An Interview With Sunil Sharpe of Give Us The Night.

In #rabble2, Blog, Culture, Interviews, politics, Print Edition, Topics by Rashers Tierney

Supporters of Give Us The Night make their case at the Dail

In rabble #2 we took a look at the impact of our crap licensing laws on club culture. Sunil Sharpe of Give Us The Night was interviewed for the piece, and here’s the transcript.

Dublin clubs close at the mad time of 3am. What impact does this have on club culture?

In current times where most people don’t arrive at a club until 12.30/1am, it does very little to nurture any type of club culture or community. Most clubs operate a very strict cut-off time of 2.30 for music, so if you add it all up, it’s a pitiful situation. It’s strange now – despite what recessions may have thought us about the fighting spirit of the Irish to party harder, I’m not sure we’ve seen that during this current recession, certainly not in nightclubs anyway. ‘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. Let’s hope this new government makes the right choices finally.

Does it have any effects on the sort of sets people get to play and their exposure to audiences? Eg I’ve always thought that in London and Berlin, people can do a lot more in their set, playing for two hours and bringing a crowd on a journey, often with a softer landing at the end of the night – where here: it’s a constant rachetting up and out with a bang at 3am.

It’s not a point we’d see as a top concern, but yes, it does have an effect on the type of sets people play, not always in a bad way though. It has just meant that djs have needed to get to the point a bit quicker and make that journey happen in a shorter space of time. I do agree with you though, it’s nice to end with a soft landing sometimes too, which isn’t usually an option with shorter times. But beyond how individual sets go for each dj, the fact is that with less time available, there are naturally less slots and opportunity which isn’t positive.

Does this impact on local heads getting the chance to play to larger crowds? Eg everyone rushes in at 12 or so to catch international headliners and misses local talent.

Yes, it kind of does, and it’s unfortunate. The well-being of local djs is hardly high up on the public’s list of concerns, but it definitely does have an overall knock on effect if talented homegrown djs can’t even find a crowd to play to and entertain. But this is part of another issue as well; that is down to the individual clubnight and the direction they take with their choice of guests too.

Specifically, why are our club opening hours so backwards and our choice of venues so limited? Are the vintners defending their trade? How far have you got with your campaign to Give Us The Night?

Our club opening hours are backward, primarily because of the stranglehold alcohol has on the the whole subject and debate. Nightclubs sell alcohol, and legally, are treated in the same way that late bar is for instance – hence the heavy regulation. The differences between clubs and late bars are vast though, and clubs definitely are getting the raw deal. We never felt that when we started GUTN in 2004 that we’d have to debate and discuss the subject of alcohol and alcohol abuse so much, especially as going to clubs to most people we know is about music and enjoyment, rather than getting hammered drunk. 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 and so on. These people have to make it look like they’re doing something too, but really they need to look more at themselves and their own methods of deterring alcohol abuse, rather than trying to inflict more restrictions on nightclubs.

We feel that we have livened up the debate about opening hours that was virtually non-existent before we started, and along the way many politicians and the media have become a lot more understanding and receptive to what we have to say. Currently we are drafting a submission for justice minister Alan Shatter, for him to review in the run-up to the pending Sale Of Alcohol Bill. The signs so far have been positive with Shatter – he certainly appears to be a more cultured and fair-minded man than previous ministers, so we are definitely hopeful.

Since the recession, a lot of new and interesting venues are been sought out and used, often these are in legal grey areas. How have you found the police reacting to these events?

The upsurge in BYOB gigs has been an interesting development, which brought a DIY feel back to nightlife. The police generally don’t care about them, but publicans and nightclub owners do, and have often requested for the police to shut down a local BYOB event, that may not have applied for a dance licence in time or something like that. It is a shame that it has come to this, but it is understandable that when you tax a club or pub to the hilt to sell alcohol, that they may feel more of a sense of entitlement to have people drinking in their venue than a non-licensed premises. Venues should be able to operate to their specific customer demand; I think if they were allowed to set their own closing times, it may also exterminate the turf wars that sometimes exist between bars and clubs, and also leave more space and freedom for the other more unusual events you’re talking about.

With the amount of buildings that are lying idle the and large number of unemployed creative people we have living here, it stands to reason that alternative art/music events could really take off. It has started to to a small degree, but only a loosening on our strict licensing laws will allow things to fully prosper, in the way it does around Europe. I hate to say it but the music scene here is quite tame at the moment, it has been muzzled for too long and almost gone to sleep. It’s time for politicians to remove more of the red tape, re-model Ireland as a country and tourist destination that celebrates our indigenous talent, and gives the creative thinkers room to realise their ambitions. 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. That’s a damning indictment of modern Ireland, and surely not a trend that stimulates the economy.