When we think of gay and Queer musicians we often jump to people like Freddie Mercury – the lead singer of Queen, and singer Hayley Kiyoko, but on our own doorstep there are people making huge strides in the Irish music scene, fighting for the life of Dublin nightlife and LGBTQ+ culture.
Conor Kelly caught up with some of the creatives in the scene who bring people together through their art and music. Both Grace club and Mother club have been hugely influential, prioritising Queer musicians and creating a space for Queer people to feel safe from discrimination. He also speaks to musician Tonie Walsh, who can only be best described as a pioneer of the Irish LGBTQ+ community and RuPaul Ryder, drag performer extraordinaire.
I caught up with Calo, David and Stevie – the people behind Grace club about what they’ve done to create a space for Queer people and how the closures of popular nightclubs, such as The Wright Venue in 2019 has affected it.
Our aim has been to create a safer space where the whole community feels welcome. We listen to our critics and we adapt as we go. The club closures are tragic. The Tivoli (the old District 8) and Hanger were really great spaces and being central made them very accessible and they also felt like a more integrated component of Dublin culture.
Do you think that legislation could prevent the closures of any further nightclubs?
Maybe once we can dance again we can see a change in licensing laws? Who knows.
The licensing laws in Ireland are antiquated and it is hard to understand the motives for them. From an artistic perspective, longer hours would allow more opportunities for local DJs to perform, develop and grow. Legislation simply needs to allow longer hours, that is all.
Grace club provides a necessary place for the LGBTQ+ community to share a sweaty dance floor. The space is not homogeneous and creates opportunities for visibility and interaction.
We work with members of the community as much as possible – on the door, performing, as part of our awareness team etc.
Do you think LGBTQ+ musicians are appropriately represented in the mainstream music and club scene?
No and It’s very important to prioritise marginalised people like LGBTQ+, women and People Of Colour in the industry because the playing field has been too straight white cis male for too long. By actively prioritising these people it helps to foster a new and unique music community.
That’s really beautiful to be honest, it can be hard, even at the easiest times, to be a queer person in Ireland.
MOTHER CLUB – Cormac Cashman, Owner and Promoter
What is it like to be a club promoter in the LGBTQ+ community?
I guess it puts me in a position to see and interact with lots of different people from our community that I mightn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to, people from different backgrounds, different stories etc. We’re such a fucking cool and diverse bunch of people and its a privilege to get to work in the middle of that.
As you are aware substance abuse/usage is a big problem in the Queer community, do you think it’s important that clubs, bars and events recognise the importance of campaigns to reduce the risk of drug use?
Yes, substance abuse is a big problem in the LGBTQ+ community and I think that harm reduction campaigns are vital to nightlife, but it’s often so difficult to know what works. Is a poster on the wall of the club toilets going to have a tangible effect on someone’s drug use? Probably not. Of course we have signage and campaign material in the clubs and at the bigger events regularly, but knowing its effectiveness is almost impossible. Unless the posters are just one prong of a larger targeted national campaign they’re not going to have much effect and the people falling foul of the drugs they’re using are going to continue to fall through the cracks. Bars and clubs and Queer spaces have always been vital for the community so it’s absolutely necessary for those spaces to be on board with campaigns to help that community. Looking at things like how effective in-club outreach could be, maybe drug testing on site, and peer-to-peer support in these environments are all factors in making sure LGBTQ+ people have the tools available to them to try to combat the problem. So yes, but in more ways than just posters I guess.
Why did you and the team at Mother club decide to create the Love Sensation music festival?
The team decided to create the Love Sensation festival because we have been doing shows at other festivals for almost a decade, and our Pride Block Party had evolved into a festival size event itself, so the next natural progression just felt like a stand alone Queer music festival. We’d wanted to run our own festival for years, and there was something very appealing about creating a massive Queer space right in the city centre, where everything from the talent to the security to the toilets were set up in a way that catered for and made a safe and fun environment for our Queer family and allies. All of us together in a field dancing, I mean, how could we not try to set that up!.
As a Dj how much has the Irish music industry changed since the 1980’s?
The main difference I have noticed being a DJ now and the 1980s is that we are in an age of some really advanced technology. Everything else remains the same. To be a DJ, all one needs is good timing and a desire to entertain. And the ability to sniff out the gems. I have a clear memory of migrating from shitty, belt-drive Citronic decks to Technics 1200s in, eh, 1981 or perhaps 1982, and the joy of proper cueing and mixing on direct drive platters. Beat mixing is a great skill, now made easier by technology. One still needs to have a sharp ear for a good choon and know when to drop it’’.
Since the emergence in the late ’70s of dance clubs and more, better-organised live venues, the Irish music industry has grown immeasurably. People, on the whole, are more professional, and making music and entertaining people are considered real – “proper”- career choices. Heck, there are even college courses on every aspect of music production and promotion, event management and the like. That said, a combination of factors familiar to many – high rents, restrictive licensing laws, scarcity of venues – make it increasingly hard to sustain a viable income from running or promoting clubs.
Photo credit: Luca Truffarelli
At the last club I ran with percussionist Jay Williams, a house night at Dublin’s Switch called ‘Foot Fetish’, the writing was on the wall in 2007 as we faced into The Great Recession. It’s no coincidence that Sunil Sharpe and the guys at Bodytonic pushed out the #GiveUsTheNight campaign around the same time, but we’ve still a way to go on the issue of licensing. Until there’s a level playing field between bars, bars masquerading as dance clubs and club venues themselves, forget about the scene growing. It would help if more of our councillors and legislators actually frequented late-night venues or understood the value of a night time economy, culturally, socially and economically.
All the signs right now, with some notable exceptions, say they don’t.
Whether it’s music or other socio-cultural reportage or something purely political that GCN platforms, it all has value when processed through a queer worldview. For too long, mainstream print and broadcast media ignored LGBTQ+ stories. They marginalised or worse trivialised the lived experience and battles of our sexual minorities. Lives lived on the margins – rich, varied and fascinating lives – were rarely, if ever documented and celebrated. When the mainstream ignored us, we had to look to our own people to not only resource our survival but to also bear witness to that process. There is extraordinary life (and creativity) on the margins and it’s hugely important that independent media like GCN survive to document it with honesty and clarity and celebration.
I saw that you are going to sell all your records collection from the last 40 years, what brought this about?
Yes, I was due to sell the collection at a very special #WhereWeLive event in Dublin’s Project towards the end of March and then a week later, relocate to Turkey to write full-time and be with my fella, Yasin. I had hoped to use the lockdown as a breathing space to finish digitising some of the rarer stuff and also putting a price on much of the uncatalogued stuff. Unfortunately, I was forced to put the vinyl into a Dublin storage facility and I’ve been unable to access it during lockdown.
As to letting go of the vinyl collection, it’s served its purpose. I’m no longer a jobbing DJ. I spend most of my hours at home listening to jazz, sleaze (electronica) or orchestral music. For the past year, I’ve been immersing myself in Turkish and Middle Eastern pop. Anyhoo, I’m excited at the thought of other people discovering some of the treasures and sonic riches buried in my record collection. Time to pass it on.
Why is your work with the Irish Queer archive an important asset in preserving Irish culture?
By its very nature, it’s mainly a repository for documents – print media, photos, posters, newsletters, etc. It does, however, have a significant Betamax and VHS video collection, along with a smaller collection of audio cassette tapes. The latter would be mostly interviewing and the like. It strikes me there’s a project in curating and preserving queer Irish music and performance.
PAUL RYDER, AKA RuPaul Ryder: Performer, Musician, Drag Queen and Choreographer
What does it mean to be a drag performer in Ireland since the 2015 marriage referendum?
I think first and foremost being a gay person since the marriage referendum has changed a lot of things. It has opened up a level of comfort within the community to embrace themselves and be who we are as people and live in Ireland very happily without checking ourselves. That in turn has made it easy to be a drag performer as the level of acceptance is so much more open’.
Photo credit: Kyran O’Brien
I think it is important for people to learn their creative sides from an early age for self exploration and to deliver a level of self confidence and assurance to take through life in whatever way it may be needed. Dance is just one aspect. There are so many ways we can give young people tools to find themselves and to lead their own happy life.
I have been part of the LGBTQ+ community since 2015 and I always wonder what Pride means to me, it means not having to hide my true self from anyone or anything, so when I was speaking to all these artists, promoters, club owners and all-round sound people I asked what does Pride means to them.
Calo, David and Stevie from Grace club
It is a safe place where we prioritise the needs of Queer people and marginalised artists who are not represented in the mainstream music industry.
Pride has its origins in protest, coming from the Stonewall riots in New York and the protests following the homophobic murder of Derek Flynn in Fairview Park in Dublin. We believe that Pride should continue to be an opportunity to protest and advance civil rights for the queer community and other marginalised groups as well as being a day of celebration when one can feel comfortable and safe being visibly queer. However, it has become dominated in recent years by corporations and government bodies who seem to use it as an opportunity to improve their public image.
Tonie Walsh, Dj, Performer, Activist, Godfather of Gay.
Pride is the tool we use to negotiate our self-awareness, our identity. Our realness.
Cormac Cashman speaking on behalf of himself and the team at Mother club, Sweatbox and Love Sensation.
Pride is a really important and visible statement of acceptance and respect. It’s transformative for the city and for its inhabitants. Younger LGBTQ+ folk see this and know they’re not alone and older LGBTQ+ people get to see the change they helped bring about, on the streets, marching as one – a community together in action. The Mar Ref showed that a vast majority of our fellow countrymen & women have our backs, but a good 38% of people still voted no, and our trans brother & sisters are still struggling for rights, acceptance and equality. Yes Pride is a day to celebrate all we have achieved, but it’s also a day to press on for more. We’re a community, and unless everyone in that community is equal, none of us are. So we keep marching‘’
Pride to me means celebrating with my friends, family and colleagues a day to be ourselves unapologetically, even more so than the other 364 days of the year. It’s bringing our community closer together along with our allies and showing an outside world how it is to love and be loved.
Music means a lot of different things to different people and that’s where I see the comparison between the music we listen to and the LGBTQ+ Pride because they both inspire us to be different and are instruments of change. Without music we would be a very dull society because it connects us all, irrelevant of what type of genres we listen to, because at the end of the day we’re not connected by the big things, we’re connected by the small things.
Before I finish, I just want to again thank those who took time of out their very busy schedules to talk to me about why Queer music and club culture is intrinsically important to the fabric of Irish society, its shaped us all unknowingly I think by providing us with the words to be free.