Bad news is often contagious, and when the announcement was made on Friday 5th January about the impending closure of The Wright Venue, the biggest club on Dublin’s Northside, it seemed like yet another nail in Irish clubland’s coffin, on the back of the recent demolition of Hangar and the shuttering of District 8 at the end of this month.
By the end of the day, however, those fears had turned to cautious optimism, with the news that Bodytonic, the team behind Beatyard, countless boozers and countless more legendary club nights, is poised to take over the venue, renaming it ‘Jam Park’.
‘After 10 years at the forefront of Dublin’s social scene, The Wright Venue will close at the end of this month,’ Michael JF Wright Hospitality Group, the venue’s current owners, said in a statement. ‘Re-imagined and managed by The Body Tonic Group (sic), it will reopen as ‘Jam Park’ in the coming months, as an exciting new venue for Dublin’s Northside.’
On the new venture, Bodytonic aren’t currently revealing much – issuing “no statement for the moment” other than the following quote: ‘Bodytonic presents Jam Park, a new arts, games, eatery & events space coming soon.’ A website, jam-park.com, is similarly short on details.
Rumours suggest that the District 8 crew will be brought on board as (one of many?) in-house promoters, meaning the capital could soon have a house and techno arena on a par with the best in Europe.
Having already played host to the likes of Sven Väth, Jamie Jones and Nicole Modbauer, the Airside venue could be about to go stratospheric under new leadership.
Some might say this is Bodytonic’s biggest venture to date. But for a promotions vehicle that has continued to keep the party going for close to 20 years now, I would imagine ‘chief tea maker’ Trev O’Shea (aka DJ Tayor) and his motley crew are taking it in their stride.
Keeping things interesting, after all, has been part of the Bodytonic mantra from day one.
Launched in a half-full Toner’s pub in Dublin on a snowy night in December 2000 – ok, it’s not quite U2 at Dandelion Market but everyone has to start somewhere – Bodytonic was formed at a time when superpubs (Break for the Border, Howl at the Moon et al) were putting clubbing under pressure.
I remember handing out flyers for one of Bodytonic’s first nights, in summer 2001, and being told off by a Dublin Corporation binman for littering (although most people that took a flyer seemed generally interested).
The night itself, at Dublin’s Voodoo Lounge, (featuring Ron’s Mobile Disco, Francois and Tayor if I remember correctly), was moderately well attended, but came with a caveat – the decks were located in a booth by the door, and anytime anyone walked past them, the floorboards would shake and the records would skip.
In September of that year, Bodytonic took its next big leap, a residency in U2’s fabled The Kitchen… which, at the time, was, well… in decline.
As Trev told the Bodytonic website back in 2007, “I was working in The Kitchen when I left college. I started picking up glasses the week after I finished a business degree in DCU. […] Up until the end of that year things were ok, but then late bars came in in Dublin and that was the start of the downturn.
“The club started getting a lot less busy very quickly and got worse every month. And no one seemed to be really saying ‘ehh, we have a fuckin problem here, the club is getting quieter by the month’.”
Discotonic, as the night was called, didn’t really get off the ground, despite Bodytonic’s efforts – bowls of Skittles and Smarties lovingly left on tables for patrons were largely consumed by the staff.
“Back then, The Kitchen was like getting The Pod or Fabric, it was THE club,” O’Shea recalled. “It just put you on a certain social ladder, people took you a bit more seriously. So when we got that, we thought ‘Jesus, this is it – we have it made!’
“But then we started doing as badly as the promoter before us who got chucked. And then six months later, the club was closed.”
Yet that stage the acorns had been planted, and the Bodytonic oak was sprouting its first branches. The collective grew larger. A series of seminal one-off events took place: a legendary ‘pissup in a brewery’, a cheeky beach rave, Derrick Carter in The Redbox, Inland Knights and Jori Hulkkonen in the aforementioned Voodoo Lounge (the ‘vibration’ issue having been resolved), Charles Webster on the roof of a Dublin pub.
Thus, by the time Bodytonic started a series of regular club nights in 2003, they were ingrained in Dublin nightlife, so much so, that the nascent Electric Picnic hosted a Bodytonic Arena for its first few outings (the stage was located in the campsite, meaning many of those in attendance likely never made it in to the main arena!).
The team also quickly developed a reputation for bringing over some of the biggest names in dance music: check out the Bodytonic stage at the 2006 Garden Party, for example, which featured Booka Shade, Ewan Pearson, Alexander Robotnick, Greg Wilson, Scratch Perverts and DJ Marky – that lineup alone would make for an incredible one-day festival today.
The milestones kept coming. The group’s first pub venture, The Bernard Shaw, on Richmond Street, opened in 2006 (spawning an empire that today includes MVP, The Back Page, The Lighthouse, Pot Duggan’s and The Square Ball).
“When we were running events in other places it was like we were babysitting, and when I took [The Bernard Shaw] on it was like having our first baby,” O’Shea told Rabble.ie a few years back. “You couldn’t just hand it back. No matter what happened here, it was my responsibility.”
In 2008, having hosted a myriad of memorable nights in The Pod, Bodytonic took over the former Traffic venue on Middle Abbey Street and created The Twisted Pepper, one of the city’s most iconic dance venues, introducing Dublin clubbers to the likes of Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann.
Still more launches followed, The Beatyard, The Big Grill, Eatyard, Wigwam… all infused with the same energy and passion as those early ventures at the turn of the Milennium.
Jam Park is set to be the latest chapter in an ever-growing magnum opus.
“That’s what I love about Dublin at the moment. I don’t like things to be linear,” O’Shea explained in 2014. “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.”
In less than two decades, Bodytonic has made Irish clubland (and Dublin social life in general) a better place. Here’s to the next big adventure.