Nov 26, 2023

A Tale of Two Cities: Comparing the Dublin and Bologna Music Scene

Erasmus student Lucia Orsi contrasts her experience with the vibrant Bologna music scene to Dublin

Lucia OrsiContributing Writer

As the epicentre of Irish music, Dublin has always had much to offer its audiences. From intimate trad sessions to high-energy DJ sets and featuring notable artists such as CMAT, Fontaines D.C., and Thin Lizzy, Dublin is characterised by a rich and diverse culture of music. Nevertheless, this rich culture is under threat. With rising ticket prices discouraging audiences and musicians unable to book venues, the state of the live music scene in Dublin is at risk of completely isolating artists from their audiences. If Dublin wishes to find a solution to this problem, it may have to look outward and find inspiration in the examples of other cities.

Bologna’s approach to music is revolutionary. With its vivacious left-wing politics and large student population, it is no surprise that the music scene in Bologna is distinguished by its passion and youth. As a UNESCO City of Music, Bologna is globally recognised as a hub of musical expression, possessing both a rich musical past as well as a dynamic present, and with venues strewn across the city, quality music is not difficult to find. The variety of musical genres represented is also notable. From jazz to techno, funk to opera, Bologna has it all, even including a fiddler playing trad on the streets. This city seemingly lives and breathes sound.

Bologna is exemplary on many fronts when it comes to music. From an audience perspective alone, I have found the music scene in Bologna not only to be much more engaging, but also more accessible than Dublin. Like the majority of students, I can’t afford to cash out €10 or more every night just to hear good music, as some venues in Dublin would demand. In comparison, free events are commonplace within Bologna, with plenty of events that could easily charge a fair few for the quality of the music that is exhibited. Ellie Shafir, a student at the University of Bologna, shared her experience at the open mic jam session in Bologna’s Cortile Cafe, saying: “The intimate layout, the absence of any partition between the performers and audience, and the consistently surprising musical mastery makes for the most inviting, warm atmosphere I have ever experienced in a music venue.” For audiences, Bologna stands as a landmark of music accessibility.


Music is at the heart of this city and this heart manifests itself in many forms. From after-dark raves in the university’s economics building to high-energy jazz nights in Sghetto, the Bolognese audience has its fair share of genres to choose from. Described as “diverse” by fellow student, Maddie Curran, it is evident that Bologna appeals to its large student body which is always hungry for something new to sink its teeth into. What distinguishes Bologna from other cities is its persistent and passionate advocation for music in all its many forms, whether that be through its musical conservatories, independent anti-establishment collectives or raves in the hills. Audiences are encouraged to engage with the music as not only a form of entertainment but an important cultural facet of the city.

This drive for expression is not lacking in the musical sphere of Dublin. However, as a city, it is undeniable that the outlets that can perpetuate this cultural phenomenon are limited.

From the perspective of an audience member, it is clear that Dublin is not scarce of talent but, rather, scarce of spaces for this talent to thrive. Avid Dublin gig-goer, Mel Rosevear, describes the Dublin music scene as “mysterious and diverse” but notes that “intimate and authentic gigs are the hardest to spot”. This feeling that much of Dublin’s talent remains largely in the undercurrent is not uncommon and speaks to a widespread audience desire for more opportunities to interact with Dublin’s artists. In comparison, audience engagement with the musical sphere in Bologna is made possible through the wide promotion of events across the city’s social and technological communities. The large student population operates on word of mouth to a profound effect, with Instagram pages detailing events for the week populating people’s feeds, while the age-old method of posters can be seen littered across the city. As a lot of Dublin’s rawest talent remains isolated to the outskirts, perhaps the accessibility of Bologna’s music scene is something that Dublin could strive for. As Mel puts it: “Dublin has a scene that you know has everything. It’s just a matter of catching wind of something and finding it.”

It goes without saying that the financial aspect of music is a significant factor for artists and audiences alike. Dubliners are all too familiar with tear-jerking ticket prices, never mind the cost of drinks within the venue, and while a balance between paying artists for their art and audience accessibility should be upheld, the current state of ticket costs don’t seem to fall in favour of either artists or their audiences. On this front alone, Bologna seems to strike a much better balance than its Irish counterpart, as Maisie Greener, assistant Radius editor, highlights: “Lots of gigs take place in quite guerrilla locations like art galleries, occupied buildings and the streets. That’s for sure more accessible monetarily.” She goes on to note that where Bologna is “in tune with its dense student population, Dublin often seems at odds with its academic inhabitants”. 

These low-cost gigs in Bologna not only induce highly attended gigs but simultaneously provide spaces for musicians to make a name for themselves without the pressure of reigning in enough tickets to pay off venue owners. Furthermore, audiences become much more willing to pay for gigs that do require paid entry as a result of this. Comparatively, in Dublin, where almost every event requires some sort of financial contribution, students in particular are much more reluctant to attend gigs.

This dissatisfaction with the current state of music in Dublin is not limited to its audiences. Having spoken with musicians in Dublin, it became evident that the vibrancy and diversity of the city’s talent is simply not reflected to an adequate extent in the support that they are offered. Amelia Durac, an Irish student and musician, describes the juxtaposing attitudes towards music on a ground level in Ireland against the governmental system. “Despite the pride for music in Ireland, and Dublin having so much musical talent, the arts have always been and continue to be overlooked in government when it comes to policies that secure their prosperity.” 

With the inadequacy of institutional support offered to the music scene, some Dublin artists have taken the matter into their own hands. Folk rock musician Cam Begley spoke to me about his approach to getting his name out there in Ireland. “I’ve gone into my time in the Dublin scene with a DIY attitude, which I have found is effective, if not easy. Whether it was solo and with bands, no one would book me – so I started booking venues myself.” This independent attitude seems to be the foundation for any form of success within the Irish music sphere, yet there remains the question as to why such a ‘DIY attitude’ is so necessary. If Dublin provided more support and resources to the musicians that colour its vibrant musical culture, both audiences and artists would benefit from more gigs, more talent and more opportunities to engage with Ireland’s rich musical tradition.

The unfortunate reality is that the financial burdens placed on musicians are not limited to Dublin alone. Having spoken with a musician in Bologna, it became clear that, despite Bologna’s musical legacy, the situation for artists there is not all that different. From a lack of job opportunities to low wages, it appears to me that the musicians of Bologna face the same issues as their Dublin counterparts, issues that are too often rooted in an institutional neglect of the arts.

Despite these problems, the music scenes in both Bologna and Dublin remain defiant, subversive and vigorous. The sound of Dublin will always exist but it has the potential to flourish if it uses cities like Bologna as an example, spearheading passion in its approach to music and insisting on making music accessible. Through this, Dublin will vastly improve the experiences of its audiences and its artists alike. 

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