Is Academy 2 the worst venue in the country?
I can’t be the only one who sighs and tuts when an act you really want to see announces a gig for Dublin and that show happens to be in an unloved and unlovely basement on Middle Abbey Street. Upstairs, …
I can’t be the only one who sighs and tuts when an act you really want to see announces a gig for Dublin and that show happens to be in an unloved and unlovely basement on Middle Abbey Street. Upstairs, you have the Academy (nee Spirit and HQ), one of the better rooms in the city to see a live show when a band is firing on all cylinders. Downstairs, you have Academy 2, a space which is more room of doom than live music nirvana, a venue which has absolutely everything you’d choose to take out if you were planning a great venue. It has pillars, it has a low stage, it has terrible sound and it has zilch atmosphere. You wouldn’t even fodder cattle in it over the winter.
Onstage at Academy 2
And yet bands keep playing there. This is not down to any perverse intention on their behalf to mess with the heads of local music fans. Instead, it’s down to the fact that the largest music promoters in the country, MCD, operate the venue and it saves them cash to stick on upcoming bands there rather than hire another room. It’s also down to the fact that the agents who book out these acts have other acts they want MCD to book for bigger shows and festivals and so they’re happy to give them their custom when it comes to the newbies. It’s also probably worth pointing out that MCD pay their acts well and few acts, regardless of their principles, are going to turn down a handsome cheque which they know wil be paid bang on time. Agents certainly never turn down the cash, regardless of what it means for their acts.
Case in point: Iceage, who played Academy 2 last week. We know there were few people there per tweets from the venue – there were few tweets because there weren’t that many punters there to tweet about the attendance in the first place – and the band later played a gig-in-a-gaff in the city. Now, you could argue that Iceage can only pull a certain number right now and most of them knew about the later gig so they went there instead. But there are many people who would happily have taken a chance on a bunch of menacing Danish punks if they’d played elsewhere. Iceage got the best of both worlds: they got paid well for the early show, probably got a repeat booking (and another fat fee) for some festival in 2013 and played a better gig later on.
However, not everyone can get to a secret, word-of-mouth gig-in-a-gaff and this leaves those who want to see an act but who baulk at another night in a lousy venue at a loose end. You can always go out of town to see the band, but wouldn’t it be great to know that the act, agent and promoter had the fans’ interests at heart? Fat chance, I know.
It’s interesting to examine the country’s gigging infrastructure and see how little has changed over the last decade. You have your regulars on the circuit, the venues which feature on every Irish and international bands’ touring schedule like the Roisin Dubh in Galway or the soon-to-be-reopned Spirit Store in Dundalk. You have your big rooms in the capital like the Olympia and Vicar Street. You have the big sheds like the O2 in Dublin (nee the Point) and the Odyssey in Belfast. But apart from a spurt of activity which introduced the Workman’s Club and Grand Social to Dublin in 2010, there hasn’t been a massive outbreak of new venues, despite all the vacant buildings which came hand-in-hand with our economic bust.
The truth is perhaps that we’re tapped out when it comes to venues and gigs. Despite chatter and opinions about the need for better venues (or better dive venues), the truth is that the demand isn’t really there. Those who put on shows know that the audiences just aren’t there in the same numbers as was once the case and few are willing to invest cash in new or refitted spaces at a time like this. For would-be promoters or acts who don’t want to play venues like Academy 2, it’s easier to put on a gig-in-a-gaff than go to the trouble of finding a new space and adhering to all the legal and health-and-safety restrictions and demands which go hand-in-hand with opening a venue. It’s also a stretch for most agents to consider bookings or offers from non-established promoters who might be offering these shows when they know that a call to Park Road will get them a decent offer in an established space.
Right now, the live music industry is the sector most in need of some disruption, but it’s also the one most resistant to that change and which insists on dogmatically doing things the way things were always done. And thus, which is where we came in, we have the Academy 2.