let's go out, so...

Vanishing Venues

the author having a bop a long time ago

Give Us the Night research earlier this year found that the number of clubs in Ireland had declined by almost 84 per cent in just over two decades. The average number of venues per county has dropped from 19 to about three, and some areas no longer have any.

In my multimodal digital project for the MA in Digital Media in NUI Galway, "There Goes the Night" I have made sound-montages and digital images concentrating around 3 former Galway nightlife venues.

  • Kno Kno's / GPO & Drum / Carbon
  • The Warwick
  • Misty's (The Bentley) / Icon (Robert Lee's) / Cuba & 903 / The Bentley

Further Reading & Listening

  • [2015] Nearfm’s Aoife Nic Canna put together a major documentary series on the characters and stories of the Irish club scene. The series remembers the clubs and the music from the disco inferno of the late 70s, to the rave explosion of the late 80s, up to the present day’s eclectic mix.

    Listen here

  • [2018] Irish Times article by Tanya Sweeney.

    Read more

  • Give Us The Night is an independent volunteer group of professionals operating within the night-time industry, campaigning for positive changes to nightlife in Ireland, with particular regard to music venues.

    Find out more

  • [2015] A radio documentary produced and presented by RTÉ’s Will Leahy is marking the 50th birthday of Irish disco.

    Listen here

  • There Goes the Night: Vanishing Venues

    Today’s urban form is perhaps best expressed not through a two-dimensional map but via the remixed iPod playlist, the database documentary, and a live feed of data accessible via the smartphone.

    In my multimodal digital project, There Goes the Night I have created map-based sound-pieces and digital images concentrating around 3 former Galway nightlife venues. The research into and creation of these digital assets brought up a number of challenges and considerations. I began the project as an investigation to the ‘right to the city’, and the art of living in the city as a work of art (Lefebvre), vanishing communal spaces and the archaeological transience of entertainment spaces as opposed to those recognised as historically important. What has emerged is a digital parallel; the ephemeral nature of artifacts, corruption of files, lack of contextualising indexable or searchable meta-data, forgotten formats, maintenance of storage systems, vanishing of hosting sites and crucially, what was considered worthy of being archived in the first instance. David Morley vaunted the recent focus on “quotidian and sometimes ephemeral forms and locales of media production” that has to date been under-researched. This and similar media research outlooks provides some hope that there will be increased importance put on grassroots, experimental and small local events and publications. Despite the omnipresence and purported omniscience of big data, digital media I sought from even the past decade had already vanished. Another parallel which is outside the scope of this brief study is the commodification and privatisation of both the physical venues and many of the potential platforms and formats that I had hoped to host my work on.

    Quotidian Activities and Media Archaeology

    Parikka put it to us that,

    The Anthropocene is a way to demonstrate that geology does not refer exclusively to the ground under our feet. It is constitutive of social and technological relations and environmental and ecological realities.

    This referred to the geological resources used in our technology, but it also ties in with the widening understanding of media and place and increased intersection and overlapping of historically disparate fields, such as geography, archaeology technology, media and philosophy.

    Recent work in media and communications has begun to pluralize how spatiality is conceptualized, often drawing on theories developed in human geography and urban studies.

    Archaeology traditionally evokes the image of Egyptian tombs, mosaics in Pompeii or more locally, excavating a hill hoping for another gold torc or wedge tomb. What is being considered in this project is the understanding of the city and its people through the media created during the transition from analogue to predominantly digital formats. Malcolm McCullough (2013) contrasts what he calls digital ‘urban mark-up’ with a range of older place-based communication practices from stone carving and friezes to painted and electric signs. (McQuire)

    There is exponentially more media being created in Galway city each year. This leads to data overload, where today it is difficult to even conceive of the volume of photographs, posts and data generated in the city, let alone think about indexing, archiving and constructing a meaningful narrative from them that a human could parse. Mattern in her research calls for an Urban Media Archaeology approach to understanding the mediated city. One that “acknowledges the physicality, the “stuff ” of history and culture—of our media cities” and calls for a multisensory approach to investigation and presentation of findings. I hope to achieve this through a multi media offering of music, voice, map and imagery. The initial spark for the project was the near decimation in Irish nightclubs over the past decade, some number of which are lamented by my social group. These were not just places to move on to when the pubs shut, but specifically venues in which to see our favourite DJs and experimental electronic musicians, markedly different from concert halls, arenas and theatres.

    Research by Give Us the Night found that the number of clubs in Ireland had declined by almost 84 per cent in just over two decades. There were 522 dance venues across the country in the year 2000, including 100 in Dublin, compared to about 85 across the country today. The average number of venues per county has dropped from 19 to about three, and some areas no longer have any.

    Why did so many venues disappear over the past decade? In the case of Galway city, the number of nightclubs had been dropping since the 1980s. There were more than twenty different venues operating as nightclubs over the past four decades, now there is only DNA, formerly The Alley, then Karma. A number of factors come in to play; the considerable cost and effort of obtaining Late Night Exemption Orders, judicial attitudes to licencing, late pub opening hours, property development, lack of political recognition of nightclubs and nightlife as culturally important, rising overheads associated with venue ownership and operation, and the increased level of financial risk in starting a new club or club night. From the audience side, the availability of music online, the economic landscape, emigration, alcohol consumption changes and social media all played a part in the decline from the huge number of venues at the height of the boom.

    The first of the three sample venues is The Warwick, Salthill – demolished in 2019, which was a 1930s-built hotel with a sizable ballroom, used for concerts and as a nightclub. The second is Carbon, Eglington Street – repurposed from a pub first as Kno Knos, then The GPO and finally Carbon, which sold to pub operator JD Wetherspoon in 2019. The final venue where McGettigan’s stands on Bohermore presently was home to The Bentley, Icon, Cuba and a new iteration of The Bentley again in 2012.

    The Warwick is the most dramatic case, as it has undergone a digital and physical erasure. The building has been knocked and not ‘marked as closed’ on Google Maps, the listing or business entity is completely gone. With the listing went reviews, user submitted photos, time-based usage patterns and other publicly available data. The same is true for Carbon; no trace remains, for the public eye at least, of the media and information associated with that venue, or its predecessor The GPO. The private companies that gathered this date most likely have it in storage, but this is not accessible to an average person. Mc Gettigan’s differs in that it is open for business, but similarly the data on that building has effectively been overwritten, and lost to the ether. As Scott Rodgers, who has written extensively on mediated cities said in his podcast Publicly Sited,

    If you live in a city which is changing rapidly, construction sites might begin to seem like processes of erasing, copying and pasting, remixing or remediating the city.

    The same physical process of building and development is a literal and figurative analogue for the digital presence of the sites investigated. In researching this project, the ephemerality of digital media and artifacts came up repeatedly. Considering the amount of time the people of Galway cumulatively spent in the three venues studied there is a paucity of documentation online. There are threads of conversations on message boards with dead images, and links to image sites that are only fractionally indexed by the Wayback Machine. On Facebook, inactive venue pages, posts on the Galway Memories group page and a few user created Spotify playlists are all that remains intact.

    With this in mind, I supplemented my own research and memories with crowd sourced information. This seemed appropriate given the idea of participation in public space explored extensively by Scott McQuire in chapter three of Geomedia: Networked Cities and the Future of Public Space, particularly the idea of ‘relational art’ as considered by Bourriard or Eco’s ‘open work’ “that often involves participation, collaboration, and even forms of co-creation, with the ‘audience’.”

    I posted on Twitter and Facebook, asking users to name a song that reminded them of each venue and to send any additional memories by voice note. A number of people submitted audio information and some asked that I read their submission so as to keep it anonymous. With this I created a supercut of the tracks suggested, with overlaid memories and thoughts from contributors. To complement this, I made digital drawings of each venue based on contemporary images where available. This process takes onboard elements of Blast Theory’s 2006 project Rider Spoke">, in which the audience while individually cycling a particular city are prompted to leave anonymous voice notes which will be accessible to other participants when they are in the same location later on.

    If each story forms a donation of experience, it is a gift offered not to a particular listener, but to an anonymous future listener or community of listeners. […] Sociality is marked by the archival traces of those who have gone before and those who will follow after.

    I was intrigued by Conor McGarrigle’s 2010 augmented reality project NAMAland and the potential for this to be an AR project also. I decided that AR is still not accessible by enough of the general public at the current time. I also considered hosting my project on Google Maps, such as the Dún Laoghaire Soundmap had done with added functionality and modal cards, but elected to make my own map of the city and pins. I have used a Google base-map to collate locations, and create a back-up of my information for however much posterity that entails. I created the site using bootstrap on GitHub, but as doing so, realised that that itself is far from permanent. The GitHub site is subject to their terms and accommodations, and a self-hosted site on my own domain would be equally precarious, subject as it would be to my ability to continue maintaining and paying for the site.

    The motivation behind the site and media generated is not evocation of nostalgia, rather to remind or inform for the first time the atmosphere and feeling of the venues. I hope to bring home a realisation of what has been lost in the city. The sites investigated were not strictly public domain, there were bouncers, revenue concerns, rights of admission reserved, costs to drinks and perhaps entry, but all had a flow of disparate groups of people and allowed a huge range of personal expression through attire and dancing.

    In the end, this project serves as a proof of concept for a much larger piece of work, one that could take a team of researchers, or an individual a doctorate to complete. I would suggest that it is better to focus on the post “ballroom of romance” era which spans from around the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, through the Catholic Church’s moral panic over Jazz in the 1930s, through to the show bands era of the 1950s to late 1970s. These earlier times are better documented online, in documentary and in film archives, so much so that young people today would more easily find digitised information from their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations than their parents’. It may be that the printed and photographic materials from the 1980s to the 2000s either were considered more disposable due to lowering costs of creation and reproduction, or the artifacts have yet to be scanned, uploaded and shared online as with previous generations.

    The constant leaps forward in technology, portable devices and connectivity have occurred so relatively fast, that it is only in the past few years that people have begun to grapple with their digital footprints, consent and privacy rights, and their online legacy. Scans of printed material, blog posts, news articles and websites dedicated to quotidian leisure activities are far from permanent and are just as subject to the ravages of time as any physical artefact.

Contact Me

Let me know if you have any photos, tracks or voice memories you would like to share.

C/O Flirt FM 101.3
Áras na MacLéinn
NUI Galway

Paula Healy

Student in the MA in Digital Media NUI Galway 2021-22.
Manager at Flirt FM 101.3.
Misses Electric, Liquid, The Vic, Cuba, 903 and Drum.