Screen Play: Phil Kieran on the making of The Strand Cinema
Written by ELF Radio (Team) on 21.10.2023
From Cinema Paradiso to Schwarzenegger, artists are suckers for the romance of an old cinema — the remnants from a golden age when everything from the letters on the marquee to the projection to the tearing of the tickets was done by human hands.
The Strand has more history than most. The oldest working cinema in Northern Ireland and a “jewel of art deco design,” The Strand has been there for so long that there’s an entire website dedicated to managing its history. Opened to the public in 1935, The Strand was constructed during what the current caretakers call “the boom years” of cinema in Belfast, with a design featuring curving shapes and porthole features inspired by a nearby shipyard. It looked, visitors and patrons would say, something like an ocean liner.
There probably used to be a place like The Strand in your hometown. And it’s probably long gone, crushed into a parking lot or a Starbucks unless you’re very, very lucky. The Strand survived sometimes as a movie theater, sometimes as a performance venue, a multiplex and, since 2013, as an arts center supported by a charity dedicated to preserve and restore the old building at the center of the community.
One of those things is hosting Phil Kieran’s studio. The building inspired the title of his new album and A/V show The Strand Cinema, out now on his own Phil Kieran Recordings.
“I love coming into the building and hearing the dialogue and explosions of bass rumbling through the building from the cinema screens,” Kieran says. “I think being in a cinema has motivated me and in recent years I’ve been working on soundtracks and doing more music for film. This album has a very ‘cinematic’ sound to it, I wanted to spell it out in simple terms what it was about. It’s an ode to cinema and to the particular cinema building that has been my home for 5 years.”
Since setting up camp in The Strand, Kieran’s music has been subject to an “evolutionary shift,” undertaking more soundtrack and scoring, including music for the Netflix film Nightride (2021), the Belfast-set Rough (2020), the BBC Radio 4 series The Northern Bank Job (2021) and the play East Belfast Boy. This spatial openness permeates the sound of The Strand Cinema, an album of atmospheres and visions, ambient but alive, very much an album that evokes the cinematic environment in which it was made.
This seemed like quite a departure from the subject of our last interview with Kieran, on the occasion of his 2016 album Blinded By The Sun for Hot Creations. But Kieran doesn’t think that’s the whole story.
“It might seem like a huge leap in a different direction on first listen, but I don’t see it as a huge departure,” he says. “Blinded By The Sun was my take on house music or electronic music for dance floors, maybe more for afterparties. Making The Strand Cinema I was originally going to call it Music For No Purpose, meaning it had no purpose for anything in particular, it wasn’t designed to fit a certain genre or usage. It was just an attempt to create sound that reflected exactly how I was feeling the day each track was made.
“I was the tuning fork, I’d work off my own feelings or vibrations — because that’s what music is really — and I’d just go from there.
“Obviously deep down I hoped this music would resonate with someone else and that they would enjoy it, but I can honestly say this is the first record I’ve made that didn’t have any end goal in sight. Nor was I trying to make something abstract or weird for the sake of it.”
“I think people listening would still recognize it as a Phil Kieran album,” he adds. “There’s definitely a techno, futuristic feel to it but some of the tracks are more of a late night affair than peak time floor fillers. Saying that, I’ve already released lead track ‘Atlantic’ and its techno edit is being played out a lot already.”
The Strand Cinema (the building) and it’s role in the making of The Strand Cinema (the album) is underlined in the audio-visual show for the album. “When I released my album on Cocoon in 2009 called SHH I built a live show for that,” Kieran notes. “I felt it was time to go back and explore this again. Though this time I feel it’s more closely related music for film. It’s not just a series of visuals — there’s a loose narrative or theme of cinema and nature versus technology throughout.”
Kieran “wanted to re-create the album live inside the building where it was made,” and as a golden age movie house it made sense to show something on screen. Ten filmmakers visualized one track from the album, each hailing from a different discipline “so their interpretations are really varied, from dark and dystopian to utopian, and from old style cinematography using archive footage to quite out there SFX and generative art. There’s even a film by Oona Doherty , the dancer and choreographer which is just amazing and I can’t wait to share it with audiences.”
The Strand Cinema is out now from Phil Kieran Recordings.
5 Mag Issue 206
MOVE: This was originally published in 5 Mag Issue #206 featuring DJ, dancer, teacher and producer Coflo, Alland Byallo, Phil Kieran, DJ Rocca, Jeff Mills’ Metropolis Metropolis and more. Help keep our vibe alive and our shine bright by becoming a member for $2/month and get every issue in your inbox right away!
The article discusses The Strand, the oldest working cinema in Northern Ireland, and its influence on Phil Kieran’s new album.