Cellar, Dublin’s go-to location for high-quality grassroots Irish techno, has gone from strength to strength since its inception in February 2022. Ireland’s post-pandemic answer to soaring ticket prices, headliner-driven lineups & the overall commodification of Dublin’s techno community operates every single week with no frills, just quality music guaranteed.
Operating on the grounds of what once was the fabled Dublin nightclub institution, The Kitchen, Cellar now finds itself in a peculiar position over two decades later, picking up the pieces of what once was an illustrious space for Irish dance music. While Cellar leaves little to no reference to its predecessor in its marketing or promotion, there’s an undeniable air of nostalgia & history that seeps through the walls of 8 East Essex Street, Temple Bar.
Cellar’s unadorned style of night-time escapism seems like somewhat of a tribute to Ireland’s golden age of dance music. However Cellar’s lead booking manager Sam Greenwood for the late night Saturday parties has no qualms with Ireland’s club culture as of 2023, and no aspirations to relive Dublin’s heyday for rough & ready techno parties, he just simply books what he likes. Taking the focus away from the aesthetic of nightlife, Greenwood is adamant about creating a space that’s focal point surrounds the idea of good music & nice people… utter simplicity.
“We have an unreal soundsystem, a dim red bulb and an occasional strobe. What more could you possibly need for a techno party“ – Sam Greenwood.
When you look at Cellar, it’s hard to not see Greenwood’s inspirations littered throughout the space & ethos of the venue. Straight-up techno has always been his thing and he’s one of the very few that has never deviated from this idea. Sam has been involved in spearheading a number of clubs, publications, artists and brands into new territories with forward-thinking initiatives and a no-holds-barred approach to business. But when you look past his achievements & accolades in dance music, you notice everything has and always will boil down to bare-boned techno in no-nonsense dance music spaces.
“I’ve always felt that all venues are simply four walls. All you need is a soundsystem and nice people to make a party. We don’t have nor want big fancy visuals, LED screens or smoke cannons, it’s simply not what the venue is about, nor the particular sound of techno I’m promoting in the space, which to be honest is an extension of my youth. Loops, hypnotic and fast-driven techno.”
While Cellar lies on the grounds of The Kitchen, it somewhat feels like the successor to a similarly seminal Dublin nightclub, Hangar. Greenwood notably worked as the head techno booker at Hangar for many years and built the space with a team from the ground up into what would become a hugely influential club from 2014 to 2018. The loss of Hangar signalled the end of an era in Dublin nightlife, as did the loss of District 8 a year later. From 2019 Dublin’s club culture lay in limbo, struggling to find its feet and attempting to repair the damage at the hands of a lack-lustred government that failed to recognise to the importance of nightclub spaces. Although Cellar is far from the sequel to the Hangar story, it certainly feels like an extension of Greenwood’s vision for Dublin nightlife.
“Being involved in Hangar was a terrifyingly fun and often incredibly stressful and emotional experience. I look back on the time with fondness and also huge levels of anxiety, to be honest. When shows were good, it was so unbelievably good, when it was bad, which often doesn’t get shouted about, it was truly bad and the financial strain booking international acts was like nothing I’ve experienced before.”
“So as you can tell from the above, it would need to be something pretty special to get me back on the horse. When I was asked by Trev Radiator along with the EVE collective to come and take a look at the venue as he had a few ideas, I left the meeting already saying thanks, but no thanks in my head, however, stepping into a venue which is steeped in history and hearing his excitement for the place, my mind was swayed almost instantly. His ideas for the space, the look, the sound, the simplicity all aligned”.
Towards the tail end of Hangar’s existence, Sam wanted to push the boat out a little when it came to putting Irish acts on a pedestal in club spaces. Maybe it was his last dying wish for the space or perhaps it was just the right time as a fresh crop of Irish acts were coming through the club at this time. But what we do know is that when the venue was gearing up for its funeral, Irish artists were playing the bagpipes. This time signified a new era for artists such as KETTAMA, Tommy Holohan, George Feely, Karl Guest & DART had their day in the sunshine as headline acts, a somewhat new phenomenon in Irish club culture.
Four years on from the death of Hangar, Greenwood announced a new space which would follow in the same vain, but this time, every single week. “Since Hangar closed Ireland hasn’t had a such a space that prioritised Irish artists solely week in week out, so Dublin was crying out for a venue that could act as that platform.”
Night manager Nathan Clare shares a similar adoration for championing local talent through his work as a DJ, promoter, journalist and booking agent. Nathan act’s as Sam’s right-hand man, overseeing the nights and helping to curate weekly lineups.
“There is no scene without local, plain and simple. It needs spaces, collectives and artists to keep coming through for it to flourish. With Cellar taking place every week it provides a platform for so many artists to push the boundaries a bit more compared to if they’re usually seen as playing opening or support slots for international artists. Hearing some of these acts (Ayolxi for example) playing closing slots in Cellar allows locals to play the lucrative slots every week and does go to show that when given the opportunity these acts can perform as well as, if not better than their international counterparts.” – Nathan Clare.
The idea of making Irish act’s the headliner, week in, week out plays into the minimalistic charm of Cellar. Local scenes start with grassroots acts, and without nourishing these communities, the scene becomes an uncontrollable and unrecognisable machine that only functions on the basis of a one-night stand-styled headliner. Booking international act’s is no crime to any stretch of the imagination, Irish nightclubs have been welcoming international guests for decades, but if you fail to support grassroots parties, the constant rotation of international acts becomes an ungovernable cycle of unsustainable club shows.
Trends come and go, and some of the most prolific and substantial names within electronic music fizzle out & become disposable, this is the lay of the land within contemporary dance music, and the wheel spins that much quicker in 2023. Relying on one hype to the next leaves our clubbing culture in a dilemma when you think about our communities durability, which can fold in on itself alongside the hype train is follows. Cellar proudly acts as an opponent to the ceaseless succession of international bookings.
“Irish venues have the power to make Irish artists household names and offer that vital experience needed to learn how to warm up, hold a crowd and close a night out, but often larger venues are under immense pressure to book headliners every week. Whereas Cellar is an intimate space where we can give an opportunity and platform to local artists and collectives who are killing it right now and deserve a shot.” – Sam Greenwood.
Cellar’s straight-to-the-point styled interior and layout make for a relaxed environment for dancers to feel comfortable losing themselves for a few hours. A cheap entry fee, no bullshit, no cameras and no egos create a house party-style feel within the venue. The space is clad as if it’s an upmarket cocktail bar, but once the lights are dimmed it’s as gritty as they come. The basement does not look like your traditional club, in fact, it feels like you shouldn’t be there at all. There’s something that’s a little deviant about the space, the kind of room where you can cathartically relinquish any worries from outside those four walls for those celestial few hours.
“The decor and general interior of the club really does add to the atmosphere too. It’s swanky, which is something people don’t typically associate with techno but I do think it juxtaposes itself rather well. When people see the carpet and all the other furnishings around the venue it has been associated with being a strip club quite a bit, especially when combined with the phone cameras being covered which is quite funny.” – Nathan Clare
Cellar is the only Dublin club space that religiously practices a no-camera policy on a weekly basis. The idea is a little removed from modern-day Irish club culture and is more associated with club spaces in Berlin. The no-camera policy adds to the overall allure of Cellar and makes the basement slightly left-field from its local competitors. Without word of mouth the party would cease to exist, if you want to experience Cellar, you need to be there in the flesh. The club lives in a dystopian style land of folklore as DJs and dancers recount nights of fevered raving without any video evidence to show it actually happened, once again feeding back into the simplistic and enigmatic approach to dance music that Greenwood craves.
“Each time I’ve played in the cellar I’ve had a lot of fun, it’s definitely one of my favourite venues in Dublin at the minute. For me, one thing that makes the cellar unique is the no camera policy, it creates a more intimate vibe for everyone.” – Shannen Blessing
“Cellar is up there with my first party I ran in Cambridge called The Priory. The smoking ban hadn’t kicked in and mobile phones were shit, so there was no one taking pictures or filming, the dance floor was jammers and when the tunes dropped, everyone was engaged and electric. Obviously, in Cellar it’s a camera-free zone and it echoes that same feel. Cellar is its own thing and its own experience. It’s a modern-day techno party, but everyone is there for a buzz and no one wants to film it. People just want to dance.”
The Cellar’s nonchalant attitude breeds creativity, it feels like a space DJs can be themselves and play not only for the crowd but for themselves, an indulgent style of creativity which can be difficult to navigate in many spaces. Cellar regular Aeron XTC echoes this message – “It’s a true place of music, a great sound system and a place where I think you see people play their truest sets.”
“The city has been ravaged, so many clubs closed down and too much red tape in the way of opening anything reasonable up. The Cellar gives a platform to some of the best labels, producers and DJs in the city who might otherwise struggle to be heard live. It’s a place of real culture, and you can feel that when you’re on the dancefloor.”
Cellar act’s as a refuge for Irish artists, it’s a safe space where people can learn, experiment and grow. In many ways Cellar is more than a venue, it’s a statement of intent from the team, a simplistic and stripped-back approach to dance music events. Cellar operates in its own often stubborn fashion, unwilling to conform to the excessive exteriors of its competitors, the teams’ stiff-necked mentality is creating a space that very much operates in its own lane. Often times it’s more difficult to take the simplistic approach when the attraction of the inordinate surrounds your very being, the temptation to stray away from your belief system can seem so seductive, but with a bullheaded approach dance music events Cellar remains sincere to it’s ethos – a party for people who want to dance.
“I can’t stress how important a venue like Cellar is in Dublin. It’s essentially a breeding ground for new talent. Every city needs a venue like that, otherwise we’d never allow people to grow. A strict no phones policy allows people to express themselves freely within the venue – what every club should be about in my opinion. A huge reason why I like to come back to Dublin and play cellar every now and then is solely down to the culture of the club. Long live cellar and everyone involved in the venue!” – DART.