Belfast Goes Large is an annual rave hosted by Energy 106, a well-known Irish pirate radio station that has promoted dance music throughout Northern Ireland since 1998. While Energy 106 no longer has a radio broadcast, they continue to run an online station and regularly host parties throughout the city. Belfast Goes Large features over 20 DJs in three rooms of the Student's Union at Queens University, the most recognized school in Northern Ireland.
The sounds of the night are throwbacks to the unlicensed station's heyday, with DJs mostly spinning trance and dream house—music that became hugely popular in mid to late 90s. And while this music may sound dated to some, it is a source of immense nostalgia for those who grew up listening to dance radio.
At the rave hosted on Jul 22, 2017, I met attendees who are younger than Energy 106 itself and those who were part of the first wave of Irish rave culture. Local celebrity DJs such as Danny Creegan paraded across the stage, hyping up the crowd. Meanwhile, laser shows penetrated the atmosphere, and confetti fell onto the crowd of shirtless teenage boys and seasoned ravers old enough to be their parents. "I grew up listening to Energy 106 all the time with my dad," said Brian Woods, an attendee from Suburban Belfast. "[He] was really into any music with a synthesizer, I'm not even sure if he, like other dads, had been aware of the rave culture behind it." Shortly after meeting up with Brian, I ran into his cousin, a father of two, who escaped his responsibilities for the night to relive a part of his past.
The diversity of the attendees isn't only generational. For six hours, the kids from the inner city council estates sweated out their emotions with strangers from the far away rural villages. Teenagers wore their parents' old track jackets and bucket hats—a tribute to the now-fashionable retro rave aesthetic of the 90s. And people peacefully waited in long lines at the bar—a different energy than most other drug and alcohol fueled events around Belfast.
Belfast Goes Large might be a reunion of sorts, but more importantly, it's a window into the future. In Belfast, a city well known for it social divisions, events like this suggest a brighter, more integrated future for the people of Northern Ireland. The next one is set to take place on March 24, 2018.