Belfast's thriving rock scene could be as big as the early 90s Seattle grunge phenomenon, according to a leading Northern Ireland record boss.
Andrew Ferris, the managing director of Smalltown America Records, believes Belfast — and Northern Ireland on the whole — is on the verge of a rock explosion similar to the grunge scene of Seattle in the 1990s.
The movement saw record labels from every corner of the Earth descend upon the US city in the hunt for the next Nirvana, whose breakthrough single Smells Like Teen Spirit became an anthem for a generation.
Grunge symbolised a seismic shift in rock music and spawned a multitude of bands like Alice In Chains, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam.
Now one of Northern Ireland’s leading music industry representatives has compared Belfast’s burgeoning music scene to that of Seattle’s in the late 80s/early 90s.
From the prickly punk tunes of Stiff Little Fingers to the indie anthems of Snow Patrol, Belfast has long been a breeding ground for musical talent, but Andrew Ferris says the current crop of young bands is the best yet and that Belfast is poised for a massive rock explosion.
Bands like And So I Watch You From Afar, General Fiasco and Cashier No 9 have caught the attention of Radio One music champions Zane Lowe and Huw Stephens while Fighting With Wire are due to release a new album with major US record label Atlantic this autumn.
Later this month five bands from Northern Ireland will lead a charge at the world’s oldest music festivals — Reading and Leeds — playing alongside the likes of Arcade Fire, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Queens Of The Stone Age and The Libertines.
Belfast alternative rock band LaFaro, who released their debut album on rock label Smalltown America earlier this year, are the latest outfit to sign up for the dual event, joining long-running festival favourites Ash, as well as General Fiasco, Two Door Cinema Club and Japanese Popstars.
Andrew said he couldn’t remember a time when so many bands from Northern Ireland had played such a massive festival.
And he said there was no reason why Belfast could not be “the next Seattle”.
“It’s a big deal to have five bands from here among the 100 acts or so playing Reading and Leeds,” he said.
“Not only is it a great representation number-wise, but it’s also a quality representation, with good, strong acts across multiple genres.
“I’ve been in the business for 20 years now and, to be honest, I think this is the best time for the local music scene.
“The bands are producing commercially viable music, but with a punk spirit. They’re not holding back, they’re not waiting for someone to come along with a cheque, they’re just going for it themselves, and that combination of talent and passion is getting them noticed.
“There’s no reason at all why Belfast couldn’t be the next Seattle.
“When the grunge thing exploded there, every record label in the world descended upon the place looking for the next Nirvana. Why shouldn’t that happen here?”
Andrew said there were numerous reasons why the local music scene was so healthy.
“I think our musicians are more culturally confident now and are not afraid to sing with indigenous accents, inspired in some way by Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody,” he said.
“Also there’s a lot more support from local government and the infrastructure is much better. Music is now considered an exportable commodity.”
Seattle’s grunge scene of the late 1980s/early 1990s put the city on the international music map. With its roots in punk, heavy metal and indie rock, the movement centred round the city’s Sub Pop record label.
It became commercially successful due mainly to the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten, but other bands of the era included Alice In Chains, Temple Of The Dog, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Hammerbox, Green River and Mother Love Bone.
The death of grunge is said to have begun with the suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1994.
Big hitters on the local scene
FIGHTING WITH WIRE — Derry-based band signed to Smalltown America but due to release album on US record label Atlantic later this year.
CASHIER No 9 — Belfast band with big local following and a favourite of Steve Lamacq and Gary Lightbody
AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR — headlined their own sold-out Ulster Hall gig last year.
GENERAL FIASCO — Magherafelt three-piece whose debut album was released on Infectious earlier this year.
TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB — Festival faves, the Bangor electro-pop trio featured in the BBC’s Sound of 2010 Poll.
THE ANSWER — awardwinning Downpatrick rockers who have supported AC/DC and The Who.
CAT MALOJIAN — Electro-folk from Lurgan band that, at the personal request of Gary Lightbody, supported Snow Patrol at Ward Park in Bangor.