Back to the Temple: Johnny Moy on the golden years of Irish club culture
Dublin DJ, producer, manager and promoter Johnny Moy talks to Niall Byrne about the early days, remixing U2, touring the world and the return of old-school
Johnny Moy and Billy Scurry at Dublin’s Temple of Sound, where the original wall from 1994 with the line-up still intact remains. Photograph: David Cleary
Johnny Moy recalls his dance music epiphany of 1989. It was as if the world went from black and white to full colour. At the time, Dublin clubs were places open for a late drink primarily. The music was questionable, fights were plentiful and men would only dance for slow sets, only as a motive.
Along with a gang of 30 or 40 people from his neighbourhood of Ballybrack in Dublin, Moy travelled to Gran Canaria in 1989, “the poor man’s Ibiza” as he calls it. It changed everything.
“We noticed a big change in clubs with new mad music, loads of blokes dancing, smiling and having a great time,” Moy says of the holiday. Within two weeks of returning to Dublin, Moy had slung his hook and moved to London to catch the end of the Second Summer Of Love, where acid house, raves and ecstasy ruled.
It was to be the beginning of a life in music, Johnny was an an ever-present figure in Dublin for the next 20 years, as a DJ, promoter, producer, manager and event organiser. During the 1990s, Moy was the connection to a new generation of dance-music practioneers: The Chemical Brothers, Death In Vegas, Andrew Weatherall, David Holmes, Howie B and James Lavelle among them. He ended up touring Europe with The Chemical Brothers and Death In Vegas, and even remixing U2, twice.
Bubblin’ in Dublin
However, in 1991, the capital was slow on the uptake in the clubbing stakes.
“Cork and Belfast were already throwing huge parties and we used to run buses to them,” says Moy. “Dublin really got going around late 1991 when Sides exploded and buses from Belfast started coming down here. That really felt like Dublin’s late summer of love and a lot of things grew from there.”
During the early 1990s, Moy and Peadar Redmond would put on memorable debut shows by The Chemical Brothers and Weatherall.
“Andrew Weatherall asked me to play his club night, Sabresonic, around 93/94, and it turns out that a little-known band called The Dust Brothers were also on the bill. They only had one EP out at the time. I asked them to come to Dublin. One year later they did, but the name had changed due to a court case in the US, so that was the debut show for The Chemical Brothers in Ireland.”
Moy was also a resident DJ at Temple Of Sound alongside Billy Scurry. Last month, Scurry and Moy revisited the place only to find the original wall from 1994 with the line-up still intact.
New York scene
Redmond and another friend of Moy’s, Marcus Lambkin (soon to be Shit Robot) moved to New York around 1993/1994 and it was to open more doors.
Moy began playing at New York clubs such as Twilo, The Limelight, Centro Fly and Plant Bar. It was at the latter two venues where he witnessed the beginningsw of DFA Records.
“The Rapture used to work the bar at Plant Bar and it had a massive sound system for the size of the place. The DFA guys would all hang out at Centro Fly/Plant Bar on big nights and Marcus started doing nights with James Murphy. They all shared an office studio/space and became like a big family.”
Elevation to U2’s heights
As Moy’s reputation grew, so did his sphere of influence. A single released on Mark Kavanagh’s Red Records in 1994 called Squirt ended up on rotation on MTV and the biggest band in the world, U2 were fans. At the time, the band would visit the club they owned on Thursdays, The Kitchen, where Moy played and promoted shows from DJ Shadow, David Holmes, DJ Food and Howie B.
Howie B went on to work on 1997’s Pop album and it wasn’t long before Moy got the call from the band to remix a track. It didn’t go according to plan.
“At the time, I was working with Leo Pearson in his studio and we got approached to remix MOFO from the album. Truth be told, we did not really like the song and the mix did not go to plan at all.
“They must have liked it though as we got asked to remix them again a few years later. This time the song, Elevation, suited us much better and Leo was just back from India where he picked up some lovely weird string instruments, he killed it with a mad Sitar intro and the band loved it.
“They ended up using Leo’s bits as the walk-on song for the Elevation world tour and flew us out to the US to hang out for a few date. Great fun.”
Being around the U2 touring juggernaut threw up some peculiar clashes of culture.
“I think the most baffling thing I saw was backstage at a U2 show in Giants stadium and seeing Björk burning the ear off Paul McGrath. He was dressed like a school teacher and she had some mad costume on, seemed like an odd couple to say the least. I asked Björk later what they talked about, and she just said football, music and whiskey”.
From the 1990s to now
These days, he’s doing less DJing but his work in music includes consulting for TV and film including RTÉ show The Fear and the recent Irish feature film The Young Offenders.
“Seeing a script come to life on screen after reading it a year or two before is pretty amazing,” says Moy. “The amount of work that goes into to making a movie is astonishing, so I tip my cap to directors/producers/crew out there, it was an absolute massive learning curve for me.”
Moy is also managing Irish electronic band Plutonic Dust and promotes shows in Dublin’s Sugar Club for Choice Cuts, which takes up most of his work focus.
It’s fair to say that Moy has sustained himself through work in music since that dance music discovery.
“As anyone working in the independent sector of music/arts will tell you, it’s always a struggle,” he says. “You just get on with it as it’s something you love doing.”
Despite those celebrity-filled stadium experiences, Moy has always preferred the modestly sized club. He finds the trend of of the superstar DJ and the big clubs fees as “crass”.
Moy’s eclectic taste as a DJ has stayed even if he’s more likely to be listening to Villagers or Boards Of Canada at home.
“My pet hate is people who are stuck in one genre or style or believe that a certain city or era makes better music, I suppose the mad thing now is some of the early sounds of Chicago and Detroit are coming back with the kids, which is great to see.”
Is there anything that Moy thinks is missing from today’s DJ scene?
“Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan,” he grins.