Few artists in the early days of techno had a long-term projection, aside from an abstract idea they were making the music of the future. Legacies were for classic rock bands, and even a 10-year plan would’ve derailed dance music’s outlaw DIY status.
But after the fruitless arms race to sign the next U2 in the 80s and 90s, Dublin has gradually morphed into a techno city, and D1 Recordings has helped shape the city’s electronic pulse over the last 25 years, from early Detroit-influenced 12-inches and glitchy jazz crossovers, to Fatima Yamaha’s 2012 anthem ‘What’s a Girl To Do’.
Eamonn Doyle set up D1 in 1994 with a backstory as good as any tech firm garden shed myth, involving studio equipment bought off Brendan Grace’s manager and a bunch of students in a derelict building on Parnell Street trying to work out how to use it. Since then, the label has a catalogue of over 60 releases, and Doyle has a legacy as a cultural figurehead in Dublin, through DJing, producing, running club nights and the ambitious and influential Dublin Electronic Arts Festival (DEAF), that ran from 2001 to 2009.
Doyle’s other version of D1 – the people and the postcode – is captured in his stunning street photography exhibitions and his celebrated photo books, including the ‘Dublin Trilogy’ series i, ON and End. His new retrospective photo exhibition and accompanying book Made In Dublin opens at the Royal Hibernian Academy on St Patrick’s weekend, just as D1 Recordings celebrates its 25th anniversary with a club night rammed with D1-affiliated names and a six-vinyl box set launching at Hen’s Teeth gallery, along with old D1 and DEAF posters, artwork, and repressed T-shirts and badges, as part of this year’s St Patrick’s Festival.
“With music and photography I feel like I’m doing the same thing… I never really separated them in my head,” he tells me in his apartment, with these blurred lines illustrated by framed prints of his celebrated works leaning against the wall, and hundreds of records and art books on shelves.
“It’s just another form of recording in the area,” he adds. “Even just in terms of the physical artefact of the book, it just sort of fills the space that we’ve lost since people stopped buying records off us. I even released the photo books on D1.”
He recalls the formative point in his photography career, an exhibition at the prestigious Les Rencontres D’Arles festival in France, with his backlit pieces presented in grids and panels in a darkened space, and abstract ambient electronic music by David Donohoe as a soundtrack. This multimedia presentation was further developed last year in his St Patrick’s Festival collaboration Made In Dublin, with Donohoe and Niall Sweeney. The installation featured Doyle’s photos flashing up on a giant triptych screen, the striking waist-height portraits amid the kinetic, warped geometry of the city – all battered with glitchy electronics like Koyaanisqatsi reimagined by Squarepusher.
“In our heads it wasn’t groundbreaking,” he says of the D’Arles show. “But it was quite architectural. Niall [designer Sweeney] designed some walls with spaces in them and we had the music. The reaction was crazy… this was supposed to be the most cutting edge festival in the world, but we were really surprised by the positive reaction to it, and how experimental people thought it was. But after doing interviews it sort of dawned on us that we’ve been creating spaces for people to come into for years.”
Doyle’s fifth floor apartment is less than a minute’s walk from the basement where he set up D1 Recordings. That old building also has a family resonance, as it’s where Doyle’s parents met when his mother worked for EMI on the top floor and his father owned the ground floor hardware shop. His father would later open Ireland’s first video shop 20 years before Doyle’s music ventures, and also ran a bingo hall for years in Moore Street, before the smoking ban knocked that on the head. So this patch of Dublin’s inner city, barely a square mile, has been Doyle’s creative hub for over 25 years, but it’s inspired a singular vision that’s led to international exhibitions, praise from giants of photography such as Martin Parr and publisher Thames & Hudson, and strong links with Detroit techno’s DIY militia wing, Underground Resistance.
Doyle moved to the family-owned building on Parnell Street in 1992, saying at the time there was only one other person actually living on the street, the DJ, writer and activist Tonie Walsh.
“That place was derelict,” he recalls. “I got my art college mates to move in and help renovate it and they paid 25 quid a week, or maybe it was 25 a month. It felt like a squat but my family owned the building. There was never an option to rent it out because no one would come live here, it was just completely abandoned.”
True to keeping it local, his first DJ gig was across the road in Fibber Magee’s, and the first lump sum he ever received for artistic purposes was around £10,000 for a film and soundtrack project. The collective managed to get the cash through “fivers and tenners in the post… it was an early version of crowdfunding”, after they sent hundreds of self-addressed envelopes to friends and various other heads they thought might help.
“We had a quote of eight grand from Dead Can Dance to go to their studio in Cavan. I remember we had this money and we had these dates booked and I remember thinking, ‘Ah fuck, what are we gonna do?’ We wouldn’t have known where to start.
“We spotted this ad in Hot Press, from Brendan Grace’s manager, who also managed Irish country artists and had a studio in Ballina. OK, we could’ve made a hit record at the professional studio, but more than likely we would’ve blown it. I said, ‘Let’s just buy the gear and learn how to use it’.”
Before the would-be producers learned how to use the equipment, they “spent a lot of time just sitting there looking at it”, Doyle says. “There were about 3,000 army shirts in the basement that my dad had been trying to flog. We had to get rid of that, and then there was just clay on the floor, so we had to put down stones and boards and we put all the gear in.”
Marc Carolan has been Muse’s live sound engineer since 2001, but he got his first ‘music industry’ break when he was called in as a mate’s younger brother to help Doyle and co use the studio gear.
“Marc was great, and we did the soundtrack… we still haven’t made the film,” Doyle says. “I was running this indie guitar club night in Fibbers on a Tuesday night that nobody went to, so I thought, ‘Let’s just get some of the bands in to record them, you never know.”
They set up the label Dead Elvis and Carolan recorded around 20 albums in the basement, including In Motion and “three young lads from Ringsend” called Wormhole, that led to them being “wined and dined by Geffen, Sony, EMI… it was mad”. Wormhole imploded after an ill-fated deal with Roadrunner, and Dead Elvis folded after a falling out. In the meantime, Doyle had been getting into electronic music and “tuning into the Detroit techno sound”.
“I was still setting up the label when I was still figuring out what I was into,” he says. “I still wanted to be a photographer, even when we were running Dead Elvis”.
In hindsight, D1 seems like the only possible name for the label, and Doyle says the postcode and ‘X marks the spot’ logo pinpointed the label on the city map, much like Octave One’s label 430 West was named after the Detroit postcode.
“We specifically didn’t use anything too techno, like futuristic fonts or graphics,” he explains, while reaching for the first D1 release off the shelves, Rob Rowland’s Glocomm EP, with its green fake fur coat detail sleeve.
The bold, simple logo caught the eye of the BBC a few years ago, as Doyle explains: “I got a cease and desist letter from BBC Northern Ireland telling me we’d copied them. I remember seeing their logo when I was playing in Belfast, thinking that’s a shit version of ours. I wrote back asking how long they’d been using it and it was two years. I said, ‘You might need to have a word with your designer because this logo has been going since 94’. I haven’t heard back from them.”
Even as he’s discussing surreal high points such as playing baseball and riding in cars in Detroit with Mad Mike Banks and Kevin Saunderson, or being booked for gigs in Japan in the 90s to play hyper-rare Underground Resistance vinyls gifted by Banks, he adds: “I really haven’t a clue how we did it. It was all phone calls and faxes, calling pressing plants in London and Detroit. At that time it was £20 to get a photo scanned.”
DEAF is rightly remembered as a forward-thinking celebration of the electronic underground, but Doyle says after six years he “just ended up feeling like an arts administrator… running between venues with cables”.
From that first 10 grand on the studio gear, Doyle seems to put everything he has back into his projects, from his lavishly-bound photo books, to the latest six-vinyl D1 comp, to the stacked DEAF line-ups. He’s basically worked on a break-even basis for years, and many times hasn’t even managed that.
He tells me he’s only recently paid back a debt from one ill-fated DEAF closing gig, when headliner Moritz Von Oswald had a stroke on the plane from Berlin to Dublin. He describes that 2008 event as “genuinely traumatic”, elaborating: “Before even going to see Moritz I was getting phone calls from all over the world to see if he was OK… but that just kickstarted a whole chain of events that turned into a nightmare.
“It was an all-access ticket between three venues, with Laurent Garnier, Model 500, loads of others. Word got out that he wasn’t gonna be playing so anybody that bought a ticket to see him went to see Laurent Garnier. Then all the heads that came just to see Garnier couldn’t get in to that one. I was coming from the hospital hoping Moritz wasn’t gonna die and I came to Wexford Street to see an angry mob. The bouncer just said, ‘That’s the guy’. So I got a few digs. We refunded €15,000 that night, and everyone still went into the gig.
“People often tell me I should do another DEAF… do your own!’
Events like these, piled on top of dried-up record sales, leads to Doyle admitting that “photography has been kinder to me than music”. He still goes for “ridiculously expensive materials like Japanese silk or whatever” for his photo books but it still fits within his break-even model. He says it’s worth it as “the book is the work itself… the difference between a physical object of a photo book or a framed photo compared with on screen is just vast. Vinyls are great of course, that’s what I’m into, but you can still appreciate the actual music on a file nearly as much as on record”.
Doyle had been a lapsed photographer for years while he immersed himself in music, and says when he hit the inner city streets around a decade ago with his camera, he felt that he “hadn’t really been fully successful in anything”. He had around €10,000 that he was going to spend on a photography masters, but opted to self-release his first photography book, i. He sent the book to celebrated photographer Martin Parr, who declared it the best street photography book he’d seen in over a decade.
Doyle admits he hasn’t been so kind to photography in the last few months, saying: “I haven’t taken a photo since last September.” The D1 Recordings anniversary spiralled after he contacted a list of artists for a compilation and “everybody got back… very soon it was gonna be bigger than I’d thought. It’s 55 new tracks, 45 artists… the St Patrick’s Festival tie-in worked out really well as the first D1 record was actually out in March 1994”.
Many of Doyle’s photos have an abstract quality – taken from behind, or of unsuspecting passersby in D1 streets. He admits there’s a “certain level of subterfuge… I started using a small little mid-20th century Leica camera, a rangefinder so it doesn’t make that click sound. I’m usually so close to people that they’d never expect you to be photographing them.”
He admits that it’s a “touchy area” but he has no negative motives. Sometimes however, subjects click that they’re being shot – adding an extra level of jeopardy, a nod to characters in Koyaanisqatsi catching the camera as the chaotic world mills around them.
“When people are aware they’re being photographed they change,” he says. “Just at the moment of realisation is interesting. A second afterwards it dies and you need to engage with people and it becomes a different photo, but I’m too shy for that.”
Doyle says a few of these instances emerge in the RHA installation – a collaboration with regular team members Niall Sweeney and David Donohoe, along with his favourite Irish writer Kevin Barry, who has written six passages for the Made In Dublin book.
And while Doyle’s whole artistic career in D1 was kickstarted with that 10 grand for the movie that was never made, he says the “next stage” for the four Made In Dublin collaborators is a film. “That very much feels like a continuous thing with the music, he says. “I eventually think we’ll end up making movies together.”
Until that film comes full circle, Doyle is knee deep in D1 memorabilia, merch and posters for Paddy’s weekend, and his show in the RHA, which then moves to Madrid. The Made In Dublin book is out this week, and has already topped the Vanity Fair ‘style shelf’, just above a new coffee table biography of Yves Saint Laurent. More critical praise is incoming, but Doyle’s humble take is almost surreal in an era of mass self-promotion.
“They’re just very simple, direct photographs” he says. “But something happened, and people are reacting to this.”
Apartment Records’ Kenny Hanlon on the D1 legacy
Kenny Hanlon of Apartment Records is one of the many guest DJs at Tengu this weekend as part of the D1 25th anniversary caper. He posted a mix online recently as a taster of the six-vinyl box set, featuring music from Roger Doyle, Eamonn Doyle, Dunk Murphy, Joni Kelly, Americhord, Shawn Rudiman, Linda Buckley, David Donohoe, Rob Rowland and loads more. Kenny’s thoughts on the D1 legacy below…
“I’m not 100% sure when I first became aware of D1. My first obsession in techno was with Detroit and D1 was the obvious connection to the motor city if you lived in Ireland. I do remember thinking how cool it was that Eamonn / D1 was listed as a UR Foot Soldier on the old Underground Resistance website. Wait, they actually know UR? Fancy.
D1 releases just appeared on the shelves with no fanfare; the music combined with the sleek design aesthetic delivered everything you needed to know without any superfluous nonsense. It was part of a proper alternative to all the prog house / trance waffle that was everywhere in the late 90s / early 00s when I was coming through. It’s an alternative that I’ve tried to continue on with Apartment, it comes from the same place. As dance music goes through another phase of bloated self importance, it’s good to be reminded that it doesn’t have to be all like this all the time.
With regards to the mix, I was sat at home having a sherry or two listening to samples of the box set and I just messaged Eamonn with my idea to do a mix based solely on the music from it. He sent me on the full tracks and asked me if I fancied playing the party. Sometimes it’s just that simple :)”
- Eamonn Doyle’s Made In Dublin photo book is out now, published by Thames & Hudson, and Doyle’s exhibition at the RHA runs from March 15 to April 22.
- 25 years of D1 takes place at Tengu on March 17. Tickets at eventbrite.ie. The accompanying six-vinyl box set is launched at Hen’s Teeth gallery on March 15. Order now at d1.ie.