I can’t say I was hugely surprised with the news that Bodytonic’s Twisted Pepper will be closing its doors this week. Even though it is Dublin’s most well known and highly regarded dance club of the last ten years it also felt like its time, in its current incarnation, was up. Clubbing – and Dublin – has changed a lot in its tenure and the appeal of the big room dj spectacle has replaced the intimacy and low ceilings of the pepper.
Twisted Pepper arrived in the midst of a recession and was sorely needed; it also felt unique in that it was run by clubbers & djs and they constantly worked at refining it to be an optimum space for experiencing this music. It’s location on one of the less fashionable streets on the city’s northside didn’t matter and while it had competition, it soon took centre stage in the clubbing scene. There was always the detractors and the moaners but it will generally be looked back upon with much fondness by most who have gone dancing over the last 7 years and it and Bodytonic were hugely influential on the newer breed of promoters in the city.
Now that the good times are – supposedly – back the focus has changed to the big room side of things. This can be looked upon favourably, there is currently a huge audience for dance music and this is reflected in the over-crowded weekly listings and the success of new clubs on the southside such as District 8 – the opening of this was in itself a bold move – and Opium Rooms. But sometimes scenarios like this can become restrictive. Bankable big names, many of them expensive and/or repeat bookings are required; for the larger spaces on-trend sounds that must be able to fill the room are desired, the cult of the Dj personality you can watch on a stage. It’s no surprise that so much house and techno music at the moment has such a strong whiff of prog about it.
For those working on the fringes it becomes harder to compete, those looking to bring new sounds and artists to the fore. One of the reasons Gary’s Gang, a monthly party I ran with some friends, finished recently was due to the amount of competition out there. A small free party that focuses on locals / residents and up ‘n coming, lesser known international acts is a hard sell – and we felt the party had run its course too. Others are continuing with a similar approach but they will all attest to how difficult it is. Twisted Pepper closing, as we see such big changes in the clubbing landscape, is very timely. But it also leaves us down a great small / mid-sized space, which there are already few of in the city.
The ever-expanding Festival circuit, quite a lot of if it currently dance music focused, highlights the above issues too. The recent launch of the Metropolis Festival is very much a sign of the times. Under the headings “Music, Performance, Conversation, Installation” its early teasers piqued the interest of many and subsequent announcements have seen the festival build up a wealth of traction and ticket sales. It’s headliner is Chic, a beginners-guide-to disco act that have played Ireland no less than 16 times in the last 6 or 7 years, including 3 other festivals. Quite a few of the other performers booked to play have already done so here in the last 12-18 months and are proven crowd pullers and staples of Dublin’s nightlife for years.
Metropolis is a huge undertaking both in cost and capacity and the obvious – and fully qualified – counter argument to any criticisms of a somewhat safe booking policy is that risks need to be reduced and a somewhat middle of the road line up is needed to guarantee interest – and the choices being made are the correct ones, financially. It should also be noted that the festival has not completed its line up yet, so there is still scope for more adventurous bookings. Running at a different time of year and being indoors is what is currently setting it apart from other festivals; what else it offers differently outside of this is still up for grabs. But this is partying on a grand scale and its big business, possibly bigger than ever before. One doesn’t start small, one goes in big from the get go.
We have entered a new phase in the storied history of Dublin clubbing and the next few years are going to be interesting, just how interesting is still up for debate though.