”..there is no more underground…”
Think about that sentence fragment for a second and try to comprehend the amount of misguided cultural blindness that was involved in writing it in a national newspaper. It’s quite staggering when you get into it. Imagine believing that what you know, what you see day-to-day, is all there is in the world. Didn’t the 20th century make the idea of the omniscient narrator pretty much obsolete? Someone wasn’t paying attention in those post-modernism lectures…
"The role of a club as somewhere to discover music is also now redundant. No sounds are underground any more, and the sensation of a big music scene coming from the clubs can’t happen because everything is easily discoverable thanks to the internet. The idea of going to a club to hear tunes you never heard before, sounds you never knew existed, tracks you’d be desperate to get the names of, is over."
Now imagine the same person writing the above paragraph in the same newspaper, scant ten months later. Now, it is one thing to once make giant sweeping claims about a scene you have barely dipped your toe in, but to repeat the mistake in such a hypocritical manner less than a year later is surely cause for reconsideration of one’s career choice.
The first quote is taken from Una Mullally’s reductive piece of nasty, self-interested pop journalism called "Is there anything pop won’t eat?". In it she attempts to show us the lay of the clubland, a place where all the kids want to do is listen to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and dance away their recession blues. For her, commercial pop music is “murdering house and techno”. “It’s fun, it’s frivolous” she says. “These kids don’t get dance music,” she says. “The clubs their peers are going to in London and Paris and Berlin are weird. They just want to dance to music they know. It’s remarkable: the trendiest places are playing the most mainstream sounds.” The trendiest place in from her point of view being WAR in Andrew’s Lane. Fair enough, it’s a pretty hopping spot of a Friday night.
You can read the rest of that article yourself, there’s too much in there for me to start ripping it apart here, where it is only a part of the point I want to make. At the time, it felt like a massive pot-shot at the amazing work so many people in this city do to bring the best quality dance music to Dublin, every single weekend of the year.
The second quote was pulled from another article fresh from the Mullally pen. "Has Dublin lost its groove?", she asks. Using the closure of Tripod as a base to work off, she goes on to decry the lack of clubs promoting the very best in dance music. Instead of a progressive, interesting and vibrant scene for top-quality house and techno (and garage, dubstep, hip-hop, etc.), she sees a wasteland of cheap shots and bootcut jeans, where herds of students are led from Tramco to Alchemy and back again by tasteless, evil Ents officers.
Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but does anyone else see a bit of a paradox here? Last April, pop was the beautiful beast devouring all forms of irrelevant music as the kids gobbled up 3 minute slices of mindless happiness before downing a shot or four and getting the shift. Now pop is the enemy, killing artistic expression in Dublin, making it too risky to put on more adventurous music that appeals to the more sophisticated ear. I’m not sure where she stands here. Her tune seems to have been well and truly changed.
Well, what she thinks doesn’t really bother me. Or at least it wouldn’t, if it wasn’t printed in a national newspaper. What’s really sad about this newest article is how close she comes to hitting the nail on the head, only to smash her fingers instead. Yes, the masses do go to pop clubs and drink cheap shots and pints. But surely that’s to be expected? It’s pop music, it’s for the masses. It’s for people who just want something they know on in the background so that they can feel confident in themselves and have a good time. That’s cool, it has its place. It also means it doesn’t really have anything much to do with the crowd who prefer to hear top quality DJs and great dance music. Dance music, like any other art form, is niche by virtue of taking time to get into properly. Getting into house and techno as a start, before splintering off into the hundreds of micro genres and sites of cross-pollination, will take a bit of effort. There is no single narrative. If you go to dance nights, you probably won’t already know most of what a great DJ is playing and you certainly won’t be able to Shazam it. Maybe it hasn’t been released. In this way it becomes about more than big tracks and big names; it’s about a group of people communicating with each other, led by a DJ who knows what they’re doing. It’s give-and-take, a two-way dialogue that makes it different, risky, euphoric and vital.
Once again, Una’s main flaw is the tunnel-vision she applies to looking at her subject. “The minute a great new track emerges everyone has it on their iPhones within a day or two,” she says. “ You can find out about far-flung emerging genres quickly, and churn them over just as easily. The idea of people queuing outside a record store (what few of them are left), or waiting weeks for the delivery of one track, or even actually spending money on music, is now quaint.” Explain that to the thousands of people who spend all their disposable income (and then some in most cases) on records, gigs and merch. Tell that to the people who comb Discogs, Ebay and record fairs in search of rare vinyl. What about the people who pre-order releases weeks in advance because they know they’ll sell out and many of them are never going to appear in a digital format? Sure, they’re never going to compete numbers-wise with the “lowest common denominator” approach of the super-clubs, but that’s just the way it is. It’s always been that way. It always will be and there’s no real reason to worry about it. Don’t fret, pet.
That being said, it seems particularly short-sighted to publish an article like the one in question on weekend where Benoit & Sergio/The Two Bears pack out the Button Factory and both Maya Jane Coles and Mmoths sell out the Twisted Pepper on two separate nights. The main reason to mourn the loss of Tripod is that Dublin now lacks a venue of that size for the big acts, not the assumption that it no longer needs one. Anyone keeping an eye on Thursday/Friday/Saturday night listings in Dublin with an ear for top quality club music will probably run out of money/energy long before they run out out of things to go to. A weekend where there’s nothing exceptional on is rare around these parts, largely thanks to the incredible team at Bodytonic. There wasn’t a single weekend between September and Christmas that I didn’t have something I wanted to see in the Twisted Pepper. Fear of missing out is matched by fear of burning out for anyone who is actually into dance music. Una has a point when she says that it’s difficult to keep these things going, she just loses it when she attempts to wrap it all up as an irrelevant little bundle, easily digestible for casual newspaper readers. It belittles the great things that are actually happening and that’s a real shame.
There is an underground out there, there always is. But it remains underground and it fights to stay that way. It takes work and effort to find it, to become involved with it, to stay in touch with it. It moves both faster and slower than the mainstream that Una talks about. It remains hidden away beneath blanket statements that don’t even include any quotes from the people actually involved. The more I read the article, the more I’m bemused by it. It’s so close to being right. The vast majority of it is sound logic and obvious reason; times are tough, it does take passion and energy to make things work, more people do listen to pop music than techno or crunkstep or moombathon or whatever. It’s just that the two paragraphs in the middle, beginning with “The role of a club as somewhere to discover music is also now redundant,” and finishing with “waiting weeks for the delivery of one track, or even actually spending money on music, is now quaint,” show such a huge ignorance towards what it means to be into dance music that the rest of the article falls apart in the wake of those few sentences.
Club music is aptly named. It’s a community and the community in Dublin is vibrant. That same community works so hard and stays so open to new people, new ideas and new challenges that they are a humbling example to us all. Those few people do more with their extraordinarily limited resources than anyone has the right to expect. Any price of time/money is matched by their desire and passion and that is matched in turn by a growing demand for great music and great nights out. It’s not going away, it’s getting stronger.
In fairness to her, she gets the last bit right: ”One thing is for sure, though: there will always be room on the dancefloor for quality music, for fun, and for promoters with a passion who are doing it for the love of it. The rewards are those epic nights where a club comes together as one, when music, people and a vibe magically combines.”
That much is true. It’s a shame about the rest.