Pioneer of dynamite vibes in the City of Derry, part of production duo Opus Klien (alongside Dave Lievense) and now an internationally-acclaimed promoter with Jika Jika and Amadán Promotions, Stephen Porter‘s heart still lies with playing records, whether it be at the smallest Bogside club or supporting his idols in the colossal Telegraph Building in Belfast.
Ahead of a packed summer, which next month sees Jika Jika host its first festival in Vancouver – featuring the likes of Kerri Chandler, Paul Woolford, Kenny Larkin, Dense & Pika, Sunil Sharpe and more (tickets available here) – as well as its annual soirée at Ebrington Square in Derry (on Sunday 27 August), 909originals’ Emer O’Connor wishes a massive Céad Míle Fáilte to Stephen Porter.
Hi Stephen, thanks for talking to us. It was Sasha and Digweed who first piqued your interest in dance music in the early 90s and you’ve since developed a mutual appreciation with both. Tell us about your first experience of supporting Sasha in Lush in 2006?
I’m very fortunate to be asked to warm up regularly for Sasha and John Digweed whenever they play here in Northern Ireland and I love it. In turn, they’ve played for us in Derry many, many times.
It all started when I was invited by Lush to support Sasha almost 20 years ago now, and it was supposed to be a short, one-hour warm-up set. I was told to play ‘strictly ambient music’, and instructed to ‘keep it low’, by Alan Simpson, the promoter in Lush at the time.
Ten minutes before the end of my set, he said, ‘OK I’ve got some good news for you, you’re playing on, Sasha isn’t here yet, and you’re playing for the next 90 minutes.’ I ended up playing for two-and-a-half hours, but I got a wee bit too excited and peaked a bit too soon.
I was playing records and halfway through the set, I accidentally took the needle off off the wrong record – but thankfully the crowd reacted really well. So although I was losing the plot, I pulled it together, the crowd were so kind about it and gave me a wee clap, it was actually the best reaction all night!
That was the first time that I played with Sasha – 2,000 people there and the place just went off. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had DJing. It was the number one thing I ever wanted to do – to support Sasha or John and get to play Kelly’s on the Avalon Soundsystem. At the time, they had a V-6 Allen & Heath Mixer, it was just unbelievable. But yeah, I overdid it a bit.
Ah, sure it happens to all of us at one point, ha ha. You started off life as a wee pup selling sticks around the doors and making money from Coca-Cola bottles for ten pence apiece. So you had no fear of the hard graft involved in putting on nights in Derry and doing serious negotiations with the Northern Ireland Executive?
We started off doing gigs around 2000 and we had no money and no support. We had nothing. Me and a few friends just got together, and started doing events – hustling basically, trying to get things for cheap, get gigs off people and get people to help us with the décor of events. It was a DIY kinda thing.
I think looking back it was absolutely shambolic, but that’s how we learned everything we know – we made all the mistakes that we needed to make then, and we lost all the money we needed to make, too. It was a good learning experience and got us to where we are now.
You have to go through the shite to get the reward, and so when we got to that stage, we finally understood the system, things just started breathing naturally. Now we just continue to do what we’re doing.
It was your dad, Sarge, who gave you a fighting chance by opening the doors of his pub, enabling you to carve out your niche sound in the city?
We did events in the Nerve Centre, a public event space. Renting it was costing a lot of money and we were never turning a profit. It got to the stage where we couldn’t keep going – we needed a venue, and there was an awful lack of venues in Derry.
One night my dad said, ‘Well why don’t you do something in my pub’ – it’s a 70-80 capacity working man’s pub – and we started doing bits and bobs. He would pay me £60 to put on the gig. We’d do the door and we brought DJs who were really into it to just come and play, not for money but for the vibe, and to try to get our sound across.
We had some really good nights. Funk D’Void played there until 7am – the doors were locked at closing-up time, then we couldn’t find the key so people were locked inside the bar with one exit. Thankfully, there was no fire! We eventually found the key, and all the happy punters staggered out in the broad daylight and got on a bus to another party across Derry City.
Things were like this for a few years and kept us ticking over. Mike Vandenberg played there, Paolo Mojo too, Lee Pennington, Sam Ball, Ricky Ryan came over from Argentina – we had some amazing nights. It was all so innocent, and totally about the music.
My dad used to call in halfway through the night, and everybody would be really loved up. He’d say ‘these are the best people I’ve ever met in my life – your friends are all absolute stars.’ He asked, ‘Why are they all hugging me?’ Well, it’s just that ‘you’re a legend for letting us do this – they’re probably just really happy because the music is so good!’
Tell us about how you forged your professional partnership with Warehouse Project’s James Crossan and how did you come up with that funky name for your own night, Jika Jika?
A friend of mine, Noel Rush, was DJing at a night in the Bogside of Derry – the Bogside Inn, an edgy venue to say the least. I spotted the guy who was running the night there, and I had a few drinks in me so I said something like, ‘When are you gonna book me?‘ James replied ‘I’ll book you for the next gig’ and it happened just like that.
James was doing Zutekh at the time – it’s still going in Manchester, actually. They do stuff with The Warehouse Project now as well, but back then it was in the Bogside Inn and they were booking DJs like Nathan Coles (RIP) and Terry Francis.
James and I seemed to have similar tastes in music, and I think he saw the drive in me for music and DJing. James was DJing too, but he was more of a promoter even back then. The two of us came together and decided to do something fresh, so we started our own event, and it was called Jika Jika.
So what’s with the name…?
I was reading a book called Chopper, about an Australian criminal who’s in prison, and the prison was called Jika Jika. I was waiting for some inspiration for a name for a new night and the idea that you had the double take of that word, made it sound like really interesting – to make you stop and think how to pronounce it, how do you write it, how does it look?
Some people have just been calling it ‘Jega Jega’,‘Jiggy Jiggy’, everything in between, so it kind of works.
You were inspired by that night in Liverpool too?
Chibuku Shake Shake is where I got the idea for a double take of a name. That club night is still going strong actually, it’s an alternative, break beat and drum ‘n’ bass sort of place. I always thought the name was so clever, because it just sticks in the back of your mind.
I read an article somewhere, and they said they discovered the name in Africa, it was on the back of a carton of beer that needed a shake when you opened it, and it always stuck in my head. So later, when I was reading Chopper, it just jumped out at me on the page – like it was meant to be.
I love the story about your big break with the local City of Derry Rugby Club – it’s so unbelievable, you couldn’t even make it up?
So, I had some kind of foresight or vision, and I knew that we had to do bigger events, gigs that could grow. We started utilising different, edgier venues, where it was all about the music. We had the likes of Silicone Soul, Deetron, Ian Donovan, John Daly, Paul Woolford – these are some of the people who played at the first ones, back around 2011.
Initially there was no budget, we put a tent up, decks on a bit of scaffolding and we got the worst lights and smoke machine. The first one in Donegal worked really well and then we got more opportunities and people saw that we were doing bigger events.
I got a call from the City of Derry Rugby Club, they asked me if I would be interested in coming to do gigs with them, ‘You book the acts, you take the door and see what happens’.
We thought to ourselves, ‘this is a huge opportunity’ – we had all the equipment, the sound system, lights, a tent, and everything. We booked John Digweed, M.A.N.D.Y. and Will Saul, and the gig sold out.
About a week before the gig, the police contacted me and told me that there was no license for the event and that we couldn’t proceed with it. I went out of my mind with the thought that we had no other option but to cancel, and I was absolutely devastated because we paid for DJs and all the equipment we were planning to use.
And then you heard the rugby boys say, ‘You’re grand, you’re grand – you don’t even need a license’?
Yeah, they said they’d sort it out, there’d be no problem. I went to a meeting with the police and the fire service, and they said, ‘there’s no chance this gig’s happening, you’ve no event plan or license application’. I was gutted and thought the world was going to end. We were very naive to assume that the guys at the club would sort out a process that usually takes a few months in a couple of days.
I was driving home that evening, and passed this place called the Halfway House, where we held a few gigs in the past, and I knew that in the Republic of Ireland they were a wee bit more relaxed when it came to licensing. It was basically a big barn in the middle of Donegal.
I remembered there was a back part to it but couldn’t say what size it was or if it would be suitable. I went around and took a peek and it was an even bigger space than I remembered, and I wondered if we could use it. The guy who owned it immediately agreed to help us.
Now, we still had no license or anything, so when the Gardai noticed the tent going up, they came round and asked ‘what was going on’?
I told them everything, and they were really just concerned about safety which we had pretty much covered, so they let us work away. Digweed played there in front of 1,500 people, it was one of the best gigs we’ve ever done. It was just unbelievable, the relief and the fact that it could have been a game ender. If it hadn’t worked out…
…your names would have been mud?
Ha ha, probably.
What’s your secret in attracting such international superstars to the relatively unknown – at least in touristic terms – walled city of Derry?
I think the most important thing is that the people of Derry are really hospitable and they truly appreciate seeing things come into the city that haven’t been there before. We were always a step behind Belfast – all the top acts used to go there. and to Portrush too. We just kept chipping away and I think that things just started moving in the right direction.
The music that we were pushing started to get more popular, whereas other music promoters’ styles were waning. At that time, we were in a better position because we’d been booking some acts which started to get bigger themselves, and when they were coming over, playing smaller venues, they were just blown away by the atmosphere in Derry. The roof is always gonna come off, sweat flying everywhere! If you’re living in Derry, you can’t be a prima donna, you must be working class – get amongst it or else people just don’t buy it.
When we were getting stuck in and we were coming with that attitude, word was spreading. My business partner James Crossan was meeting all the best DJs playing for him at The Warehouse Project in Manchester, and they were asking him, ‘when are you getting us over to Derry?‘ From that, it just sort of snowballed. We also booked some acts whose first time it was in Ireland, Belgian techno star Amelie Lens for example.
We always try to book people who were on the cusp of breaking through. We’ve never been just about one style of music, and tried to keep current, but not cheesy, and not too far removed from what we do.
And then you got your hands on that car park, which became The Bunker?
At this stage, we literally have no venue in Derry and one morning I was reading the newspaper and it said, ‘Disgrace as £5 million car park sitting empty in Derry’. I thought, ‘this is all very interesting – where is this car park?’
I jumped in the car and checked out the car park, and I immediately knew this was the place for us. Several people helped us to lock it in – the biggest force being Stephen Kelly, a well-respected businessman, and CEO of Manufacturing NI [Northern Ireland] who represent all these different manufacturing companies. He works behind the scenes with politicians, holds meetings with the likes of Boris Johnson and Joe Biden, and Terry Crossan, James’ father, knew him too.
I said to James and Terry, ‘We need to try and get this venue off the ground\ and they said, ‘Let’s make it happen!’ Next thing I know we’re sitting down with Stephen and although I was feeling fairly positive, I was still quite sceptical at first, but he said, ‘If there’s anything I’m told I can’t do, I’m going to do it.’
I laughed, ‘Well that’s kind of our attitude as well, we’re always try to push things forward’, and he said, ‘look, we’ll get it off the ground’. Then we had to go to meetings with the Northern Ireland Executive Office – I think the Department of Social Development’s ILEX were responsible for it.
How big was the capacity?
We made it for 1,200 but probably could have got 2,000 in there, I guess. It was a multi-storey car park, consisting of three levels, with a ramp going down. We put the stage at the bottom of the ramp, which made it look like it was a natural amphitheatre. Some people argued we should do it another way, but I wanted it so that when the DJ was looking up, he could see the entire crowd at his or her level.
We eventually got it over the line, thanks to so many people and they believed in us and trusted what we were doing. I guess if it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t have happened.
Once it was off the ground, these slightly older non-ravers absolutely loved it and the buzz of bringing it all together. Being passionate Derry people, they really enjoyed being involved in what must have been 30 gigs at the venue. To this day I’ve not been in a better venue for a party.
I saw recently on Instagram, on Danny Tenaglia’s feed, one of his favourite gigs ever was playing The Bunker in Derry!
Yeah, he’s probably my favourite DJ too – I’ve heard him in Space Ibiza a couple of times, as well as Pacha, and in England at Renaissance at Media.
I saw him in Heaven myself, for a 12hour set…
Wow! I was living in Derby and just obsessed with Danny Tenaglia, his Global Underground CDs, buying his records, like Tribal, Twisted and that DTour stuff.
Prior to that, my school friend’s brother was in Manchester Uni and going to the Hacienda and I used to send him over lists to get me records from England. That was around 1994. I’d read about Danny Tenaglia and Tony Humphries and became obsessed with that whole NYC/New Jersey sound.
And then you brought him over here?
Well, I know Demi, his tour manager very well. We got him to play for us in my Dad’s pub in Derry a few times. He’s a London-based DJ and a lovely fella and he ended up being Danny’s tour manager. Demi loves Derry and he even stayed in my house a couple of times.
So he went back and put in an offer for Tenaglia. It was a bit risky as we weren’t really booking too many legendary DJs back then and had adopted a more techno approach. We debated if we should do it, but then I knew we have to go for it, if you get that opportunity, so the request went in and we got him.
I picked him up from the airport and just fanboy-ed for the whole day – it was unbelievable, he’s a total legend. Alongside John Digweed, he’s the most thorough DJ I’ve ever worked with. I know lots of DJs come and sound check, but he was walking around the venue, checking the venue reverb, timing his claps and adjusting the soundsystem. It was a very weird venue, as it sounded awful when there was no one there. When it was full of bodies they seemed to absorb the reflections and the sound was perfect.
Yes, he’s so professional when it comes to how things should be. He opened my eyes about how I used to just rock up and roll on…
After 30-years plus of slogging it out you’re now super successful at putting on gigs, yet your first love is DJing. But you don’t get the chance to play much when you’re in charge?
I don’t really, you never relax properly whenever you’re on. When I’m promoting, there’s always something in the back of my mind. Even when I’m only DJing, it takes me 45 minutes to relax.
While promoting, someone always asks me to come here and ‘do this and help with this’, or something’s gone wrong and there’s somebody tapping me on the shoulder.
So you can’t get into the zone for music?
I need my imagination to float away, but if there is somebody even behind me touching me, I just can’t relax. So, if you there are about 5,000 people running about, and things are going wrong, and there’s bombs going off and evacuations and stuff, it’s not the best situation to be in, creatively.
You’ve been through the mill when you’ve been away touring, too – what went down in Mexico when you landed there for a gig?
Well, I was booked to do two gigs in Mexico – Reynosa and Monterrey. Flying from the northwest, I had to fly via Dublin, then Atlanta, and the flight was delayed for 12 hours.
I brought 180 records, and it was just at the stage where CDJs were starting to take over, but I was being stubborn and continued to play records. I still love playing records, but it’s just not feasible most of the time.
I got to Mexico so late that these guys who were meant to pick me up in Monterrey had left. So, there I was, 4am in the morning – this wee white guy walking through the airport with all these record bags. All these taxi men were hounding me, offering to take me wherever.
I rang this emergency number that I was given, which put me through to the guy’s mother, who couldn’t speak a word of English. Then his sister came on the phone, and told me, ‘Memo’s not here’, adding that I needed to get a taxi to the next bus to Reynosa.
Now, I had been told you don’t get taxis, that you’ll end up kidnapped, but I did it anyway and caught the bus. Then I fell asleep, exhausted from all my travels as we drove close to the US border.
I’m used to soldiers with guns in Derry, but when I woke up, there were soldiers with guns on the bus. I didn’t know what was going on, and thought we’d gone over the border, and I’d missed my stop. Thankfully, I hadn’t and finally arrived in Reynosa and was met by the promoter, two other DJs and an Argentinian guy called Chipo.
One of the residents, said ‘look, if you want to lie down, go to my bed’, and we went to their room. I was meant to be staying in a hotel, but he said, ‘No, no we stay here’, and I was like, ‘Right, ok‘ and there were double bunk beds and the guy got into the top bed. I was a bit freaked, and asked, ‘Can I use your Internet?’ and I went online.
I had just travelled for a day and a half, and I wasn’t in the form for getting into the bed with a stranger. I got on the Internet and got my wife to book me a hotel in downtown Reynosa the next morning.
The guys dropped me off at it and they seemed happy enough. So, then I went out, walking around as if I was on my holidays. The guys drove by to see how I was doing and went mental at me, ‘what are you doing, you shouldn’t be out and about, people are getting kidnapped out here! You’re just floating around, you’re a sitting duck!’ They told me about two American guys that got shot by some drug dealer the week before for crashing into the back of him.
I went and did the gig and that was a disaster – the record player was wobbling so it didn’t work, in fact there was only one turntable and two CDJs. I’m not even joking; I think I had like a Smash Hits CD or Now That’s What I Call Hits and it was the worst I’ve ever played.
The following evening, we went to Monterrey to do a gig with Anthony Pappa and Slacker. I got there – to the most amazing venue – and they had lovely set of Technics 1210s but no needles. I couldn’t believe it, I had only seven or eight CDs, it was tragic.
However, I ended up staying after that gig, we had a hotel booked and I thought ‘I’m finally gonna get a good night’s sleep’. Turned out there was four of us in the one bed, so I just started drinking and partied the whole night. The next day I thought we were going back to Reynosa but they just dropped me off at some guy’s house in Monterrey, who I didn’t know, a Mexican American.
They gave me the keys to his house and said, ‘you go on in and sleep’. By this stage I was absolutely shattered from traveling and partying and I lay down and felt completely lost, waiting for somebody to arrive. I didn’t know if the guy could speak English or anything.
It turned out he was sound and bought me a couple of drinks, and we watched Fight Club and I felt a lot better. He dropped me to the airport the following morning. When I came home, I said ‘this is not the life for me…’
That may have put paid to your international touring for a spell, but not your focus on flying global artists in to perform in the historically infamous Jacobite stronghold of Ebrington Square?
Yes, we kickstarted our own festival on the repurposed Ebrington Square, an old British Army site that was handed back to the people of Derry to hold events on. It was pitch perfect for our needs in 2016.
We managed to host 5,000 people a day, who gave a super warm welcome to the likes of Cocoon’s Sven Vath, Josh Wink, Christian Burkhardt and Dana Ruh, Drumcode’s Adam Beyer and Alan Fitzpatrick , Trick’s Patrick Topping, etc. We were the first event outside the US at which Green Velvet presented his La La Land show.
We reckoned that our efforts were worth £1.5 million to the local economy over that weekend in August. But after a series of very successful events we were suddenly not able to use the square anymore. The entire process was disgraceful, but I think people finally see how vital it is to have us doing events in the only real event space in our city.
We managed to get support from a wide variety of political groups, who saw the importance of having homegrown promoters with Derry’s best interests at heart. We should be front and centre in our iconic Ebrington Square!
We’d like to thank Padraig Delargy for helping us get back to where we belong. He’s worked hard on securing the venue for us, even though we had opposition from the new hotel and some businesses at Ebrington. The vast majority of people here want to see us host events.
As Derry continues to struggle economically, we believe it’s vital for young people to have music as an outlet to express themselves. What use is a city with no emerging culture or opportunities?
Somehow you still find time to make music with your production partner in Opus Klien, Dave Lievense. Tell us more about your collaborations and what’s in the pipeline?
Well as far as DJing goes, it’s not about making money or being famous, I’ll just do it to the day I die. I still feel very grateful when a booking comes in or I get to play anywhere.
Dave Lievense is an absolute legend. He’s of Dutch origin – his father’s Dutch, and his mother comes from here. He’s a Belfast man really but he’s got that Dutch way of thinking, an incredibly analytical mind. I’ve lot of respect for Dave – I’ve always thought of him as the best producer and engineer in the country.
Maybe ten years ago, he rang me, randomly. I’d met him a few times at gigs, but I didn’t have his number saved. He told me he was with Paul Woolford over the weekend, and they’d been chatting about me, and he said, ‘We should do something together’. I said, ‘Absolutely!’
I really looked up to Dave, but I thought to myself, I don’t really want to just be getting Dave to engineer my tracks – I’d prefer to do it myself and make bad tracks and learn myself, so it never really happened that time.
A few years later we ended up coming together again. He was doing Psycatron stuff, it might have been a Shine Bedrock gig in the Ulster Hall. We ended up getting on really well, despite him being so busy, he found the time to make music with me.
He was basically teaching me, mentoring me – he wasn’t charging me money for his time, it was just more of a friendship. We had the same sort of ideas.
Then I was asked to do the Boiler Room and I had all this music, hundreds of tracks that I’d been farting about with, and I thought maybe I should try to use some of them. Dave is so kind and unselfish that he helped me get them finished and mastered them. The night before the Boiler Room I decided to just play all my own bits and it went down pretty well.
Dave doesn’t get the respect that he’s due – he does all this out of pure love. It’s not like just a job to him, he absolutely lives and breathes it. I was always conscious of giving him credit where credit was due and I really wanted him to be involved in it fully. Dave being such a genuine guy, he was trying to come up with a name that I could put my music out as. I was conscious that he was involved too, so I suggested we both do something new together.
I was in my bathroom one day and noticed this cabinet we had bought, and the model was called Opus II. Dave happened to say ‘what about calling yourself Opus Klien’, I said ‘no, let’s call our music Opus Klien‘ as he deserves to be in front more than me. Then we started releasing tracks together under that name. I was delighted when we started working together.
Some that made the cut for the Essential Selection I believe?
Yes, Paul Woolford has been supporting us from day one, he’s a very good friend of ours.
Carl Craig too?
Dave has more connection with Carl Craig because he was signed to Planet E with Psycatron, so himself and Carl have a very good relationship for years, so he’s supportive too. So, we had this track called Inhale, we made it during lockdown and we were delighted when Wooly asked to use it on the Essential Selection.
The track is signed to Remmah Records, Hammer’s label. Hammer has been a massive support to us also. We’re waiting on our release date but we need to get Hammer another track to compliment it.
Congratulations! I suppose one good turn deserves another as now you’ve got Paul Woolford to headline your upcoming music and arts Jika Jika festival in Vancouver in June?
We probably started doing events in Canada four years ago – just before COVID – and then everything collapsed. We’re mainly focusing on Irish talent, we want to bring Irish talent out there, that’s our aim, to give people a chance to get into the North American market.
I heard you turned your hand to booking events, including live stagings of The Blindboy Podcast. Can you give us the lowdown on Amadán Promotions, which for those of you who are not fluent ‘as Gaeilge,’ means idiot, ha ha! This is something you work on with your Sligo-born business partner, David Willis?
Yeah. I was asked to DJ in Sligo about seven years ago and we went out for dinner with the promoters. My wife chatted to the other partners at her end of the table where David was sitting. We didn’t really speak that much, there were no parties afterwards and we just went home after the gig.
Fast forward seven years and I’m in Vancouver on a trip with my parents and wife. Debbie got a message from David asking us to meet up to talk about doing some Jika Jika stuff in Canada, so we went and met. We hit it off immediately.
This all stemmed from a dream your father had, right?
Yes, my father had a dream to go fishing out there, even though he doesn’t fish much here, ha ha! So myself and my wife Debbie bought them a ticket to go across the Rockies and travel from Vancouver.
We went from Vancouver through to Vancouver Island then up towards Jasper and Banff, before finishing in Kamloops and then Calgary. We flew the remainder of the way to Toronto and then spent three nights in New York.
Booked by Karen Pugh?
Yes – I know Karen is a good friend of yours, Emer, and a very good friend of mines and Debbie’s. We know her for over 20 years!
Yes, in fact for one of the very first gigs you ever held in Inertia in the Nerve Center, myself and Karen Pugh flew British Airways up to the City of Derry from Dublin, and we met you guys and the whole of the Global Underground message board – long before Facebook existed. We met Gary Dickenson (Miniminds), too, from the fair city of Belfast.
Ah Dicky is a great guy – it’s funny how it comes full circle. So, we booked that holiday travel across Canada and when we landed in Vancouver, we got a message from David. As I mentioned, he had been the promoter in Sligo – I didn’t really know him but Debbie and him were friends online. He said ‘I see what you’re doing with the Jika Jika festival in Derry, and I think we could do something Vancouver, do you want to meet?’
So we went and met him with my parents for a couple of pints and we came up with plans. We invested a lot in venues, flights and other logistics, but then in 2020 we lost a small fortune. We had deposits for gigs paid too and one was actually for Blindboy. As a goodwill gesture, I didn’t need the money at the time, so I left it to him throughout COVID.
I wanted to show his agency that we were genuine, too. It worked well because now we’re doing Blindboy in Vancouver and Toronto at the end of this month. We’ve also been asked to manage his future North American tours which we’re delighted with – the man’s a legend.
Yes, we’re doing Toronto and Vancouver, and both have sold out. So now they’ve asked us to do a ten-date tour of Canada next and then an East Coast USA tour followed by a West Coast one.
David lives in Vancouver, so he’s been running Jika Jika there. Initially we thought we’d just do house and techno and then we noticed that there was like a wee gap in the market for other stuff, and also we had Blindboy.
We spotted Derek Warfield & the Young Wolfe Tones were back travelling, and I knew they weren’t in Canada much so thought it could work well. Although it was a different marketing opportunity with the Wolfe Tones, I felt that we could aim it towards our younger audience in Vancouver and that worked really well. We ended up doing two gigs in Calgary and Vancouver.
Then, Damaris Woods, who is recognised as one of best banjo players in the world, asked us if we were interested in managing them. We agreed to it. Next thing you know, we were organising gigs across the UK and Ireland. We did our first one in New York recently and we’re looking to do some bigger stuff, like maybe some festivals. We currently are about to announce Canadian dates with Ardal O’ Hanlon as well as new Wolfe Tones dates for 2023.
Now, obviously Jika Jika is more electronic music, so we needed another name for more mainstream stuff or Irish stuff. Amadán was like the first word that came into my head, because we are two idiots, so… It’s been going brilliantly and we’ve got our first international festival now with Paul Woolford, Kerri Chandler, Dense & Pika, Kenny Larkin, Hammer, Sunil Sharpe, Boots & Kats, George Feeley.
And my friend ChaChou?
Glad you’ve told me how to pronounce that now, I was calling her ChowChow, ha ha. She seems to be nailing it out there, popping up everywhere and seems like a really nice girl. I’ve been listening to some of her music as well and I’m very impressed.
You also had a gig there over Paddy’s weekend, with our very own Cailín from Waterford, and Marcus Ó Laoire.
Cailín played for us a couple of times, just before COVID. She’s got a lot momentum going and to me she’s probably one of the best techno DJs in the country.
And vinyl only…
Yes, vinyl only!
Not only that, she’s also playing house music now under the pseudonym GRL – or ‘girl’ – which is her name Cailín in English.
She played for us in Derry, alongside Tommy Holohan. It was the December before COVID. She’s a lovely girl, super talented. These are the type of people we want to be associated with – they’ve got the right intentions…
They’ve got the passion, just like you!
Yes, well, I knew she was doing great, playing District 8, so we were hoping to have her play regularly. We had booked her for Derry and the gig was a disaster, in my opinion – the vinyl set-up was shambolic, it’s something that I really detest. I said, ‘Look, I really want to make this up to you somehow’.
How did it turn into a disaster?
There’s a lack of venues in Derry and we were in this small club, it was more like an upstairs in a bar kind of thing. The owners didn’t understand that you need non-vibrating surfaces, so we had to cancel out the bass. Plus the decks could hardly fit on the surface they were placed.
For me, it’s really important when you’re playing vinyl to have the decks set-up properly. So, I apologised to her a couple of times and wanted to make it up to her – to get her over to Vancouver for a festival. We held a Drumcode event in Derry, before with Joseph Capriati and Adam Beyer, and I wanted her to play at that, but it wasn’t her kind of sound.
I still wanted to get her a good high-profile gig, so we brought her out for St. Patrick’s Day and she did the business by all accounts. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get there myself, but I saw the videos and she nailed it. Now, bizarrely there was a brand-new set of Technics, I don’t even know what model, but they were literally out of the box. She had difficulties to start with during the sound check, so David was messaging me, and I told him, ‘you need to make sure this is absolutely perfect!’ I think, though, after a couple of mixes she was grand. Cailín is somebody who I think we’ll be working with for a long time.
And I think you have a long and powerful career ahead of you, Stephen. Before I let you go, if any of our intrepid 909originals readers are based across the pond or fancy jetting over on their hollibops, which Jika Jika events should be on their must-see list?
We’ve got Shee from Eats Everything’s Edible Records playing our Boat Party in Vancouver on 10 June, but that’s completely sold out already. The after-party in this amazing new 900-capacity space called Vault has more room for stowaways though, and Fionn Curran will take the helm there.
Our Jika Jika team will be shooting off at the crack of dawn Sunday 11 June to San Fran to do an outdoor block party with our Celtic Chaos friends – the Irish Burning Man collective – in an awesome industrial art deco venue called the Great Northern.
Of course, the jewel in the Jika Jika crown of this sparkling summer is your Music and Arts Festival in Vancouver from 30 June until 3 July?
Yes Jika Jika is taking over downtown with events happening in five fantastic venues – acid house maestro Mr. C and Canadian DJ/producer Jay Tripwire are launching the festival in the popular Irish pub Donnellan’s with a discussion about the evolution of electronic music and rave culture. No doubt they’ll have plenty of wild stories to tell.
Dense & Pika – who are also playing a Jika Jika night in Canvas in Manchester on June 10th, the same night we’re Vancouver – will be sharing top billing at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday 1 July with top international techno DJ and Irish nightlife activist Sunil Sharpe.
Dense & Pika seem to feature heavily on your international schedules, when did they become your go-to guys?
Back in 2015. We were putting on a bunker night in Derry with James Zabiela, the place was rammed and then someone called in a bomb scare. The people of Derry didn’t even flinch despite my best efforts to try to make them evacuate the space. Zabiela couldn’t get on the decks, which is fair enough, but I still had to pay him, the sound, lights, security etc – and refund every punter there. I booked him again but the only venue in Derry that I could source was a club called Sugar.
Now, we got all the equipment sorted and decked it out well but someone on Twitter trolled Zabiela, proclaiming the place to be a shithole. The day before the gig, the boy cried wolf, saying he was ‘too ill to travel‘ and there we were again with no headliner. Thankfully Dense & Pika, who had just played four gigs in a row, came up trumps for us and saved the day.
The people of Derry showed their gratitude, and the atmosphere in Sugar was insane. Dense & Pika have been Derry legends ever since.
I suppose there will always be fairweather DJs… but at the same time, I’m sure you’ll have some fair weather in Vancouver in a few weeks, with more outdoor parties lined up from Saturday to Monday. Tell me more?
Yes indeed, we’ve Dublin touring party duo Boots & Kats belting it out and, then prolific piano house DJ George Feely in a savage venue called Vault – a converted bank! On Sunday, the ever-soulful house music innovator Kerry Chandler will be in the driver’s seat, and I’ll be doing my Opus Klien DJ set. The afterparty that night will be a Remmah Records showcase featuring Hammer and Sublime Sound.
On the final day of Jika Jika ’23, we’ll zap every last ounce of energy our of people with the don of Detroit techno Kenny Larkin, who is bound to keep things bouncy all day long on the stunning grounds on the University of British Columbia’s campus bar.
Sounds like a serious weekender, if only I had a teleporter! Stephen Porter, ádh mór libh and thank you so much for joining us here at 909originals.
Thank you very much, Emer, I really appreciate it, thank you.