Nonconformist club and festival photographer Maclaine lives on the fringes of the Irish dance music sphere, capturing the darker and often murkier corners of late-night rave excursions. The Cork-based lensman shares their 2023 review from the eyes of their camera as they contribute their first written piece as a Cultural Editor with Four Four.

Maclaine shares their 2023 recap:

When I think of my life, I think of photography; experiencing and documenting the world through my own fractured lens. But in 2023, photography was the only thing I had left. I quit drinking not because I wanted to or because I was ready to, but because I needed to. Photography held my hand through those first few months. It gave me something to think about when I was sleeping two hours a night for the first three months. It gave me a way to stay going to techno shows (my only hobby at the time) when I was still getting comfortable with sobriety. But most importantly, it gave me the life I have now.

When I was first presented with the opportunity to distil my entire year into this digital journal, I was a little overwhelmed. I only had one real goal this year; get sober, stay sober. Anything else was a bonus. This year turned into the best year of my life, to try and boil it all down into a few lines on a page seemed impossible, but, after setting up some parameters, and some further reflection, the endeavour became a lot more exciting.

I have divided the article into 12 months, and as Four Four is a music publication, I am limiting this to music events only. One event from each month, to dissect and reflect on all the incredible music I’ve experienced this year. There’s no objective criteria for the events that feature, these are simply my favourites. I enjoyed every gig I got the opportunity to attend and capture, these are the ones that I would most like to relive.

January – Harmless Records 2nd Anniversary, Grand Social, Dublin

Starting the year with one of my favourite collectives in Dublin, run by one of my best friends, Mr. Harmless. This gig was a very special one for me, it was on the 13th of January, the day before I quit drinking for good. So this gig not only marks the start of a new year for Harmless Records but also the start of a new life for me, free from alcohol.

The gig was just the way I like them, blistering tempos and crazy people. I wish more promoters/club owners would backlight performers, it creates such a unique atmosphere when you’re looking at a silhouette of a DJ (and makes for much more interesting photography).

February – Kriptik 002, Secret Location, Cork

Back on home turf, back in the middle of fucking nowhere. February was fun. This gig was a long one, the first 7am finish I’d done in a while. I filmed a lot of the footage for my documentary, it was nice to be back at an illegal rave in Cork after such a long hiatus. Illegals in Cork was where I cut my teeth in event photography, so it’s actually the space I feel the most comfortable in. Event photography never feels like work, but Cork especially just feels like home. Every techno event in Cork just feels like a big house party, where all your friends are DJing and you know everyone at the spot.

The Cork techno scene has always welcomed me with such open arms, it really is a big dysfunctional family down here. Production as always was off the chain, it’s hard to use language to effectively describe the feel of a Kriptik rave but suffice it to say, it always feels illegal, something always feels slightly off-putting (in the best way possible).

March – Reboot Presents FJAAK, Factory, Waterford

From one family to the next, March brought me to Waterford for a new career highlight, getting the opportunity to meet and photograph FJAAK. This gig was THE gig for me, the point at which I realised my photography was starting to bring me into contact with people I could have only dreamed of working with before. It’s crazy to think about how quickly working with these huge DJs became just part of the job. I remember being ecstatic when I got the inside scoop on the lineup. Like everyone else, I’ve been a fan of FJAAK for years, they were one of the first artists I found when I started listening to techno, so getting a chance to work with them really was a dream come true. Continually getting to work with all these people I am so inspired by and have idolised for so long is something I really take time to be grateful for.

This gratitude of course extends to the whole Reboot team, who have completely changed my life since they took me under their wing. Working with them is always so much fun, I can’t thank each of them enough for the continual trust and support they place in me.

April – Machina, Mason, Cork

Back on home turf for April, Machina is something so special to me. Machina is a queer/kink night in Cork, and it’s refreshing to see an actual queer safe space in Cork, one that’s for queer people by queer people. Machina’s mission statement, ‘Where weird is wonderful’ captures their essence perfectly, it’s a place for anyone to go and just exist, free from the conventions of traditional society.

As a queer person, seeing collectives put such an emphasis on creating safe spaces within techno is super important to me. The reason I got into techno in the first place was because it was a safer space when it was more underground, and in the last few years with techno becoming more and more mainstream it’s lost its queerness a little bit, I feel. As the music becomes more popular, this draws in a more ‘traditional’ crowd, and this crowd makes the people who exist on the periphery feel less safe, so they stop showing, which means they’re even further outnumbered, and so the cycle continues. So to see emphasis on this aspect of the space not only respects the history of the genre but continues to create safe spaces for marginalised groups, and in Cork, we could always do with more of that.

May – In Veruf, SWG3 Glasgow, Scotland

Far from home: my first international booking, my first time in SWG3, my first business trip. May started the summer off beautifully for me. SWG3 was a club that was always on my hit list, but for one reason or another, I’d never made it over there, so to get booked for my first appearance in a club that I’d always wanted to go to was a surreal experience for me (and not the last time this happened this year).

It’s been a while since a venue forced a smile to my lips the moment I stepped onto the dancefloor but SWG3 left my jaw on the floor. I’ve always found the bigger productions easier jobs than the smaller ones but this gig really cemented that for me. It’s just so easy to create visual interest in a venue like this, even if it was a slower night. I look forward to returning to Glasgow, hopefully very soon.

June – Kriptik Festival, Secret Location, Cork

My final Cork entry for this year, and perhaps my favourite event of the whole year: Kriptik Fest. Somehow, we were blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather, all the way out in redacted. It felt like the whole of the Cork scene went on holiday together. The journey was fine for once for me, by some streak of luck I was able to get a spin there and back, and didn’t have to step foot on the bus that crawled from the city out to the location.

The setup itself was top-notch, and the sound system, lights and art direction were all spectacular, it truly was an immersive experience, far beyond the scope of your typical ‘illegal rave.’ This was the biggest production they’ve pulled off, all of the artists, DJs, and everyone in between worked so hard to make it what it was. It’s been incredible to work with the team at Kriptik on this journey, and I can’t wait to see what else they have in the pipeline.

This one in particular was almost impossible to narrow down to one image. It was a 16-hour event so you’ll have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps or come along next year to experience it for yourself.

July – Hardlyknower, The Ol’ 55, Galway

Summer marked a slight pivot for me into more live music, something I’ve grown to fall in love with just as much as I love electronic music. There’s a dynamism to musicians that can’t quite be replicated by DJs that I find so captivating, there’s so much more motion and room to experiment, and this gig was also my first time photographing another best friend; Dylan Jennings.

Hardlyknower has since split up, but Dylan can still be sighted on the streets of Galway, or you can catch him most weekends at some pub somewhere.

August – ABSENT Pride Edition, Monroes, Galway

August brought me back to Galway, for a Pride event this time, another bucket list moment. Absent has since become another family, another incredible collective to work with. Branded as an emo night, these events are always filled with interesting people and loud music, something I can always get behind. It’s a space for the punks, goths, and nerds, so I’ve always felt at home there. The queens smashed it as always, the flair of the performance was a new challenge to try and capture, and the stage work coupled with only having the length of a song as opposed to an hour or two for a DJ set necessitated a swiftness that I don’t have to tap into often, and it was fun to flex those muscles again.

Absent is something I believe in so strongly, and again something I feel so lucky to be a part of. It’s always so much fun working with these guys, and I can’t wait to be back for more in the new year.

September – OUTSET Fest, Red Cow, Dublin

This event was the most pressure I was under all year. Twelve hours, three stages, thirty-one acts total and one photographer, yours truly. I did not eat, sleep, or sit down I don’t think, but it was a blast. It was nearly impossible to make a final selection on these images because so much happened over the day, but if you haven’t made it to an Outset event yet, put one in your calendar: you will not be disappointed.

As always the Reboot family pulled out all the stops, from the lineup to production there was not a thing out of place. It was a long day but it was not hard work, I always managed to find time to dance. Sometimes when I do events like these I feel like anyone with a pair of eyes and a camera in their hands could take incredible pictures, so to be the chosen one again and again I truly am so grateful. Most importantly, to see so many friends on the lineup was moving. Sometimes I feel like a proud mom taking pictures of my kid, smiling from the pit.

September was an extremely busy month, it was so hard to choose which gig would make the cut. I have to give an honourable mention to both Fuinneamh Festival and EMC’s Culture Night in City Hall in Cork, incredible events that I got to capture that both deserve a spot on this list.

October – Villain Clan presents CAREHOUSE, The Cellar, Galway

October brought me back to Galway and to a completely new scene; Irish hip-hop. In this edition, Villain Clan welcomed Fortune Igiebor and the Ragers crew. Fortune and I crossed paths for the first time earlier in the year, he was performing at an Absent show during the summer that I was doing photography at, and from the moment I first saw him perform, I knew there was something special about him and his movement. Hip-hop isn’t my first choice as a listener but I am so inspired by the energy on display from top to bottom, and if you’ve ever seen the Ragers perform, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Most importantly, I was grateful to be welcomed to such a diverse event with such hospitality and trust. I love techno, but it was nice to see a LOT of people of colour for a change: diverse crowds make more interesting events, make more interesting photos. Jester, another old friend, invited me into this space and it was truly an honour to be welcomed into such a beautiful, passionate world with such open arms, and an absolute pleasure to capture and continue to document. Keep an eye on Fortune and his, if you haven’t heard of him yet, you will soon.

November – Courtoisy, Now and Wow, Rotterdam

November again brought me somewhere new, somewhere I had my heart set on for a long long time: Gabber homeland, Rotterdam. Cynthia Spiering played an 8-hour all-night-long set, with a surprise guest of none other than Paul Elstak, the godfather of gabber. Now and Wow is another club I’d had my eye on since I first heard about it, so to get an opportunity to do photography there was another big bucket list moment for me. Another venue I hope I don’t go too long without seeing again.

This event was a dream come true for me, not only did I get to visit Rotterdam for the first time, something that’s been on my bucket list since I first discovered gabber years and years ago, I got to meet and photograph Paul Elstak. Not only that, when the stage manager saw me hakk backstage, she permitted me to stand on stage and hakk in front of the entire crowd, an experience I will never forget, which gave me a huge confidence boost leading to the most important event of the year.

December – Thunderdome, Utrecht

The most important event of the year – the final exam, Thunderdome. Thunderdome is maybe the only night of the year that I take 100% off, I left my camera in the house, and I don’t take any pictures whatsoever. It’s hard to even write about how I feel about it properly because I have never felt more love for an event, or maybe anything, in my entire life. I always say I’m a raver first, and a photographer second, but first and foremost I am a gabber fundamendalist, and Thunderdome is home for all gabbers. across the globe. I have never felt more of a sense of community at an event in my entire life. Last year I went by myself, but this time I brought my friend Cyprian and my brother Charlie with me. Gabber culture is shell suit tracksuits and bald heads, so my brother agreed to shave his head bald for the event, which was the only photographic evidence I have of the trip.

The actual event I won’t even try to explain, but I couldn’t walk properly for five days afterwards because my legs were so busted. I think I clocked close to 60,000 steps over the ten-hour runtime, just over a marathon. I still hear the distorted kickdrums if I close my eyes. It is truly the best event I have ever been to, but I really cannot stress enough, that it is truly for the hardcore only.

All in all, 2023 was a fantastic year. I feel so lucky to have been given so many incredible opportunities by so many amazing people, and I have no idea what 2024 has in store for me, hopefully, more gabber. I’m counting down the days to my celebration of a year of sobriety, and once again, anything extra is a bonus. I cannot thank all the event organisers who continually have faith in me and allow me to continue to do this as a profession enough, I really do feel like the luckiest person in the world.

See you on the dancefloor,

P.S. Hardcore will never die

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