For a few glorious years at the tail end of the 90s and early 2000s, there were few European cities that could touch Dublin in terms of clubbing atmosphere. A central piece of this nocturnal jigsaw was was undoubtedly the Temple Theatre, the former place of worship that was part trance Mecca, part den of iniquity… but always, ALWAYS off the chart.
The grand, obelisk-style building that housed the Temple, St George’s Church, dates back to 1802, and was designed by Francis Johnson, who was best known for his work on the GPO on O’Connell Street. Over its near two centuries as a church – during which time it earned a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses – it was sold in 1990 to actor Sean Simon, for use as a theatre.
Its opening night as a nightclub, on 9 September 1996, was accompanied by one of the most elaborate invitations in Dublin’s clubbing history – an etched glass flyer within a ‘stained glass window’ envelope – and it didn’t take long for the venue to establish itself as a premier clubbing venue, with Sasha & Digweed bringing their Northern Exposure tour to the venue just over a month later.
As the flyer for that gig put it, visitors to the Temple Theatre could enjoy “a night of unprecedented excellence in the lavish surroundings of an 18th century converted church”, and promotions vehicle Honey, which had previously occupied The System, put on a number of memorable nights during its formative years. Along with international guests, Ministry Of Sound had a monthly residency there, while Platipus Records brought its ‘Duck Billed Tour’ to the venue in October 1997.
The EU-wide Eurodance ’97 event, which saw gigs take place simultaneously in four cities – Rome, Brussels, Liverpool and Dublin – was another early highlight, as promoters Strictly Fish put on a stellar bash at the venue featuring David Holmes, Billy Scurry, Glen Brady, Dave Cleary and Nemo, which was broadcast live on 2FM.
It was the arrival of management duo Pat O’Keeffe and Jerry Harrington in 1998, however, that catapulted the venue into the stratosphere, as the venue’s music policy began to slide more towards the trance market, and international names such as Judge Jules, Mauro Picotto, Scott Bond, Joy Kitikonti, Lisa Lashes and others made the venue a regular pit stop for Saturday’s epic Sp@ce nights.
As O’Keeffe told an episode of Spin Cities (a short-lived clubbing series helmed by Judge Jules) back in the early 2000s, the atmosphere in the venue at the time, whether in the main room or subterranean Crypt (home to the hard-as-nails Euphoria nights), was second to none.
“The kids want to have a good time, and it’s a very relaxed door policy,” he explained. “They come in on a Saturday, have a few drinks, lose themselves for four hours, listen to good music and shout and scream and have a good time. That’s what clubbing’s all about.”
In an interview with FM 104’s Al Gibbs a few years back, longtime resident Darren Flynn noted the speed at which the Temple Theatre went from being ‘just another venue’ into one of Dublin’s – if not Europe’s – essential venues, was phenomenal.
“It’s actually unbelievable to think back and realise how much it escalated from 98 to 99,” he said, “It automatically transitioned, over the course of about nine months, to becoming the first Irish superclub.”
As he explained, “I’ve never ever played to a crowd like that before. I did the majority of the support slots and it was an incredible experience, because you’re playing for three hours to a really educated crowd. It was the first time I experienced that the crowd would communicate back to you – there was a symbiotic relationship.”
But times changed, and as clubbing venues began to fall by the wayside at the start of the new Millennium, so the Temple couldn’t avoid an inevitable decline.
Sp@ce held its last bash at the Temple Theatre on the August bank holiday weekend in 2002. The flyers promoted the night as being the ‘End of an Era’, and in many ways it was.
The venue persevered for another few months, finally bringing the curtain down in September 2003. As a spokesperson for the club told the Irish Independent at the time, “Superclubs are not happening anymore, and people would rather stay in smaller, more intimate, venues.”
While the Temple Theatre was only open for around seven years, it left an indelible mark on Dublin’s clubbing landscape – a megaclub that could compete with some of the best venues in Europe, with a hardcore sound system and an even more hardcore crowd.
These days, close to two decades later, if you walk along Temple Street late at night, you can still hear the rumble of the bass.
909originals caught up with some of the big names, both domestic and international, that helped make the Temple Theatre what it was.
Italian dance music legend Mauro Picotto has been a leading name in trance and techno for 25 years, having played some of the biggest venues in the world, as well as boasting a longstanding residency, Meganite, in Ibiza’s Privilege nightclub. When he first played the Temple Theatre in the late 90s, he was riding high on the success of tracks such as Lizard, Iguana and Komodo (Save A Soul). The rest, as they say, is history.
The Temple Theatre was like this hidden island. It was this magical place where people could go and enjoy the music, enjoy the party, enjoy the vibe. I felt like I spent ten years of my life in that place, it was beautiful and I only have great memories. It was so much fun.
I first played there around 1999 or 2000, when I was turning my music from trance to techno – well, actually I wouldn’t call it techno, because I’ve always been a bit more trance oriented. Throughout my musical career there have been many metamorphoses.
I remember Pat O’Keeffe came and picked me up, and we went for dinner, and then we arrived at the club, and it was unbelievable, because the queue to enter the club was not just around the corner, it was about two or three blocks long. That was unreal, like a dream. Then, when I left the club to go back to the hotel, there were around 150 people outside, who wanted to come and party, because we had two suites booked at the hotel. I left my heart in Ireland, trust me.
When I played the Temple, it felt like I was the actor in a theatre. If you are an actor and you are performing, and you forget your lines, there’s someone there to guide you in the right direction. That was what it was like, you were very close to the crowd, and they would ‘guide’ your performance, in a way.
It was the right place with the right music at the right time. I don’t think that any other club has been able to replicate that since, not one.
Around that time, from 2000 until the mid 2000s, I kind of had the same feeling playing in a few other countries around the world – England was great, Argentina and Colombia were great, the US, Miami in particular. But Dublin was all about the crowd. That’s something that’s always made the difference for me. Playing at the Temple was playing at home.
The people there were so open to receiving new music. You could play Komodo, or more underground tracks like Verdi, and the place erupted just the same. That was the beauty of the place.
Jay Pidgeon runs an international artist management firm, managing artists such as Claptone and Vintage Culture, while his repertoire of artists in the past has included Nic Fanciulli, Martin Solveig, Scot Project, Mario Piu, Tomcraft and many others. Prior to moving to London in 2001, he was a Temple Theatre regular, both manning the ones and twos and undertaking back of house responsibilities.
I started playing at the Temple Theatre thanks to Darren Flynn, who was managing Kiss FM at the time. I started helping out, driving some DJs from the airport to the hotel to the venue. Whoever the international guest was, I was running them back and forth.
Soon after that I took over the management of Kiss FM, and off the back of that, as well as being involved in the backroom scene of the Temple, in terms of liaising with the artists, a slot or two came up. I would play the first hour, or something like that. I was 18 or 19 at the time. I would have bit somebody hand off at the time for an opportunity like that.
In terms of what I was playing, Darren was really anti hard house, so I changed my style a bit, and went a bit more progressive. I got into a bit of a groove with that sound as well, and it was easier to do warm up sets. That was the kind of world I was in at the moment, musically, but my real love was hard house.
The Temple Theatre, as a venue, ramped up very quickly. I think someone had coined the phrase ‘superclub’ in the the UK, and then it automatically got associated with the place – this was ‘Ireland’s superclub’. But they had weekly talent coming through, the names in there were the biggest in the world, and they were there every Saturday night.
You’re talking people like Armin van Buuren, Timo Maas, Tall Paul. These are all international superstar DJs. And if you look at it nowadays, you don’t see anything like that week to week. The artists that came in did very well from playing at the Temple Theatre – it opened more doors and more markets for them.
Both the main room and the Crypt went through a sort of evolution. I was pushing for a while to do something different on a Friday night, downstairs. The Friday night was a hip hop night upstairs, but they weren’t making use of the downstairs area. So I convinced Pat that we should do a hard house night, which evolved into Euphoria.
We were booking a lot of the bigger names in hard house names at the time, like Anne Savage, Lisa Lashes, Nick Sentinence, BK, Paul Glasby. At the time, a lot of them were more main room acts, so that was a time that was very special to me. We did that almost every Friday, and then you would have Sp@ce on the Saturday.
I think the Temple Theatre was at its peak from around 1999 to 2002. I moved to London in 2001, so I had two good years of it, with hard house on the Fridays and then the occasional gig on the Saturdays.
The atmosphere was special. You had people that had travelled from all over Ireland, to go to the Temple Theatre on a Saturday. People were all kind of sharing that moment together. There was never really a lot of trouble, and a very mixed crowd. Everyone was pretty well behaved, they were there to enjoy themselves – at least the majority of times that I can remember, anyway.
I think that the architecture of the building was also unique, it was such a phenomenal space. The sound system, the artists that were up on the stage – it was very special. You know, the DJ wasn’t up on the balcony they were in the centre. It was a case of ‘this is the show’ – you went in, and you were confronted with it from the moment you entered, which was just overpowering.
Known colloquially as the ‘Stagedive King’, John Cecchini commenced his DJ career in the 80s, going on to manage artist such as Tilt, Quivver, and Parks & Wilson in the 90s. With his versatile style and Scouse wit, he soon became a cult hero both at the Temple Theatre and Lush! Portrush.
Back in those heady days of the 90s, some good times were had in Dublin, it was a special place, a special city. Ireland was probably one of my busiest locations actually, I kept coming back, and coming back again. My agent used to say to me, ‘why don’t you play some more gigs elsewhere’? It’s simple. Because I loved the place.
I think I got my first gig at the Temple because of the gigs that I was doing up at Lush!, which is also sadly now closed. I can’t remember how it happened exactly, but at the Temple it just started to click for me. I would go from being the No. 2 or No. 3 DJ on the night to topping the bill and selling the place out. I probably played there too many times, to be honest, Pat put me on too many times in quick succession.
By definition, it was a theatre, so you had almost like a complete spectrum of the crowd in front of you. I’ve said it before, I think the music at the time was made for it. There were some euphoric moments in the tunes back then, banging house tunes or tracks with big toplines. It was a special time when the energy of the crowd, the shape of the room, the dynamics of the music – it all came together. I loved the crowd, and I felt that back – it was one of those times when it all just clicked.
I had been DJing for 25 years before I played for the first time in Ireland. I played with DJs like Paul Oakenfold, played all the venues, and then when I first played Lush!, I think my first gig was between 8.30 and 9.30 on a Saturday night. I think I was fourth on the bill. Within 12 to 18 months, though, I was headlining, and then from there, I started getting gigs all over Ireland.
The first couple of times I played in Dublin, I don’t think anybody really knew who I was. But you get to play in front of a crowd of 500 people or whatever it is, and if you do a good job, they’ll let you know. If they’re having a good time, and the promoter sees they’re having a good time, they bring you back again. That’s kind of how it was – I was DJing for many years, but Ireland became probably my biggest territory. As I said, I probably played there too often, but I don’t regret moments like that.
I missed a few flights, that’s for sure. There were several Sunday mornings where I said to myself ‘I’d better re-book my flight for Monday’, you know. And then the party continued.
The energy that comes off the Irish crowd is second to none. I mean, I’ve done some amazing gigs here in the UK, in Ministry of Sound and other venues, and I’ve played in Ibiza, but there’s an edge in Ireland, there’s something quite raw about it. It’s really personal to them, they go out to party, and they party. You don’t have to ask them twice, you push the button and off you go.
One of the compliments I used to get from from the Temple crowd was that from a BPM point of view, it was much slower than everybody else. I would start off with some house and build it up – probably banging out some trance killers towards the end. I was managing Quivver at the time, and Tilt; they used to play progressive house, and I would start like that for the first hour of my set, and then maybe play some melodic Dutch techno and build it up from there.
But at the same time, I was a sucker for a crowd reaction. So, last hour, I would be like ‘right, let’s smash this place to bits’. I would bang the tunes out, and some of those big trance anthems were ready made to get the crowd to go wild.
The ‘Stagedive King’ thing kind of started off almost by accident; I did it once in a moment of lunacy. I don’t know who the hell I thought I was. Of course, the reaction was phenomenal. So I did it again. And then the next time, I would be asked to do it. I was bruised black and blue the next day, because you get passed around the dancefloor by, you know, 200 people who all want a piece of you. Sometimes the next morning, I would be like, ‘my God, why did I do that?’
That said, the Temple Theatre was the perfect location for it. You might as well have had a diving board from the stage. It became something I got known for, and sometimes it would be the case that ‘I’m going to have to do this, even if I’m not in the mood for it’, you know, because it was on the flyer. It was on the poster. Pat used to go on the radio and talk about ‘the Stagedive King’ John Cecchini’. I think he’s responsible for a few of the bruises over the years.
There was one time that left a lasting impression on me – I think it was the first time I sold out the Temple Theatre. I had probably done five or six gigs at the Temple at that stage. I was having a couple of drinks with Pat, and he was holding me off from getting to the club. What I didn’t know was that it was sold out, and there was a massive queue outside the door. When we got there, I walked through the back area, and I remember walking up on stage – it’s only about five steps – and that was a ‘wow’ moment. The place went crazy. I wasn’t used to that.
DJ Orbit, aka Rory Long
Rory Long, aka DJ Orbit, was resident at the Temple Theatre from 1999 to 2003, in both the infamous Crypt and main room. He’s still busy as ever running nights around Dublin under the House Special banner, playing in venues such as Opium, Chelsea Drugstore, Tamangos and the Martello in Bray.
I started playing there in 1999; I was downstairs for a bit, and then moved upstairs. I had been working for Pat since about 1995/96, doing bits and pieces for Club FM. Also we had been doing the likes of The Ormond, the Temple of Sound, Subterrania, Tin Pan Alley. I think the sort of crowds we were getting to those gigs ended up being a bit of a problem; the cops raided Subterrania in around 1998, they didn’t like what we were doing.
So, around 1999, I had been at the Temple Theatre a few times, and I asked Pat ‘what’s the story, can I play in here?’ I started playing hard house, down in the Crypt. Jay [Pidgeon] was a hard house head at heart, but he couldn’t play what he wanted to in there, so when I came in and started playing hard house, it gave him the freedom to also do that.
When I started playing at the Temple, I think Paddy Sheridan was the main upstairs resident, and then Darren Flynn took over from him, and started doing to warmups for the likes of Judge Jules, Tall Paul and Mauro Picotto. Around that time, there was a crescendo of energy – you had that whole trance sound that came along in 1998/99 and it all came together at the right time.
The Temple Theatre was more at the ‘chart’ end of things, it was a bit more commercial compared to somewhere like the RedBox, which was a bit more underground. Then Spirit came along, which did a lot of damage to the Temple in its final years, because it was the ‘next stage’ of clubbing in Dublin, in a way. The Temple was a bit of a sinking ship when I left, I think it only lasted a few months. You had Al Redmond and Bryan Kearney in there for the last couple of months.
I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but it just sort of fizzled out. A Garda operation at the time was focusing on the O’Connell Street area, and with any clubs that were attracting big clubs such as the Temple, they started to hammer down on them.
When I was DJing in the Crypt, I would get a lot of promo stuff, and you’d have this group of young lads hanging around the DJ box asking ‘what’s that tune?’. If you played something that was new, they would be over in a flash to find out what it was. I was never stingy with names. I was always sharing things and putting them out there.
Billy from Abbey Discs would ring me on a Monday and say ‘Rory I’ve got a lot of people asking about this track, blah blah blah’, and I would try to remember what it was! We also used to do the radio on a Thursday night, the ‘Hour of Power’, and I would play lots of new stuff – I used to get around 20 or 30 tracks per week in the post, and I would play them in the club and then on a Thursday evening. Good times.
I have never seen a crowd like the one in the Crypt; it was packed, and if you dropped a track they knew, they would go absolutely ape. They used to live for the next track. It was unbelievable, it was just sweat and music and energy. I have never played anywhere like that, it was f**kiing in your face.
Judge Jules is one of dance music’s biggest names, having been voted ‘best DJ in the world’ by DJ Mag in 1995, and continuing to play at venues around the world. During the pandemic, he kept busy by putting his legal talents to use as an entertainment lawyer with Sound Advice LLP.
I played at the Temple Theatre quite a lot, so it’s sort of all blended into one, really, to be honest. It was particularly special for lots of reasons. One of which was because I’m of Irish descent. Another being the way the venue was laid out, with everybody in front of you like that. Also, Pat, who ran it, always looked after all the DJs that were on the lineup.
I think where the DJ booth is makes a huge difference to one’s enjoyment of a night, really. Especially if you’re someone like me, who, like most of my peers, enjoys the performance element. We don’t want to be tucked away, we want to be, dare I say it, a bit exuberant and a bit of an exhibitionist. The Temple Theatre was a perfect environment for that.
We were always put up in really nice hotel rooms as well; we were really well looked after. I’ve never been a dirty stop out and stayed up absolutely all night, but then again, Dublin never closed that late. You could still have an after party and be in bed by five in the morning. So there was a perfect storm of factors that made it special. Pat certainly didn’t go to bed at the same time I did, that’s for sure.
When I did Spin Cities, I went to places that meant a great deal to me, and obviously being an O’Riordan and of Irish extraction, there’s no way I could ever leave Dublin out, particularly as the Temple Theatre was such a special location for me. I remember doing a Judgement Sundays event at the Point Depot around that time as well. It was a fantastic era.
Ireland has always been very musically aware. It’s kind of the Celtic spirit, you know. It’s unbeatable. It’s in the water, and the blood.
Geordie lad Will Storey got his break DJing at Dublin’s The System in the mid-90s, at the infamous Honey club nights, before the closure of that venue led to him being resident at the Temple Theatre during its formative years, spinning vinyl alongside his musical heroes.
I met Damien Higgins [Honey promoter] at Leeds University. While I’ve been living in Ireland half my life, I’m from Newcastle originally, and I was studying in Leeds. I used to put on house parties on the campus, and Damien ended up randomly popping into one of these parties. He thought I was a good DJ and told me that he had contacts in Dublin, and he was planning on putting on the occasional nights in a club there, which was The System.
I just thought he was some crazy Irish lad. He was at a house party and loved the music, and was full of complements. I thought he was on a bit of a mad one.
So then, around late summer 1995, he got in touch to say ‘look, I have this set up now. It’s in The System, we’re going to have Mr C playing, and I want you to do the warm up slot’. It was a Friday night, as Tommy Stewart used to play there on Saturdays. What Damien managed to do was convince the club owners to basically fund his Friday nights, which were the Honey nights. He was always very good at convincing anybody to do anything.
So over the next year, we had Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, Boy George, Luv Dup Twins – incredible bookings. These were A-list DJs. When we were in Leeds, we had gone to places like Back To Basics and Hard Times, just as young lads going clubbing, and really got a taste for it. Damien wanted to do something like that in Dublin, and, to be fair, there wasn’t really anything going on at the time.
I was getting the plane over every few weeks just to play, which was a great opportunity for me. I was still living in Leeds at the time. Then, around 1996, after I had moved over, The System got closed down. It was never meant to last, to be honest, there was no drinks licence. Everybody knew what was going on down there – it was a big room to basically go to and lose the plot in. It was only a matter of time.
We moved to the Temple Theatre in September 1996. It was sort of a continuation of the big nights that we were having at The System. In October of that year we had a night with Faithless, Blue Amazon and Sasha and Digweed – that was a massive night.
I was doing the warm-up a lot of the time, play the warm-up set and then go down and play in the Crypt. I absolutely loved that, because in the Crypt you could basically play whatever you want. You could go from a funky house track into the Prodigy’s Narayan or something like that.
In many ways I preferred it down there, because a lot of the time, the Temple used to take quite a long time to get busy. You had to wear your jacket up there sometimes, because it got a bit nippy until the crowd started to come in. And then, obviously, the main guest would come on, and it would be a big night.
When you were playing in the main room, you really had a sense that you were the main focus of the night – all the eyes were on you. That made it an unusual sort of venue to DJ in. It was a big area, but we we we used to make the most of it. We had people going around on stilts, trying to create a carnival atmosphere, fire eaters and things like that.
There was one weekend we had Blue Amazon on the Saturday, so that was progressive house, and then on the Sunday we had an Ibiza reunion party, with Alex P and Brandon Block, with LTJ Bukem and Conrad in the Crypt. That was a fantastic weekend, and it had so many different styles of music. For the most part, you don’t see that much in clubs anymore.
We had some great nights in the Temple Theatre. We wrapped up in there about 1998 I think, as it became more of a hard house and trance venue. We actually went to Velvet on Harcourt Street, and went on to have some great nights there.
Again, in the same way that happened to The System, things went a bit sour for the Temple Theatre in the end. I think the police didn’t like it, and there was some negative press about it. The writing was on the wall, unfortunately.
[Thanks to everyone that spoke to us. Photos by Peter Houlihan. If you have any memories of the Temple Theatre that you want to share, or of tunes from that era, why not share them in the comments below?]