“We had waited so long, and now it was a reality…” How Homelands Ireland 1999 changed everything
On an otherwise gloomy autumn day, 20 years ago, a small seaside resort in County Meath was the centre of the universe. Or at least that’s what it seemed like for those that attended the first Homelands Ireland festival, which took place at Mosney Holiday Centre on 25 September 1999.
The biggest dance event ever to hit these shores, Homelands Ireland was the zenith of more than a decade’s worth of clubbing’s gradual migration to the mainstream. Despite early pioneers like Sides or Sir Henry’s, electronic music culture in Ireland was the archetypal slow burner, inching forward despite pushback from the authorities, a lack of suitable venues, and government’s sheer disregard of the the night-time economy.
By the late 90s, however, clubbing was in the ascendancy; venues such as The Pod and The Kitchen (not to mention the likes of Renards and Lille’s Bordello, even though they hummed a different tune) had brought a modicum of social respectability to the industry.
Ireland had also started to garner a reputation overseas for its atmosphere. As Judge Jules, named number one DJ in the world the year before Homelands took place, recently told this website, “From the moment one steps off the plane into Ireland, you know it’s going to be an incredible one. Ireland has never let me down, from the first time I visited back in the early 90s, right through to the present day. I don’t think Irish clubbers know how lucky they are!”
Homelands Ireland was the brainchild of several powerhouses of the music industry – Mean Fiddler, the team behind the Reading and Leeds festivals, nightclub operator Darren Hughes, The Pod’s John Reynolds (RIP), promoters Influx, and many others – and while the hype in the lead up to the event was justified (this was very much a ‘first’ for the domestic music scene), there was no guarantee that it would prove a success… at least until the gates opened.
Even the venue, Mosney, was a stroke of genius – a once-proud former Butlins resort, owned by businessman Phelim McCloskey, which at the time Homelands rolled around had seen better days. Boasting its own train station (close to midway between Dublin and Belfast), and a myriad of bars, restaurants and fairground rides, you couldn’t have had a more perfect setting for 20,000 smiling punters to let loose in.
The stage was set. And then some.
To mark 20 years since Homelands Ireland 1999, 909originals catches up with a few of the DJs and promoters that helped put the festival together, asking them for their recollections of the event and whether they think it changed the Irish clubbing landscape. Also, you can listen to some of the best sets from the day by clicking here, or recall your own personal highlights by consulting the lanyard below.
Mick O’Keeffe joined the Mean Fiddler Organisation in 1991, becoming Managing Director soon after and helping to grow the business to encompass ten venues and several festivals, including Reading, Leeds, Phoenix, Fleadh, Creamfields and Homelands – playing a key role in the latter coming to Ireland. He was also behind the South superclub venue in Tramore, Co. Waterford. He is currently entertainment manager for Project, Electric Avenue, Heerys and Market Bar in Waterford.
Mean Fiddler was predominantly a rock and roll company. We came from a background of doing rock festivals in the UK, and it was great to have an Irish company as a major festival promoter in the UK.
A few years before Homelands, we were approached in 1994 by a group called Universe, who were well known in the free party scene in the UK. Back then, it was still illegal to run outdoor dance events in the UK, but after holding an event in Germany, Universe were very keen to do something back home. They got in touch with a member of our promotions team, who was more into dance music than the rest of us were, and said that we needed to look into hosting dance events; that the whole thing was going to explode.
We had a great reputation with local authorities and were renowned for running good events, so following our meeting, that led to the creation of Tribal Gathering, which was the first legitimate major dance music event in the UK. We ran that for four years; you had 40,000 in attendance at each, and acts like Kraftwerk, Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers.
After a few years, Universe forged a relationship with a different promoter, so we looked for other opportunities. John Reynolds, who was a good friend of Vince Power’s and a partner with the group, had hosted a couple of shows by Cream, which was a big clubbing brand at the time. So we approached Cream to carry on what we had been doing for the previous few years. We had a meeting with James Barton and Darren Hughes, who were running Cream at the time, and that’s how the first Creamfields came about, in Winchester in 1998. We were head to head with Tribal Gathering that year, but we went on to take up the mantle.
The following year, Darren, who was the creative partner at Cream, left to develop a new club in London, called Home. We were faced with a difficult decision; do we stick with Darren, or keep working with the Cream brand? We had been working closely with Darren, so we decided to work with him, and that led to the first Homelands, which took place in the same Winchester site, in 1999… before it came to Ireland.
All credit to John [Reynolds] – he was the one that found the venue [Mosney]. I don’t think there was anywhere else suitable to put on a dance music festival at the time. My role was to book the acts – Orbital and Underworld were the headliners – and then work with the Pod team, Influx, Lush, and the other teams behind the various arenas.
As it used to be a resort, Mosney also had chalets as well, so the production crew had somewhere to set up. With most festivals – even Reading or Leeds – you are usually working out of a tent. So the fact that we had chalets to accommodate all the DJs and people working on the event was amazing. I think we only had to put up three outdoor structures; the rest of the festival was based around the existing buildings.
It was a shame that it [Mosney] was only available to us for two years. The following year, in 2000, was probably even better again; we had an unbelievable lineup. I don’t think anyone would argue that the government didn’t put it to good use, as a direct provision centre, but if we had been able to keep going, I think it would be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, like Creamfields is.
With any event we did in the UK up to that stage, the entry process was gradual; people would funnel in over a few hours. But at Homelands Ireland, as soon as the doors opened, there must have been 12,000 of the 20,000 people waiting outside to come in. By the time Judge Jules came on in the early afternoon, people were packed into the arena, even climbing up the poles – it was an absolutely incredible atmosphere. While we were used to dealing with the rock audience, the dance music scene was a relatively new phenomenon to us. To see the kids coming and go absolutely crazy right from the start – especially in Ireland – was unlike anything we had ever seen.
Before John passed away, we had discussed the possibility of having some sort of event to mark the 20th anniversary, but it never came together in the end. I think like most things, the scene has moved on – if you look at the Boxed Off, or Life, or Higher Vision festivals, they cater very well to the new generation of dance music fans.
But for a lot of the people that are in the scene today, Homelands Ireland was probably one of the first dance music experiences of their life. It kickstarted the imagination of a lot of people.
During the late 90s and early 2000s, Paul Davis was a partner at Influx, a promoter and record label that had residencies in some of Ireland leading venues, as well as curating events internationally. At Homelands Ireland 1999, Influx had a hand in operating two arenas, the Redbox & Influx Arena and the Influx Live Ballroom. Davis now runs his own marketing and events business, Davis Events Agency.
Back in 1999, Influx was running lots of club nights all over Ireland, and we even started doing stuff in Twilo in New York, as well as the UK. I had been in San Francisco for a while and experienced a whole new wave of dance music, and it made me realise that Ireland would be a fantastic place for a dance festival.
We had such an amazing scene in Ireland in the late 90s. There was a renaissance of the techno scene, and breakbeat, drum and bass and hip hop all taking off. Influx did club nights four nights of the week, all full all the time, and a most of them featured Irish DJs.
Plus, the international DJs and acts we were working with at the time like Laurent Garnier, Dave Clarke, Orbital; they used to come to Ireland and were saying that it would be great to have a festival to play at. So we started to think, ‘why couldn’t we do it?’
At the same time, though, there was a shortage of venues. When planning Homelands, as far as I remember, we had the RDS in the mix as a potential location at one stage, and it wasn’t probably ideal. There were other spaces that years later became festival sites, but they weren’t workable at that time.
There actually hadn’t been any festivals taking place in Ireland for a few years, because there were no proper spaces, and even if you found somewhere, the authorities would likely clamp down on it. Mosney, other other hand, was perfect, because of the way it was set up.
From the moment we got the green light, planning for the event was relatively short notice. Back then, things were different, in that a lot happened on the basis of goodwill and relationships. All the artists were really keen to make it happen, and got on board. There was a lot of pressure, obviously, but it was great the way it came together.
There was a bit of risk attached of course; there had been a couple of non-starters before, where we had promised certain people that we were going to be doing a festival, but for various reasons it didn’t happen. Putting these sort of events together was always a complex process.
On a personal note, when Orbital came on board, that was a big clincher for me. That’s when I thought, ‘ok, this is really going to happen now’. It gave it that sense of credibility. Also, Laurent Garnier, Dave Clarke, Billy Nasty, Darren Emerson, Liam from The Prodigy – these were great names to add to the bill. We also helped out with some of the drum and bass guys, like DJ Hype.
We wanted to promote Irish artists as well – with the Influx Ballroom, for example, there were a lot of artists that wouldn’t usually get to play to such big numbers, let alone a whole festival. These were sort of acts that you would book for a smaller club in Dublin. This was a real showcase for Irish talent.
In terms of personal highlights. I remember Dave Clarke dropping Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and the whole place went bananas – that was one of the epic moments. The whole festival was really emotional for everybody. I remember chatting to Melvin Benn of Mean Fiddler, who had a reputation for being a hard nosed kind of guy – even he was going ‘I haven’t seen anything like this before’.
The punters were so appreciative that this could happen, they were so grateful. That underpinned the whole spirit of the day, that ‘we had waited so long’, and now it was a reality.
Mr Spring, aka, Tim Hannigan, is a well-known character in Irish dance music, having been producing music since the late 80s, under names Mista Fantastic, Profundo Rosso and Nitrogen, and as part of the legendary Sound Crowd, alongside Mark Kavanagh (with whom he also ran Red Records). A long-time radio jock that earned his stripes on the pirate scene in the 90s, he’s now been working with 2FM for two decades, and currently produces and presents the Late Night Sessions for the station. At Homelands Ireland 1999, he played from 1.30pm to 2.30pm in the 2FM/Lush arena – his set from the day can be found here.
A couple of years before Homelands, I moved to London, and started putting out a few tracks under the Mr Spring name. The name came from an acid track I made, called Mr Spring, the Acid King – it was supposed to be temporary, but then the label did some research and found out that ‘Mr Spring’ was the name of a sex toy. So it was nice and cheeky.
I had been presenting on 2FM a little bit at that stage, standing in for Dave Fanning when he went on holidays. I wasn’t working there full time, though, so it was something of a happy coincidence that I ended up playing the 2FM Lush tent.
Homelands 1999 was the first time I can remember 2FM doing a proper outside broadcast at a festival. They had done Féile and a couple of of other events like that, but at Homelands, they did multiple stages, with snakes of cables running for miles. That was quite impressive to me; that was the first time that I could see them do an event of that magnitude.
I don’t think Homelands, as an event, could have happened before then. There was an alignment of the stars; you had John Reynolds, Mean Fiddler, the Influx guys – and then the real icing on the cake was getting this international brand, Home, to back it. Cream was probably a bigger name in clubbing then, and it was interesting to see that after Homelands was a success, Denis Desmond of MCD got his hands on the Creamfields brand and brought it to Ireland the following year.
As a venue, Mosney was absolutely perfect. Our parents all went to Mosney when they were kids, and at one time it was like a space-age city; you could have imagined the Jetsons flying around above it. But by the time 1999 rolled around, it was kind of falling apart. I remember walking around the site and looking at some of the buildings, and the old chalets, and it was sort of eerie. It was a bit like Clockwork Orange, with all this concrete everywhere.
Homelands Ireland was really full on from the moment it opened, but that didn’t surprise me. For one thing, nobody was really sure how they were supposed to behave. When festivals became part of the furniture in the years to come, you started to have people turning up later. But back then it was a case of the doors opened and ‘Bam!’
The energy was so solid, people couldn’t tell the difference between who was on and who were they were there to see. Every DJ that was playing there got a fantastic response, and probably thought they were Elvis for an hour or so.
With Homelands, there was this sense that you were there for the ‘happening’. You weren’t just there to see the three or four headline acts. People were wondering around from stage to stage and everything was awesome. We were ignorant, and we we were blissful.
Johnny Moy has been a key figurehead in Irish dance music since the early 90s, having been a resident at some of the country’s biggest club nights, including at the Temple of Sound, alongside Billy Scurry. He has remixed the likes of U2, David Holmes and New Fast Automatic Daffodils, as well as putting out a couple of his own releases on Red Records during the mid-90s. He has also acted as music consultant on RTE’s The Young Offenders and The Fear, as well as the recent Dublin Old School movie. At Homelands Ireland 1999, Moy closed the Influx Live Ballroom arena, playing between 1am and 2am alongside Glen Brady.
It was very hard to do events back then if you weren’t a big promoter like MCD. They had most of the talent working for them, but we were a bit ahead of them when it came to dance music. So a dance festival was the obvious thing to do.
John got in touch with Phelim McCloskey who owned Mosney, and it all came together really quickly. We were fortunate that we were able to secure the site, because the beauty with Mosney was that cut out a lot of red tape that you are normally have at a festival – it was a purpose built facility, it was fully licensed, it had its own perimeter fence, bars, fast food restaurants and even its own train station. From the point of view of keeping costs down, it was perfect.
We always felt that a lot of the festivals at the time were overlooking the Irish talent; that there wasn’t enough warrant to include them on the lineup. Festivals would typically have big headliners and a couple of Irish acts at the tail end of the bill. We made a concerted effort to make sure we looked after as many Irish acts as possible; about 30% to 40% of the lineup was Irish. That sort of thing hadn’t happened before.
For many Irish acts it was their first big festival; their first chance to play an event of that size.
By the time the day came around, I was sort of operating on autopilot because there were lots of last minute things –people missing flights and getting stuck in traffic and so on. In the week leading up to the event, we were on-site, sat in a chalet for a week beforehand doing all the last minute things. Looking back, obviously, it was great, but at the time I was really busy.
It was the first proper dance festival, so everybody there was really focused. A lot of festivals at the time were 80% indie; they did have dance stages, but it was only a token thing. Dance music had seriously exploded in Ireland at that time; it was the biggest youth cultural movement that had happened since punk. So I think people felt it was ‘their day’.
It also definitely de-sensitised things when it came to the authorities. The Gardaí were on site, and they all said that there was less trouble at Homelands than at other events like Slane. There were no fights – there were a couple of small drug arrests, but by and large, the cops gave it a thumbs up.
I think by that stage, they realised they weren’t going to stop this ‘dance music thing’, so they might as well deal with it in a professional manner rather than being authoritarian. They also realised that we were in a fully-licensed venue with proper paramedics, proper bars, proper security. It wasn’t like we were running illegal raves up in the mountains.
Steve Grainger, aka Stevie G, has been a pivotal figure in the development of the Cork music scene for close to 30 years, with residencies at classic venues such as Sir Henry’s, the Savoy and the Pavilion. He currently presents the award-winning hip hop and R&B show Black on Red on RedFM. At Homelands Ireland 1999, Stevie G opened the Main Stage, playing from 12.30pm to 1pm.
In some ways, Homelands Ireland was a bit of a turning point because some would say it was beginning of the end of the traditional clubbing sector, before when it went into that superclub territory. But it was the next logical progression for the Irish scene.
I remember reading in Sasha’s book abut the way that clubbing changed in the 90s. At the start of the decade, all the guys were playing in small clubs and the raves, but by the end, they were superstars, playing multiple gigs around the world on New Years Eve for the Millennium. By that stage, clubbing had lost sight of where it came from. Actually, here in Cork, they didn’t open Sir Henrys on the Millennium, because they were worried that they would have to pay the DJs too much.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a brilliant era – Homelands, Creamfields, and then the likes of Electric Picnic coming on board. Things changed a lot, although it did affect the club scene, it has to be said.
Looking at the lineup for Homelands, there were lots of Irish acts, and it was great to see the likes of Johnny [Moy], Billy [Scurry] and Col Hamilton getting acknowledged. But it was by no means a true reflection of what was going on. Certain DJs had connections to certain promoters, and were able to get on the bill – I was getting booked quite a lot in Dublin at the time so I opened up the main stage.
By the time the second Homelands came around, I think it was more reflective of the scene here – there was a Sir Henry’s stage, and you had Joe Clausell, Kerri Chandler and people like that, alongside Greg, Shane and myself. Today, we have a thriving scene – that’s something that took time to develop.
Homelands definitely has an important legacy – everyone in the country seemed to go to it. A few of us have even lived to tell the tale..!
Also known as DJ Wool, Glen Brady was an early trailblazer in the emerging breaks scene, before leaving Ireland in 2000 to embark on a close to two-decade production career in New York, San Francisco and Berlin. He has produced music for top TV shows, including CSI Miami and Gossip Girl, as well as developing the D.A.R.K. musical project alongside Andy Rourke of The Smiths and the late Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries. He still performs and records under the DJ Wool alias, releasing A Life In Breaks on NYC’s Dither Down Records in 2016. At Homelands Ireland 1999, Brady played under his DJ Wool alias between 6.15pm and 6.45pm in the Influx Live Ballroom, as well as closing the same arena alongside Johnny Moy between 1am and 2am.
Influx had been doing The Kitchen on a Thursday for a couple of years before Homelands. At that time, I was influenced quite a lot by what was going on in England, with the emergence of the breaks scene and the whole turntablism thing.
Because I was working so closely with Influx, I knew about Homelands at a pretty early stage, and I saw it develop from a smaller idea to a bigger idea. It was an interesting time – there was a definite change in the clubbing industry, it became more festival-orientated.
Nobody knew what was going to happen; what an event like Homelands was going to create. It’s not like there were these huge sums of money around back then – I wasn’t making enough money to pay my rent.
I was on the Influx stage in the afternoon, and I remember being happy with what I played. One thing I remember thinking was that it was way too early in the day for things to be as mad as they were. It was actually packed. I had played a couple of festivals around Cork and Galway, and if you ever played in the early evening like that, before the night fell, you would just be providing background music. But at Homelands, it was going off… everywhere.
I left Ireland about a year later, so I didn’t really see first hand what happened afterwards; how things changed. But you could tell that there was a definite move by the people that were DJing and making music from running clubs to running bigger events.
John Power was a well-known broadcaster on pirate radio during the 90s, on stations like DLR and Pulse FM, before joining 2FM to head up its 2FM Sessions programming. He left the Irish broadcaster in 2004 to move to Australia, before returning home to work in a variety of tech and consultancy roles. He currently works for Facebook. At Homelands Ireland 1999, Power played at the 2FM/Lush Arena between 8pm and 9pm.
Homelands was really John Reynolds’ baby. Between himself, Robbie Butler, Claire Byrne and all the Pod team, there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the festival. At 2FM, we were working very closely with them. I remember walking into the Pod office on the day of the launch, and Claire and John were on the phone, confirming some of the big acts right up until the last minute.
Pod had a small team, and they were taking on MCD and these other large-scale promoters. But they had a totally different approach; they were so much closer to it, and there was so much passion attached. The lineup had to be perfect, and if that was something that would take up until the very last minute, then that’s what it would take.
There was a huge risk attached. If it went wrong, it would have cost them £200,000 or something, but obviously if it paid off, they would see the benefit. Still, it’s an enormous risk for a small company to take. With every small business venture, in year one, you’re probably going to lose money, in year two, you’re going to lose slightly less money, and by year three or four, you’re in the game. But to go in straight away, and have a sell out was absolutely massive.
Assuming you had the finances, and you had the connections and could line up the big stars, you still have to deal with the Gardaí, with the licensing people. It’s such a massive undertaking that you can totally understand why people hadn’t done before.
John, to his credit, had the vision to put it all together. He was the architect. He brought us in, myself and [2FM radio producer] Ian Wilson, and they gave us full access on the day – we parked a 2FM Roadster outside the 2FM/Lush Arena, and we were running cables in to all the major stages. We captured some amazing sets – the Lush arena during the afternoon sounded like a football stadium.
Everybody at the festival – particularly the big artists – were only too delighted to have their sets recorded. They knew they were going out live to a massive audience.
When I was playing, I remember the arena going from about a third full to absolutely rammed in 20 minutes. I was absolutely terrified because I’d never played to that many people. I think the arena was legally able to hold 6,000 people, but it seemed like a lot more.
I was working all day, so I was on air broadcasting my show, doing interviews, recording different stages, and of course DJing… which meant that I had to stay completely sober. I couldn’t have been too smashed… at least not until later that evening [laughs].
I think everybody that day had a feeling that something big was happening; that something had really changed. I don’t think the scene would be where it is today if it wasn’t for Homelands. It changed things, and made everybody in Ireland really wake up and take electronic music seriously.
[Thanks to all the interviewees, and of course the 20,000 or so ravers that shared that special day – you know who you are. See you down the front, yeah?]