- 11 Sep 19
Marcus O’Laoire, the creative mind behind some of Dublin’s favourite club nights, including Hijinks and Sicko at Tramline, discusses his rise to the top of the club scene – and how vital it is to fight back against club closures. Photography: Danni Fro.
“One night I was playing in Hangar, and someone passed me a taxidermied squirrel,” Marcus O’Laoire recalls with a laugh. “Then the person said, ‘It’s the party animal!’ and disappeared into the night. It’s got to be one of the weirdest things a DJ’s ever been handed.”
The taxidermist clubber isn’t the only fan Marcus has picked up over the past few years. Renowned for his versatile and inclusive sets, he has earned an enviable reputation at festivals and venues across the country. Meanwhile, his weekly, community-oriented club nights at Dublin’s Tramline, Hijinks and Sicko, have fast become local favourites.
“It’s been a weird rollercoaster of a decade,” he smiles. “I dropped out of college to become a stand-up comedian, and I did that professionally for about eight years. I had always played music, and had been in bands. I studied jazz guitar for years, and I had a loose plan of doing a masters in jazz in Berklee in Boston.”
“I first started getting involved in DJing and electronic music in 2009, and somehow, it’s led me to here!”
His path to the pinnacle of Ireland’s club scene wasn’t entirely straightforward. He also spent time in the culinary world – and found some surprising overlaps between the life of a DJ and that of a chef.
“There are loads of chefs who are also DJs,” he notes. “If you care about the food you’re eating, you probably care about the music you listen to. Also, there’s not that much difference between the atmosphere in the kitchen and the club. It’s high pressure and a lot of people are depending on you.
“I’ve always been interested in the generosity of hospitality – and in creating something good for someone else, be that on a plate that they’re eating, or as an experience in the nightclub. Even with stand-up – you’re entertaining people and you’re making people happy. That’s at the heart of it.”
Long, tough hours in the kitchen were arguably the best training for life as a jet-setting DJ. And having played festivals across the world, he reckons that Ireland is right up there with the major international players.
“As a country, we’re punching really high – both in terms of the acts that are coming to play, and in the calibre of the local talent,” he says. “It might be the big names that sell tickets, but it’s the locals whose sets I enjoy the most. Just look at the Boiler Room at Higher Vision this year – it was all Irish DJs. Everyone just smashed it and people were going mental.
“It’s incredible to see just how many dance-focused festivals there are in Ireland right now. There are over 50, of varying sizes – from small community festivals right up to the likes of Boxed Off and Higher Vision.”
That’s all good. However, Marcus is one of a number of DJs, venue owners and professionals who have joined the Give Us The Night campaign, in order to advocate for Ireland’s night-time industry in the face of a rash of venue closures. He was spurred to take action after the high profile dismantling of Hangar, where he was resident DJ for two years, and District 8, where he played regularly. Both spaces are to be replaced with apartments and hotels.
“When I was a student, it was normal for clubs to change their face,” he recalls. “The Village became Opium, Andrew’s Lane Theatre became Hangar, and Twisted Pepper became Wigwam. Now, what we’re seeing is venues closing down with no replacements.
“People need to make sure they’re staying informed, and realise what’s at risk. Engaging on social media is the best thing students and young people can do to get involved. It doesn’t matter if you like techno or country – the Big Tree in Drumcondra closed down, which had been a great place for students who weren’t really interested in underground dance music. Now that’s a hotel as well.”
Another way to support Ireland’s thriving club scene is by going out and enjoying quality, inclusive club nights – like Marcus’ two – entirely separate – weekly events at Tramline: Hijinks and Sicko.
“There’s a misguided conception of what a ‘student night’ or a ‘student crowd’ is,” he claims . “What I’m trying to do with Hijinks and Sicko is change that a bit. I want to get people exposed to good music and a good atmosphere. To me, a club is a community-driven space that thrives on people actually meeting each other, dancing and bonding over the music.
“With Spotify and YouTube,” he adds, “you have this generation of young people who are incredibly musically educated. They’re not just landing in Dublin and getting exposed to music and clubs for the first time. They genuinely care about the music, the experience, and who’s playing.”
Community is also an integral part of both Hijinks and Sicko.
“In Hijinks and Sicko, we have a zero tolerance policy against discrimination and violence,” Marcus says. “We’ve created a community by people coming and bringing their friends, and that message also spreads. It’s a safe, inclusive space for people to mingle.
“Hijinks doesn’t have a strict music policy – other than quality dance music in the first room and party tunes in Room 2. We’ve had acts come in and play techno, breaks, house, disco. If it has a beat and it makes people move, then that’s all that matters.”
Sicko, meanwhile, has filled a critical gap in the market as a live hip-hop night.
“I started Sicko after noticing that these really talented hip-hop DJs and MCs weren’t getting the representation that dance nights were,” Marcus explains. “It’s a hip-hop night for people who genuinely love hip-hop. Lui Rwego is our resident DJ, and we’ve a couple of younger DJs below him. It’s a great community, with the same people coming back and bringing their friends. We have people from all walks of life and all ethnicities coming together and just enjoying the music.”
He may be the head honcho of two outstanding club nights, but Marcus remains a sought-after DJ in his own right, and he’s ready to close out an intense summer in style at Electric Picnic.
“This summer I had a month-long residency in Vancouver with Hijinks, which was amazing, and I did a show in Vietnam too,” he says. “Since coming back here, I’ve played festivals pretty much every weekend. Electric Picnic will be the last one.
“I’m really excited to be playing the Heineken Live Your Music stage at Electric Picnic. Last year the set was one of my highlights, and this year I’m handing over to Maya Jane Coles, who’s a legend. I’ve played with her before and she’s just amazing.”
If that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he’s also found time to release an acclaimed podcast series with his girlfriend, Taz Kelleher. In The Shower With Taz and Marcus had a whopping 83 episodes in its first seasons, and brought the pair to Electric Picnic for a live show, as well as a national tour.
Marcus’s main focus, however, remains firmly on the club scene, and nurturing Ireland’s emerging talent.
“The Irish dance scene is in a really interesting place at the moment,” he says. “There’s never been a higher level of talent in the country, and there are so many amazing acts making waves internationally – which is phenomenal to see. We need to protect the ability for that to happen. To do that, we need to protect the places where we listen to that music, and we need to build up a strong support system for the younger people coming up through that.”
To which we can only add: Amen. Go forth and multiply, dance fiends...