5 Years of The House Presents

Salon-style multi-genre music events have been cropping up across Dublin, following the lead of the enormously successful Kaleidoscope Night. Current trends are taking this model and moving towards not just multi-genre but multi-disciplinary events: Listen at Arthur’s on Thomas Street has featured poetry readings and video footage alongside its central musical performances; Phonica at Jack Nealon’s on Capel Street has combined experimental poetry and music; and Staccato in Toner’s on Baggot Street focuses on spoken word supported by music.

These events all have two things in common – their dedication to presenting a combination of acts not normally seen together, and their setting, usually small bar or lounge spaces without formal staging and with an ‘intimate’ atmosphere. The line between participants and spectators is softened if not dissolved. In this way, city-centre venues try to replicate the feel and closeness of a small community gathering or a local session.
Where the artist and the audience are equal
The House Presents, established in 2012, brings this same atmosphere out of the city centre to a smaller, closer community. Annesley House, the bar that has hosted these monthly events for the past five years in North Strand in Dublin, is cold and bare with bright, moodless lighting, a functional if pleasant drinking hall that does not feel conducive to intimate music-making; but go up the stairs – cold and smelling strongly of the open smoking area – and you step into a room that doesn’t seem so far away in mood from the Odessa Club (where Kaleidoscope began). Upstairs at Annesley House is an inviting candlelit space with cabaret seating, warm red drapes and a small corner stage, even a cabaret-style electronic sign complete with white light-bulb border.

A lighting installation, designed by Jane Daly and Matt Dee, accompanies each event, reflecting the acts performing, creating an atmosphere and preparing the audience for what they are about to experience. Audience experience is close to the heart of The House Presents. ‘We try to create something where the artist and the audience are equal,’ explains Paula Lonergan, one of the organisers of the events alongside Nathalie Cazaux. At one of the events, last October, the lighting installation was low-key but effective: hanging on the drapes behind the stage were small clear plastic boxes containing small sculptures, illuminated in bright colours. While they usually prefer to find some common thread in the experience acts are offering, Paula described this event as more festive – ‘a bit of a mish-mash’ celebrating their return after the summer break – which was reflected in these playful light-boxes.

While the mix of acts that evening was likewise colourful, their progression throughout the evening felt a little jarring and disjointed. With a kind of accelerate-then-brake pacing, the acts drew you in close and pushed you away in rapid shifts of tempo that could easily have been alienating. However, there was a kind of hypnotic fascination to this that kept me willing to stay on board.