They play the tunes, they might accept a request if you’re lucky, they keep us on the dancefloor and help us bust some grooves – we speak to a selection of DJs working in the city right now.
“I was playing four-hour sets for fuck all money in a really sweaty room. I was 13, baby faced. It was great!”
Richard Tracey started DJing on his dad’s old Technics 1210s when he was 9-years-old, armed with two copies of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic 2001. It was an invaluable form of escapism at a time when he was being bullied in school. Little did he know that a mere three years later he would be playing his first gig.
“The Wright Venue was really stuck for a DJ for this birthday party. The resident DJ knew me so they said fuck it, go on. At first, I had a few people up on the dance floor, thinking ‘this is grand.’ Then I played Martin Garrix’ ‘Animals’ and that did it, that was me done! It was the first major adrenaline rush I got from it.”
Soon Richard was getting gigs at the underage discos in the Wright Venue, playing to crowds of 600 people. “I was playing four-hour sets for fuck all money in a really sweaty room. I was 13, baby faced, really a lot fatter. It was great!”
Richard’s confidence grew as he continued to play discos. Kids much older than him were eating up his music, and pretty soon he was gaining the respect of his peers in Maynooth. At a time when most of us were learning to shower regularly, Richard was becoming a shit hot DJ. You’d think these were golden years, but life has a way of throwing a spanner in the works.
“The second underaged disco I did was on the day my da and my mam split up. It was the best way to get out of the house and just have a good bit of craic. That’s what made me realise that music is a really good way of forgetting about everything.”
By the age of 15, Richard was starting to play overage clubs. Then came his dad’s cancer diagnosis. “It’s weird because that happened as my DJing was going crazy. I was just getting adjusted to this new vibe in overage clubs where drugs are obviously a super prevalent part of the culture.”
Richard is frank about his struggles with depression and anxiety. There were many dark days spent alone in his bedroom. By his own admission he developed a lot of unhealthy habits, but with counselling and mental health services, he’s put those habits into writing music.
“Because I was trying so hard to forget what was on my mind, I saw this opening for music and I thought yeah, that’s the way I dealt with my stuff. I’m not going to sugar coat it, I write my best music when I’m depressed.”
Now 19, Richard has emerged from the other side of his troubled teenage years, going from strength to strength. This summer he played a set in Santa Ponsa after meeting Dublin producer Robbie G, and he has regular sets in the city centre and Maynooth. All the while, he keeps producing music.
Just recently, The Wright Venue closed its doors for the final time, marking the end of an era for Richard. He was playing at the underage disco on its final night, an experience he describes as deeply emotional.
“It was the first club I ever set foot in. There’s a lot of nostalgia there, and as much as people hate underage discos, I have a lot of love for it. I would not, for a fact, have the amount of gigs that I have today if it was not for that place.”
Top 5 selection
Deadmau5 – Polyphobia, Will Easton – Karma, Deadmau5 – 10.8, Illyus & Barrientos – Red, Ejeca – Mesh
“You play the shite if the pay is right”
Many DJs dream of walking into a club and playing an hour or two of their choicest techno cuts, before walking out with 400 euro in their pocket.
“If you actually wanna earn money DJing, play charts. People lap it up. The crowd you want to play techno or trance to, that’s a very small minority. I try to tell lads that, but no one wants to hear it!”
Katie started DJing after attending one of the DJ Society meet-ups in DIT. She became engrossed in the craft, and it wasn’t long before she was reaching out to clubs to try to get short slots.
She started to make inroads but like most creative industries, there’s little pay at the bottom of the ladder. “You’re working your way up and trying to earn respect, but there’s only so much you can do before people are just taking the piss out of you. When you’re a student DJ just trying to fit in a half hour slot, you’re lucky to get 20 euro for a taxi home.”
That’s what led to Katie doing chart music. “One thing I learned very, very, very quickly; ‘You play the shite if the pay is right.’ Think about the stag parties, the hen dos, the 30ths. The majority of them want to listen to chart music, so just play it, because they’ll pay you good money for it.”
Soon Katie had nights in various venues, playing charts music that ranged from emo and punk to “HedKandi Ibiza music.” The rock and metal crowds wanted to hear the songs exactly as they were recorded, so there was minimal mixing or technical challenges. Instead, Katie learned how to read a crowd.
“When you’re playing techno, people are just there to listen to the latest releases, you can play what you want. But playing chart music, you need to be able to see what people are enjoying, and when they’re disappearing.”
Eventually, Katie worked her way up to playing The Academy every Saturday, one of the biggest club nights in Dublin. Starting at 11pm and ending at 3am, it’s a non-stop set that requires her to constantly keep the dance floor full and moving. Katie plays everything from Ray Charles to Abba to Dad-rock, but she’s constantly surprised by what her crowd asks for, many of whom have the year 2000 on their passport.
“I remember I got requests to play ‘Amarillo’ by Tony Christie, thinking ‘Jaysus, really?’ And the next week I played it and the whole place erupted. Then I remembered that Peter Kay did a version of it for Children in Need. They pick up a lot of stuff from movies and TV. And anything that’s a meme!”
Though Katie hasn’t yet found a way to incorporate the Wii game console music into her set (a real request) she always makes room for ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams. Surely the most played song at funerals isn’t the best way to get a crowd buzzing?
“See for my room personally, it’s about the sing-song. It’s about ‘oh we’re all here to have the best night ever, I love all my friends, let’s all get in a big huddle!’ When Ireland bet the All-Blacks, I played ‘Ireland’s Call’ and they literally nearly flipped tables they were so happy about it!”
In recent years, Katie has begun to step back from DJing in order to preserve her energy for her full-time job as a Societies Development Officer in DIT, but she still has a lot of love for it. “It’s about seeing people have a buzz and making their night better. Sometimes I get more satisfaction out of those four hours on a Saturday than I do out of my whole week of work.”
Top 5 selection
Abba -Does Your Mother Know, Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer, Girls Aloud – Love Machine, Jackson 5 – Blame it on the Boogie, Shakira – Whenever Wherever
“I thought if I don’t get gigs, just make the parties”
Over the course of our interview in the South William Street Bar, someone asks Touré Kizza if he’s a DJ.
“Ah, I’m just a weekend messer!”
You’ve got to admire a man for being modest, but Touré is much more than that.
Born in Sweden, Touré spent much of his childhood in Stockholm. It was only when he was 16 that his parents decided to move to Ireland, hoping that their sons would learn English.
“I was coming from Stockholm which was a metropolitan city, so moving to Enfield in County Meath was a culture shock to the max. I came here in brown leather clothes and white shoes looking swag, and I was in the country where everyone was wearing gap jumpers and trackies! I was like ‘fuuuck!’”
Soon though, Touré started to warm to Ireland. He began DJing at house parties, and when his friends invited him to play a closing set at McGruders, he was ushered into the Dublin Underground scene.
“I was a 17-year-old kid living in Kildare at the time. Coming to the big shmoke and being exposed to the music they were playing, good Detroit techno, it was magic.”
Touré DJed for a couple of years, but eventually, he decided to concentrate his efforts on producing his own music. He struggled to make progress, however, saying that he lacked the confidence and support network that a larger house scene provides.
Inspiration eluded Touré until he started working in Pygmalion. Surrounded by so many different DJs and styles of house music, it motivated him to return to DJing.
Initially, he found it hard to make the leap from vinyl mixing to digital, but he soon found his feet. Going under the name Syl Black, Touré started to book gigs. But when droughts came, he decided not to sit around and wait for opportunities to come to him.
“I thought if I don’t get gigs, just make the parties, get your mates to play with you and fucking have a buzz.” That led to Touré setting up Balls Deep, a brand that aims to create house nights for a variety of Irish talent to perform.
“I remember when I was starting off, trying to get into other collectives was a bit hard. Sometimes I’ll get messages from lads on social media saying, ‘Oh I like what you’re doing, would I be able to get a set?’ I say cool, send me a mix and I’ll have a listen. The underground talent is strong and vibrant.”
“It’s just the limitations of space and expressing it, but this land has a strong spirit. Once we direct it to things we do, we can really produce great things.”
As Dublin nightclubs continue to close down, some think that the city’s nightlife is in dire straits. Touré remains optimistic though, believing it is just a matter of time before these concerns gain traction in the mainstream.
“We just have to push a little harder and spread it more to the mass consciousness of society. I think there are enough people in the city that have ideas and the willpower to make something happen. People just need to work together.”
This year Touré plans on organizing even more events. Nonetheless, he sees these parties as a mode of expression rather than a business venture. He goes so far as to call his brand Durt a “new toy to play with in the New Year.”
“I’m a small-scale operator. I do it for the passion of the scene, the passion of the music, the passion of the party. It keeps me feeling young!”
Top 5 selection
“As long as you’re playing the music that people want to hear, age doesn’t really matter”
Like many great stories, Ruth Kavanagh’s DJing career began with a dare.
“I was having a conversation with a promoter friend about New Year’s resolutions, and I said that I wanted to do something scary and challenging. I was kind of thinking like a parachute jump.”
“When he asked if I would DJ at his night, I said no, I’d rather jump out of the plane! And he said ‘well you wanted to do something scary and challenging!’ and started goading me until I did. I thought I was only ever going to do it once!”
But after playing her first set, Ruth was hooked. She worked in software development during the week, happy to only play sets that she would enjoy in her spare time. In her ten years as a DJ, there is only one nightclub that she ever chased for a set. That was Mother, a gay club that specializes in synth-pop and deep house.
Of course, gay clubs are spaces that dedicate themselves to LGBT people in a society that is frequently hostile. As a straight woman, did she ever feel like she was intruding?
“Not a bit. Nobody ever challenged me for doing it. 40% of the Mother team are straight. We always say it’s like a good house party, it’s not strictly LGBT. The door policy isn’t that you have to show your ‘gay membership’ to get in!”
To Ruth, Mother is more than a nightclub. There’s a familial feeling that extends beyond the crew, all the way down to the regulars. She’s made friends across the country from her time playing under the Mother banner, and speaks fondly of a couple who met on the Mother dancefloor. They recently got married and are still regulars at the club.
And then there are the memories. Over the years, Ruth has played many Pride block parties and festivals with Mother. One of her favourite moments is playing at Body and Soul until the sun came up. There’s also the small matter of opening for the legendary Grace Jones in the Olympia.
“It was surreal. She had a big runway coming out the middle of the room and our decks were smack at the front of that. It was very shiny ground and quite narrow. I remember saying to the lads before we went on ‘she does this in heels and I’m worried I’ll fall over if I dance the wrong way.’ She’s royalty!”
Though Ruth jokes about the age of retirement for DJs, she can never see a time where she would consider leaving Mother. “As long as you’re playing the music that people want to hear, age doesn’t really matter.”
“I have a friend of mine who’s the exact same age as me and he’s married with children. He doesn’t go out and he’s very content, so he’s always asking how I’m not knackered all the time. I just laugh. When you love it as much as I do, it doesn’t make a difference.”
Mother is on every Saturday in The Hub in Temple Bar.
Top 5 selection
Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness, Rayko – Space Pig Lover [Rare Wiri], Get Down Edits feat. Cut Once – Sweet Love, Fish Go Deep – Drip, Down Poolside – Feel Alright
“It’s a commitment to poverty when you start buying records”
While most DJs mix music digitally, Alex Wood, also known as Lex Woo, still uses vinyl and two turntables to keep the music flowing in a club. You might think then that Alex has some deep and abiding love for the format, but the reality is surprisingly pragmatic.
“As I started to DJ, the CD culture died out. Serato [a DJ software] took over and a lot of the people who had been DJing with CDs started using digital music. I just never bridged the gap. It seemed like a lot of work to stay at home and digitalize all those tracks or spend money buying all those essential tunes that I regularly play. As time went on, I had so many records that the idea of replacing them was daunting.”
That makes sense when you consider the size of his music library; Alex’s vinyl collection spans over 10,000 records, many of which are hard to find tracks from all over the world. His diverse love of music is obvious; over the course of an hour, he touches on a wide array of his favourites, ranging from Peter Gabriel-era Genesis to African funk and Bossanova.
Nowadays most young DJs begin mixing with digital music and software. But many still intend to learn vinyl mixing at some stage, considering it a lost art. Does Alex recommend that DJs try it at least once?
“No!” he laughs. “I envy people with USBs full of music. It’s a commitment to poverty when you start buying records. All my money from my late teens onwards went to buying records. And it just escalates, because the more you DJ, the more things you need to keep things fresh. If you have residencies you can’t keep playing the same tunes all the time.
“When I was trying to make a living out of it, I was really ticking the boxes for people. Doing everything from reggae to trip-hop, Bossanova, African Rhythms, downbeat electronica. So you’re buying a ton of music to keep each of those genres fresh.”
That also means carrying a lot of records between gigs. On any Saturday night, Alex could be playing 2-3 sets. That requires dropping off records to different venues during the day. “If I’m playing in Anseo, that’s a seven-hour gig. I’m probably going to bring about 400 records. You’d probably get to play 100 tunes but you need to have the choice.”
In the last few years, Alex has pursued other interests while maintaining his residency in Anseo. He’s a graphic designer by trade, and recently designed the artwork for a new compilation of rare South African 45s from Johannesburg.
The compilation, called Jackpot Jive, is something he’s very passionate about; all profits are going to a project in Lesotho, South Africa in which local children are taught about music technology by international producers and DJs. On the 9th of February, he’ll be playing a re-launch of the compilation in Hang Dai with his friend and fellow DJ, Disco Medusa.
Alex has covered the Irish festival circuit many times over, in addition to playing gigs in Berlin, New York and Paris. He’s even played multiple sets with legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen. And yet, he still keeps perspective on things.
“I’m not a turntablist, I don’t have incredible skills. I think I mix well, but it’s not brain surgery. I always ask myself, am I DJing just to do it, or is what I’m playing worth hearing? I don’t just do it for the sake of it. I do it because I think these tunes have to be heard.”
Top 5 selection
Words: Jack O’Higgins
Photos: Róisín Murphy O’Sullivan