Eamonn Doyle and Niall Sweeney both graduated from Dun Laoghaire at the start of the 1990s. And while they forged their own creative paths in D1 and Pony respectively, they still collaborated on numerous projects: the records put out by D1 Recordings, the danceclubs of Model One and Elevator, and eight years of Dublin Electronic Arts Festival. More recently they’ve produced the internationally acclaimed “i”, “ON” and “End” projects and exhibited at Rencontres d’Arles 2016. Expect some techno.
You have both been vital activists in creating an underground and alternative club scene in Dublin in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Can you share your thoughts on this very exciting and experimental time? And why you felt you needed to be proactive agents for change rather than just being consuming participants?
ED: I’m not sure we set about to change anything in particular. I had been running an indie label called Dead Elvis with some friends and started D1 Recordings when I got more interested in dance music. Before I knew it I was running a club, distribution company, record shop and music festival. Mostly things were done out of necessity as none of these platforms really existed for us, so we built them ourselves. The independent ethos of Underground Resistance from Detroit resonated quite strongly with me also.
NS: It is that thing that nobody else is going to do it for you so you have to do it yourself. So we just did what we did. There was optimism for the new. And, in hindsight, we were creatively, politically and socially poised to just get on with it. Whatever that drive is – youth, music, sex, culture, boredom, friends, love, dancing, dancing as a proactive activity for change, just change, being bold. We had a kind of parallel club existence in Dublin in the 1990s and 2000s. Eamonn was doing his Dublin Detroit techno adventures, I was running around with drag queens. We had both been in DLCAD at the same time, and many other friends from that time have a similar mindset. Many of whom we still collaborate with today. We didn’t see being in Dublin as a barrier or limiter. It’s just a place. So, when we thought “let’s start a club”, it was open a month later. There were barriers, but I think (now) we somehow just thought we could push through them. And we did. There’s a lot to be said for having fun — and what it can achieve. Fun takes work of course.
Did anything particularly resonate while growing up to have a lasting effect on you choosing/falling into creative professions?
ED: Nearly all my early influences were musical, initially via my older brothers record collection. I started my own collection in 1980 with Bob Marley’s Uprising album. I could probably trace nearly everything I’ve done since back to the first time I heard that record.
NS: As the first generation and youngest child of an immigrant family born into Dublin in the late 60s, I had pretty rich pickings when growing up. My parents had a major impact on things, being both traditionalists and modernists, and staunch Europhiles. They constantly played music in the house. French chanteuses and Hot Club jazz seemed to be the soupe. And they were politically, aesthetically and culturally activated, both in Ireland and abroad. All of my favourite things from when I was growing up are still with me now: picture books, kids’ TV from around the world, those eastern European animations that used to fill afternoons — and really just anything with puppets. There was a wild boar, a seagull and a pet magpie at one stage. My siblings used to wake me up during the school week to secretly watch late night foreign films on TV, and they used to hide human body parts they had “borrowed” from medical college in my room and then send me to bed. There was a preserved headless crow we kept in a budgie cage in the living room that used to scare the shit out of any local priests that dropped by the house (as they used to do in those days). I was also allowed chewing gum, which still annoys my sisters. I built a lot of space ships and lit a lot of fires. Adventures in empty building sites and abandoned houses in the Dublin mountains at the weekends. I had a pretty good time.
I remember first seeing DEAF in the early 2000’s and thinking, “What The Fuck is this?” The ambition and scale was incredible. It was a feast for the ears and eyes! The whole ethos was so pure and it really struck me how intrinsic the design was to the overall experience. It felt so vital. Can you describe how it came about and the evolution of the festival?
ED: The only real festivals at the time were the likes of Creamfields and Homelands, which were more like large raves in a field. I never managed to get any of the D1 acts to play at them, so again by necessity we set up DEAF. The initial idea was to create a platform for Irish acts and labels like D1, Bassbin and Ultramack to perform alongside our international counterparts.
NS: Well the answers are really there in the question: ambition, scale, WTF, a feast, vitality, fun. And in Dublin it should be no different. There was no looking to others and trying to emulate. It was just all done how we felt it should be at each given moment. That’s also why the graphics shifted so dramatically each year. The thrust was the same, but the visual feast moved on. It was all about the music, it was about Dublin. It was very physical. Visceral. Eight years of it though — amazing! If you look at all the graphic stuff now, you can see a kind of story emerge, you can feel the changes of Dublin happening. In the end, it was literally all just noise. And the world collapsed.
Niall what was the brief for your design work for DEAF?
NS: Eamonn, was there a brief? More of an understanding of the potential. There were a lot of names and lots of dates. Art, technology, music. There was a mood, a zone — Dublin as a club. At the darkest heart of the city there was a flashing red beacon set to the sound of a techno beat. People moving about the city. People from all over the world. Irish people. Things that vibrate the grid. Psychogeography. Dublin as an active participant. And all this great music. “Let’s do something great!” — I think that was actually the brief. And the name of course: DEAF.
Looking back now, some 8 years since the last event, what are you lasting memories of working together at that time?
ED: Seeing the design and print programs come together was always the most enjoyable part as I rarely got to go to any of the events myself. I would invariably be running across town from one venue to another with a spare cable in my hand!
Since then Eamonn, you have taken up your camera and have been documenting the streets around your Dublin 1 environs. Where did this move into photography come from?
ED: It was actually a move back into photography, which I had studied in the late 80s in DLCAD. I somehow ended up working in music, and with DEAF I had effectively become an arts administrator. When the crash came in 2008 I decided to walk away from it all and bought myself a camera again.
You then re-ignited your long association by working together on producing 3 beautiful books of Eamonn’s photography – “End.”, “ON” and “i”, what does your collaborative process look like now?
NS & ED: It does all feel like a natural progression, of ourselves and of D1. And the books have re-ignited the same visceral sensation of all the great projects along the way. But, it is a different focus. We have 25 years more experience than when we started, which really ups the gears. But there are consistent trains of thought and lines of investigation throughout. In some ways we are more closely aligned, more working “as one”, even though we still both see different things in the work and how we put it together. And, it has to be said, Eamonn’s photographs are amazing, which helps! The beautiful edition prints themselves that Jim Butler makes, and the framer and the screen printers and installation teams; there is also the involvement of Marcel Meesters, the book printer, who we have worked with for years, he made all three of the books — the challenges of making “End.” were particularly extreme. Working with the same people throughout really helps. All are essential in bringing the work into being in the way it should be. It needs to have an active life out in the world, it needs to activate with people, perpetually — to be constantly “at work”. It has be good, as we are adding something into the world that wasn’t there before. “Let’s not be shit” is generally the starting point in our collaborative process.
Can you share some insights on “End.” in terms of the origins of it, the holistic approach to the photography, the design and the introduction of sound with David Donohoe.
NS & ED: Though we knew it was the conclusion of a trilogy, we wanted it to be the beginning of what happens next. To ask questions rather than resolve anything. To literally open up. To be threatening. It is photography, it is design, it is music, it is drawing. But we really riled up the different camps. And excited others. The book and the exhibition (at Rencontres d’Arles) were made at the same time, which was a real factor in the success of both. The installation “End.” opened the whole thing up even further, the possibilities. The people at Arles (Sam Stourdzé et al) really embraced it and pushed us to achieve something beyond expectation. The very physical experience of it, the grids of images, the monoliths, the holes, the giant images, and the infinitely changing sound that totally enveloped, the people moving around. So it is an event. It’s the city. It’s people. It is greater than the sum of its parts. It is also very intimate and heartfelt. Having no text in the books to contextualise any of it has been a key part of the trilogy. The books are the work, they are not documentation or catalogues, they are not about the past, they are happening now because you are holding it in your hand. And there had to be sound. There had to be music. David’s music. We were still in D1 after all. And it works just as the photographs or drawings, each moving together. Even the record inserted in the book like it had been just left there on the street. The beat coiled, energy on a spindle. The collisions, the loops, the labyrinth. The silver ink and yellow paper. Everything together and separate at the same time. One thing on top of another. It’s all movement and dance rather than representation or interpretation. There was a lot of trust too. Each part making itself, and then pushed together to see what happened. Precise chaos. All wrapped in yellow cellophane like a Lucozade bottle.
The response has been breath taking. It’s been thrilling following the global coverage for the books (and of course the awards), has it taken you both by surprise or have you had the tuxedos dusted off all along?
NS & ED: Well, of course we knew that the work was “good”. We knew it excited us. It also suddenly had a life of its own, slightly terrifying. But the response, from the start, and then with the exhibition and how it all had a very physical, emotional response, took us by surprise, it was overwhelming to some extent. But it does drive us forward. And the mams are happy. It’s a good thing! We only got the tuxes recently. But now we can’t get out of them.