Meet John Leo Gillen & Mary Nally, the western Super Man and Wonder Woman of throwing parties, probing spaces, shaking cocktails and stirring it up. Now they are back in Dublin with New Blood as part of the Bram Stoker Festival.
Photo credit: Emil Hernon
Tell us a little about yourselves. New Blood isn’t your first creative collaboration?
M&J – Our first party together was No Way Back, where we took over a Nama’d bowling alley & arcade, since then we’ve worked, partied and missed many flights together.
Our approach is to take on unlikely spaces and work with a network of friends and family from the worlds of design, food, drink, art, music, nightlife, architecture, fashion, craft and so on.
What is concept behind New Blood at the Bram Stoker Festival?
M&J – We’ve never gone into anything with a defined concept. The only way to make these crazy things happen is to be flexible, serendipitous, opportunistic, get lucky and call in all your favours.
When we did No Way Back we didn’t decide to do a party in an arcade. We found the place through a friend of a friend who knew a dodgy receiver. We borrowed 1000 moon rocks from another friend’s uncle, a taxidermy lion from the attic of a pub, carousel horses, 70s nightclub furniture, a bar from the rowing club and we called every friend we knew to drive, lift, light, shake cocktails and build this place for one night.
It’s about what’s going on around you, how you’re feeling and who you meet. With New Blood, it’s the same process, you make new friends; pole dancers, nail artists, drag performers, fashion designers, visual artists, chefs – and we’re making a space where all these elements can come together and buzz off each other.
What is the greatest challenge in creating a Halloween themed party?
J – Getting away from exactly that. It’s a challenge any time you’re working with something where people already have a very clear idea of what that thing is. Whether that’s redefining a Celtic Tiger nightclub or create a contemporary event in a very traditional setting like the Aran Islands.
With New Blood we’re thinking a giant PVC box with electronic hip hop and pole dancers in sports underwear. A ‘queer-scarface’ vanity room with party monster beauticians doing ghetto nails. A shot bar in a warehouse with people that look like 90′s alien baby toys hooked up to tubes and mostly naked cocktail bartenders making ‘natural’ shots from beetroot and tumeric.
That’s our idea of a Halloween party anyway. A party for people that want to be challenged and that want to go a step further than a joke-shop vampire outfit or a hulk mask. The audience creates the vibe by transforming themselves as much as we do in transforming the space.
You both have significant ties with Galway. Does coming from outside a bigger city help inform your approach to projects in anyway?
J - I would say being an outsider in general influences the way you live. Everyone has that and feels those feelings but maybe coming from a smaller town where there’s less to distract you gives you a hypersensitivity.
M – Yeah, it definitely made me more inventive, there’s less to entertain you so you end up creating ways to be amused, be it throwing clubnights in the local Chinese or an underused bowling alley. Being limited forces you to look around, be resourceful and continuously reinvent, and that stays with you no matter what you work on or where you are in the world.
J – It forces you to want; to go and to get. Maybe if it had been Dublin instead of Galway I would have been kinda grand. It’s that bit more isolation that pushes you to go for more and get that life you know exists somewhere cause you can feel it.
Kind of like growing up gay, if you’re made to feel like what you love and the way you are doesn’t belong or is wrong in some way, you’re damn well gonna enjoy it when you get past that!
Where do you tend to source inspiration from for various projects and endeavours?
J – There’s so many versions of inspiration and ideas that never transpire – the demented ideas you have with your pals locked, the folders on your computer you never open again, the misguided business ideas in areas you have no business being in.
But it’s the things you have to do that actually become reality. Whether that’s a feeling inside you or a situation that forces you. On the one hand all I really wanted was to work in both the creative industry and nightlife industry – design, making, parties, drinks – that was kind of the only thing I ever felt drawn to. But there is no route. For both of us what originally would have been perceived negative situations led us into creating something new.
After the crash, my family was really struggling with their Celtic Tiger business, which had always kind of repulsed me. So I got into that tiny crack of an opening in this thing which was everything I hated, and forced my passions into it to turn it into something worth doing. Around the same time Mary had a problem with her visa sponsor for New York and came back and started Drop Everything. Both of those situations landed us back in Galway and are essentially the reasons why we met.
You’ve worked together on the launch of Electric, the coolest club, in the country and its food off-shoots such as Biteclub. What were you trying to achieve with the space which you feel is missing from so many others?
J – In the beginning I didn’t really think about it I just wanted to create something that gave a home to the people and things that I cared about.
As it grew I wanted to make something that challenged the idea of what a nightclub outside the capital city ‘should’ be and give young people a better experience of growing up in a small town. Why can’t the most interesting nightlife space be in Galway?
But I’m at the point where I feel I’ve taken it as far as I can for now and other opportunities are pulling me to places I’ve always wanted to go, so I’m on a bit of a hiatus.
On the whole, even if it’s not all the way to what I would love it to be, I hope it’s a positive thing for the people that work, live and go there and I hope it does play an important role in making young people’s experience there better.
Is Drop Everything, the cultural biennial on Inis Oírr (curated by Mary) returning next year and can you offer us any insights into what to expect?
M - Yes it certainly is. I can give you an exclusive on the dates which are May 27th – 29th. As for insights, none whatsoever, soz bbz.
Check out www.maryandjohn.ie for more on Mary and John