For this next edition of our Local Focus series, Four/Four contributo Mark Davis has sat down to document the promoters & collectives who have been running parties and initiatives that have been at the forefront of inclusion and queerness throughout their work in the dance music scene here in Ireland.
Within Ireland’s dance music scene we have seen a much needed sense of diversity and inclusion in recent years whether it be between line ups, collectives, venues, promoters, parties and more. It is safe to say that dance music and club culture has always been an inclusive output for people to enjoy in Ireland.
It is also of upmost importance for one to recognise dance music’s queer and black roots originating from pioneers in Detroit, Chicago and New York City, and that electronic music has and always will be an integral part of LGBTQ+ culture. Within the music’s origins in clubs, they became spaces for freedom, community and self expression and they provided a space for marginalised individuals to be themselves without persecution or judgement that they may face in other spaces. We also cannot forget some of the queer pioneers of dance music who left everlasting influences on our scenes and sounds such as Patrick Cowley, Sylvester, Frankie Knuckles, Derrick Carter, Larry Levan, Tony De Vit, SOPHIE and much much more.
Nowadays in our local dance music scene, we can see options for queer parties happening every so often with a span of genres and sounds from Mother’s offering of house and disco all the way on the contrast with Grace Club’s offering of Industrial and Hard Techno, and we can also see inclusive initiatives such as Skin&Blister and their DJ and Production workshops for Female, Trans and Non-Binary identifying individuals. Along with specifically queer focused parties, we can also see many parties promoting inclusivity within their ethos and line ups such as Thrust, Club Comfort, NSFW, Crane Club and more.
I have sat down with some of the people running queer and inclusive collectives and initiatives within dance music in Ireland with both legends of scene and some new comers. Contributions coming from Stevie Flaherty (Grace & Strawberries), Laura O’Connell (Gash Collective), Gina Crighton (Skin&Blister), Michał Mencnarowski (Rathaus), Cormac Cashman and Lisa Connell (Mother).
What was your introduction to getting involved in electronic music or Club Culture what made you want to get involved personally?
Stevie Flaherty (Grace & Strawberries): I knew I wanted to be an event organiser for some years. I started with fundraisers like a marriage equality fundraiser in my home town Clifden with live music, comedians and DJ’s. Then within my arts management degree I organised a fundraiser to help provide medical supplies in Syria. I had imagined I would run events for some years and my degree in business and arts management provided me with a good foundation to do that. When I met Caio and David I knew they were people I wanted to be around more therefore felt we would work well together for Grace. Personally, I wanted to create parties that excited me and that I would love to attend.
Michał Mencnarowski (Rathaus): When I started college I quickly got involved in the queer society where I organised different events including club nights as I felt there just wasn’t much happening around the college and most of the events were quite straight and boring.
Gina Crighton (Skin&Blister): My own introduction was through the likes of Ema and Jio and others running nights in Tengu and Wigwam when I returned to Dublin after university. But Ema, Megan, Eva and Ana had been involved in the Dublin music scene for a while by the time we started the platform. Collectively we wanted to get more hands on with the scene because we wanted to explore how nightlife here could be improved/ different.
Cormac Cashman and Lisa Connell (Mother) Cormac: Personally, I can’t remember my introduction, that was a very long time ago!
Lisa: As punters and queers first and foremost and secondly promoters, in GCN we knew about Cormac and he was already promoting some influential queer student nights and we needed new ideas during the recession and as avid club goers, so we decided to start Mother from that.
What made you start your party or collective and what did you strive to do with your platform?
Stevie Flaherty (Grace & Strawberries): Caio, David and I felt there was not a lot happening in Dublin in terms of queer dance spaces. It was clear we all loved techno and we felt that was a missing piece. Underground sweaty, smokey. We wanted to bring a night where queer people can come and express themselves as well as enjoy some local and international techno DJ’s. We strived to book LGBTQ+, female and marginalised artists, i felt weird not to. We tried to implement a safer space policy which included no pictures or videos inside. Strawberries was created to bring a fun, social and vibey electronic party to the scene. A party that included some form of art or design with each edition. My ex Pedro inspired me with this concept credit to him where it is due.
Laura O’Connell (Gash Collective): Myself and Ellen (ELLLL) started Gash Collective in 2016 as we had started to become increasingly frustrated with the lack of diversity on event line-ups and were becoming inspired by similar initiatives like Female:Pressure and Discwoman. Our main aim was to create a platform for women, LGBTQ+ and non-binary people in electronic music in Ireland. We wanted to shine a light on marginalised talent and encourage people to get involved through safe space initiatives, carefully curated parties and events, as well as free production and DJ workshops. Everything we did was focused on promoting visibility and accessibility as we felt that would make the electronic music scene in Ireland a more inclusive space and would inspire more people to get involved.
Michał Mencnarowski (Rathaus): I started Rathaus with my best friend Kenya. We both thought that the Irish nightlife was quite segregated, you have the straight clubs and then the queer clubs, but with Rathaus we just want it to be a safe space for everybody. Rathaus is one of the few place where you will find queers in heels, lads in tracksuits and sex workers partying and celebrating music under one roof.
In terms of music we were inspired by Chantal’s House Of Shame in Berlin it was the first time we came across a club that played both techno and pop and for us that was the best of both worlds.
Gina Crighton (Skin&Blister): We were so gassed by the energy of the crowds in Dublin and the sense of community on and off the dance-floor but we were also acutely aware of its lack of diversity. We wanted to see more female, trans and non-binary people part of the industry whether they were making the music we were listening to, playing the nights we were going to or running them. We set up S&B to foster safer spaces in Dublin so this could happen and more of us could enjoy the good parts of clubbing without the bad.
Cormac Cashman and Lisa Connell (Mother)
Lisa: We realised there was part of the market that wasn’t being catered for that wasn’t just pop and Mother was born as a space with disco, synthy electronic music and Cormac brought the promoter knowledge into that. I can only be of benefit for a city to have options with plenty of differen music that people want to hear and particularly for queer people. There was plenty of nights that launched around the same time of us around the recession and it was great because there was so much clubbing going on in the city. The city is struggling now compared to then in 2022 and it’s mad to think that it’s the current situation.
Why do you think it is important that we have LGBTQ+ spaces within Irish Club Culture?
Stevie Flaherty (Grace & Strawberries): To enjoy spaces where we don’t feel like a minority, have a flirt, dance and share magical moments together to hear queer artists.
Laura O’Connell (Gash Collective): It’s great to see so many LGBTQ+ parties popping up in Dublin. I think nights like Grace, Strawberries, Club Comfort, Crane Club and others are so important for creating a community, and to offer safe spaces where people feel comfortable to be themselves, dance and to meet new friends without fear of discrimination or abuse. Unfortunately in Galway we have lost one of our main venues, Electric, where we hosted a lot of our parties. This in turn has led to a lack of alternative LGBTQ+ spaces for people here. At the minute as far as I’m aware there is no dedicated LGBTQ+ electronic music party in Galway. I have seen how the lack of alternative LGBTQ+ spaces here have impacted on my friends. Many end up leaving Galway entirely as there is no safe space for them to go out and be themselves or to meet new people.
Michał Mencnarowski (Rathaus): Queer people and other minority groups have to deal with a lot of shit in their day to day lives just because of their identities, and queer clubs are the only places where the things that can get us assaulted on the streets, are celebrated. I feel like we need these spaces to feel comfortable and fully lose ourself in the crowd on the dance-floor without worrying that we’re too much or too queer.
Gina Crighton (Skin&Blister): Historically, dancing and club culture has been a vital part of building communities between LGBTQ+ people. Whether any of us are interested in clubbing or not its important there are ways for us to be a part of this. Every day the news reminds us that the world is still not a safe space for LGBTQ+ people and so we try to make sure with our work that the dance-floor can still be considered a safe space.
Cormac Cashman and Lisa Connell (Mother)
Lisa: Its very much needed for people, the pandemic showed us that especially and the power of being back in a club with your people is incredible. The bigger picture is that it’s still not safe to be LGBTQ+ and queer spaces are super important. Clubbing is an expressive form of collaboration and communication for communities and you need to make sure you’re going to be safe within that context. We work really hard to make sure that the whole process of entering and enjoying a club needs to be a safe process and a night out is all of these experiences and we put the work in to make sure that people have a positive experience within our club.
Cormac: One altercation with a bouncer or one look from a homophobe who may have gotten in or a comment to a young trans person can ruin the whole feeling of safety in a queer space. Clubbing is a combination of everything that happens on the night, so everything needs to be looked at to ensure that we have a safe space.
Lisa: Historically speaking, within the LGBTQ+ scene we often have the best parties first. Look at Disco and House, this music was being played in the queer spaces first. Any of the big famous parties that weren’t necessarily queer but open were often queer run and full of queer people and so often when we talk to straight friends they know that the gays know how to party. Someone like Tony Walsh for example, he was playing in 90s and he was just a great DJ and the fact that he was gay back then, although politically complicated at the time, shows that we have always been at the cutting edge of club culture in all aspects, thats something I’m always proud of. You can go to a lot of shit nightclubs but if you go to a queer party in a genre you like, you will always have a great time.
Cormac: Queer crowds are generally always sounder, its a conducive environment for everyone to come together and have fun.
Lisa: Its true, we’re just better! Theres something that happens in the space that shows that generally people are a lot more sounder to each other and safer altogether in these specific spaces. Clubbing straight or gay has always been that intense moment of pleasure, like the feeling when you get when you see a DJ you’ve been waiting to see for a long time. It can be community based or genre based.
What issues do you think the above spaces, scenes, collectives face within the Irish Music landscape?
Stevie Flaherty (Grace & Strawberries): Lack of spaces to host events in Restrictive licensing laws.
Michał Mencnarowski (Rathaus): I think one issue we face is definitely the lack of queer venues, while we have amazing queer parties they are almost always run in regular clubs where security and staff are not always as queer friendly as the club night itself.
Gina Crighton (Skin&Blister): A lack of variety in the type of nights that can be run due to restrictive and costly licensing laws which means many can feel alienated from finding themselves on dance-floors around the city.
Cormac Cashman and Lisa Connell (Mother)
Lisa: The city is in bits now, it is really hostile to clubbing in general. Our punters can’t get taxis, this idea of opening till 6am would be amazing but our city doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle it. We want to hope that if the lobbying has worked and the government truly looks at extended licensing laws that it would work but the problem is that you can do all that but if you’re not addressing all the stuff around it then it is a big problem. Everywhere is struggling to get staff, rent is crazy, staff aren’t paid enough and can’t live close to work. It really impacts our ability to run good nights unfortunately.
Cormac: There is now way less nights, as with less spaces there can’t be more nights run. Clubs which used to take place weekly or bi-weekly have now turned into monthly or lesser. My night Sweatbox has taken place only once since lockdown as our old venue is gone and we can’t compete with the lack of venues available in the city.
How does your platform help/strive to elevate and support local LGBTQ+ Creatives?
Stevie Flaherty (Grace & Strawberries): Keep booking the local LGBTQ+ artists for live gigs and radio slots/mixes.
Laura O’Connell (Gash Collective): One of our main aims has always been to promote the visibility of LGBTQ+ DJs and producers in the scene, and we have done this in a number of ways. Our radio show on Raidio na Life offers a platform to upcoming DJs and producers to record a mix, or a collage of music. People have the freedom to do what they like and don’t need to have any experience. I think this is a great way for people to get a feel for doing a radio show and hopefully inspires them to get into DJing or doing a regular show. We have also always been conscious of having diverse line-ups when we are running gigs. We often book people who don’t get many opportunities to play out or who have never played a gig before. I think the Irish Electronic Music scene can be hard to break into, so it’s important as a promoter to reach out to new and up-coming people in the scene and offer them opportunities. We also host free workshops when we can to encourage LGBTQ+ and other marginalised groups to get started in DJing or production.
Michał Mencnarowski (Rathaus): Our goal is to always prioritise and celebrate local LGBTQ+ DJ’s.
Gina Crighton (Skin&Blister): One of the first things we did was start the database for female, non-binary and female identifying creatives. It’s a great asset to have for employers when it comes to including female, trans and non-binary people in the running of the music scene in Dublin. We’ve been approached a number of times by people hiring for recommendations and we always send them there. Post-covid, the line ups around Ireland recently have been super impressive, filled with a huge amount of local talent and fresh faces. If you want to add yourself you can find the database in our Instagram.
Cormac Cashman and Lisa Connell (Mother)
Lisa: We book queer people to play and perform for us. When we did the recent block party, we prioritised booking as much Irish queer talent as much as we possibly could as recognised they spent the last two years with no gigs.
Cormac: I also tried to do the same for our New Year’s Eve party which got cancelled quite quick!
Lisa: By virtue of our own tastes and our audiences tastes, we’ve always been fairly female, very queer and naturally which is great. We ensure that we give people work and amplify the work that they are doing.
Do you think that LGBTQ+ DJs and Producers are typically left out of the picture with many of the bigger electronic events and festivals that happen in Ireland?
Stevie Flaherty (Grace & Strawberries): Historically yes but I think there is a slow shift happening.
Laura O’Connell (Gash Collective): Although things are slowly changing in Ireland, I think LGBTQ+ producers and DJs are still not fully represented on big festival and event line-ups in Ireland. This is echoed in female:pressures recent FACTS Survey which shows that the majority of festival line-ups is still male-dominated. I think as a booker or promoter you have a responsibility to create diverse line-ups that include female identifying, LGTBQ+, non-binary and other marginalised people. I believe diverse representation and visibility on line-ups is key to promoting change. Having more LGBTQ+ artists on major line-ups will inspire others to get into DJing or Music Production. There are lots of excellent LGBTQ+, DJs and producers out there killing it at the minute so there really is no excuse for them not to be included in larger electronic events and festivals here in Ireland. I also think if you are a straight white man who is on a festival or event line-up that lacks diversity that you need to call that stuff out!
Any hints on what could be next for your projects and what you hope to
Stevie Flaherty (Grace & Strawberries): Still trying to navigate post pandemic.
Laura O’Connell (Gash Collective): Myself and Ellen have taken a bit of a step back from running regular gigs and workshops due to other commitments at the minute, but we have a few things in the pipeline. We are always on the lookout for new people to host our radio show, so drop us a line at email@example.com. We also have a few gigs lined up over the next few months with lots of local talent, and also a few collaborations on the horizon. So keep an eye on our Instagram page!
Gina Crighton (Skin&Blister): We had our first party with DJ Fart in the Club as a guest with ourselves and (at the time of interview) and we’re looking forward to our next party on St Patricks Day with Little O, Rhyzin and Bambi. We’re also running free workshops for female, trans and non binary creatives to be a part of- stay tuned to our instagram to find more details on the next one. So far we’ve run 4-week DJ mixing basics and Ableton production introductions.
Michał Mencnarowski (Rathaus): For now our goal is just to throw more cool parties that bring people together!
Cormac Cashman and Lisa Connell (Mother): Pride!
You can keep up to date with the parties/collectives who took part in this article via the links below, and you can also check out some more all inclusive/queer run parties which take place regularly in Ireland below too!