Song, by Toad

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Here, People, is What We Do Next

There have been a few posts recently – Gaseous Brain, Radar – bewailing the collapse of the Edinburgh University Settlement, a century-old charity reduced to dust in the space of a couple of years.  The loss of their ridiculous homepathic program is something for which we can be grateful, but the accompanying demise of The Forest Cafe and The Roxy Art House is more of a problem, particularly for those of a musical bent.

I have to confess, I thought the GRV was also owned by the Settlement, but they are not closing, just changing their name, so whatever the situation there might be, the venue collapse we are suffering is at least limited to the Forest, the Bristo Hall and the Roxy.

This, of course, is more than enough cause for worry as it is.  As the Radar piece quite rightly points out, the presence of decent, low-cost venues is crucial for fostering a thriving music scene, and without wishing to denigrate the ones we do have like Sneaky Pete’s, Henry’s and The Wee Red Bar, we are hardly blessed in that department here in Edinburgh.

Just to add to the fun, though, we also seem to be fast running out of promoters.  I always mention I Fly Spitfires when I talk about this, but in the three years or so since their demise we have yet to see anyone willing to step into their shoes and bring genuinely trendy bands to Edinburgh.  In terms of the scene slightly closer to home, as far as I am concerned at least, Tracer Trails have all but stopped, Trampoline has been silent for ages, The Gentle Invasion seems to be on one of its periodic hiatuses, and Ruth from the Bowery hasn’t really been able to get back in the game since her venue was placed in other hands at the end of 2009.

Woe is me, waah waah, piss moan, whinge whinge, will we ever have a scene ever again etc etc etc etc…

Stop it.  Just stop.  I don’t really disagree with anything either Nick or Milo say in their respective articles, but I don’t want to focus on what damage this might do to Edinburgh music.  All this doom and gloom is ridiculous, and utterly needless.  The very point of DIY and alternative music is that it is quite literally alternative.  It is an alternative to mainstream mass-market culture and as such will always be a struggle.  To complain about that is kind of ridiculous, because it is inherent in the culture – it’s like saying that you hate swimming because you always get so wet.

The Tracer Trails, Spitfires and Bowerys of this world did not have it easy.  Spitfires brought fashionable music to an initially indifferent city, when most people would simply skip Edinburgh altogether when putting together their tours.  Tracer Trails were so unimpressed with the actual venues on offer they made it a point of tracking down unusual places to put on shows.  The Bowery was started in a disused basement on a budget of a couple of grand.  Christ, even I wrote about music for an audience of zero for nearly three years, before someone actually commented on my website for the first time.

None of the institutions we think of as being representative of Edinburgh’s thriving DIY scene over the last five years had an easy time of it – that’s why they are so respected.  So quite simply, if we perceive the closure of these venues and the absence of these promoters as a real problem threatening the progress of the city over the immediate future there is only one answer: fucking do something about it.  Yes, YOU!

If you want to put on gigs regularly, just do it.  Start with bands who are mates so you can afford to underpay a bit if you have to until you find your feet, but a venue doesn’t have to be amazing.  I saw Meursault blow the roof off Henry’s, and Jeffrey Lewis pack the place out so much it nearly burst at the seams.  I saw The Low Lows’ amazing set at the Ark, which really was a shithole.  Just do it.  Just put things on – it’s not as hard as it looks, you just have to be a little organised.  Make sure you have a PA and a sound guy, get some posters up a month in advance – even shitey photocopied things are just fine – make a Facebook page and get your friends along.  Fuck it, it can be done.

Edinburgh may be famous for having reticent crowds and a dearth of venues and few decent bands and so on and so forth, but you can always make things happen if you are absolutely fucking determined and prepared to force them to.  This is what everyone else had to do, before we got a bit of press for the good bands which appeared in the city over the last few years, but sometimes I think this has led to people treating a music scene as something which just happens, and it most definitely is not.  It is something you have to care about enough to make happen.

Which means that the only way to react to these venues closing down is to use other ones, and bollocks to whether or not they’re quite right.  And if you hear anyone sneering about how the gigs aren’t as busy or the venues aren’t as nice or the bands aren’t as good or the writers don’t care or any of that shit, then FUCK THEM.

It’s a piece of piss being part of a thriving scene – it’s good fun and everyone pats you on the back.  But when there’s little there and you have to fight like hell to keep things happening and to make sure that whatever small fire you have is still being fed, that’s when it’s rewarding, that’s when you’ll feel like you’re achieving something.  Adversity is fun.  It’s a challenge, and I fucking hate being told by people what I cannot do – and that’s what being part of DIY music is actually about.

And while you’re at it, the Forest are trying to raise the money to buy their space from the Settlement (or their administrators, presumably) and you can donate here.  Please do.  It’s worth more than the pints you might spend it on otherwise.

28 witty ripostes to Here, People, is What We Do Next

  1. You’ve inspired me to finally get off my arse and put on that gig I’ve been meaning to for about a year. Hurrah!

  2. avatar

    (Assuming you’re not just being sarcastic) that’s excellent news.

    Particularly as bands like Broken Records and Meursault and so on start to play outside the city more and more I think it’s really important that the newer bands start to form their own friendships amongst themselves and get their own gigs on and develop their own audiences. Hopefully that way everyone will benefit when the crossovers start to happen.

  3. avatar

    Nice article Toady-tastic, not being from Edinburgh it does seem as if folk are too quick to complain about their being a lack of venues. It’s just my opinion (which isn’t worth much), but surely there must be scope out there for folk to put on shows outside of the tried and trusted music venues. Seriously, if Edinburgh is able to host a major arts festival each year, utilsing ever bit space of available, then it really shouldn’t be that hard to find somewhere to hold a gig from time to time.

    That being said I still reckon that the Roxy was/is an awesome wee venue…

  4. avatar

    Yeah, it’s a big loss, not least because of the dispersal of enthusiastic people which goes with it.

    But you’re right, there must be loads more spaces that we’re using, and even if the spaces are shite, you can still have a great gig there.

  5. avatar

    Edinburgh and Glasgow are obviously a bit different, but if me and Lloyd can put on gigs in Glasgow despite at least one of us being an idiot then someone should be able to do likewise in Edinburgh (he said having no knowledge of venues or, well, anything)

  6. avatar

    Aye, now a follow up post with gig putting on guide for the converted I reckon. Chop chop.

  7. avatar

    It does worry me that on the occasions that I have seen a ‘genuinely trendy band’ play in Edinburgh, the turnout has often been best described as ‘muted’. Dum Dum Girls – a band who are undeniably in the trendy bracket – played Electric Circus last month and the audience numbered about 50 by my reckoning. Now you could point to the fact that they played Sneaky’s earlier in the year, but the tickets were cheap, they are all over Pitchfork and the venue is pretty well known (yep, I know it’s a glorified karaoke booth, but hey, it’s a city centre space).
    I saw Xiu Xiu play the same venue last year and it seemed like more folk were there for Meursault’s (excellent) set.

    Contrast that with Warpaint at Stereo in Glasgow last week where you got a basement venue packed with folk for an LA band with only one EP (and an over-priced yet-to-be-released album on the merch stand).

    Edinburgh’s own music community seems to be pretty tight and support for bands hooked into that is always great, but there seems to be a lack of a wider audience for alternative music in Edinburgh. It’s like most of the city overdoses on live comedy in August and promoting anything else to a wider audience through the rest of the year is a real challenge.

  8. avatar

    GET IN!

    well said.

  9. avatar

    Well people like Gav and Tim and the Spitfires lads can probably tell you a little more about that I reckon, but I think you’re right.

    The other question, which is something I keep harping on about, is longevity. Promoters have to be around for a while before they build up a consistent enough audience to take bigger risks, and a lot of the recent gigs have very much been one-offs. That is the great thing about the likes of the aforementioned promoters: you’d go just cos. And that doesn’t happen now.

    I find myself wondering a great deal about the student population here, actually. Phil from Debutant/Meursault says that the general gig-going age in Aberdeen is early twenties, whereas here it’s early thirties.

    I sometimes wonder if the posh yahoos who come to uni here simply because they were too fucking thick to get into Oxbridge just have no interest at all in alternative music, or whether there is a sizeable community of interested people there who simply aren’t being addressed at all.

    Certainly there are plenty of academics, under- and post-grad, who read this site (mostly scientists, for some odd reason) but there certainly doesn’t seem to be the student or indeed the youth interest in music here that I have seen in other places.

    Ruth was the best at closing that gap actually, with all the things she did in conjunction with the Art School.

  10. avatar

    I love this. Particularly the following:

    ‘And if you hear anyone sneering about how the gigs aren’t as busy or the venues aren’t as nice or the bands aren’t as good, or the writers don’t care or any of that shit, then FUCK THEM.’

    You are quite inspiring sometimes Mr Young.

  11. avatar

    I’m going to have to get off my arse and put on some gigs now, aren’t I ;-)

  12. avatar

    Totally agree Matthew, and I must point out my hastily written (and seemingly somewhat inaccurate) blog post wasn’t intended to be a whinge but rather to encourage people to support The Forest, especially as it was one of the underappreciated venues that Tracer Trails have used to such good effect, along with The Bristo Hall.

    Personally I’m just glad as many people as possible are spreading the word about the opportunity to save that venue, as you’ve done here. I’m pretty optimistic that a new breed of promoters and bands will pop up, probably creating some kind of thriving industrial gabba scene that none of us can relate to!

  13. I wasn’t being sarcastic! I’ve been in touch with Henry’s Cellar Bar about putting a show on. Initially I just wanted to get Loch Awe on a bill there, but the more I think about it the more I realise it’d be better if I put the whole thing together myself. Now I just need to track down some bands…

    (I’d also like to point out that I’m both an undergraduate, and a scientist. Spooooky.)

  14. avatar

    Milo – I don’t intend to give the impression that I thought either you or Nick were whingeing at all, just focussing on a different approach than me. Honestly, I would never have written this post if I hadn’t first gone through the ‘fuck, what are we going to do now?’ thoughts which you and Nick articulated, so in a sense, this was me admonishing myself for feeling a bit defeatist initially and a boot up the arse to stop fretting and do something about it.

  15. avatar

    I love industrial gabba.

  16. avatar

    When I signed on as an undergrad at Edinburgh, I thought student life would be wall-to-wall alternative music, but sadly it was nothing like that for me. And things don’t seem to have changed much in the intervening years.

    The reality seems to be that Scottish students with a passion for music gravitate to Glasgow, and Edinburgh is populated with a minority of visible New Town yahs, and a majority of ordinary students for whom music isn’t that big a thing for them.

  17. avatar

    No worries Matthew, it’s good to see the conversation progress to something more positive.

    Having said that, when Dylan starts up his regular Gabba Krunk nights you’ll be sorry!

    Gary, they may be in the minority but some students will no doubt be on side and get involved. Fresh Air Radio is great for encouraging that.

  18. avatar

    As someone who’s been going to gigs in Edinburgh for about 30 years I’d have to say the last few years have been by far and away the best but I’d have to agree with Lloyd’s comments re the fact that we can have, arguably, the world’s biggest art festival every year but outside of those 3 weeks in August we seem to struggle to attract a fraction of the bands that regularly play Glasgow. I’ve also always found it strange that the student presence in our city isn’t more noticeable in attendance at smaller gigs

  19. avatar

    Agreed Milo, there will always be Edinburgh students interested in going to gigs (I was one of them). And the venues might be bad, but they are better than they were in my day. Even with Fresh Air and Student, it was always pretty hard to find any sort of scene outside of the Rocking Horse goth-y stuff and the Calton Studios metal.

    I’d have to agree with Keith in that the last few years the Edinburgh music scene has been very healthy and maybe word will get around and more musically-inclined students will start to see Edinburgh as a good destination. I noticed the List student guide featured an almost equal number of Glasgow and Edinburgh bands.

  20. avatar

    Keith, that’s because the big promoters like PCL and DF seem quite cautious of putting a particular kind of band on through here, I would imagine because they aren’t confident they can make money. And most independent promoters don’t stick around for long enough to become known to the right booking agents.

    It takes time for people outside your town to figure out that you exist. Even for people in your town, sometimes.

  21. avatar

    And of course with that comment I am implying that DF and PCL are bigger than they actually are, and I don’t think either company has more than a small handful of employees, although I’m not sure. So they may be the biggest we have here, but they’re still far from massive.

  22. avatar

    Yep, I know what you mean Matthew. I’m just envious of the amount times you’ll see non UK (or even UK based) acts, at all levels, make it over the border but usually just to Glasgow. I know that’s the way it’s always been and unfortunately I don’t see that changing anytime soon…if ever. But the flip side of that is that it can make you more aware of what’s going in your own city and that’s what’s been so good over the last few years. The quality and quantity of local talent is, personally speaking, the best it’s ever been and has been greatly helped by the amount of bloggers always highlighting and supporting these acts.

  23. It’s always been very difficult to get trendy acts to Edinburgh. We tried, believe me, but the difficulty was that those were the shows which inevitably lost us money, and goodwill, and ended up with us relying on local supports to drag along whatever crowd managed to turn up (and in the end you pay the touring act whatever money you have, leaving nothing for the supports. Which clearly isn’t fair). That’s why we tried to do a mixture of ‘popular’ bands who weren’t necessarily very cutting-edge, with occasional loss-leading shows.

    I’d love to say that it’s as simple as ‘book a venue, photocopy some posters, plug it on the net’ and on one level it is. But if you want to do it on a regular basis, you really need to keep a level of commitment up which is very, very difficult, especially when holding down a full time job, and playing in your own band (if you do that).

    That said, as Matthew states, the loss of venues isn’t catastrophic. In 2002, there were effectively *no* small venues in Edinburgh. If we wanted to put a show on we had to hire the old Bongo Club or somewhere similar. It was only when we got the Caley Backpackers and brought in our own PA that something (and let’s face it, that was a hostel bar!) was viable as an alternative to big, expensive venues or Battle of the Bands in local pubs. The situation is much, much better than it was then, so I don’t worry too much. There is actually a group of interested, committed grassroots musicians and promoters, all of whom do bits and bobs, plus Nick, Claire etc at Sneaky’s and Henry’s. Things will get better!

    In relation to the student issue, we tried very hard to interest them in coming to gigs/playing at gigs but had very little success. I wish I could tell you why, but all we came up with was that students were over-catered for in Edinburgh and therefore had no need for it, by and large.

  24. avatar

    When I was at uni there, there was definitely a dearth of students going to most gigs – but that did mean some “intimate” gigs for me when some bands did brave the city.

    That said, most of my musically minded friends at the time were much more into the electro scene (and still are really), and we did go to/put on some pretty damn good DJs during our four years. Many Edinburgh students may be lacking on the musical interest front – but I wouldn’t write off all of them just because they prefer a quite different scene.

    But then again, I’m probably a New Town yah!

  25. avatar

    Yes! C’mon and lets make something happen!

  26. avatar

    I went to uni in Glasgow in the late nineties/ early 2000nds. So there was a lot happening locally ,and even though popular UK indie music was a bit boring by the end of Britpop there was a lot of interest in newer US bands such as At The Drive In, And you will know.., and then eventually The Strokes.

    We had friends who went to uni in Edinburgh, and used to head along on the motorvator with our parkas and packed lunches to see what was going on.

    To be fair it was mostly people sitting about listening to drumn bass, and hip hop. Which would have been great if you liked it.

    But I really didnt.

    So it was always Glasgow for me at that time.

    However for some reason, Edinburgh now has its own indie music culture now that is much more accessible, DIY, low fi, call it what you will, but definitely less competitive, more anyone can have a go, and as a result the songwriting ( and writing generally)that comes out of Edinburgh at the moment is a constant source of encouragement.

    Now, I am waffling a bit but what Im saying is that with the city being as it is ( well to do students at expensive bars/clubs, big drumnbass /dance music scene for many of the rest, fair enough) there isnt the cash cow for businesses to invest in flashy gig nights/ competitions, and in that respect cant compete with Glasgow.

    But here’s the thing. Those sorts of ventures (The Mill, King Tuts Yoursound, T Break) whilst they are good, are not really what we’re into. Its all good, but for Edinburgh, its a case of less is more. Less pish, more genuine quality songwriting, less pressure, and thats why creatively it is almost peerless.

    Judge not by the quantity, but by the quality.

    As long as we can play somewhere, with no big fuss, people will hear about it, come along, and enjoy themselves.

    So I guess Im saying, no panic is good. And the main reason touring bands dont come to Edinburgh more regularly is the lack of a decent road from the border.

    so, keep on.

  27. avatar
    Sneaky Nick

    Good news, lots of people are indeed getting off their arses and being promoters. When I did a general Mailout in July to independent promoters who use Sneaky’s, there were nearly 40 names on the list, and now there any many more. People put on around 220 shows here in 2010, and next year will be even busier. Almost every show was by an independent promoter.

  28. avatar

    That is fucking excellent news. Actually, even since writing this I have ended up speaking to lots of people keen to give it a shot too, which is really promising.

    The future, as they say, is orange.

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