Taking Back The Night
In conversation with the people trying to save the Dublin club scene
For such a social city, the club scene in Dublin does appear to be dying off at a rapid pace.
You can't throw a stone in Dublin without hitting a crane or a construction site.
The capital appears to be booming, with more and more hotels, apartment buildings and office blocks popping up all over the city centre.
However, over the last 18 months or so, some of Dublin's biggest and most popular nightclubs have been forced to close.
The Wright Venue in Swords, Hangar on Andrew's Lane and The Tivoli/District 8 on Francis Street have all shut recently, while The Bernard Shaw has just announced it is closing its doors for good.
There is still Coppers and D2 and Everleigh to hit up, but outside of Harcourt Street, it feels like slim pickings. The "late bar scene" in Dublin is absolutely thriving, but the actual club scene in Dublin very much appears to be dying off, which is a sad state of affairs for a city apparently famous for its nightlife.
However, there are some folk fighting back.
Themed nights. Genre nights. Whatever you want to call them, they represent an avenue that has been fully explored in the likes of London, Berlin and New York, but are still relatively rare in the Irish capital.
Providing an alternative to the packed pubs with pumped-in music, JOE chatted to organisers behind some of them to find out how they're attempting to save the Dublin social scene from itself.
For a start, all agreed that the club scene is in a bad way.
"Sadly for a city that is so vibrant and creative there really isn’t much of a dedicated club scene anymore, with premiere venues like the Tivoli being shut down, and there is a feeling that young people are being pushed out of the city completely," Jenn Gannon (co-creator of monthly disco night Lime & Fancy) tells us.
"Most people will now settle for house parties instead of venturing into town to be kicked out of a venue at 3am. It's fairly ridiculous. I mean, there is still great talent and shows being put on by Bodytonic and obviously Mother, but I miss the days of Backlash and WAR, Party Monster and WAX, where you could bounce to different nights; there was always something exciting going on."
"There is no [club scene]. Barely," says Louise Bruton (co-creator of monthly pop night Pure Shores, with Le Galaxie's Michael Pope).
"I love Mother with every inch of my being and I see that place as a community. Most of my Dublin friends, I met on the dance floor there. I love dancing to pop, electro, house, techno and disco music and I get that in Mother, and for my pure pop fix, I'll go to The George and will pester and text [the DJ] Conor Behan with inane requests.
"I was never really a Camden Street or Harcourt Street person so I'm loath to call any of those places nightclubs. I was a big Twisted Pepper attendee back in the day and I miss Crawdaddy so much. That place was my youth. I enjoyed going to District 8 to see the likes of Jon Hopkins, Kiasmos, Jon Talabot and anything that Mother put on there, even though it was mostly not accessible to wheelchairs users. I haven't been to Jam Park yet but I think we've got something tasty cooking up there."
You might have noticed that both of them point to Mother as a highlight of the nightlife scene in Dublin, and with good reason. Self-described as "a sub-terrainian queer club in the heart of Dublin", it is an electro and disco night running every Saturday night in The Hub in Temple Bar, and is viewed pretty much as a haven for anyone and everyone to get their bop on.
It is only one of the few examples of a long-running club night in the city, surviving longer than most nightclubs, perhaps a testament to the idea that club nights are the way of the future, as they are focused and, more importantly, moveable. If the venue shuts down, then take your club night and just do the exact same thing somewhere else.
This is exactly what Anthony Remedy, creator of weekly R'n'B/Hip-Hop night Taco Taco, did. Previously held on Leeson Street, it has recently moved location to The Mercantile on Dame Street. He tells us: "There are very little - and I'm being generous there - venues to play music in, whether its commercial or underground.
"For some odd reason, many owners would rather take their chances with an insanely competitive late bar market than deal with any sort of dancefloor. This makes no real sense but that’s Dublin 2019.
"Clearly there were many more venues a few years ago doing big and small events, in many ways now it is incomparable to 10 or 15 years ago. It is obvious that Dublin people still and will always like to go out and party, and life will find a way. And I’ve this funny feeling 2020 will see more venues ditch the table service cocktail bar for a dancefloor again.
"Right now, the District 8 guys throw superb events, Colin Perkins at PYG books both interesting new and old house and techno to play there. So it's out there if you want it. It's a shame that there aren't more venues in general. Whether its music from Katy Perry or Koze."
Talking to the organisers, it is clear that there are a lot of similarities between the nights - focusing on one genre of music, free in, gaining popularity thanks to social media and word of mouth and filled with fun, eclectic crowds - and they were all set up when the people behind them got a little fed up with not being provided a club night they wanted to attend, so they decided to create it themselves.
With the influx of Wetherspoons and other "branded" bars, there is less and less room for unique, individual nights in Dublin as the club scene descends further into monotony. Is there something that can be done to stop it from getting any worse?
"I think we need a Night Mayor. 100%," says Louise Bruton. "People need the sense of community that comes from a dance floor, and not the kind you find on Harcourt Street.
"We have so many incredible DJs, bookers and event planners in Ireland and we don't get to embrace their skills nearly as often as we should.
"If we had a Night Mayor, we'd be able to give Dublin nightlife the boost it needs to become world class. I truly believe that. We have the talent but we don't have the space. How amazing would it be to actually have options at a weekend?"
A Night Mayor has been proposed as recently as this June, as part of the new Dublin City Agreement, and it would be their job to "protect and enhance our night time culture and develop a Dublin Cultural Manifesto".
Jenn Gannon suggests that we "just [need] to give people the opportunity and the freedom to do their own thing and create their own space. Take a chance on people who have good ideas".
"In Dublin there can be a tendency to give the same people gigs because they can draw a crowd and there’s safety in that," Gannon adds.
"But it would be great if things could be shaken up a bit and you could have more nights run by girls, etc. People that aren't necessarily 'Aces faces about town', but people who have ideas."
There have been some victories already, such as Cormac Cashman successfully turning his Mother night into such a hit that it now has its own spin-off festival, Love Sensation.
Potentially the same level of success will arrive for Lime & Fancy, Pure Shores, and Taco Taco, as each of the nights were absolutely jammed with dancing revellers when JOE attended them in recent weeks.
And their success could lend to others attempting their own genre nights, to the point when each weekend will give everyone multiple choices of places to attend.
The organisers are already very happy with the reactions they've been getting.
"It is crazy busy," Anthony Remedy tells us.
"People dig the music, and the way it's in an Irish bar adds to the weird but fun and different vibe.
"The fact is it's completely the opposite to glitz, and that in a way, makes it quite cool. As for the audience? Honestly, the night is completely mixed, like all good clubs should be. There certainly isn't just one type.
"We have very dressed up girls in heels wanting Cardi, blokes wearing Tupac t-shirts asking for Biggie, skateboarders leaving their skateboards in the DJ booth with me, mad for Kendrick, Deliveroo riders finishing up early asking for Migos, couples who got the babysitter in on a night out requesting Lil' Kim, tourists who dig Kanye, a gay crowd who love Rihanna, very sharp men wearing Fendi or Gucci dying for Drake… and then everyone LOVES Beyoncé.
The crowd are there to dance and have a good time. That's the vibe."
"Well, as we always say, we’re 'v.niche'," says Jenn Gannon of Lime & Fancy, "but I think we managed to find our tribe who want to dance to our varied bag of madness, which includes anything from Demis Roussos to Sparks to Enya. I think the nicest thing is that people have found each other at Lime & Fancy and have become mates which is lovely; it’s a really inclusive, friendly atmosphere."
Louise Bruton was shocked at how popular the very first Pure Shores was: "We did not expect as many people to be there as there was. From day one, the support has been immense and we're starting to develop a community of sounders who live for the silliness we create.
"The Pride Edition of Pure Shores was incredible. There was so much going on in Dublin that night and it really warmed our cockles to see so many people there and giving it socks. We play a mix of pop, R&B and filthy remixes and I love watching people's reactions to songs because you never know what we're gonna throw out.
"Michael and I play back to back too so every song we play is a surprise for the other one. It's a risky game but I guess we live for danger. And silliness. Mostly silliness."
In the last few days, it was announced that The Palace would be reopening, but no longer as a nightclub, in a very different guise from what it once was and with a new name too. Additionally, The Wright Venue has been reopened... as an adult playground.
JOE reached out to An Bord Pleanála for answers to some questions about the nightlife scene in Dublin, but they declined to comment.
Is there any awareness on their side that Dublin's nightlife scene is seen to be in such a state of disarray? With all of the room being made for new hotels and student accommodation centres, are there any similar plans to make room for new nightclubs in the city? As more and more smaller venues seem to pop up throughout the city centre, is the age of the Absolutely Huge Nightclub over for Dublin?
Maybe that is the problem right there, you can't have these oversized spaces that are left empty for 16 hours of the day, not making any money, and then unlikely to make huge amounts of money on all seven nights of the week.
Instead, perhaps more spaces and organisers should be joining the ranks of the club night organisers. They're fast and easy to set up; all you need are some decent DJs and you can set them up in a pre-existing location.
Dubliners are crying out for an alternative to the same-y bars, all playing the same piped-in music, all providing practically identical nights out.
We need more Jenns and Anthonys and Louises and Cormacs to fill the void left behind by the mass extinction of nightclubs outside of Harcourt Street.
If you've ever been on a night out and thought to yourself, "me and my mates could organise a better night out than this", this could very well be the time to do just that.