Coming Like A Ghost Town?

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Above: A picture from a rabble party for Culture Night in one of the city’s out of the way spaces, Jigsaw.

Dancing in a restaurant this weekend? Listening to techno in a gallery at 6pm? Afraid your venue will get shut by Garda tonight? Ireland’s much-vaunted after-hours scene is indeed great, but it’s worth reiterating that it’s the upshot of a draconian licensing regime. Beggars and Beardy chatted to folk about Dublin’s venue famine and the closure of mid sized clubs.

The conservative nature of this licensing regime and Ireland’s Public Dance Hall Act has been covered by us before. Although, the dearth of small to midsize venues is one factor that hasn’t been covered as much. These venues come under pressure from the Special Exemption Order (SEO) of €400 needed for every night they want to open until three am; smaller and low-demand nights become unviable with less money coming in.

It didn’t help, as Luke Barnett (of Sweeney’s Free Techno) tells it, that “when the Celtic Tiger fell on its arse, half the club going public left for Australia and the other half that stayed had to pick their parties carefully due to money constraints.”

The problem of getting people in the door comes up again and again. For Luke it is fundamental, a problem contributing to and existing alongside some of the well known smaller venues closing. There’s “a lack of club goers to support the financial risk to all involved running brand new club nights” which has restricted what could be done.

Clubbing was retarded in Ireland by the crisis, recession and emigration which followed. The crushing weight of austerity forced clubgoers, producers and promoters to leave and clubs to close down. The scene is recovering, but the landscape still needs a revamp when it comes to licensing, funding and infrastructure.

Despite these limitations, clubbing and dance music in its various forms have increased in popularity since the crisis. Jay Carroll runs Mutate, bringing over quality techno djs, producers and live acts to a variety of venues. He reckons the resurgence “has driven a new wave of club goers and promoters alike. Similar to the days gone by of the initial ‘rave’ scene culture and the emergence of house and techno around Europe during the 80’s and 90’s.”

Aaron Nolan, who runs the brilliant Culture Shock parties across Dublin, highlights greater collaboration among promoters as a significant effect of the reduced demand during the recession. While it’s certainly positive in some respects, it has its downsides now: “The result is that the larger clubs are strengthened with bigger budgets and bigger pull, thus eliminating the prospect of any smaller promoters getting off the ground.” Larger international acts and less risky bookings is the order of the day.

This is the other side of the coin: large clubs needing to pull in a crowd book big internationals with one or two ‘hit’ tracks; many of the DJs heading the bill play here regularly. As Jay Carroll of Mutate laments, this entails “the huge production, all the lights, glitz and superstar DJ antics” that dominates across Europe, along with the increased entry fee to pay for it all, e.g. €20 on the door of District 8.

Considering the vast array of quality DJs out there, promoters continuously dipping into the same pool of established DJs is unexciting and hinders the development of local talent.

Yet, larger clubs are obviously not the enemy. As Luke notes “They provide a platform for people to go view bigger international acts they wouldn’t be able to see if it wasn’t for these clubs so that is a good thing”.

Jay agrees, “I think they have played a vital role in helping to introduce and educate younger clubbers, new acts and djs are brought over to Ireland hence today’s clubber getting opportunities to open their mind to electronic music as a whole.”

It’s also not to say there aren’t great nights out there, there are, as Luke tells me “the stale formula of one international producer who had that hit that one time coming over to dj with support from two local lads is going out the window. People want fresh and if you look you’ll find it.”

From the Repeater collective to Jehri tracks to the Betty crew, there’s a lot of homegrown talent to get excited about.

Jay Carroll agrees, for him it’s the rise of large clubs that have forced promoters to “think outside the box and come up with some amazing ideas for venues.”

“Take Vision Collector for example, Filmbase, Dlight Studios and Christchurch Cathedral are just 3 venue they have run and are hoping to run events. That’s pretty impressive!”

The point is we’re missing something. A raft of smaller venues like Sweeneys, Pacinos at Night and Twisted Pepper have shut their doors recently.

Across the country there has been a big drop in the amount of clubs open, and the opening hours slashed of those surviving. Even with once off pop-ups, smaller spaces are harder to come by and a lot of those still open for club nights function primarily as restaurants or art studios.

These midsize clubs foster a sense of community, allow new club nights to grow and djs to emerge. Without pressure to get 500 people in the door, established promoters have more room to go off the beaten track and those new to the game are able to find their feet.

For those on the dancefloor, attending regular nights of a particular bent inevitably leads to familiar faces, shared memories and new connections. This intimacy and familiarity isn’t necessarily better than the anonymity and awe of large venues, but everyone is less well off when both can’t be sustained.

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