The History of Belfast Underground Clubs
The Belfast underground club scene began in the early 1980’s and continues to the present. At this time the Dirty protest and the Irish Republican hunger strikes of 1980–-81 had raised political tensions, and Northern Ireland was also suffering significantly from the UK's early 1980s recession. In reaction to this austere environment and the paucity of mainstream entertainment, Belfast DJ’s, musicians and artists devised their own alternative night time entertainment. Eugene Moloney’s 1983 article in the Irish News newspaper referenced the beginning of the underground scene. [1] ...for the past two years Belfast’s underground scene has provided safe haven for the city’s fashionistas. In providing an alternative to the mainstream disco’s and bars the underground seems set to address the entertainment malaise that has held back Belfast’s night time economy. Innovation in the use of the licensing, lighting, venues, music, crowd control and pricing has led the bedrock for a sustained underground movement in the city which is receiving recognition well beyond our shores'.
The earliest manifestation of the Belfast underground was a three story purpose built club called “Jules”, Situated at 101 Royal Avenue Belfast. The club opened in 1981 and quickly became home to the city’s fashionistas. Jules was run by two sisters Mary and Nell Armstrong. They were discreet about publicity, this policy resulted in the club limiting its pool of customers to around 300. As a club Jules was unique in that it was not licensed for the sale of liquor. Clubbers would bring their own liquor and have it served back to them. Unusually for a Belfast club, Jules got underway at midnight, only closing at sunrise. The absence of liquor for sale and the all night opening hours were much later to become significant factors in maintaining the underground. The music policy in Jules was a mix of sounds mainly drawn from the New Romantic and Post Punk genres. The club was designed to disorientate the patrons with a dark winding layout interrupted with statues of growling black and silver panthers on plinths. In the Spring of 1983 Mary and Nell were looking to reinvigorate the club with a mid week event that would attract a new type of patron. The sisters recruited Chris McCafferty, a local DJ who had a large collection of rare and unusual records. McCafferty was given carte blanche to establish his own club night – Hades. McCafferty's energy and creativity would define advant garde in the underground club scene for decades to come with many of his concepts spilling out into the mainstream club scene and other genres.

On 8 March 1983, the club Hades was launched. Later local journalist Eugene Moloney of the Irish News would describe Hades as looking like “Satan’s workshop” and a “disgraceful bacchanal”.[1] The Tuesday night ensured that weekend and part-time clubbers were excluded. Hades had a capacity crowd on the opening night, this was largely due to the distribution of an elaborate flyer depicting Lazarus and Joannes Baptista Colloredo. The flyer was printed on parchment paper, sealed with wax and delivered inside a glass test tube. This was the first occasion that any Belfast club used a personalized flyer and not public posters/tickets to publicize an event. Hades worked largely from the position of Grand Guignol. In terms of genre Hades could arguably be described as Goth due to McCafferty's exploration of death, mortality and presentations of the monstrous. The guests were a disparate mix of post punk street celebrities mostly dressed in leather and lace with crucifixes and greasepaint. The DJ’s wore clerical dress and the music policy was centered around the sounds of The Sisters of Mercy, Genesis P Orridge, Throbbing Gristle, Bauhaus, UK Decay, and Specimen. McCafferty also specialized in sourcing and combining controversial recordings of music and spoken word such as the work of Diamanda Galas and the suicide recordings of Jim Jones. The walls of Hades were cloaked in large prints of Goya's Black Paintings and Francis Bacon Popes. The air was heavily scented with the smell of Night Queen incense – which masked the odour of road kill hanging from the ceiling. Hades came to an abrupt end on 13 December 1983 when passing police officers noticed two girls running from the club with their hair on fire and insisted the club close down. Moloney reported that “much of the interaction between patrons of the club exceeded normal behavior – a line has been crossed in Belfast nightlife”. [1] Hades, although short lived, established that there was a significant need in Belfast for clubs which did not conform to the parochialism of the city. Significant lessons had been learned for the future by all involved in Hades, particularly the concept that if a club was not a commercial enterprise it would not have to compromise integrity with the selling of liquor.

Without access to Jules the scene shifted to Rumpoles Bar at 81–85 Chichester St. Belfast on Monday nights. With the support of Martin Atkinson, a former Hades DJ, McCafferty launched Wasp Factory a name inspired by the Iain Banks novel of the same name. Despite the licensing laws the bar remained open until 2:00pm. The door tariff of £10 ensured that the bar made a return on the tariff alone and liquor sales was not the main driver. The plan was to establish a club that had a “no dance policy”. This allowed the DJ’s a platform on which to experiment. The result was a disparate of musical styles including Opera, church music, movie scores, Jazz, modern and classical and even speeches. Verdi, Theloneous Monk and Philip Glass became staples on the playlists. Visuals were mainly Film Noir. Local artist and Jazz musician Mary Mulrine drew chalk portraits of unwary patrons throughout the night. 200 night light candles lit the interior. Davy Sims a local radio broadcaster for the programme “The Bottom Line “on Radio Ulster commented that Wasp Factory “was the alternative to the alternative”[2]. Towards the end of Wasp Factory’s tenure McCafferty was exploring European music and took a particular interest in Electronic Body Music such as that being produced by bands such as Front 242 and D.A.F. (band) . This was a significant departure from the initial Wasp Factory policy and signalled the beginning of an interest in aggressive electronic dance music. Wasp Factory continued to experiment with electronic dance music until early 1987 when the bar changed ownership. The move away from the "no dance" policy was complete and the underground would now embrace the new dance music. McCafferty's next innovation was The Leather Apron was named after a suspect in London’s Jack The Ripper murders and was first presented in Winkers Bar, Dunbar Link, a rundown bar in the docks area of Belfast. This event was recorded in Belfast style guide Hype Magazine [3]. The night was a failure with only 18 people attending. An inappropriate performance from Live Art practitioner Mark McKeon and an adult mannequin confused the patrons whilst the sound and vision systems collapsed. This was the first time that Live Art was to play a role in the underground – in the years to come this art form would be a key component of underground events. Despite the poor attendance that evening many of the protagonists who would become significant in the underground came together – Chris North (experimental musician and sound artist), Wally Mount & Jay St John (entrepreneurs with interests in restaurants and fashion outlets), and “Sid” AKA Hugh McPeak (DJ) and Martin Atkinson (DJ). Despite the shambolic start over the next month the crowd doubled each week indicating that the Leather Apron Club could be viable. McCafferty convinced Wally Mount and Jay St John to give him the use of their substantial retail outlet known as Zakks – situated at Shaftesbury Square, Belfast.

On 24 October 1987 the Leather Apron was re launched in Zakks and reviewed in the Belfast Review magazine Patrick Fitzsymons [4]. The space was considerable and the two floors provided ample dancing space for the 300 guests. The building was lit with 100 stiletto shoes supporting nightlight candles. These were placed over a multitude of mirrors to create an inferno effect on the walls and ceilings. The effect was further enhanced with the unplanned and simultaneous combustion of the shoes. Large scale video screenings looped tattooing and intimate body piercing. The music policy was now very much back in dance mode. The recordings of the bands whose sounds were used towards the end of the Wasp Factory were now developed to a more intense level. DJ Martin Atkinson now used the music of bands such as Skinny Puppy and particularly Nitzer Ebb to energize the dance floor. The electronic dance music was a success with the crowd dancing for seven hours. German & Canadian TV crews were in Belfast at the time covering the Troubles and had heard about Leather Apron. Both crews filmed the event which was subsequently broadcast on the German TV arts programme P.I.T and Canada’s popular current affairs TV show The Journal. A montage of photographs from the event were published in Hype Magazine [5]. McCafferty continued to distil elements from several genres such as Hard Beat and Electronic Body Music, he also focused on early industrial music particularly East European sounds from musicians such as Laibach .These combinations created an identifiable mix of sounds characterized by powerful rhythms, minimal sequenced hook lines and fierce chanted lyrics. McCafferty's mixes of heavy beats, militaristic imagery, angst and anger was soon filling the underground dance floors across Belfast. The Leather Apron continued to promote an esoteric atmosphere in unlicensed premises for late night clubbers for the next three years. The UK style bible i-D magazine cites Chris McCafferty with being “the nucleus of Belfast nightlife outside the Irish public house since the late 70’s” [6]. The Leather Apron concluded at the end of 1989 when McCafferty, St John and SID hired a massive private space adjacent to King's Hall Belfast - the Octagon. The DJ’s were housed in a huge stockade structure surrounded by a translucent petrified forest. Large screens broadcast the early CGI computer graphics from the Mind's Eye (series) and the self propelling Live Art of the Survival Research Labs. The Octagon was intended to become a regular home for the club. However three weeks later in the same venue St John sponsored a showcase club night to profile a group of mainstream DJ’s (who subsequently came to dominate the student scene in Belfast). St John’s event was an overtly commercial enterprise and destroyed any cache that the Octagon would have had as an underground venue. Although St John and McCafferty would continue to collaborate in the future, it was clear that St John’s motivation was primarily commercial and conflicted with the underground ethic. Jay would soon fully integrate into Belfast’s mainstream rave scene.
McCafferty now restructured the Leather Apron as Middle Earth, the name was taken from the fantasy writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. A visit to Gent in Belgium and to the record company Antler–Subway to experience the Belgian New Beat inspired him to draw upon the current and back catalogue of the company to provide the soundtrack to an influential series of underground club nights in Greater Belfast. These large scale events were held throughout 1990-1991 in the dungeons of the disused Gosford Castle; a Belfast property developer had given McCafferty unlimited access to the castle. The scale of the castle (174 rooms), the circus acts, the acoustics and the Mandelbrot graphics brought the dance party to a new level of intensity. D.J. SID AKA Hugh McPeake now came into his own, mixing Belgian New Beat into his dance set. Whilst the format of the underground parties was to be imitated by many mainstream DJ’s and promoters none of them came close to capturing the magic of Middle Earth. Journalist Deirdre Cartmill recalls the castle parties in an extensive retrospective article on the underground in Dublin’s dSide Magazine “Around 1990 Chris McCaffery was organising huge underground dance events in weird locations like the dungeons of Gosford Castle” [7]. Easter 1991 marked the end of the castle clubs. Criminal elements had now become aware of the scale and potential of underground events as a market for the sale of MDMA. A violent clash between the security team and drug dealers attempting to enter the castle grounds compelled McCafferty's team to take a sabbatical for 18 months. McCafferty had now reached a hiatus. He believed that Middle Earth could not be matched. The challenge of dance clubs had been met and a new challenge for the underground was needed.

Using the fallow 18 months and based on all experiences gleaned from the past, McCafferty developed a new avant garde underground club concept - Deep Blue, the name of the club was derived from the deep blue lighting effect created by a combination of neon, ultraviolet and blue corrugated plastic coated in hydrogen peroxide, diphenyl oxalate and fluorescent dye. The purpose was to make the air appear to be blue. Patrons were to be invited to the parties, venues were never to be disclosed in advance, and invitations were to be hand held objects without text (e.g. Buddha’s, dynamite sticks, toy animals, miniature nooses and bull hooks). Dance music had by this time become mainstream and was therefore eradicated from the Deep Blue play lists. This approach would create a liberating environment for performers, musicians and DJ’s alike in that they were now challenged to entertain a club audience without using dance music. A new radical environment in the underground was now thrown open to innovative and contemporary performers from all creative disciplines. This drew patrons from as far back as Jules/Hades tired of the provincial mainstream to a reinvigorated underground. A new player would now emerge, a musicians collective known as The North Corp lead by the reclusive Chris North. Although Chris North had been a presence in the underground since the first night of Leather Apron seven years previously he would now take on a pivotal role. His electronic compositions and Sound Art as documented by Irish Times journalist Mark Ewart [8] explored the interstices of genres such as Ambient music, Dub (music) and electronica. Chris North represented a generation of Belfast musicians who overcame the limits of their city and became as erudite as any avant-garde composer. The North Corp created abstract sonic vignettes that showed little or no dance appeal. Chris and his North Corp were to become the unsung heroes of Deep Blue whilst always in the background (often framed within a huge, blue plastic cube) they were to provide the backing track for the underground for many years. However there were many difficulties in establishing the Deep Blue concept in it's first year, a series of failed events were exemplified by the event held on 23th January 1993 in the Northern Ireland Aquarium now known as Exploris.

This event was a major setback. Due to the large number of illuminated fish tanks a serene atmosphere prevailed (Aquarium therapy). This was clearly not the edgy night McCafferty had envisaged. Little could be done to give the party a lift until guests realized that they could access the tanks and swim with the fishes. As a result the event had to close prematurely[9]. This event was covered by The Sunday Press.

Over the next 12 months, Deep Blue re-established underground credentials culminating in a presentation in Belfast Zoo. The venue would not have been immediately associated with an underground event, but to McCafferty this was an obvious place to showcase his nomadic club. 600 guests were bussed to the Zoo with its panoramic view of the entire city. Throughout the venue domesticated peacocks and prairie dogs roamed freely. There was no music for the first half hour as guests were treated to the live sounds of the animals at night. The North Corp attached cardiac monitoring equipment to their bodies and the results on the monitors were projected onto huge screens. The crowd were mesmerized by the ‘live’ visuals. The North Corp received three encores in response to their freeform jazztronica.

Windsor House in Bedford Street was Belfast’s tallest building. This event was necessarily one of the smallest events of the Deep Blue era – 23 floors above the city centre a flat walled rooftop provided a 360° view of Belfast, not much to look at in daylight but at night provided vista of flame and smoke with sirens as soundscape. 100 guests attended. The entire evening was a lead in to the work of local Live artist Joan Gervan. The soundtrack for the evening was a North Corp pulsating beat interspersed with pre-recorded samples from La Pasión según San Marcos (St Mark Passion) to Crucifixion by John Debney. Joan was hoisted onto the safety wall from where she was suspended over the edge, her image was projected onto the street below. Rather than seeing a critical commentary on women’s issues, an offended mob assembled and stoned the reception of the building. No damage was done due to the bomb proof glass but another important lesson was learned that night - the power of Live Art to provoke extreme emotions, something that McCafferty was to harness to great effect in the future. Along with the Zoo event this event was covered by London music, fashion and culture monthly magazine The Face “Belfast’s Deep Blue are showing the kind of imagination for one off parties the mainland is lacking” [10].

Situated in an enclosed arcade off Rosemary St Belfast, Bewley's was part of a chain of Oriental Cafes and was an ideal setting for McCafferty's attempt to test the concept of a Deep Blue on a Sunday afternoon– Sunday easily being the most under utilized day in a Belfast week with almost every facility associated with a city centre being closed down. Bewley's is a Dublin based institution and frequently holds music/theatre performances. In an attempt to compete with the Bewley's branch in Dublin a forward thinking manager agreed to allow McCafferty to present Deep Blue on the premises. The split level building was self contained and situated at the top of an enclosed shopping arcade which was closed to the public. This captured a similar inside out illusion as had been created in the Wasp Factory during 1984. The invitation was one of the most innovative and impractical in the history of the underground. McCafferty molded individual miniature cups of blue coffee complete with blue foam, saucer and tiny spoon. This was also the first underground appearance of the performer Dougal McKenzie a Scot by birth who found his way to Belfast via the local Art College Dougal was to become a regular and essential element of Deep Blue. His initial performance involved him sitting at a table in the centre of the performance space - he remained here for several hours amidst the full array of human and animal bodily fluids. These fluids were manipulated across the table using sponges and brushes. The only person to be protected from the stench was Dougal himself who wore a gasmask (this was a seminal moment and the first of many attempts to use the sense of smell to manipulate an audience). The performance seemed inappropriate and disturbing in the genteel surroundings of the café. As a sound track to Dougal’s performance a string quartet from the Belfast School of Music tried to play a medley of 20th-century masters Béla Bartók , Shostakovich and Webern. The mood lighting was so restricted the musicians could not read their sheet music and resorted to improvised classical. Chris North found this inspiring and joined in on jazz saxophone. The result was an extraordinary display of improvisation drawing enthusiastic applause from the guests. Another regular artist in the Bewley's events was Damian Coyle who specialized in creating light boxes which helped to illuminate the smokey gloom. Damian and his associate Vivian Burnside also developed disposable art recreating notable pieces from the history of Live Art e.g. the large scale paper cuts of Peter Callesen, whilst not original it gave the guests an insight into the origins and progression of Live Art. Bewley's was the first time that McCafferty had used champagne particularly Veuve Clicquot as the sole fuel for the events. Frequently found working behind the bar at Deep Blue was Owen McCafferty one of the UK’s most promising playwrights, soon to become writer in residence at the National Theatre in London. His prolific output of plays, film scripts and director ship include---Scenes from the Big Picture, Shoot the Crow, Days of Wine and Roses, MoJo and Mickybo, Tonto’s Way and The Absence of Women. By presenting Deep Blue on Sunday afternoons this added to the patronage a new audience who previously had been hesitant about venturing out into the Belfast night (49 people were murdered in Belfast 1993 -1994). This large previously untapped audience would now swell the ranks of the underground assured by the secure environment of Deep Blue. This event was covered by The Sunday Press Newspaper [11] “Trendy round Belfast way is nomadic club Deep Blue….being known to take place in trains, castles and aquariums”. A month later in the same paper journalist Una Brankin described the position of the underground in relation to Belfast’s development in the early 1990s. “during the last spate of trouble in the North, Belfast was described as a ghost town where few would venture out to socialize. This is simply not the case in the ‘neutral’ territory frequented by affluent young things – Catholic and Protestant- in the buzzing south of the city. The trendiest of this breed are avid followers of the Deep Blue association of artists, musicians, DJs and video technicians, who run wonderfully weird nights at secret venues all over the city, not just in the south[12].

Whilst the underground scene generally regarded Belfast’s art community as irrelevant there was one artists collective know as Catalyst Arts which came to the attention of McCafferty through their inaugural video Without Prejudice. Dougal McKenzie the regular Live Artist at the Bewley events was a key player in the collective and convinced the group to allow their premises to be used for Deep Blue. The building was situated in Exchange Place a narrow alleyway typically found around the Victorian textile factories which had flourished in Belfast in the 19th century. This area has now been redeveloped as the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast. The benefit to Deep Blue of the loose association with Catalysts Arts was that it was home to a proliferation of Live Artists who came as a job lot with the hire of the building. The building was ideal as it was on two levels with a split level second floor. The building took the form of an L - shape and enclosed an outdoor courtyard. This situation was ideal to showcase at least twenty Live Artists. The performances ran continuously throughout the night using every facet of the old factory. Dougal McKenzie entertained guests with a journey through the walls of the factory. Dougal moved through the narrow spaces between the walls to periodically appear unannounced and immobilized inside plastic geometrical shapes visible only through gaps and breaks in the walls. The performance concluded with Dougal appearing naked attached to the outside wall of the courtyard from where he dived into a bath filled with iced water. However the most significant performance was by a new artist to Deep Blue, the hanging artist Toby Dennett. Toby was wrapped in a plastic cocoon filed with red jello to control his temperature. He was then suspended from the ceiling on a pulley which he controlled from inside the cocoon. The impression was that he was hanging in a suspension of blood. Many guests were disturbed by the performance which suggested a suicide was happening. One guest, a nurse, became hysterical thinking Toby was going to die; she had to be removed from the building. Over three hours he slowly lowered himself to the ground then spilled out on to the floor. Journalist Deirdre Cartmill recalls this performance in an extensive article on the Belfast underground in dSide Magazine “It’s Saturday night a strange figure hanging from the ceiling in a cocoon slowly emerges and slithers to the floor oozing blood ” [7]. Toby Dennett is now Head of Artists Support with the Arts Council of Ireland. The gravitas of the performances was offset by a copse of trees erected in the middle of the performance room in which transmitters and microphones were hidden. From a covert vantage point in the roof a performer would engage passers by with personal questions resulting in many guests conducting conversations with the trees. The sound track for the evening primarily focused on post-industrial, avant garde noise music exemplified by performers such as Einstürzende Neubauten, PBK (composer) and Arcane Device. Most future Deep Blue events would now follow the model established that night. Continuous performance of all types happening simultaneously would create a dynamic within the crowd to keep it moving through the venue. One other significant thing happened that night – a German fluxus artist was among the guests and was soon to become the most prolific Live Artist in the Belfast underground - Kieke Twisselman.

By the 1980s, decades of pollution had left the River Lagan once the centre of Belfast life, a filthy mess. In the 1990s, a cleanup program and the addition of the Lagan Weir gradually brought the river back to life. The weir was activated in April 1994 and on 23 October 1994 McCafferty had convinced the management to allow Deep Blue to use the premises. The party started on the connecting bridge linking the weir to the banks. Guests were treated to champagne on the bridge whilst a full moon illuminated the view of Belfast’s industrial wasteland. Huge screens floating just under the surface of the water picked up projections of sinking ships. The party began for real when guests were taken down into the service tunnel 30 feet under the river bed where the North Corp harnessed the echoing acoustics to provide a haunting electronica theme. At midnight the whole party decamped across the highway to One Oxford Street an art gallery where a disparate group of artists unwittingly set in motion a farcical series of performances. The mayhem centred around Dougal McKenzie who was suspended motionless inside a sleeping bag 3 meters up the gallery wall (waiting to perform) in a homage to Stephen Taylor Woodrow’s “The Living Paintings”. Unknown to Dougal a troupe of Thai Kick boxers began a sword fighting performance [7] and sparks from the clashing swords were landing inside the sleeping bag. Dougal thought that the building was on fire – his struggle to exit the bag caught the attention of the crowd who watched in bewilderment as Dougal slashed open the bag with an artists knife falling head first to the floor were he lay unconscious and received a round of applause. Journalist Deirdre Cartmill recalls the Lagan Weir event in her extensive article on the underground for dSide Magazine “fast forward to the Lagan Weir where you’re sipping champagne, looking down into the river and seeing your own face projected onto the water’s surface. A DJ is spinning experimental sounds and a harpist provides the haunting soundtrack for your descent into an underwater tunnel that’s dripping blue water” [7]. Deep Blue continued to use the underwater tunnel over the next 18 months. In October 1995 dSide Magazine, Ireland's original style bible, described Deep Blue as “a controlled and structured progression through a contrasting range of music, light, animation and performance art…A night with a huge following. Deep Blue continually features new, along with established performers with a fresh agenda each month”.[13]. In 1996 The Face Magazine cited Deep Blue “a club without dancing would seem to miss the point. Deep Blue.…are convinced it’s the future”.[14]

The first instance of Deep Blue appearing in Europe was initiated by Remy Gaillot a Parisian Live Artist and regular at Deep Blue who suggested that McCafferty present Deep Blue in The Web Bar in Paris. This was the first Deep Blue outside of Ireland and was significant in establishing euro contacts that would become fully developed over the coming years. The Web Bar venue proved too much of a compromise for McCafferty who considered the bar to be entirely mainstream. Within hours of leaving the Web the Deep Blue team had located an access point to the Paris Catacombs and an uncharted cavern the size of an amphitheatre. Remy Gaillot rapidly utilized his art contacts and redirected the guests. The champagne and electricity were installed and subterranean Paris was exposed to McCafferty's DJ set, a tribute to Pierre Schaeffer and the Groupe de Recherche who developed Musique Concrète the true underground sound of Paris. In future the Musique Concrète experimental recordings were frequently used to underpin the Deep Blue Jazz/Electronica sound. This event was covered in The (Irish) Sunday Independent, 10 August 1997, Mary Johnston Diary, and “The club without dance”.[15].

David Smith was a local DJ on the dance circuit who had become involved with clubs through working for Jay St John and Wally Mount in Zakks. David was moving away from the mainstream dance through strong jazz influences and had agreed to host Deep Blue in one of his properties appropriately called Blue Hairdressers. David’s property was located in a 19th Century tunnel used for loading textiles onto horse drawn carts. Blue’s vaulted, rounded architectural features provided an ideal environment to hold a party and to shoot a video of a Keike Twisselman performance entitled ‘Belfast Chicken Feet’. Keike excelled in her elaborate, visceral and bizarre vignette of the feast of Easter. Keike built a mound using one ton of soil on which she slaughtered chickens to create her unique take on Easter eggs. She moulded the eggs from a paste of blood and internal organs. The event was significant to the underground in that the music was entirely pre-recorded, a DJ was not needed and whilst David Smith was now to become a Deep Blue DJ this event heralded the gradual decline in the need for live DJ sets in the underground. Journalist Deirdre Cartmill covers this event in her extensive article on the underground in dSide Magazine [7].

Belfast’s Ulster Museum housed a permanent exhibition of the city’s industrial past. McCafferty gained access to the engineering gallery where the exhibition of huge horizontal steam engines, pumps, fly wheels, looms and engines provided the backdrop to one of the biggest Deep Blue presentations to date. Blue lights were placed within the mechanisms of the machines and the water which cooled them, when the engines were started up the lighting effect was unique with giant moving shadows engulfing the entire gallery. This event was significant in highlighting a move towards live music ranging from the North Corp electronic, harpists, Nu-Jazz trios and string quartets. The highpoint of the night was the vision of a naked Kieke Twisselman covered in white body paint and wrapped in parachute silk unraveling over a 50m drop from the balcony. Dougal McKenzie meanwhile interviewed guests about their musical tastes whilst suspending them on a wire & harness from the museum wall – the guests wore a helmet with ear phones through which was played Dougal's own miscellaneous musical selections. Against his better judgement McCafferty had been persuaded to allow a poet to perform at the start of the night,the young Canadian poet Georgia Wilder stunned the audience into silence with an account of personal trauma. Her performance was followed by sustained applause something unheard of before or since in the underground. The disparate combination of performers and musicians was not lost on McCafferty and the museum event had a further liberating effect on the habitués of Deep Blue – the spoken word would now figure as significantly as the music. dSide magazine covered this event in their Club Wonderland article. “Club Wonderland – Hard Art + technology +champagne = Deep Blue. Clubland has never been so cool. This February sees the alternative Belfast club promoters take another quantum leap in the fresh extra-sensory experience that is Deep Blue…. Prepare for some serious stimulus from the neo fluxus poetry of Keike Twissalman to the sonic sound art of North Corp”[16].

Throughout 1998 Belfast’s 19th century sewer network was being overhauled and as a result McCafferty was able to gain access to a heritage site within the cities huge sewage complex. The Deep Blue faithful guests were invited to spend an evening partying in the remnants of Belfast’s Victorian sewer system amongst huge spiked turn of the century sewer machines. The North Corp set up in a cavernous tunnel and used the clanking and pounding of the massive Barrington pump and screening machine made by SS Stott & Sons in 1906 as a beat to compliment the jazztronica of the band. At the same time Keike Twisselman began her performance of ‘Selection and Capture in the sewers’ - she began the performance in the deepest tunnels of the sewers to emerge at intervals throughout the night - dressed in a diving suit and wielding a samurai sword - Keike would slash through fish hanging from the ceilings and sketch scenes from the party in fish blood on the floor. The Times newspaper (London) references this event in the Metro Section “Frustrated by Belfast’s stagnant club scene Deep Blue set about establishing something more avant garde" [17]. The Victorian entrance to the sewers overlooked a reed bed with nesting swans. Guests were able to enjoy their champagne on the balcony overlooking this rural idyll and at the same time take in the juxtaposition of the site of the Belfast Harbor Power Station with its thousands of twinkling blue safety lights. Performances, music and visuals were used to control and manipulate the guests.It became apparent that whilst David Smith’s DJ set was musically sophisticated his presence behind the decks did not further enhance his superlative choice of music e.g. Polish jazz. As there was no need to control a dance floor it became obvious that an actual live DJ was redundant. This was the last time a DJ would play live in the underground (DJ’s would continue to play a role in the underground but only to pre-record the set). Another feature of the night was that to ensure that guests were compelled to see all the performances the bar would be moved around the building to where each performance took place. Lighting and scents were used to control and direct patrons to the artists. Butanethiol would be released into the air compelling guests to move away from a particular performance and the sweet smelling perfume Vanillin would be used to indicate where the next performance would take place - this controlling element would feature in all future events. Deep Blue would present regularly in the sewers for the next six months.
In early 2000 Deep Blue was held in a disused underground culvert in Belfast city centre - the River Farset. The entrance was under a manhole cover in a car park off Hill Street a part of Belfast now known as the Cathedral Quarter. To avoid detection the entrance was disguised with a construction cordon and the stewards were disguised as construction workers. The guests descended a vertical ladder 20 feet into a sealed tunnel parallel to the underground river. The tunnel lit with blue shimmering water effects complimented by the continuous distant rush of water created a unique environment. This was offset by McCafferty spotlighting several cracks in the tunnel ceiling which were leaking brackish water. McCafferty was the sole DJ for this period and used the parties to experiment with the recent musical developments known as Nu Jazz. McCafferty was particularly inspired by the work of French musician Ludovic Navarre and his fusion of house and Nu Jazz. The combination of the atmospherics of the tunnel venue and the new music clearly underscored the increasingly sophisticated path the underground had embarked upon. The Nu jazz was to lay the foundations for the music which was to fuel the underground for the next ten years.

“Sometimes I can smell the sweetness of death” Few parties or clubs would promote their event with such dread, however McCafferty considered this sentiment to be appropriate to presenting Deep Blue in a Belfast Abattoir. A clue to the venue was contained in the invite which was a clear blue plastic box containing a suspended miniature meat hook. The plant was situated on Largy Road 14 miles to the West of the city; guests were bused to the plant unaware that it was an abattoir. A recording of distressed cattle could be heard in the distance as guests walked through a darkened corridor towards the Kill Room. Saws and bull hooks hung from the ceilings and the networks of stainless steel sluices would act as staging for Keike Twisselman. The air was thick with the smell of stale blood as the blood tanks had not been emptied prior to the party. Several guests were unable to enter the Kill Room through trepidation or vegetarianism. Various scents were used to try and mask the smell of blood and also to direct guests to various parts of the complex to experience different sounds and sights. Night Queen Incense was used to signal Keike Twisselman's performance ‘Zen Slaughter’ as she was trailed through the slaughter complex on hooks used to move carcasses. The abattoir was used over the next five consecutive months and was covered by Roisin Ingles in the Irish Times newspaper, her half page feature would lead to the first of many Deep Blue presentations in Dublin [18]. Ingles article was the most extensive coverage of the underground scene to date and tripled the average number of guests attending the clubs.

The feature by Roisin Ingles in the Irish Times provoked considerable interest in Deep Blue and McCafferty was inundated with requests to bring the concept to Dublin. Whilst only 100 miles from Belfast, Dublin culturally is a totally different city. Dublin had no underground scene but did have a large homogenous mainstream club scene. This meant that McCafferty would have to run a small scale event to test the potential for an underground scene. Dublin did not have the industrial heritage of Belfast so finding a venue proved to be difficult however McCafferty found access to Glasnevin Crematorium. The Crematorium was housed in a deconsecrated church within the grounds of Glasnevin Cemetery one of the biggest in Europe. The church was a Hiberno-Romanesque design (Romanesque art) which provided juxtaposition to the performances taking place within. Grainne Kipper a Belfast Sound Artist based in Devon held the crowd spellbound by manipulating operatic notes from her diaphragm using tight corsetry and a plastic funnel on her head. The mesmeric effects of these unsettling noises lasted for an hour and set the tone for the rest of the evening. The North Corp were again performing inside the giant blue cube and used the acoustics of the crematorium to further develop their jazztronica and guitar riffs. The Dublin guests reacted to the Deep Blue concept with a mixture of confusion and shock and found it difficult to understand why dancing and DJ’s were not the order of the day. The majority of the Dublin guests clearly had been disappointed by the presentation and the Deep Blue team unanimously agreed that they had tapped into the wrong zeitgeist. However two of the Dubliners Donal Butler and Warren Neill had been enthused by the potential of what they had seen and persuaded McCafferty to run the event again on the basis that they would ensure a more responsive audience. They believed that rather than relying on the Irish Times article the Deep Blue team should have used their proven approach of an innovative flyer. Butler and Neill believed they could attract disaffected elements of the Dublin mainstream. McCafferty agreed and created a replica funeral casket 6 x1 inch. This contained cigarette lighter parts and mouse trap springs, when the flyer was opened is went on fire. This flyer/invite was enough to enthuse 200 Dubliners to express an interest. Three weeks later Deep Blue was re-run in the crematorium and this time proved to be a significant success. Dublin’s backpacker magazine reported “The anticipation and wonder added to the excitement and seemed to dispel feelings of discomfort. There was also the grandiose feel to the party as we sipped on our champagne, listening to opera in this beautiful spacious old building. This was after all one of those events that can truly be called unique” [19].Butler and Neill would now collaborate with McCafferty to establish the long running Dublin sister club to Deep Blue known as "Fresh and Clean”. Another significant event in the crematorium was a conversation between McCafferty and an American entrepreneur Cato Cormier. Cormier indicated that he might be prepared to act as benefactor for Deep Blue if he had some influence over direction. McCafferty did not warm to the idea of his independence being diluted. Cato Cormier would continue to lobby for influence over the club. In February 2002 the Irish music and culture magazine Hotpress printed an article describing Deep Blue as “unique and carefully planned so as no performance is ever repeated. A controlled and structured progression through a contrasting range of music, light, art, animation, theatre and installation art, this fusion of disparate elements is presented as an intimate interpretation of a new level of clubbing” [20].

On 21 February 2003 McCafferty and Cato Cormier met again at the opening of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York. The scale of the exhibition and the innovative films of the Cremaster Cycle inspired McCafferty to the extent that Cato Cormier was now able to convince him that Deep Blue needed to become more expansive and could develop further with Cormiers backing. Agreement was reached that the new club should use the Paris party in 1997 as a template and utilise venues abroad. The new collaboration would be known as Victory Over The Sun in homage to the original collective Victory over the Sun. McCafferty and Cato Cormier returned to New York in early April 2003 and three weeks later the first Victory Over The Sun took place in the City Hall (IRT East Side Line) subway line . The structure of the subway tunnel was well suited to McCafferty's visuals. 12 projectors were synchronized to project onto the walls and ceilings creating the impression of sharks and wolf packs encircling the building. The champagne area was surrounded by a curved, circular wooden wall and strategically placed projectors created the impression of being inside a champagne glass with drowning guests. The champagne was served in blood transfusion bags and imbibed through a rubber tube. The sound track for the evening was mainly drawn from the music of the experimental band Sunn O))) the esoteric, otherworldly nature of their music was ideal for the acoustics of the subway tunnel. In addition to presenting Victory Over The Sun in New York this was the first occasion when McCafferty devised and performed his own Live Art. This piece was a comment on abortion set in a mock up of a hospital delivery room. Two doctors wearing elongated wooden masks worked frantically to remove and stack plastic dolls from a series of industrial ovens that had been filled with blood. The doctors then melted the stack with acid. This lasted for 30 minutes and was done in marching time to Paul Lincke ’s Berliner Luff. Throughout the performance large projection screens showed electronic counters recording the live statistics of abortions being carried out throughout the world. Victory Over The Sun continues to present annually in New York.

The new patronage ensured by Cato Cormier meant that Victory Over The Sun could now focus on European events whilst still continuing to present in Belfast. The Belfast events would now be used mainly to test out new ideas and performances prior to European parties. Victory Over The Sun was now presented regularly in the main European capitals. The difficulties of taking Victory Over The Sun abroad on a regular basis were addressed by presenting the club in the type of venues most suitable for a nomadic club and based on the Paris template of 1997 – under ground sites with easy access to power supplies, local knowledge of the club scene to attract guests with minimum notice and ready access to large quantities of champagne. Examples of the European events were in the subway tunnels of Madrid, Milan, Barcelona, Prague, Rome (catacombs) and Munich. Citizen Magazine, cited Victory Over the Sun in "Ones To Watch” [21]. Berlin 2007 was indicative of the European events .The Berlin underground train station at Gesundbrunnen, led to an extensive network of tunnels ideal for Victory Over The Sun. – Ansell Worl was an accomplished Live Artist who specialised in bloodletting performance akin to the medieval leeching A white linen sheet 50m in length was laid out on a runway 3m above the ground. Ansell had a valve attached to his arm, she released every 12 minutes as she slowly walked across the sheet. The blood spurted out across the linen creating patterns of arterial spurts associated with acts of violence. The sound track was based on recordings from Juncture a large-scale collaborative project made up of original stories, drawings, paintings, photos and music by over fifty artists of the time. The music was a cross between electronic music (DJ Spooky, Mike Ladd), jazz (Vijay Iyer, Jay Collins) and experimental (Vernon Reid, Lorenzo Pace). The international aspect to Victory Over The Sun was recognized by FHM Magazine, December 2007, page 171-172. “The world at night – the most original nights out on the planet” [22].

In February 2007 Victory Over The Sun accessed a disused four storey 1870’s building in the centre of Belfast. The derelict warehouse was a listed building in the Venetian Renaissance style, it that had been vacant for 20 years. The appeal of this venue was that it presented opportunities for 12 varied and discreet access points to 12 different areas of the building; in essence Victory Over The Sun now had a semi- permanent home which housed 12 constantly changing club environments. Patrons of the underground were encouraged to be especially discreet and selective about revealing the whereabouts of the venue. After almost a decade, the venue was sold in for redevelopment in January 2016, and the club returned to the original policy of one off locations.
1. The Irish News, No. 34356, 16 December 1983, page 5, Nightlife – Hades Satan’s Workshop. By Eugene Moloney. Published by Irish News Ltd, 113-117 Donegal Street, Belfast BT1 2GE

2. Davy Simms a local radio broadcaster for “The Bottom Line “on Radio Ulster commented that Wasp Factory “was the alternative to the alternative”. Broadcast 13 March 1986. BBC, Broadcasting House, Ormeau Avenue, Belfast

3. Hype magazine (Belfast), June 1987, “The Leather Apron Club”, page 68. Published by the Proprietors Hype Magazine 117 Fitzroy Avenue Belfast BT7 1HU

4. Belfast Review, Issue 17, Autumn 1987, page 36 “Clubs”. Reviewed by Patrick Fitzsymons. Published by the Proprietors Hype Publishing 117 Fitzroy Avenue Belfast BT7 1HU [Link 1] [Link 2]

5. Hype magazine (Belfast), September /October 1987 “Spy at the Leather Apron Club” – photospread, page 65. Published by the Proprietors Hype Magazine 117 Fitzroy Avenue Belfast BT7 1HU [Link 1] [Link 2]

6. i-D Magazine No 76 Dec 1989/January 1990 “A tale of two cities” page 69-71. Published by Terry Jones and Tony Elliott 3rd Floor 134/146 Curtain Road London EC2A 3AR [Link 1] [Link 2] [Link 3]

7. dSide Magazine, Issue no 31, April 1998 page 92, “Into the deep…..Ireland’s best kept secret”, final page. By Deirdre Cartmill. Published by Wardon Limited, The Factory, 35A Barrow Street Dublin 4 [Link 1] [Link 2]

8. The Irish Times, Dublin, Friday, March 3, 1995 Mark Ewart [Link]

9. The Sunday Press, 17 January 1993, Page 7, by Mark Tierney for Mary Kerrigans City Desk. Published by Irish Press Plc, 25 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Ireland [Link]

10. The Face Magazine, June 1993, Vol 2, No 57, Page 115, Clubs. “Belfast’s Deep Blue are showing the kind of imagination for one off parties the mainland is lacking”. Published by EMAP, Top Right Group Ltd, Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London NW1 7EJ [Link 1] [Link 2]

11. The Sunday Press, 10 October 1993, Page 29, The Kathryn Rogers Diary. Published by Irish Press Plc, 25 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Ireland [Link]

12. The Sunday Press, 14 November 1993, Page 9 ”Belfast toes the party line” By Una Brankin. Published by Irish Press Plc, 25 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Ireland [Link]

13. dSide Magazine, Issue no 12, October/November 1995, page 19,”d’note”. Published by Wardon Limited, The Factory, 35A Barrow Street Dublin 4. [Link 1] [Link 2]

14. The Face Magazine September 1996, Vol 2, No 96, Page 224 “Club News”. Published by EMAP, Top Right Group Ltd, Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London NW1 7EJ [Link]

15. ^ Sunday Independent, 10 August 1997, Mary Johnston Diary, “The club without dance”. Independent News & Media PLC Independent House 27-32 Talbot Street Dublin 1 Ireland [Link]

16. ^ dSide Magazine, Issue no 40, February 1999 page 15-16, “Club Wonderland”. “Club Wonderland – Hard Art + technology +champagne = Deep Blue. Clubland has never been so cool. This February sees the alternative Belfast club promoters take another quantum leap in the fresh extra-sensory experience that is Deep Blue”. Published by Wardon Limited, The Factory, 35A Barrow Street Dublin 4 [Link 1] [Link 2]

17. ^ The Times Newspaper (London), Saturday, 7 August 1999, Metro Section, page 4, “Club Deep Blue”. Published by News International Ltd, 3 Thomas More Square, London, E98 1XY [Link]

18. ^ The Irish Times, Saturday, April 21 2001, Arts page 5 – Cutting Edge (1/2 page) “Death to boring Saturday nights,” by Roisin Ingles. [Link 1] [Link 2]

19. ^ Backpacker Magazine, Issue 4, 10 November 2001, page 43-45 “Deep blue in Glasnevin Crematorium”, by Deirdre Mullins. Backpacker Magazine 2nd Floor 35 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2. Published by Woodfield Publishing Ltd. 1-4 Adelaide Road Glasthule Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin Ireland [Link 1] [Link 2] [Link 3]

20. ^ Hotpress Magazine, Vol 23, No 3, page 18, 27 February 2002, “Deep down and blue”, by Sara Colohan. Published by Osnovina Ltd, 13 Trinity St. Dublin 2 [Link 1] [Link 2]

21. ^ Citizen Magazine, February 2007, page 52 ”Ones To Watch” – Victory Over The Sun. 7 Queen Street, Londonderry, BT48 7EF [Link 1] [Link 2]

22. ^ FHM Magazine, December 2007, page 171-172. “The world at night – the most original nights out on the planet” - Victory Over The Sun. Published by ACP PUBLISHERS LTD 2010. Offices 2 & 3, Brixfield Farm, Kineton, Warwickshire, CV35 0ED. [Link 1] [Link 2]