Una Mullally: Dublin belongs to you, even if you can't afford a piece of it

Rich people who see grit as something to be scrubbed: rest assured, the city hates you

Fontaines DC are a gem of a band, and Dogrel is a rough diamond. Photograph: Visionhaus/Getty

Fontaines DC are a gem of a band, and Dogrel is a rough diamond. Photograph: Visionhaus/Getty

 

Last Friday, the young Irish band Fontaines DC released an era-defining album, Dogrel. The record is astonishing. I sat in a friend’s flat in Berlin and listened to it three, four, five, six times in a row.

“Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind,” frontman Grian Chatten announces at the top. 

“I had a sense that I was documenting someone on the cusp of something huge,” the Irish photographer Rich Gilligan wrote on Instagram last month, under a portrait he had taken of Chatten in New York.

In the photograph Chatten is pulling on a cigarette, the streetlights glowing like stage lights behind him, his hair probably in need of a cut, a ring on his little finger, “You could feel it in the air and in his body language. This was a big moment for this band and I felt privileged to be there to take it all in. Nervous energy mixed with this incredible presence and charisma. This is the real deal. It’s so rare that a band with such raw natural talent like this appears on your radar.”

The album is an instant classic, completely superseding any amount of hype or buzz that has circled around this band for some time. While so much Irish rock is rooted in the US, Fontaines DC ground themselves in Irish specificity.

Chatten recently quoted Joyce in an interview: “In the particular is contained the universal.” When I interviewed the band last November in The Glimmerman pub in Stoneybatter, I found a group of honest, quiet, sweet young men talking about poetry and patriotism. They are a gem of a band, and Dogrel is a rough diamond.

There have been times over the past few years where I’ve felt I’ve been observing Dublin happen behind a perspex pane, as if I’m watching someone else’s city

But when fans of Fontaines DC inevitably make a pilgrimage to Ireland, what Dublin will they find? One imagines every time Fontaines DC return from one of their many international tours, the city refreshes like a webpage, old parts gone, new code written.

When we look back at this time in Ireland, a period of discombobulating transition where vulture funds skulk behind our backs, where the reverb echoes in the corridors of emergency accommodation – the so-called family hubs, as if humans can be slotted into spaces like eggs in a carton – where young artists have so little freedom and headspace to create because they can’t afford to live in the city or focus solely on their work, where people are not so much left behind as pushed away, what will be left when all the deals are done?

Dublin hates you

For those determined that the trajectory of the city be honed by their terrible ideas and plans, and are in fact dismantling the very idea of a place they’re so desperate to capitalise on and sell back to tourists, for those rich people and facilitators of wealth over creativity who see grit as something to be scrubbed and edge as something to be smoothed, rest assured that Dublin hates you.

And is there a city in the world whose population hates as creatively as Dublin? This is a place where piss-taking is an art form, slagging a choreography, where put-downs are poetry.

The album Dogrel speaks to those who reside within the cracks, where the things they value about a place can’t be bought or sold

There have been times over the past few years where I’ve felt I’ve been observing Dublin happen behind a perspex pane, as if I’m watching someone else’s city. This is about getting older, obviously, but it’s not just that. When the fabric of a place is being so dramatically altered, it can be hard to even recall its original patterns.

The obnoxiousness of the Celtic Tiger, the terrible development and planning of that era, and the woeful establishments that sprung up as skips for people to throw their money into, already happened. Yet here we go again. That inability to learn does make you think certain places and populations really are a lost cause.

The neo-liberal celebration of Dublin as a “tech hub” is really about it being a ropy tax-circumnavigating outpost for giddy tech gorgers. Politicians have the audacity to say companies genuinely come here for “the talent” and because our capital is just so perfect for such commerce, with our ample housing, great infrastructure, fabulous childcare, excellent technology education and multilingual workforce… oh. 

Within the cracks

But then something like Dogrel happens, and you feel the phantom strain on the fingertips of those just hanging on, that maybe you’re not just an aul codger who bemoans the destruction of the foundations that makes (or perhaps, made) Dublin’s authenticity and character.

Dogrel speaks to those who reside within the cracks, where the things they value about a place can’t be bought or sold.

To those eking out an existence on the fringes – the poets and drag queens and musicians and rappers and writers and novelists and playwrights and photographers and painters and illustrators and T-shirt-makers and independent shop owners and semi-professional sessioners and the rare actual publicans and crafters and grafters and party-throwers and dancers and cooks and everyone who grimaces when they see another demolished corner with hoarding slogans promising more nonsense – the city belongs to you, even if you can’t afford a piece of it.

As Chatten sings on the album’s closing track, Dublin City Sky: “All together now.”

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