Kenny Hanlon gets his tracksuit on for James Redmond’s documentary on 30+ years of Dublin rave and club culture.

When examining the history of modern-day club culture, one will often find minorities and those on the fringes of society to be at the epicentre of many of the most notable and important parties and spaces, from New York’s The Loft, Chicago’s Muzik Box, right through to the most famous modern techno club, Berlin’s Berghain.

So it should possibly come as no surprise that a club called Flikkers, based out of the LGBT community centre, Hirschfield Centre in Temple Bar, is what Notes on Rave in Dublin marks as year zero in the city’s own clubbing history. Yet compared with many well-worn anecdotes of formative clubs such as Sides and The Ormonde Civic Centre – both of which feature heavily – Flikkers is a lesser told story, and its inclusion is one of the prime examples as to why this debut feature documentary by James Redmond, that premiered recently at the Dublin International Film Festival, is justified in being made. Up until now, there has been no such film documenting Dublin’s some 30 year history of – underground – clubbing.

Seen through the eyes of Djs, promoters and dancers, the film attempts to weave a narrative from the early days of Flikkers in the late ’80s, to the increasingly splintered nightlife of the late ’90s through to the illegal raves that took place in and around the city in the early to mid ’00s.

The film is at its most involving and coherent as it traverses those emerging years featuring the aforementioned clubs, amongst others. With standout contributions from DJs (and national treasure) Tonie Walsh and Liam Dollard, it isn’t all just tired cliches and one can properly sense the thrills and wonderment of the dawning of what would end up being a huge cultural – and eventually, commercial – movement. It isn’t all sweaty hugs though, with the Hirschfield centre being closed due to a fire that was possibly the result of an attack emanating from a still conservative, homophobic society.

Indeed, it’s how clubbing collides with an outside world that doesn’t know what to make of it that gives the film some of its best and most incisive moments. Be it the bizarro world raves in the Mansion House, and the Gardai’s – positive – reaction to a room full of pilled-up youngsters from all walks of life, or gangs starting to infiltrate clubs such as The Asylum and the resulting, heavy handed reaction from the Courts, we are reflecting on a generation as they clash head on with a country that is still in the throes of conservatism and the catholic church. The glint in the eye from the likes of DJ and promoter Francois Pitton as he regales similar stories lends the story humour and a broader appeal for those who weren’t there to witness these happenings at the time.

The film, unfortunately, becomes unstuck in the second half as it both veers away from talking directly about the clubs – moving on to the record shops, radio stations and music production that resulted from this first wave of clubbing – while also tries to keep track of an ever disparate club scene. The casual viewer would find it hard to keep track of who everyone is and what their part was in everything or how important it is and, for example the story of Power FM, Dublin’s most well known pirate station of the time, is probably best suited to its own film. There is still much of note to take in; the commercialisation of the culture, the big drinks branding which, due to the current state of clubbing, are still highly relevant topics. The innocence and, without sounding too twee, purity was gone and, for some of those interviewed, gone forever.

The illegal raves that the film ends on shows that some of those featured were more talking about the end of their own youth than anything else. The art of dancing in a darkened room all night is, for many, a pursuit of youth and it is still an important part of the fabric of Dublin city. One can make the argument that the fragmentation of the parties that is looked upon with regret in the film has helped to formulate a current environment that is positive in its disparity.

Dublin will never be associated with any defining sound compared with cities like Detroit or Berlin, making its history and narrative that little bit harder to gather under easily consumed sound bites, but Notes on Rave in Dublin is a solid – and at times fascinating – start.

Kenny Hanlon

Notes on Rave in Dublin screened on Friday, 24th February 2017 and Sunday 26th February 2017 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival

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