FOR MUSIC FANS in Ireland back in the 1990s, to keep up to date with releases you simply had to tune into the TV show No Disco every week.
From 1993 to 2001, its presenters – first, Donal Dineen, then Uaneen Fitzsimons (who tragically died in 2000) and finally Leagues O’Toole – brought viewers on a journey through the best in alternative music. In a pre-internet era, before streaming, Spotify and 24-7 music access, in a time of tapes and music magazines, No Disco was essential.
Now a new radio documentary, made by Tipperary producer Ciarán Ryan, sheds more light on No Disco’s legacy for Irish TV and music.
“No Disco was a music television programme that started on RTÉ 2 (then Network 2) in September 1993 and ran for almost a decade,” explains Ryan. “It showed music videos from more left-of-centre acts, and despite the mild protestations of those involved who would argue that the programme has been somewhat mythologised, was quite influential on a niche audience of music lovers, especially in a pre-internet era.”
He says that what made No Disco stand out is how unique it was at the time. Though shows like When Under Ether, Other Voices and The Last Broadcast followed in its stead, there has never been a No Disco pt 2 on terrestrial TV (presenter Dineen does have his own internet show, This Ain’t No Disco).Source: irishmusiccentral/YouTube
“There wasn’t really anything like that on our public service broadcaster at the time, and probably not since,” says Ryan. “I remember growing up, you’d get some music on shows like the Beatbox and Jo Maxi, and I was too young to recall MTUSA; these shows probably privileged more ‘palatable’ popular music for a youth audience (even though they did feature Irish artists occasionally), whereas No Disco featured a range of new and alternative artists.”
It provided an outlet for young music fans (and indeed, the not-so-young), especially from rural outposts (like myself) to find out about new music that was sometimes weird, sometimes beautiful, and often both.
There was no grand plan with No Disco, says Ryan. (Colm O’Callaghan, who basically created the programme, wrote about this on the Blackpool Sentinel blog in 2015).
“It was essentially a vehicle to get RTÉ Cork off the ground, in terms of actually delivering programming as opposed to just news inserts, etc,” says Ryan. “It was cheap as chips to make and this probably played in its favour for the first few years, in particular. It always did seem peculiar to me growing up that there was this tv show that was playing some of the stuff that Dave Fanning played, and then even ‘weirder’ stuff. What a delight.”
He emphasises the show’s importance in a pre-Internet era. “Remember that when No Disco went off air in 2003, YouTube had yet to be invented, so there was a void for where Irish artists could get their videos shown,” he says. “I do recall vaguely from my own involvement with a label that not many small-scale independent Irish artists were making videos post-2003, because they simply had nowhere to show them.”
Getting the seal of approval from the presenters “was something that could be considered a milestone for any emerging indie act in the country,” says Ryan.
The show had a massive connection with viewers. “As Donal Dineen says in the documentary, you may have someone who is the only fan of a particular artist or type of music in their small town or village,” explains Ryan. “As Kim Porcelli recalls in the documentary, it was an opportunity to bond with friends and watch communally, and a way of being introduced to new music that would have a significant impact on them.”
DiscoveriesSource: Stormtree Records/YouTube
During the making of the documentary, Ryan discovered that “No Disco was quite a haphazard operation, with news crews often getting called out to film a breaking news story with the RTE southern correspondent, leaving a make-up laden Donal Dineen waiting about for hours to record links”.
Even stuff like getting the show to Dublin illustrates this, with videotapes having to make the train in time. There seemed to be a great sense of adventure and chaos, that was buoyed by the show’s detachment physically (and otherwise) from Montrose.
Leaving a legacy
The passing of Fitzsimons left a huge mark on the show. “One of the editors in RTÉ Cork, Paul, spoke quite eloquently of how her death affected what seems like an incredibly close-knit team,” says Ryan.
Ryan says that No Disco staff like editor Anton O’Callaghan and Rory Cobbe at RTÉ Cork showed him “the pride that these people still have in their involvement in this show”.
We might look back on previous years with nostalgia, but Ryan believes that a No Disco for this era would have be a bit different. “I don’t think a show like No Disco would really work nowadays. Maybe the format could be tweaked somewhat, but I don’t think the relatively basic format of link-video-link-video would be a runner in an era where people watch music videos on their phone.”
For Ryan, No disco “was exactly the type of programme that should have been in RTÉ’s remit”. When the show was cancelled in 2003, a petition was signed by over 4,000 people calling for its return.
“I know the broadcaster has more commercial concerns in terms of its funding model than other public service broadcasters such as the BBC, but No Disco did contribute to the Irish cultural landscape, and that should be recognised,” says Ryan.
‘This Ain’t No Party’ will be broadcast on RTÉ 2XM (2xm.rte.ie) on Thursday, 24 May at 5pm. It was produced and presented by Ciarán Ryan. The documentary was funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, through the television licence fee.