While you’re sweating the nights away on the dance floor there are a crew of folks working behind the scene to keep the whole thing afloat. Madison S. Pauly talks to Bodytonic’s Trevor O’Shea (known to many as Tayor…) about keeping Dublin clubbing through the recession.
When Trevor O’Shea acquired a beat-up storefront on South Abbey Street, the deal was his company’s biggest venture to date. Trev had been scouting out a second Bodytonic location since local competition had sidelined The Bernard Shaw, the headquarters for his jack-of-all-trades music company, into a pre-game bar on Saturday nights.
His negotiation for the new venue — the future Twisted Pepper — was messy and prolonged. Trev eventually wrapped up the deal just after returning from the fourth Electric Picnic. Back then Bodytonic hosted a successful arena at the festival but that year he’d received a call from a friend warning that people in the U.S. were lining up outside their banks.
It was September 2008.
“Probably the worst time to sign a deal in history,” Trev reflected, sitting at a red-checked table in the Shaw’s daytime cafe.
Now, he can count on one hand the number of places he’d worked prior to the crash that survived. “Every other venue I’ve operated, for the last five years, has either closed, been sold to someone new, or has a new name and new management.”
Yet the new venue did more than just survive. The next year, the Pepper was picked by a DJ Mag panel as one of the 100 best clubs in the world.
Bodytonic had outlasted clubland catastrophe before. Originally conceived in 2000 as a way for Trev and his friends to get more gigs — by running their own nights rather than scrambling for individual DJ slots around the city — Bodytonic barely made it through its very first party. Crammed with their decks into Trev’s tiny car, the group drove from Co. Meath into Dublin for their club-in-a-pub, at Toner’s on Baggot Street. For a December night, it was “snowing like mad,” and they expected to find the place empty — and they were right. But after sending out some friends to fish for potential partygoers, the place began to fill.
Trev called that night a metaphor for everything that would happen next. “It was a great accident. That’s how everything has worked out since. It didn’t necessarily start out great, and it could have been a disaster.”
In their early years, the Meath natives struggled to break into the right circles to book their Dublin gigs and gain followers. Meanwhile, super pubs and late bars were on the rise.
“These big huge bars opened where they had late night and you didn’t have to pay in,” Trev explained. “And for just one, two to three years they became quite popular. So people who just wanted to drink late could stay rather than move at half twelve. Nightclubs had to give better value – a reason to pay in.”
Bodytonic, evidently, could do that. After a few years of venue-hopping, John Reynolds at Wax offered them a home on Thursday and Friday nights, and he hooked them up with Electric Picnic in its infancy.
“Our name really grew then because that festival grew to be huge,” Trev said. They brought in international DJs and bands, experimented with music types, started record labels and developed a website and a reputation for being eclectic.
By 2006, Bodytonic was ready for its first venue. When a landlord offered them a one-year lease on a decrepit Richmond Street building— “to stop it from burning down” — they signed the deal.
“When we were running events in other places it was like we were babysitting, and when I took this place on it was like having our first baby. You couldn’t just hand it back. No matter what happened here, it was my responsibility.”
By all outward appearances, The Twisted Pepper seemed to sail through the initial recession, but the account books told a different story. Door prices, as always, went straight to the acts, but booze profits had dropped off by 20 to 30 percent. With people choosing to drink at home for cheap, the club was packing out its parties but operating in the red.
“If you can’t get any busier, and you’re losing money, that’s a serious problem. What we had to do at the time was attack our costs,” Trev said.
They had always “bootstrapped” for income, mostly ignoring the lure of bank loans and grants in favor of personal investments, donations and borrowing from family and friends. “If I made a bit of money, I kept it. If I lost a bit of money, I fucking learnt from it,” Trev said.
But to save The Twisted Pepper, Bodytonic needed to go beyond cutting costs. The trick, Trev said, was when he realized that both the Shaw and the Pepper could be more than just bars or clubs.
“If you’re ever in them by day, they look really miserable, and they’re really cold…and then at nighttime for some reason when you switch the lights on, put the candles out, and it sort of makes sense. I always thought you couldn’t use these spaces by day,” he described, sitting back and gesturing to the rest of the room. The Shaw brimmed with sunlight and cafe noises: the whirr of the espresso machine, the babble of lunchtime conversations, the clang of tableware. Every so often the cafe’s operators would call out to each other in their native Italian. David Bowie’s “Modern Love” played over the sound system.
“They’re just independent spaces where people meet, discuss and enjoy ideas, and that’s it. That’s a very vague, open-ended thing, but that’s just literally the only way I can describe it. It’s too broad and open and evolving to ever go deeper than that.
Across the two venues, Bodytonic hosts book talks and poetry readings, comedy nights, folk nights, record fairs and a host of other drink, lit or music themed events. It fits right in with the wellspring of other undefinable, independent spaces springing up over the last five years.
“That’s what I love about Dublin at the moment. I don’t like things to be linear. It all makes sense to me, because I’m a Dub – or, well, Irish. I like things to be nonlinear, a little bit random, a little bit human,” he said.
Their latest label, Bodytonic Music, launched with a new EP from White Collar Boy at The Twisted Pepper’s fifth birthday. It sold out by midnight, with an all-local lineup and packed with friends and family. Trev said the October 5th party was his favorite night at the venue.
And there’s more to come, Trev promised, rattling off a list: an app launch, a new website, festivals, more labels, a brewery and more locations — in cities like New York, Berlin and Barcelona. “It’s just a matter of time,” he said.
“If you try to think internationally – whether it’s an ego thing or whatever – are we world class, but in a very Irish way?” he asked. And although he was careful not to make too broad a prediction, he said he has a good feeling about Dublin’s economic recovery.
“I’m very optimistic at the moment. And I wouldn’t have said that five years ago, no way. I just would have said it’s very difficult. But I think things have become easier. Things have loosened a little bit, or become more open-minded. I can’t define it exactly, I think it’s just a common acceptance — that everyone knows that it’s a difficult situation for most, so everyone’s a little bit more willing. It took a few years for that to kind of become a collective consciousness.”
Tayor’s Do’s and Don’ts!
Use your imagination.
Sure go to London, Berlin, NYC or wherever to get inspired and see what’s out there but nothing beats being unique. A lot of my club ideas were driven by being thirteen or fourteen and listening to radio and club mixes, closing my eyes and imagining what it would be like to be there. Having no real reference was actually a great thing.
Look after yourself.
Eat well, exercise and best thing I learned recently — meditate. Living in the moment, clearing your mind, appreciation . All that stuff I used to write off as hippie-dippie shite. In the music game it’s easy to get sucked into the party side of things. Keep that stuff to the weekend and look after yourself every other day.
Get a great team around you.
DJs, live acts, designers, creatives, buzzers. Behind every good promoter is a great crew. People first, music second, always.
Ignore the numbers.
Money in, money out, margins, costs etc. Sounds obvious but most (including me until the recession hit) ignore this. My main talent is chaos and creativity. I had to learn science and structure. You need both for this to be sustainable.
Do this unless you’re passionate…
…driven and willing to work hard . You’ll need it when times get tough and your back is against the wall.
Ever. If it doesn’t work one way, try another. And another. Eventually you’ll get there. There are not many feelings in the world better than making your vision a reality, so do whatever it takes, because it’s worth it!