Thursday 1st June was the day that every music lover within Northern Ireland’s music scene had been waiting for as Output 2023 arrived. With 36 artists playing over nine of Belfast’s venues in & around the Cathedral Quarter, the impossible challenge of seeing as many musicians as possible began. Our team of writers and photographers were out and about and captured some thoughts and photos of the action.
I started my night within the walls of The Deer’s Head. The room was quiet with anticipation but the floor was soon flooded as the mighty Jock took stage. The sound made from the queer-garage-punk three-piece was one of purpose and power, soon just about every person watching was bobbing up and down. Teasing us with a selection of their finest work including their latest single ‘Spoilsport’, I left the building as Jock’s newest number one fan; I even began messaging my family WhatsApp group chat about what I had just seen announcing “Jock. Very good. Really really really good”.
With no time to spare, I quite literally began a mad sprint towards The Dirty Onion. A buzz was building throughout the Cathedral Quarter and that excited atmosphere only increased as I joined the attentive listeners gazing upon Róise and her signature guitar. A force to be reckoned with, Róise took the night in her stride and delivered a performance that was not only wonderfully moving, but also incredibly impressive considering her youth. She created her own little world of story and song which have left a lasting impression on me and all those who witnessed it.
My night continued in the Oh Yeah Centre as Downpatrick’s finest cool kid Charlie Hanlon appeared during his special guest slot. I first saw Charlie play when it was simply him, his guitar, and a loop pedal so it’s safe to say that he’s grown a few inches and embarked on some crazy adventures since. Armed with a handful of new songs, Charlie’s indie angst was shared by his fellow bandmates as the four boys gelled together to form a tight and dynamic roar. Screams could be heard from eager fans, myself included, and as I looked behind me to see a packed-out room full of dancing individuals, I felt proud of what my dear friend had and continues to accomplish.
After a few drinks I made my return to The Dirty Onion to see pop princess Susi Pagel perform her ferocious set alongside the courteous Jack McGarry. It was a breath of fresh air to see Susi do what she does best as her theatrical performances took the audience by storm, with many of them already confidently singing along to her fun and meaningful songs. Susi’s sound is one that is unique and I’d say that everyone who saw her that night won’t forget her or her pink hair any time soon. Not to mention the powerhouse that is Jack McGarry who so casually shreds some of the greatest guitar riffs known to man.
Despite having left my house at half past nine that morning, I felt more than ready to conquer the steps of Ulster Sports Club as I made my way to the final show of the night. Arriving early, myself and the group of people I had slowly gathered from gig to gig placed ourselves front and centre as we waited for potentially the most hyped experience of the night, Chalk. And what an experience it was.
From the moment the three-piece took to the stage, there was no lack of fervour from the crowd as the mosh pits opened and the distorted noise began. My ears were ringing, my legs were left bruised, but the sheer grit and ferocity of the electronic-post-punk group left every single person in the room in awe. What an end to a truly immense night of music.
Another year of Output rolled around last week, and despite plans to stick around a couple of venues I once again found myself checking the schedule and powerwalking round the Cathedral Quarter. First on the agenda was Gemma Bradley who has been fairly quiet on the gigging front as her BBC Radio career has taken off in recent years. Playing an even more rare full band set, a good crowd gathered in the Oh Yeah. She played tracks including 2021 single ‘Better’ with its smooth, laid back feel, and new full-voiced songs.
Speaking of new songs, up on Tetto (the rooftop formerly known as Babel) LARKS was back on the stage. Joined by frequent collaborator David Jackson, and early evening sun, she performed a stripped back set including upcoming single ‘Talking to Myself’. Downstairs in Ulster Sports, I was keen to see Becky McNeice for the first time. Another who had gathered a good crowd, onstage she was joined by producer Eulogy. Her hip-hop influenced pop is delivered with genuine joy on McNeice’s face.
Crowds were strong across Output’s nine venues, and back in the bigger capacity Black Box Havvk tore through songs new and old in front of the assembled audience. The band have made Belfast a second home of sorts, frequently recording with Rocky O’Reilly in Start Together, even before a first show here. They seem delighted with the reception, with new songs including ‘Daylight Robbery’ showing the harder edge of their often ethereal alt-rock.
Bullitt’s courtyard was the scene for a debut performance from Dublin’s unique prospect Skinner. Art-punk would be my best grab at a descriptor, alongside their own label of slouch rock, with harder edged guitars supporting main man Aaron Corcoran’s dynamic vocals. At one point Corcoran stated the next song would be an Irish traditional number, before squeals of saxophone penetrated the cacophonous noise they launched into. Their set was a real highlight of the night.
Back again to Black Box, and new Belfast band LipGloss were closing out the stage, fresh from the release of debut single ‘Better Off This Way’. The band mix their originals with energetic covers of ‘Rebel Yell’ and ‘You Oughta Know’, with shouted vocals.
There’s time for a quick pitstop as Mob Wife finish proceedings at the Deer’s Head and then it’s a race to squeeze in for Chalk upstairs in Ulster Sports Club. One of the North’s most exciting talents at the moment and fresh from dates around the UK, Belfast has taken a real shine to their brand of noise, electronica and post-punk. The crowd is squeezed in as the band simmer through the brooding moments and explode in the heavier moments. A sweaty, boisterous affair to round off another successful Output.
Normally the evening showcases mean a cardio workout a decent cardio workout with more than a few sprints between venues catching as many artists as possible. As we were lucky enough to be a host again this year, I put the venue hopping on hold and held the fort for Chordblossom in the Deer’s Head.
First up we had relative newcomers Jock. Purveyors of garage rock and despite only a handful of gigs under their belts and two singles to their name, they pack quite a punch. Their endeavours are rewarded with a packed and attentive crowd who are enthralled by their punk infused vigour. ‘What a Drag’ and latest effort ‘Spoilsport’ pique the crowd’s interest but even the tracks that aren’t known are captivating and delivered with the poise and presence of a much more experienced outfit. Ones to watch for sure.
Drew Makes Noise flip things up genre wise with a deep dive into indie pop and spacey synths. It was intriguing to see how Andrew Wilson’s musical project would translate into a live sound but it shines. With a fur lined hoodie pulled tight over his head, he takes us on a sonic journey through his growing catalogue of bangers. ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Let’s Break the Night in Love’ are particular highlights.
The biggest crowd of the night is for Tramp with people clamouring to get in the door and then pushing into any small space to get close to the stage. The North West outfit don’t disappoint either. Their brand of indie punk has seen them gather a devoted following and they lap up every song. The rapturous response to ‘Snakes & Rabbits’ and the stunning ‘Frankenstein’ suggests we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from this young outfit.
Noise rock trio Mob Wife have the unenviable task of closing out a blinding night of music in the Deer’s Head and they do so with aplomb. The crowd may have thinned out slightly but their performance is bristling with intent. It is a hard hitting assault laced with cutting riffs, thundering drums and those intense and distinctive vocals. A performance with swagger that left those without ear plugs, worrying about tinnitus.