Ahead of a screening of ‘Notes On Rave In Dublin’ this Friday, we caught up with director James Redmond to get his take on the past, present and future of Dublin clubbing…
This Friday (18 October) sees a very special screening of Notes On Rave In Dublin take place in The Sugar Club.
The documentary, which has had very limited screenings to date, is an in-depth account of the blooming of the clubbing scene in the Irish capital, told by those at the coalface – tracking the development of the scene from those early, loved-up dancefloors to the growing commercial stratification of the early 2000s.
The screening is being hosted by Rabble alongside Dublin Digital Radio, one of the city’s leading independent broadcasters, which is in the process of raising funds for a studio move in the coming weeks. The organisers are also promising a ‘little shindig’ after the screening, for those planning to recapture those dancefloor memories in the best way possible..
Tickets are priced at €12.50, and are available by clicking here.
Ahead of the screening, 909originals caught up with James Redmond, Rabble founder and the director of Notes On Rave In Dublin, to discuss the inspiration behind the documentary, and what he believes the lasting legacy of that period is. 🙂
Q. How did the idea for Notes On Rave In Dublin come together?
Truthfully it was brewing for a long time. I put the documentary together when I was working in Dublin Community Television, very much as a counterpoint to projects in there covering the indie scene, like A Joyful Slog and Community of Independents.
Dance music history has always been a pretty fascinating subject for me, but apart from fragmented accounts on bulletin boards or stories passed down from older mates there wasn’t really anything out there for the screen about Dublin. There were some productions from the national broadcaster akin to ‘scene reports’, but nothing looking back on the legacy of it.
People like Aoife Ni Canna, Garry O’Neill, John Braine, Paul Tarpey and Tonie Walsh had done a lot of work piecing together elements of the history through other means like print, radio and building archives. Setting off on the journey of making the documentary was something of a mission of enquiry really; lots of the names I ended up talking to would not have been familiar to me at all really before starting.
I got passed on, baton-like, from one person to another as more and more aspects of the story unfurled and nuggets came my way. Whatever idea I had in my head setting out got pulled and shaped by the conversations I had, and the realities of only having so many minutes on a timeline to work with.
For a lot of people of a certain generation in the city, the story and the shape I tell it in is probably obvious enough; but for folks of my age and younger, it was a serious black hole in a culture close to our hearts. It was a big cultural earthquake, this whole rave thing, which that even reached those of us down in the Irish countryside practicing ‘Leeroy’ dances at GAA discos.
I’ve clear memories of ‘Dance Nation 1995’ being spray painted around my home town growing up, being obsessed with Music For The Jilted Generation as a kid and rave fashion brands being popular with us all in school.
We were too young to participate and when we were eventually ‘of age’, we just had the mythology of the UK and other scenes to feast on, with something of an indie counter-revolution dominating throughout our college years.
There was a big gaping hole in what happened here. No real books, no real documentaries and very little that celebrated the people that poured themselves into building the early scene.
It was something that was really only filled in by people sharing memories on legendary threads on forums like boards.ie. That black hole doesn’t really exist as much in other scenes here, so I wanted to bridge that gap and shore up this glitch in what we know about how dance music took hold in Dublin and those that made it happen.
Q. Other cities can trace the development of their nightclub scene back to the emergence of pivotal club nights or venues – Manchester has The Hacienda, Berlin has Tresor etc. From putting together the documentary, do you think did Dublin ever have that, or was the development more sporadic?
No, I think that probably holds true from what the contributors to the documentary say. They sketch a pretty coherent path from places like Flikkers, an early gay club in The Hirschfield Centre, to Sides and onwards.
I mean, a lot of that is inherited wisdom, a consequence of how the characters I talked to told the story and a way of putting momentum and shape on a documentary project.
Placing certain clubs or venues as being “pivotal” or at the centre things is always going to be different depending on who you talk to. But in a city the size of Dublin, there’s definitely a flow to giving precedence to these early clubs that makes a lot of sense.
I think people can be a little guilty of taking the easy route to explain these things and rely on pivotal moments. For instance, speaking of the Hacienda and places like Shoom, Jeremy Deller’s documentary Everybody In The Place does a great job of de-centering such moments and highlighting how house music was being played in black community centres in Moss Side in 1986, with groups like Foot Patrol cutting shapes to it a full year before that famous Ibiza trip that Paul Oakenfold, Johnny Walker, Nicky Holloway and Danny Rampling went on a year later.
In terms of Dublin, the experience of emigration could be as pivotal to the story as certain clubs existing – you had people like Liam Dollard emigrating to London and discovering these sounds, then bringing tonnes of records home in a picnic freezer box. It’s chicken and egg, perhaps.
It really depends what way you want to tell a story. But before doing that, you do need some sort of loose framework to hang things off, and centring it around certain clubs makes that easier. Notes On Rave In Dublin was really just an effort to do that.
It’s a set of notes on a theme, and I never wanted it to be viewed as the ‘definitive’ anything. I’m really eager to have other stories come forward about how things developed at the time and what people’s experiences were.
There are plenty of clubs that never got a mention in Notes On Rave In Dublin and I know people claim they were just as vital in those early days.
Q. What is it about Dublin clubbing that has continued to be so supportive of ‘its own’ – some of the most successful nights in the city’s history have been built around local residents rather than big international names?
I definitely get the sense from those I talked to that Irish DJs certainly got demoted somewhere along the way in terms of the running order of things, or began to be associated with bringing in ‘a certain crowd’ – in a rather crude classism that crept into the scene.
Those local nights, where ‘one of our own’ are given reign at peak time are certainly among my favourite. Dublin Digital Radio is particularly good at organising sweat box parties that do that specifically.
And of course, mention must go to the Open Ear Festival down on Sherkin, which takes a ruthless approach to showcasing talent here and was absolutely banging across the board last year.
These type of nights are definitely my favourite and tend to be precisely the nights out I seek in Dublin now.
I’d be pretty convinced that we are probably a whole lot better at building nights around Irish residents now than maybe a few years ago, just because the economies of scale involved in bringing over international acts are a bit tougher. Club Comfort, Dip, the Dublin Digital Radio parties, Initial etc are all local parties that are popping up on my Instagram feed and taking a very local approach to developing their parties.
A lot of our mid-sized venues have closed down, so you really have a dichotomy in the city now of purely local nights and then absolutely massive international big room headliners, with very little in between the two.
Q. The documentary comes to a close in the early 2000s, with the story of the Creation raves. Why did you end the story there – what had changed?
I’d honestly thought I could bring things relatively up to date, but given the editing and production process – that ‘up to date’ would have been drastically dated by the time it was done.
Tying it off with the Creation raves, the Funnel and the generation of labels that came after it like Bassbin and D1 really made sense in terms of a narrative arc. Francois also had a lot to say about feeling that the Creation raves were really a highlight moment of the whole thing for him.
In the midst of all the commercialisation of the millennium period and the whole economic boom, these raw moments of bringing hundreds of people together with no trouble, with to a wide range of local DJs playing anything from jungle to techno, were a real reminder of what the whole thing was all about in the first place.
Sometimes, people probably do need a slight nudge about what the whole thing is about or why they fell in love with it in the first place.
There was a nice synchronicity to whole thing that was worth preserving. I’m also pretty convinced at this stage that you probably need a good decade or more as a legitimate time span really before you can really assess how important a scene is.
Anything closer is just going to be full of contributors lost in hyping whatever it is they are tied up in, elevating their own ego within it and not having any of the perspective that looking back with distance can give.
Q. As the documentary shows, the history of Dublin clubbing has always been a bit ‘stop-start’ – once a night or venue gets established, it’s not long before it gets shut down, something that continues to this day. Why do you think this is?
In terms of nights and promoters, there are a lot of nights that have lasted the distance – as in, persisted over the years – but with really weak economies of scale. In terms of actually making a profit to plough back into a night, it’s probably quite hard to become sustainable without the support of a venue that gets what you are doing.
You need that relationship and it’s one I think The Twisted Pepper was very good at developing with various crews. If you don’t have that, then really what do you have? You have the Vintners’ Federation taking all of the booze money, charging you rent for a space while you put in all the slog to get punters in and then take the risk with the fees for DJs too.
You’d be lucky to break even or have anything to do another night. It can really only work with local artists; bringing internationals over can be a costly lesson – one I’ve learnt myself a few times. If you’re into ‘flavour of the month’ house and techno, you’d probably be okay, but anything more underground than that and it’s hard to survive in Dublin and build sustainability into what you are doing.
It’s a labour of love for a lot of people, with a serious amount of sweat equity.
Q. The closure of the Tivoli, Bernard Shaw, Hangar etc is creating a groundswell of opinion towards the need to protect Dublin’s nightlife. Are you encouraged by the steps being taken?
It’s positive to see people finally becoming organised around this stuff, and huge props goes to the dogged determinism of Give Us The Night for pushing this and developing a really solidly researched platform around it.
If you are talking about dance music culture, then firstly straight up we have a huge problem in the Dance Hall Act from 1935. It’s not just about silly politicians and how they don’t understand youth culture – though there is a whole deeper facet to this.
You require an actual license to run a dance in a venue in Ireland, whether licensed or not. This is the story.
This is the ideological expression of a Catholic theocracy that back in the day did not like people gathering to dance outside of the eyes of their jumped-up guardians of parish morality. Go watch Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall if you haven’t a clue what I’m on about.
This has a huge knock-on effect. There is no such thing in Irish legislation as a ‘club’. It means there is a lack of alternative art spaces, clubs or even the sort of pop-up licenses you get in London that allows for temporary events in interesting locales like warehouses etc. Or, the after-hour clubs that characterise Berlin.
These things can become thriving independent life forces in other cities, but in Dublin they are just non-existent and because of restrictive laws on everything from selling alcohol to dancing.
We are still light years behind on this stuff. There is no understanding of a night-time economy here, instead, we get some weak talk of the ‘evening economy’, cuts to late-night public transport, and so on.
It’s as recent as 2005 that Micheal McDowell’s idea of ‘cafe bars’ was brought to a halt by Fianna Fail and its friends in the Vintners.
Irish society has certainly changed, but when it comes to the spaces where we live out our social lives, then that’s still for the most part entirely monopolised by a terrible binge-drinking culture, centred around pubs. We really don’t have much in the way of ‘third spaces’ where people can hang out with each other, unless a 24-hour Starbucks in the city centre is your thing.
If we can’t even get these things through then I’d not be hugely optimistic to be honest. That’s sad, but just how I feel.
Personally, a lot of these cultures come from below – they happen because people find spaces and use them for parties. Over time, grey areas develop, legislation moves on and a broader understanding develops around the role these spaces play in a culture. It’s a very long-term trajectory really, and in Ireland hugely conservative lobbies like the Vintners’ Federation are going to resist it at every single step.
[Thanks to James for the interview. More information about Notes On Rave In Dublin can be found here]