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.