Aberdeen Is Not As Shit As It Seems To Think It Is

union street from other end

I remember the first time I moved to Scotland and realising just how strong a taboo it was to actually say you were good at anything. That’s not something the English are especially comfortable with either of course, but it does seem that the further North you go the more likely some earth-shattering achievement is to be greeted with a noncommittal shrug and an inquiry as to whether or not you’d like another pint.

It was a bit off-putting at the start, learning to translate the full knowledge that, say, my German language skills were near fluent (which they were at the time) into ‘oh yes, I can speak a wee bit of German but it’s been a while’.

Once you get used to it, though, it’s really quite nice. And occasionally quite funny. If DaVinci were Aberdonian I am pretty sure the most you’d hear of it would be ‘yeh, ah fuck aboot wi paints sometimes when I can be ersed. Pint?’

Aberdeen is known as a bit of a shit-hole actually, but I am pretty sure that the main reason for that is not the town itself, but the fact that every time I go there all my friends apologise quite profusely for the fact that I felt the need to come up to Aberdeen at all.

It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s grey, because of the oil industry there is some of the greatest wealth inequality in the UK, the music scene is shit because no-one fucking bothers… you could paint it in a pretty crappy light I suppose.

The thing is, I first visited the place back in 1996 or so (I drove a friend up to start their new job and more or less the first thing we saw as we drove out to the complex was a field of sheep – hooray clichés!) Not all that frequently but nevertheless regularly I’ve been going up there for years now and on my latest trip, when once again my pals were apologising for me even having to be there at all, I had to stop them because it occurred to me that actually, I have never had a bad night in Aberdeen.

I mean, I keep going back, don’t I.

Contrary to that other great entirely bullshit Scottish cliché, they are some of the most generous people I know. Alright, there’s dicks everywhere, but Scottish people are generous as fuck and the further away you get from the fucking sphincter-clenchingly prissy middle classes of the Edinburgh New Town, the more people will go miles out of their way to help you out.

And this may seem like a bit of a tangent, but in fact, Rust2Rome has also been, erm, ‘enlightening’ when it comes to this particular part of the world. There are heroic exceptions of course, but the most legendary Rust2Romers seem to almost always be bloody Fifers or people from the North East of Scotland.

I suppose it makes sense. If you’re going to embark on a massive fuckwit escapade through Europe in a shitey car which may or may not start any given time you turn the key you are going to need a certain amount of stoic unflappability, and if that was an Olympic sport, every gold medal winner in history would come from the towns in and around Aberdeen.

They’re fucking mental of course. Just absolute blazing nut-jobs, the lot of them, but in the absolute best possible way. On the latest Rust2Rome one of the cars went on fire twice, and another didn’t start under its own steam for the entire trip and burned fifteen litres of oil. The drivers: Aberdonian (give or take a few miles). The response, a laugh, a shrug, a quick cigarette and get the fuck on with it.

This is a music blog of course, so I suppose I get to something like the point, inasmuch as I have one: what is the problem with the music scene up there? Well actually not all that much at the moment, which is sort of the point of this incredibly long and largely off-topic ramble. The classic criticism of the Aberdeen music scene was described thusly by a friend of mine a few years ago and I’ve run it past a few Aberdonians since, and they seem to generally agree.

Aberdeen is a very long way away from the rest of the country, especially the UK, but even most of the population of Scotland, so consequently no-one tours there. It’s expensive to get to and audiences are small. Because touring bands don’t really come through all that much, the local music audience tend to support their own, and look locally for the best music. The net result of this, however, is that the whole scene becomes very inward-facing so when touring bands do actually bother to visit Aberdeen, no-one goes, and of course that just makes them less likely to return, and the whole cycle become self-reinforcing.

But actually, if you look at what’s coming out of Aberdeen at the moment there is a really good collection of bands, so no matter how shit they keep telling you the place is, something is going very much right up there.

Take angry guitar music, for example. It won’t fill Wembley Stadium, but if you put Depeche Choad, Wendell Borton and Min Diesel together, that would be an excellent bill. Or alternatively, on the slightly more acoustic side, maybe Kitchen Cynics and Best Girl Athlete. Or the woozy electronic dreamscapes of Tryptamines. And that’s before you get into the ‘Aberdonian diaspora’ of the likes of Gerry Loves Records in Edinburgh, and bands like Lush Purr, The Yawns, DTHPDL and presumably countless more.

And to put the weirdness in perspective, Alan from the Kitchen Cynics just disappeared from our house when he came to play down here, wandered off into the haar over Leith Links, walked the town overnight and apparently got the first train back home.

Chemical Callum from Tryptamines is a concert pianist with an arm held together by half a dozen metal plates, who turned up in Edinburgh looking like the Levellers had turned to heroin, and then sat down and played the most beautiful piano to ever come from someone wearing a combat jacket.

Best Girl Athlete is a dad touring the world with his sixteen-year-old daughter during the school holidays.

I think Depeche Choad introduced themselves to me by telling me to fuck off, actually, although it’s all a little hazy. They really are all crazy, but somehow absolutely brilliant at the same time.

Glasgow is a magnet and tends to draw all the bands in Scotland into itself, but if you look at who is actually making the music, music in Scotland is not really all that dominated by the Central Belt at all.

I’d put on an all-dayer of this stuff of course, but the expense of driving six bands on a six-hour round trip would basically kill all hopes of not losing money, and therein lies the other problem: that distance makes it a serious challenge for bands in Aberdeen to get out and about and tour as much as they need to in order to get ‘out there’ to a wider audience.

There’s great stuff happening up there at the moment though, and I fucking love the place and the people. It’s a bit like London in the sense that you just have to develop a total blind-spot for the wankers, but if you do, then you too can develop that perfect tone of voice that lets you say ‘nah, it’s shite’, but secretly mean that a weird part of you loves the place for reasons that you can’t really be bothered to explain.

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