The Electronic Music Council formed a little over 12 months ago as an act of desperation amongst artists in Cork, as a response to many issues facing those in the electronic music industry locally. Through collaboration and collective effort, it is hoped a healthy, vibrant, and multifaceted night-time culture can be nurtured, with electronic music at the heart of Cork’s late-night cultural offering.
Words: James Abjure
This is part 2 of a 3-part article series. If you missed the first part of the series you can read it here.
Part 2: Challenges & Barriers
Cork has long had an intimate relationship with dance music, a relationship perhaps most obviously birthed with the launch of the Sweat club night in Sir Henry’s in the Autumn of 1988. The infamous South Main Street venue grew to attain international acclaim over the course of the following years, touting Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier, and Kerri Chandler among the regular
international guests, before its eventual closure in 2003.
The mantle was picked up by other venues, such as the Half Moon Theatre, Club One, the Savoy, and the Pavilion (later Dali), each of which boasts a long history of large dance music events throughout their lifespans. As well as these larger venues, spaces such as the Roundy and Corcadorca’s Theatre Development Centre (TDC) space have played host to more alternative acts, such as Andy Stott and ELLLL. The variance in music styles, venues, and events produced a vibrant music culture with unparalleled eclecticism, which was sustained over many years.
As Cork now exists bereft of a specialised electronic music club, it is worthwhile to examine some of the difficulties various venues have faced, to establish how best a new club should operate
As with all industries, financial viability is undoubtedly the most critical aspect of a business’s success, and various financial setbacks have proved fatal to many a club over the years. Before doors are opened to visitors, city centre venues face significant overheads in the way of rates & rent, and
recently also spiralling electricity costs. These factors combine to make the industry a difficult one to turn a profit in.
One major hurdle which has long been a cause of added distress for venue owners is that of personal injury claims. This was highlighted by Andrea Kend (Miss Ken D), a renowned DJ and promoter in the Cork club scene. In the mid-noughties, Andrea co-owned a club in Cork City where she experienced this issue first-hand. Such is the nature of busy clubs, slips, trips and falls are commonplace, and despite having public liability insurance, excesses of up to €4000 meant that she and her partners were often left to cover the bulk of sometimes dubious personal injury claims.
The frequency and unpredictability of these claims proved to be a major financial burden and has been an experience shared across venues throughout the years. There are however signs that the trends may be reversing, with Stephen O’ Byrne of Dali noting that in their two years of operation at their Carey’s Lane venue (2018-2020) they did not encounter any personal injury claims.
In addition to this, new personal injury guidelines were approved by the Judicial Council in December and are due to come into force in April 2023. These new guidelines will be used by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and the courts to assess appropriate damages and will lead to a
reduction in compensation values across injury types. A reduction in compensation levels should also act to discourage would-be claimants from submitting frivolous claims and thus should hopefully lead to a decrease in the overall number of claims taken.
Potential noise pollution is another longstanding issue facing venues, and if venues are to avail of relaxed licencing restrictions then the impact of a club’s noise pollution on surrounding residential properties must be duly considered. In Cork, The Kino on Washington Street in particular has dealt with noise pollution issues over the years, with sound levels having to be strictly monitored at times.
Noise pollution is an issue not bound to Ireland however, evidenced by the recent temporary closure of Fuse in Brussels owing to a court order requiring it to operate at a maximum volume of 95dB. Despite a subsequent minor relaxation of the restrictions imposed, the 95dB limit can only be exceeded at certain times during the night and Fuse has been given two years to relocate. In the face of this threat to the club’s survival, a campaign to have Fuse & other clubs recognised as cultural institutions have gained momentum, mirroring similar calls in Ireland and elsewhere.
Learning from this series of events, it is apparent that in an Irish context, meaningful solutions to noise issues will have to be implemented through soundproofing rather than volume modulation. Positively, this has been noted at the governmental level, and €2 million in funding has been included in budget 2023 to support soundproofing in clubs and late venues. This money will be made available through grants in the near future and should assist venues in improving their facilities.
An enduring issue for arts venues which has recently come to the fore is the widespread lack of accessibility for people with disabilities. At the recent Night-Time Economy annual forum held in Dublin, the issue of accessibility in venues was raised by the actor and comedian Saoirse Smith.
Saoirse spoke of her experiences performing in venues across the country, in which the vast majority lacked the infrastructure to properly accommodate her wheelchair. She also highlighted the diverse range of features that a venue must have to be fully accessible, as various disabilities require different accessibility considerations.
While regulations are now in place requiring new venues to be fully accessible, there are no regulations on existing buildings to this end. A major barrier to accessibility currently is the protections given to the structures of listed buildings, in which a lot of venues are housed.
These regulations make it impossible to retrofit accessibility features requiring modification of a building’s structure and thus these spaces remain closed off to those with disabilities.
Saoirse put it eloquently, saying ‘people are more important than buildings’ and highlighted international examples where buildings of historical importance have been successfully retrofitted to add accessibility features. It is hoped that a change in legislation could be brought about to enable these changes to occur.
As well as physical accessibility concerns, Saoirse stressed the importance of disability awareness training for venue staff and bouncers. She recounted various instances of discrimination faced by herself and friends of hers with various disabilities, which could have been avoided had the staff involved had the necessary training.
This is something that can be readily implemented by venues and would help to foster an inclusive atmosphere for a more diverse crowd. It is crucial that a new venue in Cork should promote inclusivity through both a high level of accessibility and disability awareness.
Running an alternative dance club comes with other financial hurdles to be overcome also. Electronic music clubs by their nature attract punters who spend comparably more time dancing than conventional, late-bar type commercial music venues and correspondingly less time at the bar purchasing drinks.
For many venues, the income at the bar is the primary source of revenue, and a diminished return here can impact on the club’s viability. Electronic music clubs also typically operate with reduced trading hours compared to pubs, and typically earn the bulk of their income over the course of a few hours per week.
In the current economic climate, this is an unworkable business model, and thus means of generating income at other times of day must be achieved. In the final article in this three-part series, I will examine how venues in other areas are maximising the financial & artistic utility of their spaces to maintain commercial & cultural success.