In Phibsborough, a Punk Collective Keeps Their Community Alive During Lockdown

Nestled within the dusty alleyways that crisscross west of Phibsboro’s Main Road is The Karate Klub – a collective rehearsal and hangout space for many punk bands over its 13 years of existence.

“Punk is the defining ethos of the space,” says Marcin Jozefczuk, a founding member and one of the 27 people who run the space, on a blisteringly hot June bank holiday Saturday morning.

“The space doesn’t involve money,” says Jozefczuk, smiling. “This is the only place I can meet with people and have a bit of a chat.”

Well, apart from the small sum that groups pay each month, says Jozefczuk, wearing black denim shorts and a bleached orange t-shirt, sunglasses perched on his wiry blond hair. But with nearly 30 members involved in the collective, the amount is minimal.

Housed in a single-storey building, the hangout space resembles the storeroom of a particularly niche bric-a-brac store.

Stools are made from bicycle chains, the shell of a stripped-down car is fashioned into a DJ booth. Posters are pasted on the wall advertising gigs in the nearby clubhouse of Bohemians Football Club – a relatively short trip for those who practise in the Karate Klub to make for their regular events there.

In a nod to the space’s previous incarnation as a martial-arts centre, foam mats and a punching ball, along with graphics stuck to the wall outlining martial-arts exercises, can be found at the back of the room.

Stacked in rows like carefully assembled Lego blocks on a table in the centre of the room are dozens of nuclear green transparent tapes – a recently released compilation entitled Age of Disease.

As with most other places, the pandemic has impacted on how the space is used, with only solitary members currently allowed to use the studio.

Karate Klub member and musician Michelle Doyle, who organised the compilation, sees it as a means of keeping the spirit of the space alive during a time when so much of the regular life of the punk community has been curtailed due to Covid-19.

“My hope was that in the absence of live gigs, people could have a means of production and focus on putting out demo tapes,” she says.

Community Hub

The idea behind founding the Karate Klub was to create an affordable space for bands to meet and rehearse, something hard to find in Dublin.

A lot of the original members of the Karate Klub came from different autonomous spaces in the city, says Eric, aka Two Headed Dog, who helped start things up.

A DIY ethos continues to inform how the Karate Klub is run. “There was a conscious decision to do it all self-initiated and self-funded with no Arts Council funding or anything like that. We wanted to be completely self-sufficient and free of any constraints,” says Eric.

“This meant a harder road in one sense, but retrospectively it meant that the space had a better fighting chance against fluctuations in the economy and recession and all that type of thing,” he says.

Photo by Sean Finnan

The space, says Jozefczuk, is not just for practising and recording. It’s a community hub for many different people in the collective, a space to host everything from movie nights to cook-ins. It’s also a place for members to come together to socialise.

“Karate Klub gives us the ease of being able to talk in Polish when we’re sick of speaking English. We can make food here, we play music here, we drink beer,” says Jozefczuk, of himself and his fellow band members.

For Legs Jeffreys, having access to a space that is collectively managed by people that share similar ethics, politics and musical tastes is an important part of being a punk, and helps reinforce this sense of community.

Jeffreys became involved in the Karate Klub after they were involved in similar DIY punk spaces in Canada, coming across the space after visiting a friend living in Dublin who was their band’s driver while on tour in Canada.

“These kind of spaces have been important to me since I started learning about punk and learning what DIY is, the importance to have a space to create and do what we want and to foster our own community,” says Jefferys.

“It’s a safe space to be creative and be a bit of a freak. Everyone puts into it what they want the space to be,” says Jeffreys.

Jozefczuk leads the way into a rehearsal studio. A light flickers ominously in a small soundproof space at the front of the building that was put in place by members of the collective after a few noise complaints by their neighbours.

There’s a drum kit, a bass amp and a couple of monitors in the room. The ceiling is low. Most of the equipment in the studio is shared, accumulated over the years of the club’s existence.

Eric is clear that although the Karate Klub welcomes new members, it is very much a collective.

“Our idea was more, we’re going to be a very tight-knit collective and people are welcome to join our collective and we will be a closed space that is welcome to people who want to come and use it but we need to keep ourselves tied to a set of guidelines to survive,” says Eric.

Such guidelines include strict scheduled rehearsal times and ensuring the rehearsal space is kept clean and orderly.

Age of Disease

Age of Disease is a sampler of the diverse musical output from the bands that use the space, says artist and member Doyle. The tape was also something for some of the members of the space to divert their energy towards during lockdown.

“The whole idea was to do something that was quick and full of demos. We have a tape duplicator in the space and dubbed the tapes ourselves,” says Doyle, via email.

“My hope was that in the absence of live gigs, people could have a means of production and focus on putting out demo tapes,” says Doyle.

The bands that have used the space are not limited to any one genre, which is reflected by Age of Disease, the name reflecting the turmoil of living with the coronavirus. The album, released both digitally and on cassette, is a sampler of the breadth of influences of the groups and individuals that use the space.

There’s the cosmic ambient of Dreams in the Witch House’s track “I’m Not Really From Outer Space”, as well as punk drummer John Kelleher’s piece of traditional music “Jigs”. Also on the compilation is the tongue-in-cheek folk of The Deadlians’ “So Rich and White and Young” and Extravision’s post-punk anthem “Our City”.

If punks make it, then it’s punk, says Doyle. Genre is not important once the record or sounds were made by groups and individuals that encapsulated the energy and the ethos of the space, she says.

“I organised the compilation Age of Disease as a more demo approach to our previous LP, which is quite finished in comparison. I thought it might be nice to think about demos as often it’s difficult to get band stuff over the line,” says Doyle. “The focus was also more experimental.”

The tape was produced entirely within the Karate Klub on an old tape duplicator that Jeffreys bought and left in the space.

“Michelle bought the tapes from a UK distributor, cut to size and delivered. All the inserts, the tape duplicating, that was all done in the Karate Klub,” says Jeffreys.

Are there any other ideas to keep the spirit of punk alive during the times of Covid?

“We don’t have a wired connection in the space, but perhaps we can try do a live punk gig from home in the future,” says Doyle. “Watch this space.”

Age of Disease is available from the Karate Klub’s bandcamp page.

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Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at [email protected]

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