TheLiberty is a local paper for Dublin's south inner city

February 2001

Tivoli tops for young bands

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By Shane McDermott

The Irish music scene is in a potentially destructive artificial rut manufactured by the entertainment industry, according to Liberties-based promoter Mr Shay Kenna.

Mr Kenna is involved in a new club in the Tivoli Theatre called The Scene set up to offer a fair and independent platform for upcoming Irish acts, and has little doubt about the reasons for the industry's, and media's, lack of interest in contemporary Irish music.

According to Mr Kenna, businessmen with little interest in music are seeking to protect their financial monopolies. "The amount of crap that goes on is unbelievable," he said, "You wouldn't believe the amount of lies and level of deceit young bands have to put up with here. They're treated like dirt." Mr Kenna believes a heavy conflict of interest within the industry is to blame, claiming that Ireland's largest promoter MCD has ties with the Arts Council, and people with large shares in media organisations also have stakes in the entertainment industry.

"How can you compete when some promoters get free full page ads in papers because of this, and we've to pay two grand? Financially we haven't a hope," says Mr Kenna. "Of course, if you wanted to get really paranoid about it, you could say that promoters, agents and venues here are purposefully keeping Irish bands down to create a vacuum which can be filled by foreign acts who pay large sums of money."

The Scene in the Tivoli runs every Saturday night from 10:30 p.m. and despite starting in October, it has received no media attention or promotion. Unique in Ireland as the only late night musicians' club, the Scene is also different in that the bands and singers are the ones who organise their gigs. Averaging three or four acts a night, the venue allows the bands to pick when they're on and who they're on with.

The club has sought to create a community of bands where ideas and styles can be compared and exchanged. One way it has succeeded in doing this is by allowing anyone who has played on stage to attend future gigs there for free. There is then a healthy mix of musicians in the audience every week, the Hot House Flowers and the Frames being regulars, and because of the presence of musicians as well as fans in the audience, the bands on stage tend to give 110%

Over 25 bands and songwriters have performed at the club so far, among them Turn, the Subtonics, Petronella, Relish, Mic Christopher, Vinyl and BellX1. All those who have played have expressed a wish to come back. Mr Kenna says what attracts them is the great vibe and energy, not just from the fans, but from the venue itself. "They know they'll be looked after," he says. "They know when something goes wrong or needs fixing the people responsible won't go missing. They also like the idea of late gigs. When gigs start at 7 or 8 p.m. they're finished by 11 and the DJ comes on. The bands feel second class to the DJ. The late night at the Scene ensures the bands are the centre of attention."

When the drummer of Blink walked on stage to do a sound check, he reportedly
turned around and commented, "You know what's nice? Walking onto a clean
stage". To demonstrate the buzz generated during the gigs, Mr Kenna told of
how when Turn finished their set on December 16th, they went off stage and
were asked if they wanted to go back on and do an encore. They agreed gladly
and some minutes later a bouncer rushed into Mr Kenna and said, "They're all on
stage!" Mr Kenna said they were doing their encore, but the man replied, "No,
the audience! The audience are all on stage!"

The success of the new club is all the more remarkable given the obvious boycotting it's experienced. For example, two top Hotpress writers were in the club, actually in a band that performed, and still the Scene has not been mentioned in the music magazine. Mr Kenna's promotional company, IKOR,
approached Hotpress at the start of the venture and asked them if they'd be interested in sponsoring it with no cost to themselves, yet the offer was turned down. "They'd rather sponsor a competition where bands have to pay £100 for the privilege of entering," he said."That to me shows a lack of integrity. Most of those competitions are a waste of bands' time, they destroy bands. They're only used by venues as crowd pullers and in most cases the winner has already been decided."

Ignored by radio stations, newspapers and magazines, the Scene has still managed to thrive. This in part is due to a generational swing away from clubbing and back to live gigs. Temple Bar on a Saturday night is proof of this, as is the fact that venues such as the Pod and the Red Box, previously dance-only clubs, are now booking live acts. But the real reason for it's continued success is the hard work and dedication put in by the bands themselves.

"They know they're supporting themselves here, they're playing for themselves. Music has always been about taking something that's already there and building on it, music generates and reinvents itself by crossing boundaries and styles," he explained. "Just look at rap and how they constantly sample classical music. That's what we're about here, we've got so many different styles from rock to funk to retro to reggae to ska, and by bringing all the musicians together we're crossing the boundaries."

Despite the small level of renewed interest in live gigs in the city, the type of fresh and independent promotion that the Scene is about is still very much underground, and Mr Kenna jokes, "We're not underground. We're centre of the earth, it's that deep." Ireland has no permanent national music circuit that acts can get exposure on and, more suprising, no regular official college circuit, leaving a huge student market untapped. "That's something I find hard to believe," says Kenna, "I mean, Armenia has a bleeding college circuit and they've hardly even got the colleges!"

IKOR has been approached by venues and colleges with a view to setting up such circuits, something which Mr Kenna believes should have been done by the Arts Council and with the help of the Government. The company is also looking into establishing a new Dublin-based radio station which will offer exposure to native talent.

In the climate of a stagnant entertainment industry whose major players are interested in maintaining the status quo and keeping pockets lined, IKOR's task will not be easy and it has already allegedly run into strong, and sometimes malevolent, opposition. Many of the bands that have played the Scene were, according to Mr Kenna, warned beforehand not to do it. Before Turn played they were threatened by other promoters, and various bands have had venues tell them if they played the Scene they would not get gigs with them again. One solo artist was even forbidden from playing by her own management. Mr Kenna believes that should Irish bands get the opportunities they deserve to showcase their material, a native musical environment would be created into which large national agents and promoters would find it difficult to bring profitable foreign acts.

"Ireland is seen as a soft touch," he says, "a dumping ground for acts that are considered past it in other countries. 'Legendary' actually just means 'over the hill'. £25 to see Lou Reed in the Olympia? Give me a break."

Instead of fostering our own talent, he says, we are again letting them be snatched up by overseas record companies. The West 70s, who play in the Tivoli on February 17th, have three English companies coming to look at them. The Irish industry, it seems, has learnt nothing from the embarrassing way it let Father Ted slip through its fingers to Channel 4, and indeed the old saying still sadly seems to apply, "If you want to make it in Ireland, leave Ireland".

The West 70s are accompanied on the 17th by Bloom, Brawn and Mark Austin. On February 24th, Pugwash, Las Vegas Basement and Ro Byrne of the band Lir take to the stage. Doors open at 10:30 p.m. and admission is £10 for an adult or £5 with a student ID. For details of upcoming gigs, contact the Tivoli box office on 454 4472.