don’t think the majority of the public fear ‘club culture’, “Most people these days have experience either going out to bars or nightclubs of some description,” he went on to say.

“I think, however, there certainly is an element of hysteria concerning drug usage, and there has been for a long time. When you look at alcohol, and you see how much worse it is in terms of deaths and damage caused to society, it’s quite easy to be dismissive of the fear mongering.”

A rapper’s perspective

Another Belfast-based artist, Jasper Waddell aka “Mafya” was keen to share his views and opinion on Northern Ireland’s clubbing scene.

“To a certain extent there is a real association between clubs and drugs, but i think it varies quite a bit. Clubbing as an umbrella term probably means a lot of things to a lot of different people,

“I think a lot of it depends on where you go and who you are with. The nightlife scene is always going to attract drug users.”

Similarly to Jamie, Jasper considers it a matter of fact that drugs and clubs go hand in hand.  In terms of how this affects his gigs and live shows, Jasper made it clear that, “Most of the time, whether it’s a bit of cannabis or pills,  some people need it to enjoy themselves,

“Sometimes its refreshing to do different events and do different things where the crowd is more sober.”

When questioned about the dangers of certain club drugs, Jasper was very clear.

“What saddens me though is seeing young people, and kids around sixteen, taking pills,

“They are dangerous. Coming from someone who knows, they are fun but you are playing with your life.”

“At 16 your brain hasn’t developed. How can you focus on your studies, and becoming a normal young adult, if you’re always getting wiped out?”

Jasper’s words are important for any young person to consider, and perhaps if the young party-goers in Belfast in 2014 had heard the same advice they wouldn’t have gone so far.  On policing, Jasper believes that the police do perhaps need to be addressed differently.

“They (drugs) are over-policed to a certain extent.

Belfast, however, isn’t too strict, and there are far worse crimes to be doing to be honest. There’s a lot more that the police could spend their time doing,”

The topic then came up of hysteria surrounding club and dance culture, and I asked Jasper for his view of whether or not this fear is warranted.

“You know, one person dies from a pill and hysteria breaks out,
thousands of people die from alcohol abuse each year.”

“It’s similar to a plane crash, more people die in car crashes every year but because plane crashes only happen rarely and are much scarier, people tend to be more afraid of planes.”
“As I said, a line needs to be drawn regarding age, but education for drugs is important.”

The bottom line

It becomes clear from assessing both the perspectives of these two figures within the scene, and from analyzing the statistics, that the fear and concern surrounding Northern Ireland’s bustling club and dance culture is very overblown.

“If you are going to take substances which are harmful you should know the right amount, the safe way to take them, and when to get help”

Alcohol and many other legal drugs kill and damage far more people than the illicit drugs which the public fears.  Drugs, while indeed dangerous in the wrong hands, are not the sole problem, and the scene isn’t ready to give them up any time soon.

(Below you will find audio including the opinions and perspectives of several students on this issue, many of whom have had real life experiences involving pills. It’s clear from those I interviewed that the current regime of policing drugs is not working in the eyes of young people, and that greater education is needed.)

 

Investigation of the music scene in Northern Ireland

Investigation of the

music scene in Northern Ireland

 

 

“Giving it your all for the crowd, for the band and for yourself is what is vitally important at the end of the day.”

 

 

What draw does the music scene in Northern Ireland possess?

 

One of the things that Northern Ireland has to be proud of is its contribution to music. Take Van Morrison as an example, he is one of Belfast’s and music’s true talents. Receiving six Grammy awards, the 1994 Brit award for outstanding contribution to the music, as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters hall of fame respectively. Northern Ireland also has celebrity fans such as: Liam Gallagher, of Oasis and Beady eye fame, describing the people of Northern Ireland as, “always so up for it- they just get it.” With regards to new talent in the Northern Ireland music scene, the Oh Yeah music centre acts as almost a bridge, for helping new talent find their way to the top. I have learned from researching Northern Ireland’s music scene and an article from Ireland.com, that Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast, is a place for music lovers of all genres. It is also clear that the Northern Ireland music scene has produced top notch superstars such as Van Morrison, and is currently producing the next wave of talented bands, duos and singer songwriters. This is the draw that the music scene in Northern Ireland possesses.

 

What successful acts has the Northern Ireland music scene produced of recent note?

 

One of the main awards ceremony in Northern Ireland is the NIMA’s, which stands for the Northern Ireland Music awards. The NIMA’s celebrate the best of local music. This clearly indicates that Northern Ireland’s music scene is fruitful in the acts it is able to produce, and later establish worldwide as successful acts. Back in 2011, an article from the Belfast Telegraph had a list that I was able to find, of Northern Ireland artists to watch out for. These bands included: Wonder Villains, And so I watch you from afar, Cashier no 9, The Japanese Popstars, Two Door Cinema Club, LaFaro and General fiasco. Since this article was written, these acts have produced albums and gained worldwide acclaim, especially the band Two Door Cinema Club. With their third studio album, Gameshow, being released in October 2016. These bands are proof of the quality acts that the Northern Irish music scene have produced over the past couple of years, and will all in well continue to produce in the future.

 

 

 

 

What venues in Northern Ireland stage the best music?

 

 

“The feeling of being able to play in a venue with a good crowd can’t be matched.”

 

Another article from the Belfast Telegraph reports on the best venues for country music. Trevor Campbell aka Big T from Downtown radio, gives his best venues that stage country music within Northern Ireland. He lists five venues including: Belfast Nashville songwriter’s festival, The Ramble Inn in Antrim, The Ryandale in Moy, Mourne Country Hotel in Newry, Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena and Melon Country Inn near Omagh. All of the country venues listed by Trevor Campbell are spread out throughout Northern Ireland, meaning there isn’t just one area in Northern Ireland that has great venues for country music.

 

5 Gigs not to miss this March, is the tagline from an article on giggingni.com. This article talks about five gigs from artists that any music lover should not miss. These five acts include Frank & The Rattlesnakes in the Oh Yeah Centre, Russian Circles in the Empire Hall, Sonata Arctica in Limelight, Run The Jewels in Limelight and Stormzy also in Limelight in Belfast. All of these acts performing in the different venues aren’t from Northern Ireland, but the music scene itself in Northern Ireland has undoubtedly encouraged them to travel to the country, and perform for their fans. The venues in Northern Ireland like the Limelight have always been able to draw big acts from all parts of the world to perform there. The artists from near and far enjoy the atmosphere that the Northern Irish crowds bring, and that keeps them coming back to perform at sold out gigs. Due to the fact that big acts like Run the Jewels and Stormzy for example have performed in a venue like Limelight, gives it the status of fame. Upcoming acts in Northern Ireland can look at this draw that a venue in Northern Ireland can produce, and this encourages them to improve, and maybe play on the same stage one day that their idols have done in the past.

 

Speaking to Zakk Gowing the lead guitarist of Gozer the Traveller, he was able to tell me how he performed in a battle of the bands gig in Limelight with Gozer at the end of February. He explained how special it was to perform on a stage where some of his idols had performed before him, and that it’s so important that venues such as Limelight continue to draw big name artists, as it will give bands such as his own to look up too, and really believe that the sky is the limit. His band didn’t win the competition, but the feeling of being able to play in a venue with a good crowd could not be matched. Giving it your all for the crowd, for the band and for yourself is what is vitally important at the end of the day. This is what Zakk was able to tell me about his experience of playing in Limelight with his band, Gozier the Traveller.

 

Listen to the Zakk Gowing interview here

A link to Gozer the Traveller’s Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/Gozer-the-Traveller-293365147519890/?pnref=about.overview

A picture of Zakk performing in Limielight With Gozer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it difficult for Northern Irish acts to break into the mainstream of other countries?

 

“It will always be difficult for bands or stand-alone musicians starting out to make a mark in the Northern Irish mainstream.”

 

With any country it is an honour to be popular, but to be big in a country like America for example, is a next level honour. Northern Irish acts have been able to make names for themselves in the mainstream of other countries. Taking the Northern Irish band, Two Door Cinema Club for example, their debut album, Tourist History in 2010, charted in numerous music charts across the globe. Charting fifth in the US Heat Seekers Album chart, twenty-sixth in the US Independent albums chart, twenty sixth in the Scottish Albums chart and fortieth in the Belgian alternative albums chart. Their sophomore album, Beacon in 2012, was more successful in charting in other countries. Charting sixth in the US Alternative Albums chart, fifth in the US Independent Albums chart, seventh in the US Rock Albums chart, fourth in the Australian Albums chart and second in the Scottish Albums chart. Their latest album release, Gameshow, charted in a number of countries across the globe, but wasn’t as successful as Beacon. Charting twenty-fourth in the Australian Albums chart, twelfth in the Scottish Albums chart, eighth in the US Top Alternative albums chart and thirteenth in the US top Rock Albums chart.

 

Two Door Cinema Club are a great example of a Northern Irish band, that have been able to transition well into the mainstream charts of other countries. Although the band’s achievements by no means say that it is easy for any band from Northern Ireland, to be successful in other countries’ music charts.

 

Speaking to Zakk, and asking him about Gozier the Traveller’s chances in the mainstream, and about mainstream music in the Northern Irish music scene, he had an interesting opinion on the matter. He told me that being in a heavy metal band himself, would make it harder for them to break into the mainstream in Northern Ireland. Although it didn’t matter what genre of music it was, it will always be difficult for bands or stand-alone musicians starting out to make a mark in the Northern Irish mainstream. He believed that to be popular you had to stand out and be unique. This would in turn allow popularity to soar, and for music executives to recognise you, and sign you up for deals, tours of different countries etc. Zakk also believed that if a music listener was only listening to one genre of music, and not making contact with other genres, then they were simply missing out. Zakk believed that Northern Ireland’s music scene is currently vibrant, but it could be better when it comes to the appreciation of metal as a genre of music. Comparing Northern Ireland’s music scene to England and America, Zakk also thought that the reason there were so many, and have always been more opportunities in them countries, is because they are simply much larger than Northern Ireland.

 

 

 

Even though the scene may be smaller in comparison to England and America’s, Zakk believed that the Northern Irish music scene can only get bigger and better. With more and more new bands, singers and songwriters coming out of the woodwork. Restricting yourself to a specific genre of music would not allow the Northern Irish music scene to progress or get better. It would result in the scene always being inferior to other music scenes like in England or America for example.

 

Ulster University Coleraine’s South Building demolished as part of campus regeneration

As part of Ulster University’s regeneration program, the South Building on the Coleraine campus is currently being demolished.

The building that has been unoccupied since the last academic year is to be removed to clear the way for a more modern campus.

Student Vice President Kevin McStravock spoke about what this means for life at the university.

Is New Technology and Social Media Ruining Our Children’s Lives?

With new technology being ‘the way forward’ and ‘essential’ in our day-to-day lives, one question that is still something that parents often think about is, is technology today ruining our children’s lives? Ulster University student Aoife Reilly reports. 

 

Although we are in the 21st Century and digital technology is anywhere and everywhere, in 2017, it is not unusual for children to be seen walking about with a smart phone or a tablet constantly in their hands. From such a young age, we see children subconsciously swiping and confidently pressing buttons as if they were born knowing how to do it.

When we, as adults today, reminisce of our own childhood activities, we automatically think back to going outside to play hide and seek, cycling around on our bikes and even sometimes something as simple as kicking a football around with our neighbours we were at our happiest. These fond childhood memories play a major part and are essential for older people today to look back on to try to understand the issues that are facing children today.

However, for children now a days, because they are introduced to technology at such a young age, some of the games and outdoor activities that were popular a mere 20 years ago, are quite literally oblivious to them because new technologies have taken over and they would rather play a game on their iPad than outside in the fresh air.

It has gotten to the point in today’s world that many children, from as young as the age of 2 or 3, are now able to fully work and control tablets, laptops, smart phones and games consoles better than someone a lot older than them. With this, they can often begin to teach their own parents and grandparents new things and how to use them correctly.

‘growing up with lack of key life skills such as being able to read or riding a bike’

 

Since we are now in the digital media age where tablets and smart phones are a central part of our day to day lives, it is becoming somewhat clear that these pieces of technology are aiding children in ways, with iPads now being introduced into schools. However, from research conducted recently in 2014, it has been revealed that children, who have been introduced to new technology such as smart phones and tablets at a very young age, are more than likely growing up with a lack of key life skills such as being able to read or riding a bike.

It is often for some very hard to come to terms with the fact that we no longer can look out our windows on Christmas day and see children out playing with their new bikes or toys because they have either gotten the newest games console or a brand new iPhone.

Often when parents want a bit of peace and quiet they will hand their young children their tablets and games consoles, which will keep them occupied for as long as they need and more than often not, in restaurants you will see children sat at the table playing on their iPad or watching something on their parent’s phone just so they won’t kick up a fuss. While parents do give in to allowing their children to watch TV or use their tablets just so they can have some peace and quiet, they do secretly worry what this screen time is doing to their children’s brains.

 “I think it has got worse over the last number of years”

 

Speaking to social care worker Deborah Reilly, she expressed her opinion on the matter explaining, “I think it has got worse over the last number of years,” while believing that “children are at risk of bullying.” To hear the full interview with Deborah, click here.

It is not only parents and those who are much older who have become very much aware of how technology is taking over our lives, but more significantly, our children’s, but also young adults such as students. A post was written by a student on Facebook recently expressed, “Our elders will never understand how hard it is to grow up in this day and age…Technology (has) took over. We live most of our lives staring at our phones.”

Jonathan Maitland’s ITV Tonight programme, ‘Too young for technology?’ revealed that, by the time children start school at the age of 3 or 4, 70 per cent of them will already be confident in using a laptop, tablet or smart phone. In the same programme, it was also revealed that 47 per cent of parents think that it is important for a child to be familiar with technology before school, while 17 per cent of children under three actually owns their own smart phone or tablet.

 ’17 per cent of children under 3 own a smart phone or tablet’

 

For anyone who has children of their own, who allows them, from a young age to use these technologies, this will appear as a shock and often they will not realise the impact of technology on young children until they see statistics, like the ones above, placed in front of them.

On average, it is said that children from as young as the age of 3 are spending almost 8 hours of their day with their eyes glued to technology and it is now on the rise. Not only is screen time on the increase, most parents today are unaware of what their children are actually watching or viewing when they are online.

In recent years, it has come to the attention of media professionals, such as Ofcom and a huge concern that more and more children are watching real or staged violence online and are playing video games that are violent or contain other age-inappropriate content.

Although bodies such as the Games Rating Agency, GRA, deal with what age goes on the game, more than not children are getting their hands on games, which are not for their correct age group. With this, children are often led to believe that what they watch online or see in video games is ok to do and is somewhat legal which is why parents should be a lot more aware of what their children are watching online.

 

With social media on the increase and more and more people using it, it will be a shock to anyone at what the age restrictions are as it is often overlooked and forgotten about.

To create an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat etc., you have to be 13 years or older and to sign up to YouTube you have to be 18 years of age, although you can sign up at 13 with a parents permission. However, at least 78 per cent of users ignored the age requirements and are under 13 years of age.

 ’78 percent of users ignore the age requirements’

 

In 2006, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Jim Gamble and Peter Davies set up the organisation ‘Child Exploitation and Online Protection’, CEOP, to help protect the public from the most serious threats by disrupting and bringing to justice those serious and organised criminals who present the highest risk to the UK.

It is important to make sure that children are feeling safe online, so by parents keeping an eye on what websites they are visiting and whom they are talking to, this will be guaranteed.

The students at Ulster University, Coleraine and Queens University, Belfast expressed their thoughts on the topic with many sharing how different young children have it compared to their own childhood with iPhones non-existent.

 “not experiencing the kind of childhood that I did”

 

One student in particular, Malcolm Lyttle felt that “children are already too dependent on their devices that they have in their hand and they are not experiencing the kind of childhood that I did.” To find out what the other students thought, click here..

Although screen time does not just mean children being on their tablets or on their laptops playing games, this also involves watching TV and YouTube. With YouTube and catch up TV becoming increasingly popular over the last several years, it seems that a child would rather sit down and watch something from their tablet than sit in front of a TV.

Not only does this allow children to watch what they want when they want, it also means that they are able to find new programmes and new content other than what you’d find on TV.

For anyone who may feel at risk of being bullied, threatened or in any way attacked online should visit the website, www.ceop.police.uk, where you are able to get more information on how to report the situation.