Prior to the dance era in UCD, nights on campus were routine but had fallen out of favour with campus authorities due to a stabbing incident in 1977 at Belfield Punk Festival. The incident, unfortunately, led to the death of an 18-year-old in UCD’s canteen.
10 years on from this tragic incident, Building 71, otherwise known as the old student centre, became home to the most sought-after weekend venue in the country.
In a recent interview with The College Tribune, DJ, and activist for ‘Give us the night’ Sunil Sharpe touched on the influence that colleges can have on cultural movements: “Colleges are still where music scenes can be born, and talent can be championed. Go back to the late ‘80s in UCD when Francois was Ents officer – he started part of Dublin’s early dance scene there.”
The man Sharpe referred to, is Francois Pittion. Francois was Ents Officer in 1987, and he revolutionised the party scene in Belfield. He spoke to The College Tribune on the culture he curated, and what a typical night would look like in building 71.
“UCD in late 80’s was fantastic, in a way it presented an escape from the terrible economic situation in the country. The atmosphere was one of excitement, and the then Ents officer Mickey O’Rourke had really upped the ante in terms of what to expect on the social side of things.” Francois told us.
“The UFO nights started as a more alternative version of the Saturday night disco in the bar. This was very popular (especially the 2-hour cheap pints!) However, there was a large group of people whose musical tastes weren’t being accommodated. We approached the Ents & Bar committee and asked to do Friday nights, and we were given the green light!
It wasn’t just techno/rave-We played a lot of the “Madchester” stuff (Happy MOndays, Farm Charlatans etc.) As well as harder indie stuff and a smattering of funk, 60’s etc, so the night was very eclectic, but not commercial at all. There was a conscious decision to play stuff not normally heard out, and the students responded really well to it.”
Francois described to us a typical night in Building 71, and what the authorities thought of it:
“A typical Friday night would start about 7pm, usually we’d try new stuff out, though generally mellow, then as the night progressed, we’d up the pace, it usually ended with sweat pouring off people, many of whom were dancing on tables, and a couple of small risers we put in front of the DJ box. We were also fond of using a strobe light and fog machine, though this did annoy Seamus and Eddy on the bar, so they usually had the younger guys pulling pins down the music end!
I’m sure the authorities knew the place was pretty wild on Fridays, but it didn’t seem to bother them to be honest, we never got any hassle”
Francois further detailed the scenes in Belfield during his time:
“There were bands playing by the lake each lunchtime, and then there was bands or themed discos in the bar. The large nights such as the fresher’s and Rag balls usually had a large marquee beside the bar, holding about 2000 people, with the big bands of the time playing there. (Fun fact the Chemical Brothers played there!)
Then the bar would usually have the UFO and the restaurant would also have a disco or bands. About 3000 tickets would be sold (at that time about 1/3 of the total student population) We also had Arts/Commerce/science/Ag days which would involve gigs and bar extensions. Nearly every 2-3 weeks there would be a big event on campus.”
The last Major act to play in the student Centre was BICEP for the Commerce & Economics ball in 2018. Since then, there have been no musical acts to light up Belfield. The freshers has since moved off campus, and of course 2020 has seen a halt to all campus activity due to the global pandemic.
Francois summarised his concerns going forward with gigs on campus: “I fear for the entertainment industry. The pandemic has only exacerbated what has been going into decline for years. The loss of small and medium sized venues has been catastrophic for the gig and club scene, though if people would like to get involved, there is the “give us the night” campaign.
Tribune Throwbacks is a series where Co-Editor Luke Murphy & News Editor Hugh Dooley dive into Belfield’s past and explore cultural, political & social events. Whether they were one off student- stunts, or movements that defined University College Dublin.
Luke Murphy, Co-Editor