Ian Maleney takes a jour­neys into the heart of Ire­land’s un­der­ground club scene,

The big-name DJS are fill­ing the big venues like never be­fore, but the true health of the Ir­ish dance scene can be mea­sured in the coun­try’s smaller clubs, where lo­cal DJS and pro­mot­ers are do­ing it for them­selves – play­ing, learn­ing and par­ty­ing to­gether

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - Apart­ment Records and Lu­nar Disko DJs will be at Life Fes­ti­val, Belvedere House, Mullingar, Co West­meath, May 23rd-25th. See life-fes­ti­val.com. Epoch cel­e­brate their sec­ond birth­day at the Fac­tory, Galway, May 9th. See face­book.com/epoch.galway. The Sunda

For dance mu­sic fans, Ire­land is not a bad place to be at the minute. Rather than hav­ing nowhere to go at the weekend, the more com­mon prob­lem is hav­ing to de­cide what to skip. A lot of this ac­tiv­ity comes in the form of big-name DJs and pro­duc­ers. How­ever, mea­sur­ing the health of a scene by how many in­ter­na­tional acts are pack­ing out venues ev­ery week only gets you so far.

To fill in the big­ger pic­ture, it’s im­por­tant to look at the smaller play­ers, the die-hard lo­cal crews who are putting on shows for them­selves and their peers – play­ing, learn­ing and par­ty­ing to­gether. There is a sense right now that a loose net­work of these clubs is de­vel­op­ing around the coun­try; of­ten free, al­ways fun and gen­er­ally packed with raw Ir­ish talent.

Start­ing in the cap­i­tal, one of the best ex­am­ples in re­cent times has been Gary’s Gang. Gary’s Gang is a free, monthly club in Sweeney Mon­grel, col­lec­tively or­gan­ised by nine DJs, pro­duc­ers and pro­mot­ers with decade-deep roots in Dublin’s house and techno scenes, in­clud­ing Kenny Hanlon of Apart­ment Records and Andy Doyle of Lu­nar Disko.

“A club night has to feel like its own lit­tle en­tity,” says Hanlon of the night’s ethos. “You want to make it feel like there’s a core group of people who are there reg­u­larly.”

This at­ti­tude is re­flected in the way each night is booked, with the res­i­dents and other Ir­ish DJs tak­ing prece­dence over oc­ca­sional in­ter­na­tional guest ap­pear­ances, draw­ing on a pool of talent from around the coun­try that em­pha­sises the com­mu­nity as­pect of such a small scene.

“The whole point is that it’s not big names,” says Hanlon. “It’s book­ing loads of Ir­ish people and then some oth­ers you might have heard of. Bring­ing over people who’ve never played or hardly ever played.”

Both Hanlon and Doyle are quick to point out how busy a time it is for Dublin club­bers, but they be­lieve that the emer­gence of more nights in smaller venues is a pos­i­tive thing for both the city and its DJs.

“It’s nice when you see some­thing like the Break­fast Club, some­thing dif­fer­ent,” says Doyle of the early morn­ing club in the Dark Horse Inn. “It’s not just go­ing out to the Twisted Pep­per ev­ery week, or the But­ton Fac­tory. People are com­ing up with dif­fer­ent ideas, try­ing to find dif­fer­ent places and do dif­fer­ent things. Some­times it works.”

One club that is un­doubt­edly dif­fer­ent is Sun­day Times in Cork. Started in 2009 by Barry Walsh and John Hennessy, the club kicks off in the mid-af­ter­noon and runs un­til two in the morn­ing. This un­usual time­frame al­lows for a more eclec­tic ap­proach to tune se­lec­tion; a day that be­gins with soul or jazz might de­tour through Afrobeat or hip-hop be­fore end­ing with bang­ing techno, and no one will miss a beat.

“Over a longer pe­riod of time, you get more space to go in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions,” says Dean Feeney, the most re­cent ad­di­tion to the team. “That’s kind of a cliche about DJing – the jour­ney thing – but if you have that kind of time and space, you re­ally can do it.”

“I sup­pose one of the main things when we were start­ing it was to take the em­pha­sis off the DJ,” adds Hennessy. “At the start, we were like, ‘let the records be the star of the show’, so we kind of sat down. Plus, we were play­ing for 10 hours! We’re re­ally lazy, so we sat down! The sit-down thing is kind of im­por­tant. It to­tally takes the em­pha­sis off the DJ and puts it 100 per cent back on the records and the mu­sic.”

It’s not just the big­ger cities that can sus­tain a vi­brant club cul­ture ei­ther. Lim­er­ick boasts one of the most ac­tive and am­bi­tious crews in the coun­try in the form of Macronite, and Galway seems to be thriv­ing, with a small clutch of close-knit pro­mot­ers and DJs ea­ger to bring

“The whole point is that it’s not big names. It’s book­ing loads of Ir­ish people and then some oth­ers you might have heard of

both big names and un­der­ground heads to the west coast. A key part of this is the re-in­vig­o­rat­ing ef­fect of the Fac­tory, a top-qual­ity venue that opened in Galway in the sum­mer of 2012.

“I don’t know what hap­pened in those first few months in Fac­tory,” says Enda Geoghegan from Epoch, a reg­u­lar club night at the Fac­tory. “There just seemed to be a good buzz. Bap To The Fu­ture throw­ing some re­ally good gigs, our friend By­ron [who runs Alice] as well. A lot of people throw­ing good gigs. The artists them­selves were go­ing away af­ter play­ing and say­ing that they re­ally en­joyed the place.”

“The club was in­cred­i­bly ac­com­mo­dat­ing,” says Colin Fin­negan, Geoghegan’s part­ner in Epoch. “Any­thing we wanted to do, any ideas we had, ev­ery­thing was taken on board. Ba­si­cal- ly they bent over back­wards for us. From there, we kind of haven’t looked back.”

Of course, there are is­sues. Things such as a lack of me­dia cov­er­age or a lack of suit­able venues with de­cent sound sys­tems. As al­ways, the most com­mon com­plaint is the prob­lem of Ire­land’s li­cens­ing laws and open­ing hours. Ev­ery DJ and pro­moter out there would per­fer to have more hours and new rooms to fill, to cre­ate the kind of night­club ex­pe­ri­ences they’re used to hav­ing in the UK or on the con­ti­nent, but this sit­u­a­tion is un­likely to change any time soon.

An­other equally press­ing though less talked-about is­sue is a lack of women get­ting in­volved, and stay­ing in­volved, as DJs and pro­mot­ers. Even at this lo­cal level, the spot be­hind the decks is a trou­blingly male-dom­i­nated zone. This is some­thing which is up to the clubs them­selves to solve.

“In dance mu­sic, I’d say the ra­tio of men to women is like five to one, you know?” says Eimear Fitz­mau­rice, for­merly a pro­moter with Body­tonic and cur­rently of Not Say­ing Boo. “I stum­bled into it solely be­cause John Ma­hon [man­ager, the Bernard Shaw] wanted me to work with him. If he hadn’t been as for­ward in say­ing ‘do you want a job?’, I would never have thought I would have been able to have a job in that. I thought it was a

man’s game.

“From the out­side, cer­tainly it can seem like a very closed off, nichey, cliquey, cir­cle. And it’s a shame.”

It would be im­pos­si­ble to squeeze ev­ery rel­e­vant club into a piece like this. Float­ing Joints and the Red So­cial Club in Cork, To­gether Disco and Bop Gun in Dublin, Bap To The Fu­ture and Alice in Galway; the list goes on. These clubs are built on strong roots and the legacy of clubs that have gone be­fore them but they feel fresh, en­er­getic and vi­tal. They’re gate­ways to new worlds of lo­cal mu­si­cal talent and an an­ti­dote to the churn­ing merry- go-round of hyped in­ter­na­tional guests. As loose as it is, the net­work is there, and people are re­ally pay­ing at­ten­tion to each other, in­spir­ing and spurring each other on. DJs and pro­mot­ers are lis­ten­ing, the au­di­ence is lis­ten­ing. The re­sult is clear: no mat­ter where you go now, you’ll find qual­ity Ir­ish DJs tak­ing cen­tre stage just about ev­ery weekend of the year.

Club life fan­tas­tic: (from

top) Niki (Macronite); Kenny Hanlon (Apart­ment

Records); Sun­day Times res­i­dents John Hennessy, Barry Walsh, Colm K and Dean Feeney; and Barry Dono­van (Lu­nar Disko)

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