Guildhall Beats to the sound of the Border at new festival

Borders Elma Orkestra and Ryan Vail (Photo by Wrapped In Plastic Photography)
Borders Elma Orkestra and Ryan Vail (Photo by Wrapped In Plastic Photography)

It’s been the word on everyone’s lips in recent months – whether you like yours soft or hard, never has the concept of borders been more hotly debated.

As the politicians continue to wrangle over the finer details of how the future landscape of Europe is shaped, two local musicians are taking on the unique challenge of channelling their own unique perspective of the border and what it means to them.

Ryan Vail and Eoin O’Callaghan are familiar faces on the NI music scene, and both artists are known for their bold and challenging approaches to music. They have now embarked on a collaborative project that aims to capture a sense of the border here and its physical and metaphorical presence in the lives of local people.

‘Borders’ is an incredible audio and visual experience including a full light show, lasers and projections, accompanied by a hugely textured soundtrack incorporating contemporary classical and electronic music. The piece will debut on stage at the Guildhall as part of the Guildhall Beats Festival – a three-day celebration of local music running from February 22 – 24, set against the unique historic backdrop of Derry’s civic hub.

In this context the two artists Eoin (under the alias of Elma Orkestra) and Ryan, will share what has become an emotional as well as a creative experience as the project has evolved.

Speaking from Mexico where he’s currently working on another project Eoin O’Callaghan – also acclaimed for his work as Best Boy Grip – explains more.

“Well, both Ryan and myself live a stone’s throw from the Border with Donegal so all these Brexit discussions have been impossible to ignore” he admits.

“Our project essentially highlights the beauty of our island whether it’s North or South. The beauty doesn’t begin or end at the border. We want to show that beauty has no boundaries. Beauty will spill over the lines.

“This is not a political story - this is just an attempt to take a step back and look at the place we live in through a wider lens. This journey could be taken through any country on planet Earth. It’s a global story that’s more relevant now than it has been for many years.”

The pair have collaborated together in the past and this partnership is a natural result of their shared interests and evolution of styles.

“I’ve worked with Ryan once before,” Eoin explains. “We did a track called ‘Above The Whitewash’ and it features on his album ‘For Every Silence’. I’ve been writing music under the moniker Best Boy Grip for around five years and have done some incredible things with that project. However it was when I started releasing music as Elma Orkestra that we saw a real opportunity for us both to collaborate. The two styles work very well together. We have the same tastes. That helps hugely.

“Basically we start with a simple idea on piano or even just a simple beat and it develops from there. I send him a file, he sends me a file… it evolves as more is added. When we get to a certain point either Ryan comes to my studio or I go to his and we work on the arrangement and create a story in the track. That’s quite often where the emotion comes from.”

Borders will appeal to electronica fans but will also connect with music fans who want to experience music on a completely different aesthetic level, as Eoin explains.

“The collaboration is certainly ‘electronica’ however it has huge elements of post-classical, soundtrack and soundscapes while also being very ‘danceable’ in parts. You can expect an incredible audio/visual experience including a full light show, lasers and projections, accompanied by a hugely textured soundtrack. Yes, the visuals are helping to tell our story.

“We want the beauty of the Island to be on show in full colour. The lights that accompany the main projections are epic. Lasers dancing and floating over your head…. yes, it’s completely immersive.”

This is the first time the Guildhall has hosted a dedicated festival celebrating a number of different musical genres. After a day of choral celebration and workshops focusing on performance and musicianship skills on the Friday, Saturday shifts the focus to some of the city’s finest contemporary talent in an intimate but beautiful live music setting.

The programme offers a thrilling line up, kicking off with local artists Aul Boy and Conor Mason. They will be followed by up and coming 19-year-old musician ROE who has been captivating audiences at arenas across the UK in recent months on tour with Snow Patrol and who scooped the title of Best Emerging Artist’ at the 2018 Northern Ireland Music Awards.

Eoin has already played to audiences at the Guildhall and the thought of debuting this latest work to a home crowd adds to the anticipation ahead of the gig.

“The Guildhall is an incredible building. I’ve performed there a bunch of times. I had a fantastic gig with the Ulster Orchestra there a few years ago as well as many others. The building has always been kind to me. I believe its Ryan’s first time playing there and he’s very excited about it.

“To be honest, we’re looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd. We’re not really feeling too nervous about the gig. We just want it to go to plan. We’ve put a huge amount of work into the show and we’re just very excited to let everyone hear/see it.

And afterwards? “Then there’s will be a tour,” he reveals. “More dates are being added every week and we’ll be announcing the full schedule very soon, so watch this space.”

‘Borders’ will take place at the Guildhall on Saturday February 23rd. To find out more about the full Guildhall Beats programme and purchase tickets priced £15 plus booking fee go to

Tickets are also on sale at Cool Discs, Foyle Street for £15 plus booking fee.