In this instalment of UCD Hidden History, we talk to François Pittion (former Ents Officer) about Belfield’s infamous late 1980s rave scene…
Pittion began studying French and Linguistics in UCD in 1985 as part of an Arts Degree. He became involved in the UCD Students Union (UCDSU) early on, being elected as a class representitive and joining the Ents Committee.
He admits that facilities in Belfield at the time “weren’t really bad” but there was always an underlying feeling that students had to “get the degree and emigrate”. As there were no jobs going, students had the choice of either leaving the country or “stay and party”. Pittion chose the latter.
Up until then, there was no (electronic) dance scene in Belfield (or Dublin for that matter). The highlight of the week on campus was the disco in the Student Bar on a Saturday night. The DJ was Dave Lowe a.k.a Bambi who played “all sorts” Pittion remembers. He admits that cheap pints of beer during an extended Happy Hour were the main attraction for most students.
After a couple of years in the Ents committee, Pittion ran for Ents officer in 1987. The elections were hotly contested and he came up against the Kevin Barry Cumann i.e. the “Fianna Fail machine”. Fortunately, due to his contacts in Agricultural Science and Science, Pittion won by 260 votes.
Soon after his victory, Pittion and a close friend Mick Heaney began organising nights in the bar on Fridays “as an alternative to the Saturday disco”. The Friday nights, soon to be known as the ‘Unlimited Freak Out’ (UFO), would go down in Belfield campus infamy.
They began by playing a mixture of indie, 70’s punk and techno – “about 50% rave 50% guitar”. “I suppose”, Pittion ponders, “it would have been called madchester/balearic beats stuff”. (Quick music history lesson. Madchester – Alternative/indie/psychedelic 90s rock music. The Stones Roses, Happy Mondays, The Charlatans etc.. Balearic Beat – Genre of ‘house’ electronic dance music that originally emerged in the mid-1980s. The sound was initially typified by a distinctive, relatively heavy, slow (90–110 bpm), R&B-influenced beat.)
The UFO nights really took off. Pittion remembers that “the place would be packed by 8, and crazy by 11”. Due to this success, Pittion and Heaney had the idea of continuing the club after the UCD bar shut by running buses from UCD into The Rock Garden (until recently known as Eamon Doran’s) where the fun continued well into the early hours.
When questioned about drugs and the rave scene in UCD, Pittion is honest. He admits that the UCD authorities had no idea that every Friday night “half the bar was mashed on speed, acid and mushrooms”. The barmen knew what was going on, he says, but they turned a blind eye.
Though always associated with the rave scene, Ecstasy was not a popular drug during the late 1980s in UCD. It was too expensive. At the time, a single tablet of ecstasy could set you back £20-25. The widespread use of the drug in the rave scene didn’t come into play until the prices dropped in the early 1990s.
Pittion’s personal high point (“no pun intended!”) during his time in UCD was convincing Mark Collins (Ents Officer 1990/91) to put on The Shamen, the Scottish electronic band, at the 1991 Rag Ball. Well after graduating, Pittion was still asked to come back to Belfield to DJ the big Rag and Fresher Balls; he did this up to 1993.
Francois ran the UFO/Alien nights until 1997. From there he moved onto a Friday night residency in The Kitchen (which was based in The Clarence Hotel) a position which he held until 2001. For the last few years, he has taken a back seat in Ireland’s dance scene but still plays about four gigs a year, most recently in Tripod at the end of November 2009.
(Huge thanks to François for the interview and pictures)