Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

James Joyce and the current state of Dublin’s clubland

Comparing the city’s clubbing infrastructure now and then

The Ormond Hotel: linking James Joyce and Dublin clubbers. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Tue, Feb 18, 2014, 09:32


It’s not often that James Joyce sends you reeling onto a sweaty dancefloor, but such was the case last week. The news that Dublin City Council had rejected plans to demolish the Ormond Hotel had Joycean fans happy as the author set one of the chapters of Ulysses in the building. Yet for another generation of Dubliners, the Ormond is probably best associated with a club called the Temple Of Sound, which operated in the hotel for a number of years in the early Nineties.

Back then, the club, managed by Ken Kane and featuring a motley crew of local and international DJs, was one of several venues in the city which were usually rammed week in and week out. Right through the 1990s, you had the likes of The Kitchen, POD/Red Box, Columbia Mills (nee Waterfront), Ri-Ra, Rock Garden/ Gardening Club (where the club events were as much of a draw as the live acts), Ormond Multimedia Centre (one of the best clubbing spaces ever in the city), Tivoli, Andrew’s Lane Theatre. System (nee McGonagles), Funnel, Club So, G1, Blue Note, Asylum, Power’s Hotel, the lobby of the Irish Film Institute (nee Irish Film Centre), Shelter, Thomas House and HQ/Spirit operating as regular club spaces. You also had a huge range of one-off venues as well – what’s now the Pig’s Ear restaurant on Nassau Street, for instance – as the city’s club fever operated at full throttle.

It is, of course, a much different story in 2014. As Una Mullally noted last month, there isn’t the same volume of clubs in the city aimed at the demographic who usually go clubbing chiefly because that audience just isn’t here anymore. You’ve the Twisted Pepper, Button Factory, Workman’s Club, Pygmalion, Grand Social, Copper Alley, the Wright Venue, the usual chart music outlets which have always been open for business through boom and bust and, well, that’s it. It’s noteworthy that since the POD/Tripod closed down two years ago, nothing has come along to replace it. Even the maligned Eighties seem healthier in this regard with venues like Sides, Flikkers, Shaft, the Waterfront and McGonagles.

The spaces don’t exist because they’re bars or restaurants instead aimed at the demographic who are still living and working here. The spaces don’t exist because those who’d normally run club nights in them are not here to do the requisite moving and shaking. The spaces, quite simply, don’t exist.

Yet you can still get a full O2 when the likes of Hardwell, Tiesto and Calvin Harris come to town because they’re aimed at a younger, more pop-orientated audience. So what happens when those kids decide to do their own thing? A glut of mini-Coppers?

It is a strange state of affairs alright. Of course, pop culture is cyclical and such waves come and go. For example, there are now probably more people making electronic and dance music in the capital than there are spaces for it, a total inverse of the situation which prevailed in the ’90s when you’d a huge number of clubs and, by comparison, producers making their own music were a relative rarity.

Yet the huge number of post-boom vacant spaces around the city-centre didn’t produce a raft of new venues in recent years (there were some warehouses and studios pressed into use but nothing on a permanent or semi-permanent basis), while changes in drinking behaviour and the continued lack of elasticity in club opening and licensing regulations continue to stymie any new overground clubbing infrastructure. For once, the contrast between now and then, especially in the wake of listing what was once the case when it came to clubbing venues in the city, seems unusually stark.