Ireland after hours: ‘It’s kind of hard to stop the party’
An underground club scene kicks off in Dublin after 3am. It’s vibrant but mostly illegal – a fact that its organisers would like to change
Photograph: Luc Beziat/Image Bank/Getty
‘Dublin, man, our clubs are crap, but our house parties are second to none.”
I’m sitting in a cafe in the capital, talking to two young men who, for the past year or so, have been hosting intimate late-night parties in a venue around the corner. These start as the traditional clubs in the city close, opening their doors at about 3am and ushering the crowd back on to the street four or five hours later.
Inside the small room are a set of decks, a pair of good speakers and a quality DJ. There are also couches, cans and a bit of a dance floor. Their aim is to create a relaxed environment where people can chat, mingle and dance until the sun comes up. It’s just like a house party, without “wrecking somebody’s gaff”.
Most promoted after-hours parties in Ireland are illegal. Maybe they’re disturbing neighbours with late-night noise; maybe they’re selling alcohol without a licence; maybe they have no insurance or fire certificate. For many people, the mention of an illegal “afters” conjures up images of wrecked warehouses in industrial estates. They see rip-off prices, dark alleys for toilets, terrible sound systems and no security. As one promoter tells me, some places are “like a Stardust waiting to happen again”. But things are changing.
“The after-parties in Dublin, they need to get a lot more professional and safe,” says Mark, one of the promoters from the cafe. “It’s about having a good drink selection, good speakers, good decor. The opposite to just getting the bare minimum, which is what loads of people do.”
“The reason anyone goes out to these things is just to have a good buzz,” says his partner, Seán, as he has asked to be called. (Most of the names in this article have been changed.) “It’s like going back to raves in the early 1990s; people would just go out dancing with each other. That doesn’t happen any more, but it’s starting to get back to that mentality of just enjoying yourselves rather than who can get the most shots down them.”
Some of the most ardent supporters of their parties have been local DJs who, rather than playing support to one of the dozen big-name DJs flown into the city every weekend, get the time and space to play to a receptive, enthusiastic audience.
“The lads who come in, they love playing for us,” says Seán. “They’re used to going to nightclubs and getting one-hour slots, 10pm until 11pm, before an international DJ comes in. When they come to us they get four-hour slots where they can branch out and play whatever they want to play.”
PlatformOne such DJ is Shane Linehan, from Cork. “People are excited that there’s somewhere to go,” he says. “Then you put on an Irish DJ and they’re as good as, if not better than, someone international who’s come and played. They’re my favourite things to play. The excitement is there because people can go later, so there’s people on the floor. It gives Irish DJs a great platform.”
Linehan is also a promoter in his own right, working as part of the Pogo team at the Bodytonic Music collective, which runs club nights, bars and venues including The Back Page, MVP and the Twisted Pepper in Dublin. Although it would be easy to see the after-parties as competition on a Saturday night, Linehan says that, as long as they’re well run, they’re great for the health of the scene.
“If you look at the effort that is put into running clubs that operate in regular hours, I think you have to apply the same effort to make a good afters worthwhile. If it’s a well-run party they’re contributing to the scene. It’s good for it. You can’t look at it and be negative.”
Not all parties run from 3am to 7am. The Dark Horse Inn, an early house on the south quays in Dublin, is home to the Breakfast Club. The bar opens its doors at 7am, and DJs take people through until noon or so. In contrast to some other parties, this one is fully licensed and legal.
“There’s a good surge of people waking up fresh for it and coming down, but then there’s a ton more who are coming from houses, from parties or just finishing up work,” says Con Allen. He books the acts; his sisters work behind the bar. It’s a tight operation, with a strict door policy, and Allen says that having “total respect” for the pub, the staff and the surrounding area is the only way it can work. Inside the doors you’ll find a relatively relaxed party that, now and then, can develop into something rather special.
Breakfast Club line-ups blend a mixture of respected international guests – Tamo Sumo, Patrice Scott and Margaret Dygas, to name but a few – with many of Dublin’s best house and techno DJs. Given the early hour of the morning, no one is expected to bang out a peak-time set, and Allen says the freedom DJs have to explore the dustier parts of their record collection is something that keeps them coming back.
“In a nightclub, DJs might have to play techno or something harder, but down here in the morning they can play what they want,” says Allen. “I think our atmosphere is completely different to a nightclub. It’s friendly.”
Providing a bridgeIf the Breakfast Club is on you can usually guarantee there’ll be somewhere else to party between the clubs closing and the pub opening. “We often provide a bridge,” says Will, a promoter who runs after-parties on the north side of the city. “We always do one before Breakfast Club, and we kick everyone out at 6.30am, because we know Breakfast Club will be open at 7am.”
This integration highlights an informal ecosystem of interconnected events, DJs and promoters. Everyone I speak to is adamant that this organic scene ought to be allowed to flourish within the protection of the law rather than operating at its margins. “It’s going to happen anyway, so you can go around trying to shut it all down or you can actually regulate it,” says Will. “Have a place that’s going to be open until 6.30am, where you’re not going to be annoying neighbours, and where it’s safe for people to go. Our place has full fire certs. Everything is above board except our licence.”
This kind of frustration is palpable among those who would like to run their nights within the law. Citizens in most European capitals take this type of event for granted, and the Garda doesn’t seem overly occupied with the issue. “If there’s no alcohol being sold, then we don’t concern ourselves with a party particularly, unless we get noise complaints,” says a Garda spokesperson. “We wouldn’t see [these parties] as a problem, but maybe the neighbours might see it as a problem. Or if they’re charging into a venue, then that could be a problem, because again there’s all sorts of other regulations around that, which may not necessarily be in the Garda remit. We could be called if there’s public-order incidents or if it’s a liquor-licensing situation. If it’s noise or planning permission or fire safety, then that’s the county council.”
Whether as a result of exposure to other cities or just of frustration with conservative governance – “It’s like a babysitter not letting you stay up late,” says Mark – clubbers and DJs are finding ways to have the kind of after-dark experiences they’ve always wanted. As Seán says, “It’s kind of hard to stop the party.”