20 bliain ag fás… Galway’s 110th Street hits a milestone

In November 1998, a young Kerry-born DJ, Cian Ó Cíobháin, threw a party for his friends in Galway Town Hall, in the West of Ireland.

Two decades on, that club night, 110th Street, is one of the longest running in Ireland, helmed for its duration by Cian and longstanding partner in crime Cyril Briscoe.

Over the years, across a myriad of venues, 110th Street has welcomed big names such as 2 Many DJs, Erol Alkan, Optimo DJs, Andrew Weatherall and many more to the banks of the Corrib.

This coming Saturday (24 November), however, is all about Cian and Cyril, as 110th Street celebrates its 20th anniversary at The Blue Note, Galway.

909originals caught up with Cian ahead of what should be one of Galway’s parties of the year, to discuss the hazy joys of Buckfast, Ireland’s archaic licensing laws, and, of course, how 110th Street got started.

For an indication of what visitors to The Blue Note can expect next Saturday, check out the mix below. 

Over to you, Cian!

Q. Congratulations on the milestone for 110th Street – did you ever think you’d make it this far?

Thank you. Truthfully, no. When you’re in your early to mid twenties, you’re not really contemplating questions of longevity. The first night was about it being enough of a success to be asked back to do a second night and so on.

Q. How did the first night come about, all those years ago? What was the response like?

It came about by happenstance really. In October 1998, a month or so before the first 110th Street, there was a comedy festival taking place in Galway. 

A local DJ – who I often used to fill in for – was booked to do a gig in the Town Hall. Late, on the Saturday night of the festival, he rang me and asked if I might cover for him. I was at a house party with my mates and we were all drinking Buckfast wondering what to do with ourselves that night.

So I rounded up the troops and we pretty much ‘took over’ the venue. I believe that I was supposed to play lounge-y, background music which goes against the grain of the Buckie experience. I eventually ditched the lounge for more uptempo funk and soul stuff for my mates.

Their enthusiasm was so infectious that the head of the Town Hall at the time, the late, great Mike Diskin asked me if I’d come along and do it all again the following month. So the following month about 70 or 80 people showed up in the Town Hall for the very first 110th Street.

Looking back at these events now, I’m wondering: how the hell used I drink Buckie?

Q. How did you meet Cyril?

I used to hear him DJ-ing around town, but we were formally introduced by Brian O’ Kelly – who used to run Comet Records in Temple Bar – at one of the city’s regular music festival weekenders (a ‘Heineken Green Energy’ or perhaps a ‘Bud Thud’) in one of the Mainguard Street pubs (either The Dew Drop Inn or An Tobar) towards the tail end of the nineties.

We bonded over playing records. I believe Cyril may have asked me for a gig and when I obliged he played and rocked it. As the club night became a thrice monthly happening, instead of a monthly gig, Cyril came on board on a regular basis. Back then we used to play solo, I’d do one gig a month, Cyril would do another and we’d also have a guest.

However, by the time 2002 came around, we were in the GPO and properly began playing together around then. Of all the DJs I’ve ever heard or met, I’ve learned the most from Cyril. I could write quite a brilliant essay about all the DJ tips and nuggets he passed my way.

Q. What was Galway clubbing like back in 1998?

Ever since the first house records were played by DJs in Cork and Galway in the late eighties, Irish youth took to the sound with abandon and instantly created a vibrant and passionate club scene that grew and grew through the nineties.

In the eighties and early nineties, almost all Galwegians went clubbing in Salthill, but by 1998 most of the club nights were centered around the GPO, Cuba and O’Malleys and other venues in the city centre. 

When I first arrived in Galway in ’93, I caught the tail end of the Salthill era and was intoxicated by having so much choice on every night, perhaps more so on midweek student nights than at the weekends. In Salthill’s numerous venues, there were house nights, soul/funk nights, reggae nights, indie nights.

Q. At what stage of 110th Street did you think… ‘wow, we’ve really got something here’?

Probably about six months in. By then our parties were selling out in advance and you could feel yourself being pulled along by a riptide of excitement. 

Q. Any nights that in hindsight you would rather forget? Why?

We booked the brilliant Mu to play The Vic one night in 2006 or 2007 and we had a very small turn-out. 

I felt so sorry for her. She spent most of the night back-stage, hiding behind a speaker, waiting for the room to fill up and ready to pounce. The room never really did fill up. 

She still put on a great show but my heart went out to her. It was probably the first time we ever hosted a guest where we had a quite a low turn-out.

In hindsight, there were greater social changes impacting on club nights back then, such as the rise of Saturday night late night bars, with no cover charges. Our licensing laws have always been a hindrance to nurturing a thriving club scene.

Q. 110th Street has had so many venues over the two decades – what was your favourite, if any? 

Anywhere or time I was DJing in a room that was ‘going off’, I’ll never forget. Many who used to come to our nights would identify their favourite venue as the one that they first experienced. I will concede that there was a certain energy from 1998 to 2007, in nights that we ran in the Town Hall, the GPO and the Vic that live long in my memory.

If pushed, I would have to say that the old Drum, which was part of the old GPO, which was a really special space to get a vibe going in. Having said that, there really has been no better space that The Blue Note to play in in Galway over the decades. I love the pub and always hugely look forward to playing there. It might just be one of the best places in the country to play in.

Q. Do you think there are a shortage of venues for club nights that want to ‘do something different’ these days?

There has always been a shortage of venues. But it’s not just an issue with not having enough venues. It’s primarily to do with the attitude of our legislators towards clubbing and late night licenses. 

We’re still tied to Stone Age legislation, which dump thousands of people onto our streets between 2am and 3am every weekend. 

Our antediluvian curfews that are out of step with the rest of Europe have a knock-on effect on so many ways we do things: people binge-drink and start fights, it can be tricky to get a taxi home at particular times, everything seems to happen in a frenzy. It doesn’t have to be like this.

It’s very difficult for venues to open and stay open under these regulations, when really they can only do business from 11pm to 2am. I believe that if we were to address some issues – namely later curfews and perhaps having night mayors in our cities and towns to bolster the importance of making our cities attractive places to socialise in at night – that we would have more venues opening.

Even though I do post about the old days online, I would regard myself as the opposite of some retrospective ‘back-in-the-day’ clubbers, whose gaze is perpetually fixated on the past, which they somehow regard as a ‘better’ era. I don’t generally subscribe to that. 

After all, how can you compare the personal experience that a sixteen year old has entering a room where intoxicating music is played at a loud volume across eras? It’s a powerful experience – entering clubs for the first time – that no amount of nostalgia can dilute.

When I post online about the old days, it’s sometimes to get a smile or a laugh or – you can blame the historian and chronicler in me – wanting to share a particular moment in time. In general, I don’t think about the past much, I’m too busy preparing for my next gig, wondering what new records I want to drop and wondering how they’ll be received. After all, I present a radio show whose focus is primarily on brand new sounds.

Like any good DJ set, there have always been peaks and troughs in the Irish clubbing story.

We’re all part of a rich heritage that extends back to the first DJs that began running ‘non-mainstream’ club nights on this island. It’s about receiving the baton from those that came before us and passing it on to the next generation.

It’s about the ‘now’ and the ‘soon-to-be’. How can we get more venues open? How can we create the market conditions where it’s sustainable for Irish DJs and producers to make a living out of doing what they love? Where’s the next amazing record going to come from? Who’s the next DJ that I haven’t heard before who’s going to blow my mind? Where’s my next electric clubbing experience going to happen?

Q. What five tracks best sum up the 110th Street journey so far?

Off the top of my head, the following:

Town Hall (1998-02): Love Unlimited Orchestra – Strange Games & Funky Things
GPO (2002-04): LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge or Vitalic – La Rock 01
The Vic (2004-2007): Gabriel Anada – Doppelwhipper (both the original and the SuperMayer remix)
2008-2011: DJ Zinc feat Ms Dynamite – Wile Out
2012-2018: Andrés – New 4 U


110th Street
20 bliain ag fás / 20th anniversary sesh
The Blue Note, Galway
Saturday 24th November
w. Cian Ó Cíobháin & Cyril Briscoe
Free in from 21.00 / early arrival advised

For more information, visit galwaysisi.tumblr.com

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