Gazefest! Shoegaze Magnificence @ The Oh Yeah Centre Belfast

This Saturday I was thrilled to come down to the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast for GazeFest, ‘the fest that celebrates itself’. Organised by Old Crows Promotions, the lineup was jam-packed with talent, boasting 10 incredible acts and an overall 9-hour set.
The venue was completely packed out, with shoegaze fans of all ages crowding into the room to rock out to some truly amazing music.

The fest was opened by Klyda, an indie rock band with a strings-heavy sound. Comprising of 3 guitars, one bass and heavy drums, Klyda’s sound is full and fantastic. They opened the night perfectly, developing an energy in the crowd that I’ve never seen produced by an opening band. By the third song, they had a mosh pit forming, living up to their tagline “the only indie rock band you can mosh to.” Furthermore, the crowd were in the air for their grungy cover of Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’.

That said, their original tracks elicited the same passion from the audience. It was evident that the crowd was filled with Klyda fans as they had the audience belting the lyrics in unison, hands in the air as they waved along to some dulcet, dynamic tunes. The set was closed out with electrifying guitar solos and crashing drums which left us full of energy, raring to go for the rest of the day.

Next onstage was Madams Last Discovery, a four-piece Belfast-based band. Their groovy, psychedelic sound was characterised by intense electric riffs and a driving undercurrent of drumbeats. The members’ relaxed stage presence contrasted with energetic shouted vocals and a hard rock sound, effectively built up by their newly joined drummer who attacked the drums with vivacity. The good rapport between members was infectious and translated into their music, with a conversation interaction between guitars starting midway through the set, the instruments riffing off each other.

Once again, seemingly setting a precedent for GazeFest, a mosh pit broke out during the final song. It was a significantly heavy track that riled the crowd up into a frenzy, reimagining shoegaze in a fantastic new way.

The third act was Ethan Hollan. No stranger to the Oh Yeah Centre, he returned to the venue after an incredible turnout for his performance at Volume Control’s ‘Indie Nile’ gig. Soft-spoken Ethan, known for his stripped-back solo music, brought his music to new heights with a two-piece band accompaniment. With groovy chord-driven guitar lines, gentle hushed vocals and a punchy drum backing, his romantic shoegaze sound brought the audience alive. During his particularly vulnerable song Love Bite, couples within the audience could be seen dancing, pulled together by the music.

Ethan is an artist who knows his audience well; His Hello Kitty guitar brought out ecstatic cheers from the audience, as did his energetic cover of ‘Harness Your Hopes’ by Pavement. This track had every person in the crowd screaming the lyrics in unison, clearly an iconic song to many. To finish it off, we were jumping in the air to his final song, the energy created by his music unlike any other.

Hailing from Kildare, Blue Slate next took the stage by storm with an edgy, grungy sound. They heavily utilised the effect pedals, with guitars soaked in echo and distortion. Screaming feedback came from each instrument as the guitars thrashed along, with a heavy snare and cymbal pattern alongside. Cobain-esque vocalist John Harvey displayed a dynamic vocal range, from harsh screams to stripped-back hushed vocals. He placed a foot upon the amp like a pedestal, strumming his guitar with such a fury that it formed an dynamizing discordant sound. All members headbanged along, throwing themselves across the stage, lost in the intensity of the music. The audience exchanged excited glances as Harvey raised the guitar up, so caught up in the music we wondered if he was seconds away from smashing the guitar Hendrix-style. That intensity is seemingly characteristic of this band and their inclusion in the lineup helped to display the true diversity of artists within shoegaze, a genre which is so typically generalised.

Gaze-infused grunge band Lipgloss brought a similarly edgy sound to the stage, with catchy guitar riffs and heavy drums, undercurrented by an infectious baseline. Singer Roma Trisolini really shone in this set, with her commanding stage presence leaving the audience in awe. She demonstrated complete mastery over her voice, ranging from soft emotive singing to belting, to outright screaming. Lipgloss reimagined iconic tracks such as ‘I Kissed A Girl’ and ‘You Oughta Know’ in a punk, passionate fashion, with familiar melodies adapted into insanely electric riffs. The audience were brought to life by these tracks but were captivated too by the originals, including the recently-released single, ‘Better Off This Way’, a captivating track deriving from 80s and 90s influences.

Bringing a heavier sound to the stage next was Wohn, a band which held absolutely nothing back when it came to creating an electrifying cohesive sound. The unwavering passion with which the drummer attacked his instrument left both drumsticks flying through the air and into the audience. Shortly after, in the throes of an epic riff, the guitarist sliced his finger and splattered the guitar with blood. That’s rock ‘n’ roll!

This undeniable commitment had a clear impact on their sound. It was dynamic and heavy, with fast-paced heavy drums, a deep thrumming baseline and an electric guitar layered with octave effect and reverb. All these aspects were tied together by raw and emotive vocals that carried melodies that entranced the crowd.

Just like with every band in GazeFest, there was only a brief interlude for changeover before the next band took the stage. Fulvetta, a 5-piece shoegaze band coming from Dublin, brought a tonal shift. Their instruments, including the unique addition of a synth, blended together in perfect harmony. Their sound was deep, with heavy bass and drums that provided a hard driving beat for us to headbang to. Rendered dizzy from the action, I felt like I could float upon hearing their ‘glistening’ music – this effect was created by the octave pedal mingling with the harmonising guitars and pitched feedback. A melodic element to the tracks was introduced by the hushed and fuzzy vocals which were especially prevalent in their latest single ‘Lampshade’, which closed out the set. The guitars rang out like a wave over the audience, leaving us yearning for more even as their performance was done.

Next was The Drive, a Cork-based trio with an eclectic sound. Their guitars were soaked in reverb, creating a wet shoegaze sound. They opened their set with ambient, echoing vocals and crashing cymbals which provided a steady tempo for the crowd to dance to. This later sparkedthe fire for a hectic mosh pit that brought everyone together. The band had a captivating stage presence, bringing everyone to the very front of the stage in awe as they blasted out song after song, maintaining an impressive tempo til the end.

The second-last band of the night was highly anticipated Wynona Bleach, one of two headlining bands! Their sound was impressively harmonious. From the way Melyssa Shannon’s unique spunky vocals blended effortlessly with Jonny Woods’ to create beautiful harmonies, to the way the guitars riffed together and melded into a gaze-pop sound, every element worked together perfectly. This rang true for the members themselves too; their witty stage banter left us feeling at ease and as peppy as their power-pop music. It’s clear from the response that Wynona Bleach are a crowd favourite, no strangers to the Oh Yeah stage. This is certainly true for front-row fan Jamie, who was invited onstage for their final song. Woods guided him towards the mic, allowing Jamie to lead the audience in a resounding chorus together. This moment epitomised what GazeFest was all about – shoegaze fans, artists and admirers, coming together to celebrate the art form that unites them all.

And finally, after almost 9 hours of incredible music, the final band took the stage. Virgins delighted everyone with a reverb-soaked set that spurred the entire audience into a dancing frenzy, with tracks from their EP ‘transmit a little heaven’ and their latest single ‘s l o w l y , l o n g’. Rebecca Dows’ heavenly vocals are hauntingly beautiful and float over the top of a steady, heavy drumbeat and uplifting wet guitar sound.

Michael Smyth, frontman of the band and of Old Crows Promotions, was responsible for the whole event and his passion was clear as day. His complete adoration for shoegaze as a genre and the fest itself was the very spirit of GazeFest. His love and dedication translated into Virgins producing some of the finest shoegaze I have ever heard, solidifying my image of them as an iconic staple of the scene.

What I think truly encapsulated the meaning of GazeFest was the crowd itself. There were people who had travelled across the globe to be there that night. There were young people, potential musicians and fans, reigniting the influence of live music for a post-Covid generation. There were friends of the bands and longtime visitors to music venues in Belfast. This eclectic group of people were all brought together by shoegaze, which Michael proudly proclaimed to be “the best genre in the world”. In that moment, as someone only recently immersed in the genre, I felt as though I had been brought more than just music that night; I had been exposed to a whole new community, a sense of purpose as driving as the thrumming bassline blasting through the speakers.

GazeFest was a huge success! I, for one, hope to see it return again next year… If the crowd response was any indication, I won’t be surprised to find myself back there again!


Review: Molly Cushinan

Photography Courtesy Of Ebony Alexander