The War on Nightclubs: When Will It End?

Nathan Clare


In light of the current progress Ireland and the UK have made in the reopening of their societies, I felt now would be a good time to discuss the situation with our nightlife venues and what the future may hold for these musical institutions. 

I have been an avid nightlife advocate for 6 years now. Nightlife, and music particularly, is something I am deeply passionate about and venues seem to go hand in hand with that passion. A music venue holds a considerable amount of influence as to whether an event can be average or spectacular. The setting and environment are everything. Coupling this with the acoustics of the space, sound system and of course the music that is played in these places are all equally important.  It seems that as time has passed that venues have been snubbed as something that is expendable but in reality, they are culturally prominent for many people. 

Dublin’s nightlife landscape for instance has changed dramatically from when I first began to go to gigs compared to now. This is a harrowing thought. Looking at many venues like Hangar, District 8/Tivoli Theatre (now relocated as Jampark) and The Bernard Shaw. While two of the three venues mentioned have relocated in Dublin it is unfortunately not the case for many other venues that have met their demise in recent times. The obstacles that are faced with owning and running a nightclub as a viable business venture while also trying to facilitate it as a communal hub for social gatherings are growing slimmer as time passes not only in Dublin but also abroad. 

Venues like Manchester’s Warehouse Project and Berlin’s Griessmuehle have run into difficulties with the location and future of their venues but seem to have found a new location to call home on a temporary basis at least. While the situation in other countries for venues remains to be something that can be improved upon the impression looks as though there is a considerable amount of mutual respect between governing authorities and people who are involved in the music, arts, and events industries. Having someone like Sacha Lord as the Night-time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester and with clubs in Berlin being declared as cultural institutions as recently as last week it is clear indication of that. At the very least these authorities must be able to see the potential these industries possess not only culturally but also in terms of tourism for their countries which is something that would be foolish to overlook.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case in Ireland. More and more areas seem to encounter property crises which is driving rent and mortgage prices to new heights that cannot be met by a vast majority of people. Additional overhead costs that are then met by SEOs (special exemption orders) which were previously €220 which saw an increase to €410 in 2008. This is merely an appetizer as to how much the governing authorities seem to care about the nightlife industry in Ireland. Every time a venue wishes to stay open past the usual closing times this fee is to be paid by the venue. This is yet another obstacle venues and creatives are encountered with when trying to run club nights in Ireland. Seeing the sharp decrease of clubs is worrying, SEOs would have also played a considerable role in this too. SEOs are outdated and is something which needs to be abolished to give venue owners and promoters a chance. Alternatively, this could be met with the introduction of a yearly license that would allow venues to apply for each year which could allow them to seek permission to stay open beyond typical serving hours. This would save venues thousands of euros each year and could also aid the government through the increased sale of taxed goods like alcohol which could make up for SEO being abolished. 

If SEOs were abolished that would be a great step in the right direction. Though it is likely that it would not stop venues from shutting at an alarming rate. If I were to look at a viable tactic to ensure that clubs would remain intact from being relocated or demolished for years to come, I think the most bulletproof option would be buy instead of rent these venues. This may seem like an obvious solution but to halt the current rate of clubs closing it does sound like a necessary step that needs to be taken. This would likely require event promoters and collectives pooling together and committing to the future of the space. While it does sound distressing the situation is so dire in Dublin and does not look to be improving anytime soon it may have to be genuinely considered sooner rather than later.

Something else that could be considered could involve collectives and the state working in tandem with one another where they could allocate several buildings around the city and lease them at a discounted rate. The idea that they could be utilised as multipurpose cultural and communal venues that could act as a nightclub during the evenings and be used for dance or drama classes during the day for instance. This would ensure that the space would be integrated as part of the community and would seldomly be left without a reason to be closed. This could be a great initiative and have endless potential providing the council and wider government would be willing to cooperate.

While I am eager for nightclubs to open back up once it is safe to do so I cannot help but think of the struggle many venue owners have encountered over the last 14 months. I would not be surprised if we seen some of our most beloved venues close for the last time without us even realising it at the time. It is important to note that every industry has suffered in some way although the nightlife and events industry could arguably be the worst hit of them all. It begs the question of local nights when clubs come back, will they be a success? If so, how long will that last? Is it feasible to run successful club nights solely from locals in the current climate while many event goers seem to long for their favourite international artists? In my heart I would love to see the dance scene look inward and focus on the talent around us rather than outward, but I fear that it may not stay like that in the long-term. I guess no one really knows the answer but I am sure that time will tell and when it does, we can reassess and move forward with the options that are available to us.