We know how to party: Irish film captures culture of Dublin rave scene

Dublin Oldschool reflects some of the filmmaker's own experiences in the Irish rave scene, writes Esther McCarthy.

A scene from Dublin Oldschool.

Stomping tunes and 24-hour party people populate the new Irish movie Dublin Oldschool, but there’s heart behind all the hedonism.

Set to be one of summer’s most talked-about movies, it’s centred around one drug-fuelled weekend in the city, where aspiring DJ Jason (Emmet Kirwan) runs into his estranged brother Daniel (Ian Lloyd Anderson), a heroin addict living on the streets.

But does the recreational drug-using, dapper Jason have any right to look down in his sibling? That’s the question at the core of this sassy blend of drama and humour.

The movie is adapted by Kirwan and co-writer/director Dave Tynan from Kirwan’s stage play, which became a massive hit. Kirwan and Anderson return as the two warring brothers. Sarah Greene, Mark O’Halloran and Seána Kerslake are among the broad cast.

Honing their performances on stage (the two leads have become good friends since first meeting at an audition over a decade ago) helped give all involved a sense of confidence and anticipation when it came to making the movie, says Kirwan.

“What happens is, because you actually have a pre-existing blueprint, it allows you more kind of creative space. When something isn’t a completely new product, you don’t have to validate every idea you have.

"A lot of the time ideas get shot down because people go: ‘Oh I don’t think people will understand that.’ But because it already existed as a play, I didn’t have to consistently validate everything, because it’s already worked."

“Also with the performances, because we’d done that for three years together, we could kind of hone that. There was an easy shorthand, an understanding that we had.”

Though it’s a work of fiction, Kirwan knows this world. Years ago, his own brother struggled with heroin addiction, though he made a full recovery and went on to work as a counsellor.

Sarah Greene Emmet Kirwan, Sarah Greene and Stephen Jones in Dublin Oldschool

Most of his own youth was spent at gigs and raves, including some big nights out in Cork.

“Everything in our lives in our twenties was about music, all the gigs that people organised and the vibrancy of that youth culture,” says the actor and writer from Tallaght. “It was something that was separate to the commercialisation of that youth culture.

“What happens is that culture becomes consumed by the popular culture and they start again. Recycle. And all of a sudden the iconography of that particular era is being commodified and sold back to you as a product to sell burgers.

“There’s always a sub-culture where people are playing their own gigs and making their own music. They’re listening to their own music, they’re making their own parties. I would have lived in that culture.

"A lot of my friends were DJs, they ran nights. We went from festival to festival, from gig to gig. And how we defined ourselves was by the friendships that we made.

“I went to gigs religiously. I remember going down to Cork for one gig when I was 16, in ’96/97. House music was the thing, Fish Go Deep and all those lads down in Cork - they were wrecking it.

"Cork was a whopper city to party in. They really knew how to throw a rave. We’d get a bus down and it was always a good vibe. It was a unifier as opposed to a separator. Working class kids and middle-class kids."

“People are always afraid of sub-cultures because they’re looking at it from the outside in. But anyone who was in the mix of it will tell you: ‘Actually I made friends there.’ It was a country expansive music scene. Everyone knew each other and they made lifelong friends. It defines their youth.”

Kirwan is always been highly socially and politically engaged and his recent state-of-the-nation comments on The Late Late Show struck a chord.

A sense of social justice and equality has long permeated his writing and poetry, most notably in the short film, Heartbreak, which he wrote and Tynan also directed.

The story of a young teenager trying to raise her son alone became a massive viral hit.

“I wrote it as part of a show called RIOT. We’d do theatre that could be dissident and radical and a voice of dissent. Celebrating queer culture, celebrating leftist culture, pushing for something that’s different. We got a really positive response to the stage show,” he says, adding he could never have anticipated how the short would take off.

“I genuinely didn’t and I think if you ever approach any type of art thinking that it’s going to resonate in any kind of way, if you think that deep down, going into something, you’ll sabotage yourself and it won’t happen. You’re bluffing yourself. You’re bluffing other people. But I didn’t know it would touch that nerve.”

They put it on film, he says, for its potential reach. “I did think there was a message in it. And only a certain number of people would see it on the stage.

“If there’s an important enough message in something, and you want to get it out there, then put it online, make a movie out of it.

“Heartbreak started as a story about homelessness and the treatment of young women in b&bs, and how they were put down upon. And also it became about that aspect of being a young woman in Ireland and dealing with that toxicity of people shouting at you and saying things to you in a sexual fashion.

“And also about repealing the Eighth amendment. So I thought to myself, it can either stay in the theatre, or we can make it digital.”

For Tynan, re-teaming here with Kirwan for his directorial feature debut, it was vital to make the film feel cinematic onscreen, rather than a filmed version of the play. By bringing in a vibrant cast and setting it in several different locations around the capital, he and the production have succeeded - the movie feels fresh and contemporary.

“We’re not doing landmarks but there’s value in stories down side streets as well,” he said.

“You know you can have something really well rehearsed and you want to be able to bring new things to the set anyway, to be able to try things. It’s a big film and you’re trying to make it look big, but you want to respect performances."

“We’re very proud of the location work. It’s one of the things you do, moving it out of a play, out of a theatre space. You want to show the city.

“We’re in the middle of town, which obviously brings its own challenges but I’m so glad we did it. You’ve got to take it from just being on the page. To be able to flesh it out was great.

Dublin Oldschool opens in cinemas next Friday, June 29


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