“Any gaffs going?” is a refrain often echoed around the streets of Dublin’s city centre at four a.m on any given Saturday. The clubs, pubs and bars have discharged the giddy punters, but they’re not ready to go home, still filled with music and chat. After much huddling and discarded cigarette butts outside the venue, they eventually break off in different directions; some to a house where they dip into a pals’ record collection, others to an underground party or illegal lock in, while the rest end up scarfing double cheeseburgers in McDonalds or in an pricey taxi ride home.
In Michael McDermott’s recent piece for The Irish Times, ‘Culture Shock: Night-time economy is more than 24-hour partying’, he touches on the reformist ways countries such as Japan, Holland and Britain are unlocking their nighttime potential through extending opening hours, electing night mayors and launching groups dedicated solely to the maintenance and development of a stable night economy. The article also highlights the benefits of an imagined Ireland which embraces its night culture. ‘The vibrancy of the night can be a catalyst for positive social change.” says McDermott. Neighbouring European cities such as Berlin, Amsterdam and London in particular, are thriving under progressive nighttime laws, both in monetary and cultural terms. We want to pick up where McDermott left off by examining how exactly these cities are operating after hours, and which of their policies may translate in Ireland, allowing us too to prosper as a nighttime destination.
Berlin, Keeping it’s Cool
As the tale is told, Berlin is the pinnacle of European nightlife. Prior to the fall of the wall in 1989, Kreuzberg was the penultimate hub of Berlin’s alternative youth culture. After the wall fell, historic buildings in the Mitte area of the East were abandoned and reoccupied by underground groups made up of artists, squatters and clubbers. Today, late night Berlin is no longer reserved for the fabulous, sparkling freaks and weirdos of the night, instead attracting all sorts from bourgeois to bizarre, both residents and visitors. People travel from all over the world to curb their FOMO and sample a piece of Berlin’s diverse nightlife and to try their hand at being deemed certifiably “cool” to enter through the doors of seminal clubs like Berghain and Tresor.
It’s not just temporary visitors making the trip to Berlin. The lenient night laws make for a more flexible society overall. This perception of Berlin as “a city of freedom” is a draw for young graduates and creatives with itchy feet looking to spread their wings. The perils of expensive taxi fares aren’t a setback either. An integrated 24 hour public transport system means it easy to get around the city, both quickly and cheaply at night time. In the early hours, when you’ve had your fill of tirelessly flailing your limbs in the club, you can call it a day and hop on a tram home. This means no meandering lost souls wandering the streets in search of a taxi, when all the illegal after-parties have been shut down. And absolutely no regretful inebriated rickshaw rides. Because nobody wants that on their Snapchat story.
Recognising the intrinsic value of Berlin’s thriving night economy, initiatives have been set up to aid the growth of the sector in the face of complaints from residents and increased property prices. The Club Commission was set up in 2000 to manage and preserve Berlin’s club culture. As the organisation sees it, Berlin’s night life has not only furthered the development of the music scene, but has spilled into other creative areas. On their website, this understanding is outlined: “Clubs, festivals and all cultural events in Berlin are laboratories for artists and producers. Yet, they are idea pools for creatives in fashion, film, gaming and modern art too. Every day, new connections are made, collaborations and projects created; niches fight their corners and new trends are set.”
More recently, in 2012, a ‘Music Board’ fund of €1m was raised to combat the closure of Berlin night clubs in the face of soaring property prices and preying investors. This movement has been dubbed ‘Clubersten’, meaning ‘club death’, by venue owners. Local politicians recognised the threat this movement posed to the number of young Europeans entering the city and took action. Berlin is currently the third most visited city in Europe, and in 2014 the city had a record breaking 28.7 million overnight hotel stays. 30% of visitors are between the age of 20 to 40, and often these visitors become residents – in 2014, Berlin gained 45,000 new inhabitants. Burkhard Kieker, CEO of VisitBerlin had this to say about the insatiable attraction of the city to the younger generation:
“Berlin’s success is made by the freedom of lifestyles which surely attracts a new class of tourists. Being a tolerant city brings talents; talents and tolerance attract technology. A city reinventing itself has a lot more opportunities, and we tried to turn our infrastructures into new assets. Old factories are converted into clubs, and trendy areas. We really want people to start as tourists and come back as entrepreneurs; it is our role to make them be part of Berlin.”
The struggle to keep Berlin’s clubs afloat is not dissimilar to the proliferation of homogenous hotels in Dublin popping up in place of cultural venues. Una Mullally recently wrote about the dearth of decent nightclubs in The Irish Times. Hangar is the latest venue to fall prey to the hotel development trend currently happening in Dublin, no doubt soon to become yet another copycat, Mac speckled, elderflower-infused hotel devoid of a soul. Several venues intended as theatres, restaurants and shopping centres amongst other things, repurpose themselves occasionally to masquerade as a club night. To be fair they do a good job, but Mullally points out the elephant in the room “where are all the club-clubs?”. Her guess is bang on the money, literally. “Having a load of kids dance in a room isn’t as financially viable as charging them €12 for a cocktail”. She further points out that the restrictive closing times also hinder business. “It is especially difficult to make money from a nightclub when there is only a window of a few hours to do business”. While supporting the club scene may not make sense financially in some regards, in the greater scheme of things it has a positive ripple effect, and Berlin recognises this. The annual budget of Berlin’s Music Board grew to €1.7 million in 2015 and since their inception, has funded over 170 projects, including providing clubs with money to stage events as well as supporting individual acts and talents to kickstart their careers. The aim of the Music Board at its heart is, according to Lutz Leichsenring of the Club Commission is to “keep Berlin trendy”. So what about Ireland, with no centralised organisations to support our nightlife, how are we to stay trendy?
Despite the economic viability of the sector, Berlin’s 24 hour night culture has not been without it’s flaws. The Fair.Kiez project (a partner of Club Commission) was launched this year following increased complaints about litter and noise from residents. The initiative currently trialing from May to July, aims to build a bridge of understanding between residents, night space owners and the “guests of the night”. The fair.kiez crew is made up of artists and street mediators who visit the busiest night spots in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (Berlin’s 24 hour zone) and perform street theatre shows. Time will tell whether the project is a success, but the main point is that something is actually being done to try alleviate the problem.
Amsterdam, Nightmares to Night Mayor
Amsterdam is more directly comparable to Dublin in terms of scale than Berlin or London, and yet they are light years ahead as a progressive society in the night stakes. Though the city does not have a fully integrated 24 hour public transport system as of yet, it has been paving the way in other areas. It became the first European city to elect a Night Mayor back in 2003 with Paris, Toulouse and Zurich having since followed suit, and in April hosted the first ever Night Mayor Summit, welcoming all Europeans with an interest in fostering their respective night economies to attend. No Irish government representatives were present at the Summit.
Amsterdam’s current (beanie wearing) Night Mayor, Mirik Milan made the case for extending opening hours not purely off the back of capitalism, although we’ll get to that later, but also on the issue of reduced noise pollution. Previously the 4 a.m curfew meant that everyone would barrell out of the clubs at once creating a ruckus. The way Milan sees it more hours equals less noise. By extending the hours and relegating an imposed “home time”, clubbers can leave whenever they want. Milan told Citylab: “By having free opening hours the club can decide when they want to open and close, which means that 1,000 people aren’t suddenly thrown out on to the street at five in the morning. Instead, they start leaving in a steady, manageable stream around 3 a.m. and continue until around 8 a.m. That’s better for the neighbourhood noise-wise, and it’s also better for the programming of the club because then they can have more DJs in and sell more tickets.” To date, Milan has been responsible for ten clubs being granted 24-hour licenses and his theory seems to be working with notable reductions in noise levels. Like Berlin, the diverse nightlife in Amsterdam is a big draw for young creatives, which in turn has made it a more desirable place to live. Speaking to The Guardian, Milan said:
“Late-night people are typically young, educated, creative, entrepreneurial – people you want in your city, and who work in the creative industries and startups you also want. If places like Berlin have flourished, it’s not just because of low rents. It’s because they’re nightlife capitals.”
Not Too Late for London
London is another city considering following in Amsterdam’s footsteps by appointing a Night Mayor. A city long known as a hub of innovation and culture, this is a title that has been slipping away in recent years as a result of strict curfews and licensing laws born out of grumbling complaints about noise and violence as well as gentrification pushing up property prices. London’s newly appointed mayor Sadiq Khan is dedicated to breathing new life into London’s “iconic club scene”. He plans to do this in a number of ways. First, by appointing a ‘Night Czar’, taking heed from Mirik Milan in Amsterdam, to unite and educate residents, businesses and the authorities about the night economy. He also plans to implement a policy whereby the cost of soundproofing falls on housing developers rather than venues. Speaking to Dazed, Khan said “A third of London’s small music venues have closed since 2007, damaging our city’s cultural offering and having a negative effect on jobs and the economy. I will make it more difficult for redevelopment to result in the closure of heritage and cultural venues by strengthening the London Plan.”
A 2015 report, released by Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), has found that London’s night time economy comprising restaurants, pubs, clubs and bars is worth £66bn to the UK. The Forward Into The Night report came ahead of the launch of London’s 24 hour transportation system. The first two lines of London’s night tube will be launched in August of this year. Khan sees it as an “absolutely vital” element to his plans to “support and grow London’s night economy”. The office estimates the move will support about 2,000 permanent jobs for Londoners and boost the city’s economy by £360m.
Bringing it All Back Home
Philip King, founder of Other Voices festival was recently presented with a Lifetime achievement award by the American Chamber of Commerce for his work on the links between America and the Irish diaspora. In his acceptance speech, King repeats the phrase “where culture goes, commerce follows”, a quote that ricocheted around my mind as I wrote this piece. He goes on to say “look at the culture we have here, and look at the way we sometimes treat it. We have an amazing well of tradition at our fingertips and it is a hugely powerful asset.” Ireland is flourishing in so many different areas culturally, but our night life fails to accurately reflect that. The night time is a breeding ground for culture and conversation, and when these two things collide, ideas are born. If we were to harness this and welcome it lawfully, bringing the underground economy above ground, the commercial gains would far outweigh the negatives. 4 a.m doesn’t have to be a time for stumbling, shouting and garlic cheesy chips. And of course a more gratuitous night life would help to replenish a, sadly, dwindling young generation. Sure, there will be teething problems, but given the evidence of other countries successes, there’s a strong case to be made for Dublin as a 24 hour city. Obviously no two cities are the same, but if others can find a way to make it work so can we. So what do you say Dublin, shall we keep her lit?
Illustration: Sarah Moloney