Right folks. Have you no homes to go to? Rashers Tierney looks at how the government’s babysitter attitude to boozing is the bane of underground club culture.
The space between 2:30 and 3am is probably one of the most contested in clubland: a crowd is just getting into its stomp, when a bouncer starts to move up and signal it’s time for the last tune. The dance-floor’s in despair and desperate drinkers are left agitated.
Welcome to Eire, land with the earliest club closing times in Europe.The debate around operating hours has became entrenched with a wider anxiety around alcohol. As clubs sell booze they are treated just like late bars, yet there are vast difference between them.
Sunil Sharpe of the Give Us The Night (GUTN) campaign argues, “Anti-alcohol campaigners have always done their best to infect the nightclub opening hours debate with scaremongering about underage drinking and a generally nonsensical logic regarding closing times.”
Give Us The Night works alongside the Irish Nightclub Industry Association (INIA) to extend clubbing hours. This industry body claims clubs are dropping like flies with a 37% decline since 2001. Their arguments fall on deaf hears as the constant moaning of a well-connected pub trade beleaguered with smoking bans and, god forbid, drink driving regulation dominates the conversation.
The INIA finds itself ludicrously lobbying the Dail to recognise and define its trade, nightclubs don’t even exist in Irish law.The industry is defined by its relationship to the DeVelara era Public Dance Halls Act 1935 – so clubs are forced to routinely seek special exemptions for what are seen as ‘once off occasions,’ pushing up the cost for patrons.
They are also arguing for extended opening hours: a pathetic 4am closing for nightclubs in Dublin and a guaranteed 2.30am outside the Pale. People like Olivia Leary and Niall Stokes (hardly your image of yoked up ravers) support reform of the current situation – for god sake, even Garda Superintendent Joe Gannon of Pearse Street backs staggered closing to off-set the carnage of closing time.
Sketched against standard practice elsewhere in Europe these really are the mildest of reforms, weighed heavily in favour of the big boys. The INIA campaign defines a club as providing ‘for a minimum capacity of 400 patrons’ – hardly the basement sweat boxes we know and love. It’s an industry angle, so no surprise they are big on the money arguments, like job creation and trade.
This economic angle is one thing but there’s also a cultural malaise caused by how the licensing laws incur huge costs for venues and clubbers. Sunil says,
“Clubbing is just too expensive for most people now, as it’s simply not value for money. The emphasis on value for money tends to exist in most sectors of business and retail, but not really when it comes to entertainment, because of how heavily regulated and taxed it is. Extended times would go some way to fixing that. Previous governments have refused to accept the advantages of extended opening times, not only for safety on the streets, but for the economy too.”
Businesses are affected, but so are the punters. Anyone who’s ever put on a night knows the risks this causes for local promoters all too well: the crews are all back in the gaffs with cans and the opening local DJ’s are left playing to the sound engineer and bar staff. Then there’s the midnight rush as people leg it in for the international headliner.
Truncated clubbing times also impact on what people can play, leading to short 45 minute sets on cramped line ups where the DJ’s just lash it out with no space for real mixological journeys. No wonder clubbers head off in droves to spend their cash on shannigans in Berlin or London. The economics of this are daft and it really devalues the genuine scene here. As Sunil put it:
“There is something extremely messed up when most people you know have their favorite weekends away in other European cities, and actually bypass what’s going on at home when they’re back.” Compound all of this with a drought of sound, independent cheap venues in the city and it’s no wonder BYOB events are becoming popular, despite the legal grey area around the venues. Clunky Irish attitudes and laws get in the way here too.
A cultural bias is at work here and it manifests itself legally. Opening times down the bog are left at the discretion of local magistrates, some of whom go for the jugular of any joy with the venom of a 19th century moral crusader.
Bo from Sweeneys is a familiar organiser of larger parties that showcase acts he works with outside traditional venues. He was involved in the planned Gateway’s all-nighter over Halloween. Rather than let it continue until public transport resumed and folks could get home safely, the cops shut it down, leaving people wander dark Wicklow roads. Talking to Bo it’s clear there is a labyrinthine nightmare of paper work needed to make such late night events legal.
“You can have all your paper work set up, it can take months and months but it can be done, but If the guard and the guards on duty aren’t happy with it they can shut it down.” In a remarkable moment of cultural policing, it seems the music playing at an event often determines the reaction of the boys in blue (or hi-viz).
“If its dance music based they are quicker to jump to the guns and rule people out so its tough. It’s easier with live music things because they look at that crowed as manageable and maybe they drink and they smoke and not too much hassle. Where if you add the dance element it gives a whole other connotation as if dance people are going to smash up the place or something.”
Look at it long enough and you start to see a pattern; one of complete in-tolerance for public social gatherings where there is alcohol use and the vintners aren’t getting their slice of the cake. Bo seems to agree.
“And maybe that’s what their not happy about with the late night parties, because we are creating our own space, our own time line – taking the bar element out of it, so people can bring their own drink, and we put them in an insured catered for, health and safety checked environment with technically all the elements they are looking for.”
Maybe it’s time to stop rehashing the arguments about changing the law to facilitate clubbing and other late night events. All that’s common sense at this stage. Instead, let’s point the finger at those benefiting from the current set up: a rear-guard of publicans, venue owners and cops who are terrified of people having a social life outside the boozers, and hence, their control.