A Nightlife Against All Odds
‘I always wanted to play in the Big Top’, reveals DJ Shampain during an artist talk in the O’Donoghue Theatre as part of Galway International Arts Festival’s First Thought Talks series. The event, titled ‘From Galway to Global; the G–Town Records Story’, took place ahead of his performance that evening at the Big Top – the giant blue tent that has come to represent the arrival of the festival to the city every summer.
He’s responding to KETTAMA, his collaborator and the headliner for the evening, who had humbly stated that ‘a goal was never to be in the Big Top, because I never thought it was going to happen’. We’re reminded that together, the electronic duo of KETTAMA and Shampain, or Evan Campbell and Cóilí Collins as they’re otherwise known, have managed to sell out a venue of 3,500 capacity in their hometown, hosting KETTAMA’s first gig in Galway since 2019. Shampain adds that tickets to their afterparty at the Róisín Dubh sold out in just five minutes.
Together, they make a strong case for their argument that, despite the closure of the last nightclubs in Galway during the pandemic, there is an appetite for nightlife in the city.
In 2021, the duo established G–Town Records, powered by a mission to give back to the scene. Their first release was KETTAMA’s G–TOWN001 EP, and to date, they have put out a total of four releases. They note that not a single new nightclub has opened in Galway since they started the label.
We make our way to the Big Top, the temporary venue for the evening that holds a larger capacity than any year-round venue in Galway can boast. The Galwegians have invited support from Dublin’s Efa O’Neill and Imogen – a London-based DJ and producer who, like KETTAMA, has released music on Mall Grab’s record label Steel City Dance Discs.
At 6:30pm, Efa kicks things off with high energy, blending techno and house tracks at a fast pace for a committed crowd of dancers already occupying the space in front of the stage. When Imogen arrives on stage at 7:30pm, the place has noticeably started to fill. She takes the music in a more euphoric direction – still rooted in techno but with elements of electro and momentary echoes of dubstep, building on the energy of the crowd and welcoming the late arrivals.
Primed for madness
By the time Shampain begins his set at 8:30pm, the crowd is primed for madness. We hear a sample of the traditional song ‘A Stór Mo Chroí’ by Galway singers Rita and Sarah Keane drowned out in swathes of electronic noise. The potent introduction was what I had hoped from Shampain – grounding the experience with a sense of place, the artist representing his home county.
Dropping back into techno drums, the party was in full swing again. The refreshingly loose and experimental set moved between breakbeats, syncopated rhythms and edits of familiar tunes such as Faithless’ ‘Insomnia’ and Rihanna’s ‘Disturbia’. There are a few Sinéad O’Connor songs in there too – including her dub version of ‘Óro Sé Do Bheatha ‘bhaile’ from the Sean-Nós Nua album and ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, O’Connor’s emotive vocals ringing out to close the set. Their inclusion on Sunday evening is now all the more poignant following the tragic news of the Irish icon’s passing.
Sticking strictly to schedule, KETTAMA’s set kicks off at 9:30pm to bring the wildness of the evening to a peak. Playing a more direct set of big-room techno and ‘banging house’, in Campbell’s own words from the talk earlier that day, with intermittent bursts of southern rap and English drill and grime vocal samples. The longer hour and a half set acted as a workout for the crowd to release any remaining energy.
At this point, they’ve brought out the full lasers and pyrotechnics and a crew has started to gather towards the back of the stage, coming forward to launch G–Town t-shirts out into the crowd. KETTAMA delivers the performance the audience has come here for, evidently prepared for this night from extensive touring. The set includes versions of his own productions and those of friends and affiliates such as Mall Grab, but even with Shazam in hand, I can’t identify most of the tunes without descending into a SoundCloud rabbit hole. There are what sound like edits of Sean Paul’s ‘Busy’ and Bomfunk MC’s ‘Freestyler’ thrown into the mix, the crowd responding well to a nostalgia for music played in nightclubs long before they were old enough to get into them.
A blend of global styles
Following the talk and gig, I’m left wondering whether anything in the sound of G–Town Records distinctively ties it to Galway, or even to Ireland. Although a contemporary blend of global styles and influences, with input from a wider group of young producers, the template is still Detroit techno and Chicago house music. The trick for Shampain seems to be in the blending of sounds which occasionally reference his sense of place. KETTAMA, for better or for worse, has an international sound which will work well as a globally touring DJ but reveals little to his audience about where he’s from.
Despite this, seeing a crowd of friends join KETTAMA on stage for such a momentous occasion is heartwarming, reflecting his statements from earlier in the day that G–Town is about ‘having a crew,’ and encouraging others to ‘be proud of where you’re from’.
The music shuts down at 11pm – the afterparty in the Róisín Dubh to follow for those who aren’t ready to call it a night – and there’s a sense of pride throughout the city this evening, as two artists representing a younger generation make nightlife possible in their home place on their own terms, seemingly against all odds. Harnessing the energy of a new generation of party-goers and operating with very little local infrastructure for club culture, their partnership sets a precedent for young producers and DJs who might try to make a name for themselves in a place like Galway. Shampain aptly sums up the sense of comradery at the talk, on the stage and in the crowd this evening; ‘I believe in myself, I believe in Evan, we believe in each other’.
For more on KETTAMA and G–Town Records, visit https://gtownrecs.bandcamp.com/
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Published on 27 July 2023
Drew Stephens is a musician and writer from Connemara.