We’re no stranger to the alarming trend of cultural erosion but last week, Dublin’s clubbing culture community was dealt a body blow that has left the city reeling. The Bernard Shaw, a beacon of our city’s culture, buzz, independence and soul, announced it was to close its doors after thirteen booming years. This is the same fate suffered by Hangar and Tivoli, both functioning theatres and later much-loved club spaces that saw many’s the heavy hitter lug a bag of vinyl (evolving to USBs) through the doors over the years. But, while those losses were painfully felt, the closure of the Shaw feels like a personal attack on a community already being persecuted by city overlords determined to build hotels on our habitat.
Welcome to hotelification. What was once a neologism has now become a grim reality, brick by generic brick. This time last year, 79 hotels were approved for development, and they’ve taken over the city like it’s a Monopoly board and they’re your cheating cousin.
If only this were as inconsequential as Monopoly, but the hotelification of our living breathing city is as real as it gets.
Why is this happening to us? Why our clubs, why our pubs?? Andrea Horan of 'No More Hotels' said: “Too many cultural hubs in Dublin have been bulldozed to make way for just-for-profit hotels. When it comes to planning and legislation, clubbing isn’t considered culture. The city is losing her late-night soul. We want to emphasise that clubbing is culture."
Is seems that at the moment, Dublin’s hotel horn is rivalling the spire and it’s showing no signs of softening. This of course bleeds into the bigger picture, making living and renting borderline untenable at this stage.
Blindboy Boatclub this week posted this enquiry for an upcoming podcast about the exorbitant cost of living in the city, and was also vocal on the hotelification issue in the wake of the Shaw’s demise.
So what the hell are we doing about it??
Certainly, despite the best efforts of the circumstances being levelled at us, there’s a war afoot.
In the post announcing their closure, The Bernard Shaw cited the fight ahead and summed up the emulsion of despair and hope that swirling in the minds of an entire cultural community that spans this city and beyond, and crosses into more than one generation of young people:
"Dublin is changing, we can all see and feel it but we are going nowhere & we won't go down without a fight. We'll start something else, somewhere else [ plans are afoot ] , and keep fighting the good fight. There are so many young creative, clever, smart people in Dublin & Ireland at the moment - there's lots to be optimistic about - but they need the spaces to meet each other, make plans, and make them happen!"
The irreverently-named club night, No More Hotels, the brainchild of Andrea Horan, was quick off the mark with this delightfully placed hoarding poster bearing nothing more than their name outside The Bernard Shaw last week.
And, it’s in these acts of resistance that we can see the sense of hope and readiness for battle is definitely burning brightly. With each continuing blow, nightlife advocates and activists have gotten creative, and the culture around nightlife has become more ‘underground’. The number of illegal and sober rave events are rising while BYOB initiatives, donation based events and crowd-sourced offerings (like Sofar Sounds) have succeeded phenomenally on a global scale.
We’ve taken a look at what London, Amsterdam and Moscow have done when faced with the same attempts at eroding their spaces, and of course at our own Give Us The Night, who are spearheading the movement to reclaim agency over our clubbing culture at the highest level of legislature.
It’s not just us dealing with this issue, as we’re about to demonstrate, but we’re not giving up, the battle is alive and as long as our hearts keep pumping to fight the system, we’ll keep dancing to the beat of it.
BATTLING TO KEEP NIGHTLIFE ALIVE
WTF are we gonna do?
“This response perfectly encapsulates everything the electronic music community represents.” - Fabric nightclub, on the #SaveFabric campaign of 2016
As a response to the lack of provisions for nightlife culture today, young people are getting active.
#SaveFabric was an activism campaign, led by fans of the club, that kicked off in the UK to rescue a beloved, globally recognised clubbing institution. #SaveFabric highlighted the importance of nightlife culture, and the effectiveness of people willing to stand up for it.
After a recent series of club closures in Ireland, leaving lots of young people without a clubbing home, there has been a resurgence in support for Give Us The Night, a group seeking to develop the nighttime economy. It has been incredibly well received by an eager young audience who are getting involved in the action, opposed to the homogenisation of venues and bars as promoters and businesses are afraid to take creative risks.
“It stands to reason that with longer and more flexible opening hours for all night-time businesses, that this will improve employment opportunities, and incentivise more businesses to open. What good is all of this tourism we're having if we're shutting down our towns and cities so early?” - Sunil Sharpe, promoter and campaigner with Give Us The Night
Amsterdam has also been leading by example with their nightlife policies encompassing a 24 hour licensing law and a Night Mayor to oversee the process. They have created a flexible 24-hour alcohol license but only for 10 bars and clubs and these venues are not located in the city centre - they are cultural spaces outside of the city and it is at their own discretion whether they stay open all night.
“The night mayor of Amsterdam acts as a representative for the city's nightlife scene, liaising between the entertainment industry and the mayor and city council. Mirik Milan, who held the title previously, helped bring 24-hour licenses to Amsterdam along with hosting several international summits on nightlife, entertainment and culture.” Resident Advisor
These movements campaign for policies to be put in place that support the creative sector and make it more commercially viable and sustainable.There’s a strong commercial argument to be made for the provision of nightlife culture and spaces - even outside of cities that strive to prioritise nightlife like London, Amsterdam and Berlin.
The UK’s nightlife faced recent challenges such as a curfew in the Hackney district and a huge decrease in clubs between 2005 and 2015. But their capital city has adapted by appointing a Night Czar, Amy Lamé. Since 2016 she has continuously worked towards having a thriving 24-hour city with the support of London Mayor Sadiq Khan working towards a safe, sustainable model. Now, London’s nighttime economy is estimated to contribute £17- £26.bn in Gross Value Added to the UK economy, and to directly support 723,000 jobs.
In some of these more advanced cities where people are turning to for inspiration, we’re now seeing cultural institutions like the Tate respond, by creating opportunities for nightlife culture to thrive. We’re also seeing steps being taken to protect iconic nightlife venues by giving them legal benefits (for example, Berghain club in Berlin gets the same tax relief as a ‘high art’ institution). Some innovative promoters/venues like Printworks in London have also channeled this activist energy and taken the opportunity to ‘hack’ nightlife culture and overcome restrictions by finding new spaces and putting on ‘nighttime’ events during the day.
DEMAND FOR FREEDOM
Part of youth nightlife activism is about making going out at night feel safe. In a time when governments are feeling the economic squeeze these movements ask for policy to use the nighttime economy as a viable solution to other political and societal problems, like social inclusion. Young people want authentic new experiences and for them to be facilitated as safely as possible. New initiatives aimed at ensuring people feel safe on an evening out are cropping up, such as ‘safe spaces’ at events. These can either be physical spaces where someone can go if lost or feeling a bit out of sorts or the ethos of the event is a safe space, where people can go knowing there’s no judgement, freedom to be yourself and often no phones such as at Grace Club in Dublin or in one of Berlin’s most popular clubs, Berghain.
Russian authorities are notorious for unpredictably lashing out towards cultural initiatives, and have shut down countless raves, hip hop concerts, and even art exhibitions. As a result, Russia is experiencing a nightlife revolution as they fight for LGBT+ rights. There are some LGBT+ club nights, such as PopOff Kitchen in Moscow, who are working hard to keep the scene alive and offer a safe space for expression and socialising under the guise of running a culinary event. Their leaning towards electronic music joins the dots amongst the global clubbing community who show huge support. But there is still a way to go. It is in conservative heartlands such as Samara, where the LGBT+ community is most at risk. In a city of over 1 million there is only one LGBT night and it is hidden from the public for fear of attack.
Elsewhere, the ‘Ask Angela’ campaign takes on issues of sexual assault in a forward-thinking way by confronting the fact that there are dates that turn weird or people you can meet that feel threatening. This simple idea is a great resource for both the general public and bar staff to open up the conversation on when things get a little weird. Another resource is the ‘Good Night Out Campaign’ which offers training and services to help the industry modernise their processes to ensure everyone has a safe night out.
The essence of nightlife activism is found in valuing collaboration and community: “People are more conscious of how they spend their money and the types of industry they support. The clubs and promoters that are doing well are the ones that give back to the community. To do what they do well, they need to gain the trust of their local government which allows them to put on nights their audience seek. For nighttime culture to evolve there's a lot of trust to build both from government and entrepreneurs.” - TJ, Event Manager, Thinkhouse
From a lack of spaces to later opening hours or more inclusive spaces, there are a myriad of reasons as to why young people are voicing their concern about nightlife culture. The demand for better nighttime culture has created a surge of alternative events, with community groups finding new spaces to socialise.
The bottom line is, young people recognise that a healthy club culture scene is not just about having a good time or hedonism for a few hours. It’s about community and focusing on the things that matter. Rich nightlife cultures can lead to more socially inclusive cities - the power of a night out not to be underestimated.