It's a new one on me: trying to describe the particular demographic at which the book he has just edited is aimed, Donal Scannell says: "It's for people who are able to name a Primal Scream record." No need, though, to be condemned to a limbo for the terminally unhip if you don't know any songs by the popular Glaswegian beat combo - all Scannell means is that Shenanigans (sub-titled An Anthology of Fresh Irish Fiction) is a collection of literature for twentysomethings - and thirtysomethings and older who are in denial. Nineteen new Irish writers under the age of 30 (some published before, most not) each contributed a short story to Shenanigans and their only guiding principle was that the action be set in contemporary Ireland and take place after dark. The stories aren't all about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll though: far worse (or better) activities are contained within the pages.
What's most striking is how Shenanigans has given a voice to the denizens of this country's club culture, voices largely mariginalised or drowned out by the mewlings of the Celtic Tiger. You certainly don't need to know who Primal Scream are to appreciate its finer points, but you do need to know that the Ireland it portrays has nothing to do with any of Riverdance/The Corrs/ tribunals of inquiry/Temple Bar Properties/ organised religion/political parties. And in relation to the first two above, it's little wonder people abroad now ask if being Irish and having no taste are synonymous. Weird, spooky and strange things happen when the sun goes down on Shenanigans's version of the Emerald Isle. There's nothing about growing up in slums, no woe-begotten tales of taking the emigrant boat or cutsiewutsie suburban frippery. Instead, as the blurb notes, there are Internet criminals, video diarists, grave robbers and amateur semen couriers stalking a land where prize pigs are stolen from an Orangeman, sex takes place at the dry-cleaners, the baby Jesus is kidnapped and a man chips the nail polish off his wife's toes to determine if she has been abducted by aliens. The surreal, perverse and funny conspire in a collection that single-handedly atones for the past sins of nostalgic and sentimental Irish literature. Roll over John Hinde and tell Peig Sayers the news. Strictly speaking, the collection is the final part of a trilogy that began when Manchester "wild child" and well-known Hibernophile Sarah Champion edited a book called Disco Biscuits which was, loosely speaking, an anthology of British club culture (and drugs, sex and dealers) which featured contributions from Irvine Welsh and Jeff Noon. That was followed up by Disco 2000, a series of stories all set in the last hours of December 1999 by Douglas Coupland, Poppy Z. Brite, Robert Anton Wilson and others. Champion then tracked down journalist/DJ/record label boss Donal Scannell to help her edit this all-Irish collection.
"It's about the head-space of an Irish generation," Scannell says. "It's written by and for a generation who, apart from vanity publishing, haven't had a platform to write about what concerns them. This is about people who owe more allegiance to Heineken and PlayStation than they do to Fianna Fail and Fine Gael; it's for people who aren't interested in how the government, Temple Bar Properties or Bord Failte choose to represent Ireland; people who aren't the slightest bit interested in who owns Bertie Ahern's house in Drumcondra or what Charlie Haughey got up to. And it's not about age, it's about a state of mind. It's for people who have the same, shared taste in TV shows, movies, records and clubs. We just thought that since people are always going on about this country's great literary tradition, it was time for this generation to express itself and take that tradition back from the same boring writers around today who are given easy enough access to the media."
Warming to his point, Scannell says it's "absolutely unbelievable" how club culture, which is massive all around the country, has been taken off the media schedules - unless it's a "Rave E Death Shock Horror" headline. The less-than-quiet dance revolution that has been going on for the best part of a decade and has revolutionised twentysomething lifestyles in terms of what music they listen to, what clubs they go to, what they wear, how they vote and what they think, may as well, he contends, not have happened as yet another planning furore threatens to bore us into a coma. It's not just that the M people (male, middle-aged, middle class) are still clinging on to their posts (and locking the gate behind them by introducing widespread casual isation of labour with the result that it's not a level playing-pitch any more): it's also that there's a misinformed attempt to represent twentysomething culture as "dumbed down" and trivial. "You can't generalise about a collective psyche," Scannell admonishes. "If people like The Clash and wear a leather jacket, or if they produce drum n'bass records, then that doesn't imply that the culture of reading is lost on them. That's why this book has been published."
The 26-year-old Scannell is originally from Ballinasloe, Co Galway and whether he likes it or not, is considered one of the foremost commentators on club culture in this country. Educated at Garbally college, he first started speaking out in a college fanzine he co-edited with a fellow Garbally student, the comedian Tommy Tiernan. While studying at Dublin City University he met Donal Dineen and the two of them, with friends Colm O'Callaghan and Jim Carroll, brought out the still fondly remembered Drop Out magazine and series of club nights - "the mag and the club was a mix of indie, hip-hop and house, we did it because we wanted to work in that area but didn't want to work for anyone else," he says.
He later moved on to The Late Late Show where he worked as a researcher - "maybe I was the token youth, maybe not, but I liked it and I was very proud of getting the KLF (cult dance outfit) on to the show to talk about how they deliberately set fire to £1 million of their own money". After a short spell working on a Channel 4 series called Moving Houses, he returned to Dublin to set up two record labels, Quadrophonic (a drum 'n'bass label) and Stereophonic (a general beats label) and associated club nights at the Kitchen nightclub in the Clarence Hotel.
"I do what I do in terms of record labels and club nights because the usual attempts at attracting people of my ilk are as far off the mark as Fianna Fail or Fine Gael politicians trying to get our vote. Just how much longer can this country ignore what represents culture for a considerable chunk of its population?"
Returning to the book, he says it's dedicated to every foreign journalist who arrives in Ireland to document the "hippest country in Europe" and never leaves the pubs of Temple Bar. "I really hope it's read because I believe it does represent the so-called `hippest country in Europe' in a real and authentic way. It's not a `young person's' book, it is more state of mind than age - but having said that, some people might find it a bit scary. It's not the sort of book I'd give to my grandmother - I'd give it to my father . . . and hope there were some stories he wouldn't read".
Shenanigans, edited by Donal Scannell and Sarah Champion, is published by Sceptre, price £6.99, and is available now. It will be launched at a drum'n'bass night at the Kitchen Nightclub on January 22nd (open to all) and in Belfast at the Crescent Arts Centre on January 29th