Love Sensation: the Mother of all festivals

The two-day bash at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham promises a line-up that is really fun, really queer and really female-led

The Mother Family, from left: Phil Boyle, Ruth Kavanagh, Lisa Connell, Cormac Cashman and Rocky T Delgado.

The Mother Family, from left: Phil Boyle, Ruth Kavanagh, Lisa Connell, Cormac Cashman and Rocky T Delgado.

 

The Gay Community News (GCN) office overlooks where the club night Mother began nine years ago, in a small basement club that was part of the Arlington Hotel on the west side of Temple Bar in Dublin. The site has since slid into another representation of Dublin’s hyper-gentrification, and the construction of a Hard Rock Hotel is currently under way. The basement was where the Alternative Miss Ireland crew had an afterparty, alerting a group of people then planning a club night as a fundraising mechanism for GCN, that an ideal venue was on their doorstep. Opposite the back of the Front Lounge bar (now Street 66, and still a queer bar), and the GCN office, with The George across the street and around the corner, and Pantibar just beyond the river, the basement became part of a recession-era gaybourhood whose residents clung to nights out like life rafts.

Countless parties later, Mother is taking on its biggest bash to date, a two-day festival on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham at Imma, on August 17th and 18th, called Love Sensation. Lily Allen and Clean Bandit headline, alongside Gossip, Kelis, Honey Dijon, Horse Meat Disco and more. 

In many places, more standalone queer festivals are emerging. It’s an interesting trend. Whereas previously, queer events and spaces were a response to marginalisation, now they’re often a response to the mainstreaming of queer culture: different kinds of havens for different generations, but the impulse to be with one’s people remains. In London, there’s the pop-focused Mighty Hoopla festival. Whole United Queer Festival, in Germany, draws from queer crews in Berlin (Cocktail D’Amore, Buttons, Gegen, and more), and around the world. Homobloc in Manchester takes place for the first time this November at the newly repurposed and previously vacant Mayfield train depot. 

Lisa Connell is the managing editor of GCN, who along with the promoter Cormac Cashman, runs Mother as a profit share to keep a regular funding stream going to GCN. Mother began with GCN’s then editor Brian Finnegan, Conor Wilson – who was then working in GCN and is famous for turning up to even the smallest party with a disco ball and smoke machine in tow – Connell, Cashman, and the artist Will St Leger, who designed the Mother logo. The idea was to offer an old-school alternative disco with a house party vibe, something that “wasn’t for the Gaga gays”, Connell says, “it was for the Róisín Murphy gays”. 

These days, Mother happens every Saturday night at The Hub in Temple Bar, and also takes up residence at festivals such as Body&Soul, where this year it was one of the most popular destinations at the festival, a smorgasbord of drag and disco. The club’s resident DJs are Ghostboy, Rocky T Delgado, and Ruth Kavanagh, alongside monthly residents Kelly-Anne Byrne and Billy Scurry. “It feels to us as an evolution,” Connell says of Love Sensation, “in that Mother started very humbly in a very lo-fi way. For years, it was a weekly club doing its thing. The Pride parties were the real point at which we started seeing the scale, and also the fact that Mother was of interest to lots more people than maybe were there on any given Saturday.” 

Pride parties

Those Pride parties began, so many good parties do, on the street. “The first Pride party we hosted was basically supposed to be the club and the smoking area,” Connell recalls, “and suddenly 1,000 gays were there. We hadn’t asked the guards . . . I don’t know if we understood how many people wanted to party with us.”

Lily Allen is one of the headline acts at Love Sensation. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
Lily Allen is one of the headline acts at Love Sensation. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

“Or the legalities of running an outdoor party!” Cashman adds. “It was like ‘we’ll bring the decks outside! That’s probably fine!’ And it was for a year or two, and then suddenly it wasn’t: ‘we will arrest you’. Oh right, so we have to make this official.” The Pride parties migrated to Meeting House Square in Temple Bar, and then to the now-closed Tivoli Theatre, another spot that once housed queer parties and is currently being redeveloped into more accommodation for tourists. This year, Mother’s Pride Block Party took over the museum grounds of Collins Barracks for their biggest party yet. But Love Sensation is more than just a step up from that.

The egalitarian spirit of Mother brought a loose community of friends together – queer, straight, male, female, trans, non-binary, and everything in between. Whether you were on the dole or in the Dáil, it was a haven. Those early nights at Mother were like a disco version of Cheers. Staff from Joe Macken’s Crackbird restaurant (one of the lesser reported aspects of Macken’s restaurants closing is the impact it has had on the queer community in Dublin, who often tended to find employment in his venues), would stroll around the corner to the club once their shift was done, instantly making the place smell of chicken. People danced precariously on the railings near the DJ booth, supported only by sweaty palms pushing upwards on the low ceiling.

The “smoking section” was a sliver of a path outside, where people would congregate even if they didn’t have the few quid to pay into the club. Afterparties around the city lengthened the nights Mother built into Sunday mornings. Guest DJs and performers rolled into the club, from the Rubberbandits to JD Samson, from The Magician to Nancy Wang of LCD Soundsystem. Mother’s resident DJs under the Mother brand have gone on to play as the support act for what Connell calls “the triumvirate of goddesses”; Grace Jones, Róisín Murphy, and Peaches. 

This summer is notable for how crowded the concert and festival calendar is. Outdoor shows jostle for competition. While the market feels saturated, the Mother crew believes what they’re offering with Love Sensation is something different. “People are just as likely to see something at Primavera as they are to go down the road to Laois,” Connell says, “In fact, of a certain age and type, you’re more likely to have gone to Primavera at the start of the summer and have seen every possible headliner. That’s having an impact on Irish festivals in terms of what are they offering that’s different. For us, we had the joy of being able to curate a line-up that we feel is really strong, really fun, really queer, really female-led.” Love Sensation also benefits from having MCD on board. 

Specific challenges

In 2010, an experiment took place with the Milk Festival in Ballinlough in Co Westmeath. The production values were high, the vibe was fun, but it wasn’t a viable financial model – especially because it felt as though every second person was on the guest list – and its first year was also its last. Queer events may benefit from have a ready-made audience, but they also pose specific challenges. The audience is much smaller than a straight audience – even if a straight audience may not see themselves in those terms.

There’s also the anecdotal slackness of one’s audience operating on gay time, a little sluggish when it comes to buying tickets ahead of time, or notoriously turning up well after doors open. But Love Sensation has rooted itself in community. The George will have its own tent, populated by local drag heroes and stars from RuPaul’s Drag Race. There’s a dance music area, and the main stage is hosted by Panti.

Anxiety, drag performer at the Love Sensation listening party at The George Bar.
Anxiety, drag performer at the Love Sensation listening party at The George Bar.

There is also a broader purpose at play here, something beyond entertainment. “We are seeing our queer spaces in a lot of cities and countries disappearing,” Connell says, “in the sense that the local gay bar is gone, or the local dyke bar is gone. The community has reorganised or reoriented largely online. That’s become a new domain. But that does not replace the need to actually go and see each other and be in each other’s company and feel both represented and seen. And also, that lovely feeling, the actual tangible feeling of community you get by being in a space that you know is built with you in mind. It’s not accidental. It doesn’t happen to be like this. No, we see you, we want to host you, and we want you to have the best two days of your life, and for you to feel super comfortable and seen in that space.” Mother’s diverse crowd policy also welcomes straight people as guests who are respectful of being in a queer space and want to tap into the energy of legendary parties. 

Trans people

Cashman thinks such spaces are of particular importance to the trans people in the local community, “The issues I hear from my trans friends are like security at gigs, getting shit off people just as part of their daily lives. I would like this to be a place where [you can think] ‘this is a gig I can go to for two days, and I’m not going to get any shit because I’m with my people’. That’s why queer spaces are super-important. For me, anyway, I feel like trans rights are a massive hurdle we need to overcome in the community. They are one of the four big letters. So a place where everyone can feel included. And that’s not necessarily the case at loads of other events, and for no other reason than dickheads are less likely to buy tickets to a big gay event, because they don’t want to be around [queer people]. I mean, if you’re homophobic, you’re not going to go to a big f**k off queer festival! That obviously lends itself to sounders being in the space.”

At a time when the discourse in Dublin is dour regarding the disappearance of clubs and spaces that are about quality music and community, Love Sensation is setting out its stall. “In our very DNA,” Connell says of the importance to the queer community of dancing and letting loose, “there is the congregation on the dance floor. That’s a really important space. As you know well, you get really f***ing burnt out from doing the work to progress society, so you do need that space that feels safe, that allows you to let off steam, that’s a celebration. You know your herstory of how important the dance floor space is. It’s as important as the march or the action that would have happened on a day. It’s the counterbalancing point.”

Love Sensation takes place at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin 8 on August 17th and 18th. Tickets from €65.70 are available from Ticketmaster. For more information, go to lovesensation.ie

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