Pills, thrills and drum fills

Hot Press' longest serving dance guru looks back at the defining events in Irish dance that have shaped a countrywide dance revolution

The Abbey Mall

The first, and for years most important, DJ hangout was the Abbey Mall on Middle Abbey Street in Dublin. Having worked at Disc It in Finglas, in 1983 Billy Murray (who has won a Smirnoff Award for Best Contribution To Irish Dance Music) decides to go it alone and give an outlet to the many hip-hop and disco 12” singles that were begging to be sold to vinyl junkies and DJs from across the country. When the initially hi-NRG and then house oriented Beat Records made an appearance soon after it made the Abbey Mall the ultimate hangout spot for DJ’s and promoters for more then a decade.

Tamangos

No, it’s not a misprint – the renowned disco in Portmarnock played a vital role towards the end of the eighties when leading Dublin pirate station Sunshine 101FM began broadcasting Greg Merriman’s Saturday night sets live. It was the first show of its kind in Ireland – the notion of a disco without a slow set was then unique to only a handful of Irish dancefloors – and Merriman’s sweetly segued blend of Italian house and pumping hi-NRG were responsible for shifting cartloads of import 12-inchers to hordes of aspiring DJs in Dublin. Merriman was also the man who produced the series of limited edition remixes and megamixes released in limited quantities by the Beat Records team.

Sides

Since the ’70s, gay clubs had been regarded as the best places to find cutting-edge dancefloor action, and when Ireland’s first gay venue opened its doors on Dame Street in the mid-’80s it continued with the tradition – Liam Fitz and Martin McCann were at the helm with the then novel non-stop beat-mixing approach. The acid house influence arrived in the shape of Liam Dollard at the turn of the decade, and he was later joined by Johnny Moy, Billy Scurry and Dave Hales; between them they played hugely influential roles for the capital’s baggy-trousered and floppy hat brigade. Early milestones included the country’s first DJ Weekender in ’91 – headlined by Jumpin’ Jack Frost – but the club was later dogged by mismanagement problems. Dollard, Moy and crew moved on, and it was re-launched as Gravity in ’92 – by then its influence had by then dwindled, and a couple of tragic deaths outside the club prompted a swift closure by the authorities.

Sugarweet

Its home was the Art College in Belfast, its promoters (and resident spinners) were David Holmes and Ian MacReady, and guests included the likes of Andrew Weatherall. The late ’80s gave us the North’s most important dance club, and its influence stretched to Dublin, from where one Johnny Moy and then partner Peadar Redmond ran coaches full of enthusiastic ravers hungry for the revolutionary new acid house music and its accompanying lifestyle.

Sir Henry’s

When Greg Dowling took over as resident as the legendary Cork sweat-box in 1988, Ireland’s first proper dance club was born. Joined soon after by Shane Johnson – they are still partners today – the pair were responsible for bringing in the first ever UK guest DJs. Coaches from Dublin were always run when the likes of Hac¸ienda DJs Mike Pickering – who Dowling recalls taught Johnson and himself how to mix – and Graeme Park were in town. I ran one myself on Easter Sunday ’91, and recall that many of those on it later became Dublin’s most influential acid house DJs – Johnny Moy, Billy Scurry, David Hales, Eamonn Flavin, Niall Comiskey, Pressure, Dave McDonnell, Mark Crumlish, Dave Moore and Stephen Mulhall were all on board. At the time I wrote a club culture column for In Dublin, and the trip inspired a feature that noted how Lucozade was everybody’s drink of choice.

The Kitchen

Like PoD, U2’s intimate dance club wasn’t famed for its music when it first launched, but the arrival of Influx on Thursdays in 1996 was a turning point that, apart from turning The Kitchen into an award-winning dance club, had a major impact on the techno-loving Bono and The Edge and in turn U2’s Zooropa album.

Fun City @ The Point

Hardly a rave with its largely hip-hop line-up, but Fun City in 1990 was Ireland’s first large-scale dance event nonetheless. Imports Betty Boo and Candy Flip strutted the stage alongside the likes of homeboys MC Ghost and MC Tyson.

PoD

The arrival of the PoD in ’94, coupled with the launch of Temple Of Sound, marked the end of the Irish rave boom and the beginning of Irish club culture as we now know it. Darkened halls lit by strobes filtering through the masses of thick smoke were replaced by comfy clubs and designer door policies. Unlike the Temple Of Sound, the PoD was a musical embarrassment for much of its early years, but owner John Reynolds never made any claims to be running an underground music club, and PoD served its purpose – helping club culture become embraced by mainstream culture in a major way. Reynolds later opened Redbox on the roof of PoD, and its cutting-edge musical menu gave him the credibility he had initially been denied.

Olympic Ballroom

The first ever party at the recently demolished Olympic Ballroom in Dublin was hosted in April 1991 by Johnny Moy and David Hales – under their cheeky Orbit banner – and the DJs included yours truly. After a short run of Dance Crazy events, the venue’s owner Liam Ryan decided to run things himself. It’s fascinating to recall how the 40 or 50 Dublin ravers that were on those coaches to Sugarsweet and Sir Henry’s grew to a few hundred for the initial Orbit party before word got out and the Olympic was jammed to capacity from June onwards. The girls wore hot-pants and bra-tops, the boys stripped down to their shorts, and there were 1,400-plus there every week until 1993. Billy Murray of Abbey Discs says the Olympic was the most influential of all the early Dublin dance clubs in terms of booming record sales, but like Sides the Olympic was closed by the authorities after a major raid by the Drugs Squad. The ensuing court case was famous for the presiding Judge’s comment that “dance music means drugs” – a comment that prompted me to write my first ever article for hotpress.

Sunset Radio & DLR

Two of the second wave of small Dublin pirates held a huge influence in the capital in the first half of the nineties. Sunset FM was on the air from July 1991 until September 1994 in Dublin. Started by Gary Cruze and Barry Dunne, two anoraks from Sandyford, the station first broadcast seven days a week in July ‘92, following fellow pirates DLR and NSR 105. Sunset was operating from a shed in Gary Cruzes back garden in Sandyford, and by early 1993 it boasted presenters like Tony Quinn, Andy Preston, Tim Hannigan, and Chris Murray. Its all-dance format quickly evolved due to popular demand, and it peaked towards the end of 1993 before being forced to close in ’94. DLR wasn’t a dance station, but from ’92 to ‘94 its Friday night slot from 6pm-10pm was what I have been told by many on many occasions was “the most influential show in Dublin.” Remix was the moniker – also the name of a free clubbing fanzine – and its four hour guide to the newest promos, not the Olympic Ballroom residency, is what I believe really established me in the capital. (Coincidentally, the slot’s previous host Jeff Collins was behind Dublin’s other free fanzine, DFC News.)

Heaven On Earth

The second rave at the Point, in 1992, was John Reynolds first attempt to put his mark on Irish club culture. Packed to capacity, Heaven On Earth had been advertised to run until 6am, but on the night Gardai forced Reynolds to stop the music at 2am. This combined with a no-show from headliners Prodigy fuelled remarkable scenes. Hundreds of ravers stormed the stage armed with ghetto-blasters, air-horns and whistles and chanted and screamed their lungs out and refused to move until they felt like it, while dozens of Gardai sat patiently outside until nearly 4am, having decided a full-scale raid or forced removal would have led to a riot they would not have been able to cope with.

Sound Crowd/Red Records

Late in 1992, Tim Hannigan (aka Mista Fantastic, and now 2FM’s Mister Spring) and myself released a couple of hundred white labels of the first Sound Crowd release on Red Records. From that four-track EP, the country’s first dance label and a distribution company were born. Sound Crowd’s first gig was to a few hundred at the Olympic Ballroom in ‘93, and a year later Denis Desmond added the Crowd to The Orb’s first show at The Point just five days before the gig. Ticket sales at that point were under a thousand – on the night there were over 6,000 in the Point. The pirate radio stations mentioned above played a key role in establishing the act.

Kelly’s

The Portrush club now known as Lush! began life as a controversial rave that was the most popular haunt of the North’s dance massive until police intervention prompted the owner’s to shut it down in 1995 and re-launch as the luxurious dance club Lush!

The Beat Club

There were only a handful of Beat Club parties, but its influence in Dublin was massive. Hosted by Johnny Moy and Peadar Redmond at Tin Pan Alley and later The Waterfront, the nights when Andrew Weatherall and Darren Emerson headlined will be forever etched in the minds of the lucky few present.

DJ Weekender @ The Zoo Club

Dublin’s first DJ Weekender was the brainchild of techno legend Francois (then the Ents Officer at UCD). Paul Oakenfold headlined, but he was shown up by sets from the homeboys that became part of our early club culture folklore.

Temple Of Sound, ’94-‘96

When former Tin Pan Alley manager Gerry Harrington (currently running Temple Theatre) took over the Ormond Hotel in 1994, it was the Beat Club boys he brought in to run the musical side of the show. Johnny Moy, Billy Scurry, Stephen Mulhall, Mark Dixon and some of the most respected DJs from the international arena gave Dublin clubbers some of their most intimate and magical memories.

Homelands Ireland

The idea that we’d have an all-day dance festival was laughable but a few years back, but PoD, Mean Fiddler and Home incredibly made it happen for the first time at Mosney in 1999. The sight of 25,000 clubbers running amok on the former family holiday centre was a joy to behold and an experience you’d never forget. The second Homelands Ireland, in April 2000, was also a sell-out, and just as memorable. Sadly, Mosney was not available last year, and the organisers have been unable to find a replacement venue since.

UFO/Alien

The first hotpress dance columnist John Collins promoted the most influential Irish techno club ever alongside DJ François and his long-term partner Louise Mahon. Born as the musically mixed UFO, their precious baby moved home frequently before settling in Columbia Mills – it was renamed Alien in ’95 and it was quite simply the best place to be in Dublin on a Friday night. Most of the current band of Irish techno jocks could be found on its dancefloors. (And usually back in François and Louise’s flat afterwards too!)

Outlaw Records

Dublin record emporium responsible for the birth of Irish drum ‘n’ bass when it became the first of the capital’s many underground dance shops to target the breakbeat posse upon opening in 1994. Bassbin’s Naphta (left) was the stock purchaser, incidentally.

Dance Nation

10,000 ravers were rammed into the Point at the end of June in 1995 for an all-Irish line-up. Quite simply, it was the biggest achievement of the indigenous club scene at the time, and it’s quite sad that no promoter has had the imagination to try an all-Irish line-up since. Sound Crowd topped a bill that included Francois, Warren K and Liam Dollard. The event was tragically marred by the death of a young teenager, and DJ events at the Point did not re-occur for several years as a result.

The last Féile

August 1995 saw the first dance tent at the only Feile held in Cork. Dust Brothers, Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier and the cream of Irish DJ talent rocked the 6,000 capacity arena. When Coxy was playing, the crowd were cheering so loudly you could barely hear the sound system!

Richie Hawtin @ System, 1995

Mars Needs Women was the event, it was a Thursday night, and the debut Irish appearance of Richie Hawtin (aka Plasticman) brought 900 techno-crazed loons to System for a night that will never be forgotten.

Chemical Brothers @ The Furnace

The conception of Influx was a one-off event at The Furnace in Dublin in 1995. Johnny Moy had teamed up with Paul Davis for the first time, and the line-up included Billy Nasty and Chemical Brothers, who at that time were still known as Dust Brothers.

Radio Ireland’s Clubmix

The birth of the Irish hard house scene took place in 1996, when for nine months Today FM’s first incarnation brought the first all-night dance music show to the nation. At the time 2FM had but two hours of dance music a week, and there were no pirates outside Dublin and Cork, so it was no surprise when Radio Ireland’s then advertising manager later recalled how Clubmix had more listeners than almost all of the station’s daytime shows, as post-club parties jumped until 6am to the non-stop 140+bpm rhythms. The show was among many dropped in a cost-cutting exercise just before the troubled station was re-launched as Today FM.

Homelands Ireland

The idea that we’d have an all-day dance festival was laughable but a few years back, but PoD, Mean Fiddler and Home incredibly made it happen for the first time at Mosney in 1999. The sight of 25,000 clubbers running amok on the former family holiday centre was a joy to behold and an experience you’d never forget. The second Homelands Ireland, in April 2000, was also a sell-out, and just as memorable. Sadly, Mosney was not available last year, and the organisers have been unable to find a replacement venue since.

 

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