Mano Le Tough with support from Jordan, Chez Damier and Special Request
Friday 26th September 2014 – Limelight, Belfast
Last Friday marked round two for this year’s Red Bull Music Academy Belfast Weekender, with an event at the Limelight whose bill boasted headline act Skream alongside an array of popular DJs (local record-spinner and beatshead Jordan McGuaig, Special Request (Paul Woolford), and Chez Damier (Balance)). But, unfortunately, for fans of the Londoner hoping to get a glimpse of his recent house and disco sets, or perhaps even some of his early dubstep material, Skream was forced to pull out last minute on Friday. The official reason given for his absence from Northern Ireland’s first ever RBMA Weekender event was that he had missed his flight across the water. Though, as the replacement act announced he would be filling in quite early on in the day on his social media account, something doesn’t quite add up about this. Whatever the reason for Skream’s non-appearance, Irish DJ and producer Niall Mannion (A.K.A. Mano le Tough) was handed the honours of taking his position as lead act of the night. It’s worth mentioning here that the Weekender did not only consist of gigs like this (those interested could attend workshops, lectures, film screenings and a record swap meeting). However, with the highest number of big names on display, this event was always set to pull in the most punters.
Jordan (who runs Nocturne and will be supporting Derrick Carter at Boombox on 10th October) opened proceedings, while the large, expansive space of the Limelight – maybe not the first venue you’d associate with dance music in Belfast, but which has hosted acts like Bicep and Todd Terje over the past year or so – slowly began to fill up. Following this, veteran Detroit artist Chez Damier delivered his set of Chicago house for which he is so (deservedly) renowned by fans here and elsewhere. Adding his bit to the mounting sequence of the evening’s dance music, Damier gave an expert demonstration in how to warm up his follow-on acts.
Paul Woolford, performing under the guise of Special Request was next up. After a strong set at Twitch back in early June, expectations may have been unfairly raised for arguably the biggest name of the evening. Performing under his Special Request moniker, his set differed considerably from the one at the start of the summer, opting mainly for Special Request’s signature garage, bass-infused music. No doubt – and as with Skream, in fact – the allure of the name will have pulled in a number of the crowd members on the night, but it would have taken a real devotee to ignore the fact that his set, while obviously not a car crash by any means, was a relatively underwhelming affair all in all.
And so, finally, the native Mano le Tough stepped up to the plate to top off the roster of electronic acts on show. And step up he really did. Despite his tune selection not being filled with instantly recognizable track IDs – although Scuba’s Plateau did emerge as one noticeable reference point – the show he put on went down noticeably well with the crowd during what was undoubtedly the most packed-out stretch of the evening on the dancefloor. A particularly strong moment in Mannion’s set came when he unleashed a monstrous war horn of a track (sounding close to Christian Martin’s remix of ‘Monster Island’, though it wasn’t this) which defied even the mighty unlocking powers of Shazam. Cut with some Dark Sky, this blaring juggernaut had dancers in thrall to the hypnotic lure of le Tough’s thumping sound medley. The finale came in the form of the extended mix of main single ‘Can’t Do Without You’ from Caribou’s rapturous new album, Our Love. Pouring down on crowd members in a six-minute-long wave of lapping euphoria, this number proved a choice selection to end the show with, and widespread appreciation for it was clear to see (plenty of hugs and “I love you, man[s]” exchanged in tandem).
With the price ranging from five to eight pounds for tickets, having the main headliner pull out and still seeing three established dance acts for punters would mean most could go away relatively happy, not feeling massively shortchanged. But, if anything, the event of Skream’s absenteeism provided a welcome surprise in upturning the crowd’s expectations, and Mano le Tough really delivered where it was no given the originally intended act would’ve done so. Some fans will understandably have been disappointed by Skream’s no-show (for the one or two guys wearing ‘TEAM NIGELLA’ t-shirts, definitely, but maybe not the equipment providers, but could well have made a happy discovery in his replacement’s set – or just enjoyed the performance in its own right. So, despite last minute changes to arrangements, the second helping of Belfast’s first RBMA Weekender turned out a relative success, ending on a high note and hopefully auguring well for a continuation of similar events in the near future.