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On a recent Saturday night, buses left from Dundrum, Custom House Quay and other spots across Dublin, carrying electronic music fans north.
After winding their ways through the city, they all converged on Swords for a sell-out event featuring American house DJ Kerri Chandler, Jeremy Underground and Irish house and techno duo Brame & Hamo.
The event was the re-launch of District 8, formerly at home in the Tivoli Theatre on Thomas Street – before the theatre was torn down to make way for an aparthotel.
Despite moving out to Jam Park, the club is hanging on to its Dublin 8-inspired name.
“Electronic music is under threat,” says Dave Parle, one of the promoters behind District 8. “Us having to move out of the city centre is a sign of the times.”
Farewell the Tivoli
In January, music fans had bid farewell to District 8. Another major electronic music venue, Hangar, had shut its doors for the last time about six months earlier.
Two clubs closing in quick succession had left some questioning whether dance music in Dublin was dying.
Fortunately, though, Bodytonic – who the District 8 team had worked with before – were getting ready to launch a new venue, Jam Park – in Swords, where the Wright Venue used to be.
It’s funny that District 8 is located out in Swords now, says Parle, on a recent Thursday at the Peacock Green café in Leeson Street.
A tall man with fair hair, he’s sipping a black coffee. “There was a time in District 8 when Thomas Street was seen as not central enough,” he says, jokingly.
He says some people told him, “I’m not sure if I would go all the way out to Thomas Street.”
But those same people, or those same kinds of people at least, are willing to travel to Swords, it seems. Ticket sales are going strong, says Parle, helped along by buses priced at €10 for a return ticket.
Parle started out working for the Pod, the festival and concert promoter. He’s run his own company, Hidden Agenda, for about seven years now, he says.
It was about five years ago, that his interest in the Tivoli as a venue originated.
Event managers Archetype were looking for spaces to put on really, really good techno shows, he says. But they were “finding it hard to find a place in Dublin that was a bit rugged and interesting”.
“They gave it a go and put on a few gigs in the Tivoli and it went well,” says Parle.
He and another promotions company, Subject, were also scouting for venues. “We started working together and it just happened organically,” says Parle.
Six promoters – Parle, Martin Smyth, Neil Burke, Fernando Martin, Ronan Flynn and Steve Manning – became District 8. “We have been running it collaboratively since then,” he says.
Initially, the plan was for 10 or 15 gigs each year. Soon, they realised there was demand for more. They kept adding events until, in the end, District 8 was running nearly every weekend, says Parle.
There were other techno clubs. But, with room for 1,000, District 8 was the biggest in Dublin. “It was clear there was a huge appetite for people to have a big clubbing experience,” he says.
There were times they opened up the club to include the theatre and he saw crowds of people up dancing on the seats, he says. “There were nights we couldn’t get people out of the place, they just kept calling for one more tune.”
The Tivoli Theatre has been knocked to make way for a Staycity location. The site is now a dirt lot, studded with cranes and other heavy equipment.
District 8 is now located in a purpose-built nightclub – with high ceilings adorned with multiple lights, a giant disco ball, and a state-of-the-art sound system.
A Bigger Venue
In some ways, Jam Park is an upgrade.
It can hold 500 more people than the Tivoli could. That makes it financially viable to attract big-name artists and to offer line-ups with two or three well-known DJs playing on the one night, Parle says.
This Saturday they’re hosting Photon, who combine hypnotic techno with lights and architecture. Their shows are as much about the visuals as the music.
Popular recording artists Sasha and John Digweed are booked for two dates together in November – one of which has already sold out.
District 8 plans to run two or three high-quality events a month, says Parle.
“We know it is a big night out for people and that they are not going to make that journey, or spend €20 or €30 on a ticket, every weekend,” says Parle. “But hopefully, they will pick some amazing shows to go to instead.”
Despite the opportunity presented for expansion, the promoters behind District 8 would never have chosen to leave the Tivoli, says Parle. “What happened with the Tivoli was a shame.”
He, like others, sees artistic spaces in the city centre shrinking as owners pursue more profitable options for their properties.
“It is very alarming when somewhere that is thriving and successful like the Bernard Shaw is getting pushed aside for development,” Parle says.
James Redmond, director of the documentary Notes on Rave in Dublin, says he understands why people are concerned when large or medium-sized venues close down. “[I]t’s symbolic and shocking,” he says.
But it’s not just dance music being pushed out, Redmond says. “It’s basically anything that doesn’t fit with a rather unhinged building boom of offices, hotels and student accommodation.”
A Boom of Kinds
“Dance music is as big now as it was in the ’90s,” says Parle.
He points to the numbers attending Life Festival and other dance festivals. Yet that, still, seems not to translate into a thriving nightclub scene in the capital.
Redmond blames Ireland’s archaic licensing laws. “How can people run labels or club nights, develop a small economy for themselves, start to pay DJs, designers and producers, when it is the vintners who take all the booze money, charge you rent for space, and push the ever-increasing cost of the late licence on you too?” he says.
The licensing regime is unfair on small venues, says Parle. “There is a lot to be said for smaller clubs like Wigwam, Tengu, and Index. They are really intimate so people get to know each other and they have an amazing atmosphere.”
Says Parle: “It is important that we don’t take any more steps back in terms of venues.”
Is it almost fitting that a musical movement that started in fields, squats, and warehouses is being driven back underground, into the basements of pubs and out to the peripheries of our cities?
“They are the venues where dance music works best,” says Parle. “It isn’t meant to be a glitzy, overproduced experience.”
“As we have learned over the past 30 years,” he says, “people will always find a way to keep the scene alive.”
[CORRECTION: This article was update on 19 September at 10.45am, to correct James Redmond’s name. Apologies for the error.]