IN THE late 1980s, a hurricane blazed a multi-coloured trail through a section of Irish youth culture. In this revolution, rock music was pushed aside as some kids lost themselves in the delirium of electronic beats.
The grooves were relentless, the fashion questionable, the legality of the events often dubious. The age of the rave had arrived.
The fraught relationship between the Dublin clubbing scene and ‘official’ Ireland is chronicled in an absorbing new documentary. Notes On A Rave, premiering this weekend at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival, traces the capital’s dance underground, from its roots in the 1980s gay movement to the existential crisis it experienced as clubbing went mainstream and the authorities cracked down with a vengeance.
“It was hugely DIY in the early days,” says director James Redmond.
“I loved hearing the stories of people just meeting up with ghetto blasters after the clubs and continuing to rave on the streets or under railway arches. You can’t get more grassroots than that. Also, this whole thing took the industry by surprise. It built for a while and then exploded into view.”
Clubbing in Dublin grew out of the LGBT subculture and off-the-radar venues such as Sides on Dame Lane and Flikkers at the pioneering gay rights Hirschfeld Centre in Temple Bar (which burned to the ground in 1987 following an earlier fireball attack). One surprise is the vibrancy of Dublin’s early ‘80s counter culture — a considerable distance from the stereotype of a backwater in perennial decline.
“Contributors like DJ Paul Webb talk about clubs like Flikkers and Sides being points where the gay really started to meld with the straight for the first time in Dublin. Gender got pushed aside when people were raving and it no longer became about nights ending with going to the chipper, copping off with someone, or having a fight.”
The story of clubbing in Ireland is also the story of ecstasy and other party drugs.
‘Raves’ garnered infamy following several ecstasy-related deaths in the 1990s. There followed media paranoia and a Garda crackdown, bringing an end to the unlicensed warehouse parties.
“This was a new youth quake… and was propelled by the wider spread of ecstasy,” says Redmond, 33, a digital marketer and co-founder of Rabble magazine.
“Of course not everyone was into that — but it must have been a heady combination… People talked to me about how dancing changed, how people basically learned to dance differently, not as an exercise in attempting to bed someone of the opposite sex but as an expression of joy.”
The story is uplifting but also sobering, with the scene’s pioneers driven into the margins by criminals, who sometimes infiltrated the clubs in order to sell drugs, and later by mainstream promoters.
The opening of the Pod venue in 1993 is presented as a tragedy.
Ravers were often denied entry, resulting, it is asserted, in a staid corporate atmosphere.
The film ends on an ambivalent note, with Irish clubbing once more on the periphery notwithstanding the popularity of mass-market EDM artists.
“We still haven’t managed to separate out the idea of a club space from a cattle mart like Copper Face Jacks,” says Redmond.
“In Germany these things are recognised as high culture or art, such as [superclub] Berghain. In Ireland and to a large degree with the attempts to close [influential club] Fabric in the UK, these are understood as problems to be contained. The conceptual leap that people might want to stay out until 6am and dance in a space that’s not a hook-up bar can’t even be made.”
Notes On A Rave has a relatively narrow focus on Dublin. However, Redmond acknowledges that this was a nationwide scene with Cork and Sir Henry’s at the forefront.
“Ravers would take the bus to Sweat down in Cork. All backpacks and Fila gear,” says Redmond.
“Cork is always said to have been stronger first, and people like Mark Crumlish from [Dublin DJ duo] Banana Boys and others organised what they called ‘pilgrimages’ down there — which is fantastic really. And while the doc doesn’t go into Cork and elsewhere, it being a Dublin project, the influence of Sweat was always there and talked about.”
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