As the Audi Dublin International Film Festival approaches we’re particularly excited for a new documentary called ‘Notes on Rave in Dublin’.
It’s a film, in association with Rabble, that takes a glimpse at birth of Dublin’s underground club culture.
It’s a “a story of how an underground works, mutates and survives” and a self-described roller coaster ride through the birth pangs of the Irish dance music scene.
We caught up with the director James Redmond ahead of next Friday’s release date.
James, tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I’m a thirty million year old founding member of the Rabble Collective. I have a background in alternative and community media, things like Indymedia.ie and Dublin Community Television (an effort at establishing an outlet on cable for various, lesser heard communities of interest in the Dublin region) which is where this project (Notes on Rave in Dublin) had its origins.
What were all your roles in creating the documentary?
I directed it, researched it and largely edited the whole thing as it stands now with a few people helping me along the way at different stages.
We just about got it across the final line for ADIFF there with a tremendous amount of effort put in by two good mates. Richie Price (who folk might know from the Kaboogie parties) brought his dub mixing genius to the project and Tom McDermott came in as an online editor and did some serious slog whipping things into shape for the big screen.
What was the idea and inspiration behind the project?
I guess it always struck me that there was an interesting research seam to be tapped into around the whole rave explosion in Dublin that could allow you to look at the city through the experiences of a particular cultural movement.
There were always these little nuggets you’d hear off people like clubbing stories of Tony Gregory going into the Mansion House during a rave or just the notion the Ragga Twins in there.
In college Slate Magazine offered me a peak into a scene that was probably in the last stage of its life cycle then. The clubbing columns were vital to the magazine, Power FM was still operating on a strong signal and the Creation raves and beach parties were a pretty recent memory and occurrence.
I think the digital era allowed things to sort of take on a life of their own with influences and connections on the home front becoming less pronounced. Part of me didn’t really like this erasing of cultural memory. It’s pretty easy to talk about the legacies of other cities like Bristol, Berlin, Manchester, London, even somewhere like Sheffield but it’s like Dublin is denied an awareness of its own dance music history or worse, it’s just happy to plead ignorance about it. // I’m not interested in making arguments about here versus there, I just think if you don’t know your own history then you are in a pretty weak place to be doing anything.
How did it feel to make the selection for the Dublin International Film Festival?
Good, but I was fearful. It was a moment of large doubt and also of dependency on other folk to really get it across the line.
There was an inevitable element of relief as well in having something of an end in sight. There were a few false dawns along the years; I’ve a calendar on a wall at home from 2013 with a set of dates indicating a final run in on the doc.
The ADIFF festival this year just seemed like a natural fit. The project had matured and was ready. We’d done our best with it.
I’d honestly have just gone and arranged a screening and a gig in a backroom and put the whole thing up on YouTube if it came to it.
Talk us through the research you undertook.
In the early days of the doc I interviewed people who were coming up in a new wave of contemporary producers, club night promoters and label heads but I felt that that stuff hadn’t matured yet. I found the real story arc in the original surge from the early 90s up to the tail end of the Creation raves and DEAF.
I watched a lot of music documentaries. I wanted something more than just hands-in-the-air club clips with whatever the latest banger is chugging along underneath it and a rake of DJs being interviewed behind the scenes.
I went back to a few people to get something warmer for the viewer and did my best to avoid cliché clips of trains with graffiti but in the end the trains went in. Who doesn’t like day dreaming out the window of a train looking at the city roll by?
I wanted the documentary to stand as a contribution to social history as much as anything. I wanted it to validate the experiences people from these scenes had and recognise their cultural contributions because it really is still pushed aside in favour of boys with guitars.
A huge props has to be given to Aoife Ni Canna, Garry O’Neill, John Braine and Paul Tarpey and Tonie Walsh, to Slate who pieced together something of a more sarcastic account of those years, to the massive threads on Boards.ie and to Pearse St Library which provided a great space to go to and tear through papers from the period to see how the authorities handled elements of the scene I was also lucky enough to stumble upon a rake of old Hot Press magazines down in Carlow that painted a few pictures for me too.
Did you learn anything that surprised you?
I think if you are willing to be mad enough to take a risk on something in Dublin people will generally give a dig out and be supportive to get it across the line.
I’m struck by just how bored we have become in comparison to the excitement people felt back then. It’s a bit of a tired and worn old theme but when you’ve spent about five years listening to people reminisce in warm nostalgia about “the complete culture shift” as Fiona McPhillips calls it in the trailer, then it’s kind of hard not to focus on that.
It definitely feels like we are living the best of our weekends out in the shadows of something that came before. Like someone said, we’re nostalgic for a time we’ve never known and that limits our ability to push things forward and imagine a future of our own creation.
Something really central for me too was just how hard it is to build and sustain institutions in Ireland. I don’t want to make any direct comparison but if you think about Rinse FM being founded in 1994 and Power FM in around the same time you can see two very different trajectories. Power FM was and is brilliant and as far as I know never got a real license, it basically never got a look in. While Rinse was eventually able to get a community license and become an engine of London culture.
Coming back to clubbing, I think our licensing set up and The 1935 Dance Hall Act both play a huge part in depriving people of the ability to make cash through running events. The early part of the doc looks at the instrumental role a club called Flikkers played in providing a cash cow to the nascent gay liberation movement. It effectively paid the mortgage on a building and seeded the whole thing.
Mash this in with the force of emigration and a lack of a social base and our scenes are always left starting again and that’s probably not very healthy overall is it?
What can viewers look forward to in this documentary?
There’s a lot of really good anecdotes and storytelling in it. I really just stood back and let them do their thing and a lot of it is really warm and personable.
People might be surprised by how rich the cultural legacy around dance music is in Dublin. It’s like a universe that’s rarely been tapped into for reference and while it holds memories for folk of a certain generation it’s never really had the interest of the young heads who always think they are the first to do anything.
For anybody out there starting labels, setting up radio stations, going through the hump of renting back rooms so them and their mates have a place to go then there’s probably lots of experiences in this that will chime through.
It’s important as well that the city recognises its own unique heritage but unfortunately it sometimes gets drowned out by the noise and the constant tendency to gaze in wonderment at the greener grasses of yonder or choke to death on another bullshit listicle about not getting into Berghain or something.
Notes on Rave in Dublin is showing in the Lighthouse Theatre as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on Friday 24 and Sunday 26 February. Both shows are sold out but we will keep you up to date on any future showings announced.