- 13 Jul 23
As they continue to make history on both the Irish and UK charts, Dublin duo Belters Only talk openly about success, loss, pressure, friendship, their frustrations with the city’s nightlife, and writing and producing Jazzy’s hit ‘Giving Me’.
Striking gold on the charts is one thing, but proving your mettle beyond one successful single, and repeating the magic, is a whole other feat – something that Belters Only’s RobbieG and Bissett know better than most.
Of course, it has to be said that ‘Make Me Feel Good’, the 2021 debut single from the Dublin production duo, went far beyond the standard definition of a ‘successful single’. With over 87 million streams on Spotify alone, the dance track – which was created in an attic in Drimnagh – spent two consecutive weeks at the top of the Official Irish Singles Chart, and went on to be one of the biggest songs of 2022 in the UK, breaking multiple records along the way.
“There’s a lot of pressure with that,” Robbie concedes, reflecting on the pair’s journey during a visit to the Hot Press office. “Everyone’s wondering, ‘How are they going to live up to this?’”
But as Bissett points out, “pressure makes diamonds.”
At the time of our conversation, the duo are once again seeing the fruits of their labour defy the odds on the charts on both sides of the Irish Sea. Their close collaborator Jazzy – who previously featured on their tracks ‘Make Me Feel Good’ and ‘Don’t Stop Just Yet’ – recently scored a remarkable three-week-run at the top of the Official Irish Singles Chart with her debut solo single ‘Giving Me’, produced and written by Belters Only.
It signals “another huge year” for both acts, Robbie states. That includes an action-packed summer, featuring Ibiza appearances and an acclaimed set at Longitude 2023 – as well as plans to cap off the year with a Belters Only album. Their upcoming 3Arena headliner, meanwhile, sold out in just 30 minutes.
But alongside the major milestones and lauded sets, recent weeks have also been marked by tragic loss for Robbie.
“My ma passing away has been the hardest time of my life,” he tells me. “And it still is – I’m still going through it. But throughout the years, when I’ve struggled, my therapy has always been music. And luckily, throughout a time that’s been so hard, and so low, there’s been so many highs, in terms of the career. Having Biss alongside me, and the team that’s around us – there’s a family aspect to it. We’re all looking out for each other, and everyone’s looking out for me. As long as the music keeps going, I’m going to be alright, because that’s what gets me through everyday anyway.
“And she’s looking over – so it’s all good.”
Music, the lads say, has always been a crucial outlet – both as an escape from personal struggles, and as an alternative to potentially dangerous paths.
“Where I was from, my flats, was basically the epicentre of where heroin was dealt from,” Bissett reflects. “I’ve mates locked up, and I could have easily gone down that road plenty of times. But I stayed away from it.”
From an early age, Bissett was soaking up the Toni Braxton and Cher tracks his mother played around the house, as well as rap and reggae through his brothers. Later, he started DJing through classes at a Youthreach centre.
Robbie, meanwhile, was born into a family of musicians.
“I was blessed,” he says. “My da sang to me for years – and still does. All my cousins, and their mas and das, are amazing singers. My granda was in the showbands years ago, so he was on the road for years. He’s 80 years of age and he’s still singing all over the country. So it was always in me.”
While he started off playing the drums, and was encouraged by his parents to join a band, Robbie says he “wanted to be out front, and in control of everything” – and was immediately drawn to electronic music after being introduced to it by an older cousin.
“Whatever it did to me, that feeling I felt back then is the feeling that I’m constantly chasing,” he remarks.
After years of making music in their bedrooms, both Robbie and Bissett struggled to explain their choice of career to their families.
“It’s not normal in Ireland, what we’ve done, and what we’re doing,” Robbie points out. “So we sounded crazy to everybody back then. But now, because of the position we’re in, and the pathway we’ve created, if another kid growing up wants to be a DJ, it makes more sense in Ireland now.”
After the attic in Drimnagh got too cramped – “I wasn’t able to go up the ladder!” Robbie laughs – a new Belters Only studio was built in the back garden.
“It’s actually perfect, the studio being where it is,” Bissett tells me. “You get the feel of the area. What we make is what our community and our age group likes, so being surrounded by that stuff all the time helps.”
They’re also aware that their success makes them role models to young people in the community – a position they don’t take lightly.
“We grew up in this environment,” Robbie reasons. “We understand the good sides of the city and the bad sides. We understand what young people go through in working class areas. We understand how people like us get judged – how we would’ve been judged when we were kids, and maybe still get judged to this day.
“Once we’re ourselves, and we don’t change that, that’s the biggest thing you can be as a role model,” he adds.
That community emphasis extends to their work with Jazzy, who they initially met through friends in Dublin. After she featured on hugely successful Belters Only tracks, they turned their attention to creating a solo single for the Crumlin singer.
“It was the first track we’d ever written in the studio together, so there was a special aspect to it from the get-go,” Robbie says of ‘Giving Me’, noting that their previous singles had been largely built around “resang samples.”
“It sounded like Jazzy, and it represented Dublin again, in another way,” he resumes. “The way she sang it, and the lyrics, and the whole vibe around it – it’s just Dublin city as a whole.”
Of course, their success has now taken them far beyond Dublin. But when it comes to navigating their career, and keeping their heads screwed on, it helps being in a duo with your best mate, they say.
“We were in the game a long time as solo artists, but still to this day I don’t know how either of us would’ve been able to do this on our own,” Robbie reflects. “It wouldn’t feel the same. No matter where we are in the world, when I look at him, I know that he came from the same place as me, and he’s just like me. That helps. As long as we have each other, we can take on anything – and that’s the truth.
“Some of the positions that we’ve been in are positions that people like us aren’t used to,” he continues. “So when me and him are in those situations, being Irish, we just take the piss with each other, and laugh at the whole madness of it all. That makes it normal for us.”
Bissett and Robbie’s vision for Belters Only stretches further than their own performances and releases – with dreams of opening a club in Dublin somewhere down the line. But the pair are also frustrated that Ireland’s golden age of dance music has come at a time when there are fewer and fewer nightlife options in Dublin.
“There’s so much more artists coming out of the country right now – so I don’t know how the Government is not looking at this, and trying to make money for the country off it,” Bissett remarks. “You go over to Liverpool or Ibiza, and there’s tourists from all over the world, and they’re going there because there’s clubs.”
“Just look at the results that Ireland’s getting, in terms of dance acts,” Robbie nods. “Jazzy’s Top 10 in the UK, so one of the best tracks in England at the moment is a dance track made in Dublin. Yet it can’t be shown off here?
“If there were facilities in Dublin – like nightclubs, and support for that culture – imagine what music would be made, and imagine how far we’d go in the world, in terms of dance music,” he adds. “We’re doing all of this with no support.”
As Belters Only point out, they were “blessed to grow up at a time when there were nightclubs.” But there’s now a generation coming up who never got to experience that setting, and that unique feeling.
“We got our music, and our taste, from the club,” Bissett states. “How are other artists coming up supposed to get their own sound, if they can’t hear it in a club?”
“There’s an art to DJing that isn’t really shown in Ireland anymore,” Robbie adds. “When we started off, there was a whole structure to it – the night out and the environment. You walked into a certain club, and you knew exactly what type of music you were going to be listening to, and you knew what DJs were going to be there. It was a set vibe.
“Nowadays that isn’t there, so unfortunately, there’s kids growing up that are unbelievable DJs and producers, but don’t understand the structure of a night,” he continues. “Or they all think they’re headline artists, because all they’ve checked out is Soundcloud, and they’ve views kicking off. So it would be nice to see clubs back in Dublin, so we can really bring it back to its roots.”
For now, Belters Only’s central focus is to continue building on their breakout success. Their momentum has grown consistently year on year – as they demonstrated earlier this month with a festival-stealing set at Longitude.
In addition to Belters Only’s performance, the Saturday of this year’s Longitude weekend also featured a wide selection of their friends, collaborators and heroes – including Jazzy, MK and Calvin Harris.
“MK’s a legend,” Bissett remarks. “He reached out to us to do a remix of the Jazzy tune as well. I think he’s going to be playing that all year!”
“Hopefully,” Robbie nods. “He’s good friends with Sonny Fodera as well – and we’ve been in the studio with Sonny, and worked with him.”
As Bissett notes, it’s “probably only a matter of time” before they jump into the studio with MK too – with Robbie crossing his fingers for a collaboration this year. And what about Calvin Harris?
“Calvin’s the goal for us,” Robbie reveals. “But it’s madness, we only said last year that it would have been a dream to have Sonny, MK and Calvin onto us. And now Calvin’s commenting on Jazzy’s stuff, which is absolutely surreal. Even them contacting us, and acknowledging us, is a dream come true in itself.”
• Belters Only play Custom House Square, Belfast (August 17); and the 3Arena, Dublin (October 29)