Punters arrive in from the dark, cold January evening outside, arriving to be greeted by faces of friends made in the old Pod or the famous Twisted Pepper. Many cradle pints and for once I feel distinctly young in this nightclub setting. This is a room more filled with old heads of DJs and promoters than your average young clubber. A hushed silence comes over the North Dublin venue as a voice speaks into the microphone, commanding attention. It is not the first time Sunil Sharpe has taken centre stage in a venue like this, and it is not the first time these patrons have come to see him. However, the circumstances this time are very different. Sunil has no records with him, and there will be no bodies swaying in time with his 4/4 beat. Sunil and everyone else in attendance is here to discuss the re-launch of the Give Us The Night campaign he started more than ten years ago.
The mission of the campaign is to protest Ireland’s barbaric licensing laws, which has led to its nightclub scene languishing well behind the major clubs across Europe where you can dance until dawn and then well beyond it. With most clubs in Ireland being forced to close between two and three in the morning, and having to pay €410 per night (or well over €120,000 a year) for the privilege, Irish club-goers are being forced on to the street, dazed and confused, when most of their European counterparts are barely getting started.
The campaign is being revitalised once more on the back of an increased appreciation for electronic music, and in many ways the ‘sesh’ culture that has emerged, that has opened the eyes of many to the possibilities of a clubbing landscape like what can be seen in Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris or London. The licensing loopholes promoters are being forced to jump through are becoming increasingly well-publicised and with three separate festivals being shut down within a week of the first acts being due to perform, and in one instance within a day of the scheduled start, many people have simply had enough. The famously ambiguous ‘Public Dance Halls Act’ of 1935 was referenced numerous times over the summer to explain the sudden and seemingly unforeseen closure of these festivals, which left promoters invariably counting the financial cost of refunds and paying booking fees. Think how much has changed in Ireland since 1935, yet this is still somehow deemed applicable.
Ireland’s night-time culture has been dismissed as little more than an opportunity for us to fulfil our famous national stereotypes by getting drink. But as Sunil said as he took to the microphone, many people who go out on a Friday or Saturday night, are not thinking ahead to their first pint of Guinness. We are sitting in college or work during the week waiting until we an experience some of our favourite musicians take to the stage in one of Ireland’s many fine music venues. This weekend I went to see ‘Answer Code Request’, a Berlin DJ and a resident of the infamous Berghain club. His set in Index this Friday finished at 2 AM, the music was off by 3. The experience was far from his normal surroundings in Berlin, with its famously open-ended closing hours, or his booking for the following night in Fabric in London, where guests can get a £10 discount on their entrance fee if they arrive after 6 in the morning, something that many avail of.
The difference between Dublin, and Berlin and London is simply that nightlife in these cities is treasured and appreciated for the cultural significance it holds. London has recently appointed a Night Czar, or Night Mayor, a concept which has been suggested here for a number of years, to promote and manage the night-time economy from nightclubs, to theatres, to restaurants, and even 24-hour shops.
Dublin’s nightlife is booming. Anyone who has recently tried to get a taxi on O’Connell Street just as the nightclubs have closed will tell you. It is time we treated these club-goers like adults as opposed to forcing them all out onto the street at once against their best wishes. If patrons were allowed to drink in their own time and go home when they best pleased, they may not feel so restrained by the shackles of a 3an cut off, and issues of dangerous after-hour raves or late-night drinking sessions in houses may be limited. The sooner we treat our late-night musicians, business owners, and the people who pay their wages with tickets and drinks with respect, the better off Irish nightlife will be.
Ailish Brennan – Music Writer