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Queen's club night Shine made us who we are, Bicep say as second album misses out on top spot

Dance duo toast of NI with UK no. 2

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Bicep

Bicep

Bicep

One of Northern Ireland's most successful musical acts of the last decade believe it is their Belfast roots that made them as they celebrate hitting the number two spot in the UK album charts.

Bicep - the duo of Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson - have been winning over audiences and critics with their blend of modern dance music styles since they emerged six years ago, with their second album, Isles, just missing out on the top chart position this weekend.

"It is just the energy of Northern Ireland, which is hard to match," says McBriar. "That has always been a huge influence for us."

Born and raised in Belfast, Matt and Andy have been friends since the age of eight, bonding over their shared love of music, and although they grew up surrounded by Irish rock legends Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher, it was their regular trips to the iconic Shine club nights at the Queen's University Student Union which set them on the path they are on now.

"There were world-class line-ups there every week at the time in the early 2000s," they reminisce. "We both remember going across to university in England and the nightlife not quite living up to what we'd been used to.

"Going to Shine was like being smacked in the head with a hammer," says McBriar. "If it wasn't energetic, it was boring," Ferguson agrees.

Their self-titled debut album reached the Top 20 in the UK Albums Chart in 2017 and has amassed a staggering 100 million streams on Spotify. Isles, however, has surpassed that, and takes Bicep's music in a more contemplative direction. Even the title has obvious connotations.

"We're not religious, but we're both from different religious backgrounds," McBriar explains. "There was always a lot of interest in us talking about that part of things in the early days, but we weren't interested. We always felt that one of the things we loved about dance music was that freedom it gave you to be released from talking about those things."

That sense of communal spirit was strongly felt at Shine in particular. "You'd enter the club and it would be people from both sides of the tracks and they'd be hugging," Ferguson remembers. "It felt like the safest place, but on paper it should have been the most dangerous."

Both members of Bicep went to study in England in the late 2000s, where they started their own blog, named FeelMyBicep, as a place for them to share their favourite obscure dance tracks. The site quickly became a huge success, spawning a club night and a record label, and establishing them as two of the most in-demand live DJs in the country.

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Bicep

Bicep

Bicep

Despite their international success, both McBriar and Ferguson still miss their hometown.

"Both of us love Belfast and get back as much as possible, which is usually a good few times a year," says McBriar.

"Not only Belfast, but getting into the countryside and coastline there never gets tiring. We grew up in Belfast and our families are both still there. They're really proud - it's good that Bicep is now a bit more than a daft name to try to explain at weddings."

They feel that the success they have had also puts a responsibility on them to give back to the local music community, especially at such a challenging time.

"The scene in Northern Ireland was great pre-Covid," says Ferguson.

"Festivals like AVA put Belfast on the map as a European destination for high-quality events, on par with anything else we play at of its size.

"There's an incredible amount of young talent that's coming through, we might be biased but it really feels like Northern Ireland is a hot spot for emerging electronic music.

"We absolutely want to get involved as much as we can once Covid settles and help rebuild the scene."

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