Features - Interviews

The Good DIY Young: An Interview With Belfast Promoters Asphyxia


Ross Cullen from Belfast’s newest independent promoters gives Cathal McBride the lowdown
on the DIY spirit behind their packed-out shows across the city

Photo by David McEneaney 

For such a relatively small city, Belfast often punches above its weight in terms of live events, both in terms of big-name bookings from larger promoters and those on the more DIY side, like the brilliant Strange Victory or the now sadly departed Sizeable Bear. A newer name in the city’s DIY promoter circuit is Asphyxia. Helmed by Ross Cullen, Ethan Rea, Conall Coulter and Sienna-Lillie Munn, they have hit the ground running by booking acts from local favourites Mob Wife and Junk Drawer, to newcomers like Jock.

Originally envisioned as a zine about local music, films and literature, Asphyxia’s first show in 2019 was intended as its launch gig, before the zine quickly fell by the wayside and the shows became the focus. “To celebrate the first issue, there was the idea to throw a gig in our flat and invite our friends by handing out business card invites with their names on them,” says Cullen. “We had to ask people to stop jumping around during the music as the floor felt like it was going to collapse.”

Undeterred by shutdowns from the council and continuing to host ultra-DIY shows in student flats, soon it was Covid that stopped them in their tracks instead. But on re-emerging from hibernation in the latter half of 2021, with large house gatherings still against restrictions, the team looked outward and began to bring the shows into venues like The American Bar and Ulster Sports Club. “It was motivated by the restrictions, but we saw it as an opportunity to expand and build a platform for the local scene here,” says Cullen. “With a proper venue came room for more people to come, security, and being able to pay musicians. The enthusiasm that we got from people about Asphyxia created a big momentum for us and motivated us to try and provide something that we felt was needed in Belfast.”

One way Asphyxia has made its mark has been its trademark of decorating venues for every gig with art, band posters, and subcultural ephemera – something that links back to their early house shows, trying to brighten up bare student living rooms into suitable gig spaces. “We were thankful to work with Pedro who owns The American,” says Cullen. “He let us do whatever we wanted with the room, decorating it like our house shows. I don’t think we would ever do a show where we’re unable to decorate the room. We see that it gives the audience an insight as to who we are as Asphyxia. You could see Dinosaur Jr. album artwork or a Twin Peaks meme on our wall and maybe feel like you’re in the right place. We accidentally found a way to express ourselves and our interests, hoping to make that connection with people who come to the shows.”


This personalised stamp has evolved into a collaboration with visual artists like Lemon Juice Studios and Phantom Powered Pixels, both on gig posters and the room itself. “Although our shows are in venues, we try to create a new space that doesn’t feel anything like the room we’re putting the show in,” says Cullen. “And I think that’s where the decoration comes in, as well as working with local artists as part of our Artist Spotlight for every show. We’ll share their work on our socials and give them a space in the room to display and sell their artwork. We still have our posters up on the walls as part of our house show aesthetic but make local painters, illustrators and printmakers’ work the main visual piece of each show.”

With their reputation growing, Asphyxia’s bookings have started to graduate beyond Belfast’s city limits to other DIY scenes around Ireland, with bookings like Limerick’s His Father’s Voice, and a double-header of Dublin favourites Danny Carroll and The Bonk. “It had always been a goal of ours to eventually reach out across Ireland and bring artists up to Belfast,” reveals Cullen. “I think the process of forging links began when we had His Father’s Voice up and we were able to hear more about the DIY scene in Limerick. There’s so much new musical greatness across Ireland right now and we’re keen to bring up as many as we can to Belfast. There are also plans to bring over emerging bands from the UK and Europe, but at the moment we’re focusing on showcasing the artists here.”

Above anything else, what’s most apparent is the quartet’s enthusiasm for trying to make each show a memorable event, no matter how big or small. “The most important thing for us is putting the musicians and artists out there as much as we can when doing a show,” says Cullen. “We’re taking photos and videos of all the shows, hoping that people who love music can see there’s a place for new alternative music in Belfast and come along.” Cathal McBride

Asphyxia returns to the Ulster Sports Club with Stratford Rise, Search Results and the Funeral Rose on Thursday, 13th April. Follow them on Instagram