Peter Walker

Dublin Down

Mixmag

Online version here.

Despite St Patrick’s Day being a week away, a young lad in a green top hat and ginger wig combo still manages to get up on stage and dive back into a receptive crowd, to surf above them as Bicep fuel the frenzy with their infectious remix of Isaac Tichauer’s ‘Another Level’.

This is the closing time chaos at a capacity-crowded District 8 – Dublin’s largest space for night-time nonsense and a venue spearheading something of a renaissance in the capital’s club scene.

With the Celtic Tiger wounded by the 2008 recession, people in its biggest city inevitably began going out less and promoters found it increasingly hard to keep nights and venues running. In 2012, the Pod trio of venues under one roof closed after 20 years, leaving the almost two million people in the greater Dublin area with no big places to have a dance.

Things started looking up again the following year though, with the reinvention of several old spaces seemingly within a few months of each other: the Opium Rooms (previously The Village), Button Factory (which was the Temple Bar Music Centre) and District 8 (the ground floor of the Tivoli theatre).

Things took a hit in 2015, when the ecstasy-fuelled death of an 18 year-old girl in the legendary club Twisted Pepper led to its demise. Owners Bodytonic reopened the venue later that year as WigWam, but with much less of a focus on dance music. This loss however, signalled a shift towards bigger venues and bigger names.

Martin Smyth, lead promoter and director of the company that runs District 8, says things changed almost overnight. “Quite quickly we put our stamp down, saying this is the big room with good lighting installation, great sound from a Funktion 1 system, and people coming to dance to big acts.

“At the start we were quite protective about who we booked, we wanted to be uber cool, Dublin’s answer to Berghain, but we realised that wasn’t going to work week in, week out. We still book the likes of Ben Klock, but now we’ve got Gorgon City the next night.

“For me it’s about providing that space and experience, regardless of what you music taste or age is; there’s going to be 1000 people there losing their shit.”

Tonight it’s a predominantly young crowd losing their shit to Belfast’s trio of talent – Rory Hamilton, AKA Hammer, and the Bicep boys, Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar – making Dublin the second stop of a March tour round the emerald isle.

District 8 has something of a split personality. A 1930s cinema façade on Francis Street gives nothing away about what its innards are being used for, with clubbers having to enter through an innocuous arch beside a vape shop and queue in an impressively graffiti-ed car park out the back. Once inside though, its and ideal combination of big warehouse feel, but with the convenience of proper venue facilities.

Support comes from local resident DJ Deece, who ably winds up a dancefloor full of youthful exuberance and questionable haircuts. He reckons the scene is in a healthy state, although there’s still only room for a couple of big clubs in the city.

“District 8 is filling that role very well at the moment, with Opium Rooms not too far behind. There are quite a few smaller places around the 400-600 capacity mark that are thriving too. Wah Wah, WigWam and Index are good examples of this.”

The latter club is only a month or so old, and already getting rave reviews from a slightly older crowd, less keen on the more mainstream trend of the last few years.

“There has perhaps been too much of a reliance on big name bookings in Dublin, but I think that as the number of people getting in to house and techno grows, that is dwindling,” says Deece, or Niall D'Arcy to his mum. “There's quite a few collectives running fun (and busy) parties with just residents, or more underground international bookings now.”

Mixmag’s driver to and from the airport, Dave McGown, suggests Dublin’s punters and promoters have always been split by age and genre. “For as long as I can remember – and I’ve been going out to clubs and raves since I was 18 – certain groups will only go to certain clubs. So this Index place opened a few weeks ago, and while it was rammed, a lot of people still haven’t even heard of it.”

Just as things appear to be thriving though, a storm is brewing on the horizon. At the turn of the year, plans were submitted for an ‘aparthotel’ to be built on the site of District 8, while another dance-focused venue, Hangar, will also make way for a hotel and is currently seeing out a stay of execution until next April.

Smyth doesn’t seem too worried by the clouds forming over his venue, pointing out that it could be years before decisions are made by the council; but it goes to show just how transient the infrastructure supporting nightlife really is.

It feels like this could be driving the delirious abandon evident on the dimly lit dancefloor, but in reality it’s down to Hammer smashing his recently-released ‘Canna’ as a set ender and handing over to the bloggers/turned producers/turned remixers/turned live act.

Bicep are just using the CDJs tonight, but that gives them the freedom to swing from the bouncing grooves of DJ Gregory’s ‘Attend 1’ to the muscular techno of ‘Looking Back’ by Reflec, before shifting up to crowd pleasers like the VW20 mix of Vince Watson’s ‘Bubbles’.

Responding after the show, the duo say: “We've been playing there for few years and seen quite a few clubs come and go, but the mad crowds have always stayed the same. 

“It's really great to have somewhere like District 8 putting on the line-ups they do, consistently in a city like Dublin.”