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So long then, 2010. Hello, 2011.
As with the turn of every year, Scotland's music scene is steadying itself after December’s list-o-rama indulgences and setting its sights on the twelve months ahead. Right now, every one of Scotland’s musical movers and shakers are preparing their next step on the complex chessboard that is the music industry in the digital age.
Inevitably, this industrious period will see bands forming, labels emerging, ideas maturing and new venues sprouting up. Just as inevitably, many will drop away, unable to make it through the front door of what’s become an increasingly crowded room of bands, bloggers, liggers and chancers all slavering to make headway in 2011.
What this really means is that it’s impossible to predict how the next year will unfold. So, instead of peering through a crystal ball with the manic gaze of a wispy-locked Romanian grandmother, we're filling you in on the prospects that have us licking our lips in anticipation of what's to come. And sure, much of it may not even happen, but let’s face it that’s exactly what the turning of a new year is for: setting ambitions impossibly high only to be disappointed by the bitter blow of reality.
For those who don’t know, Homegame is the annual Fence Collective soiree that consumes Anstruther, a small harbour town in the backwaters of Fife. As a music festival, it’s locationally and musically unrivalled: witnessing Scotland’s finest tunesmiths, each handpicked by Fence luminaries Kenny Anderson (King Creosote) and Johnny Lynch (The Pictish Trail), take over Anstruther’s cobbled streets while non-plussed locals go about their daily travails is a truly beguiling spectacle. Add to the mix the country's tastiest fish suppers and an abundance of makeshift venues, including a town hall, a community centre and a decaying church, and you've got the finest festival this side of Hadrian’s Wall. Tickets for this year’s jig are still to be announced, but this atmospheric slideshow from last year should help whet your palate for what lies await.
In with the new…
A new year brings new hope for the Scottish music scene. Recently, Frightened Rabbit and Twilight Sad have been our most successful flag-bearers on foreign shores, although others like Broken Records, Errors and We Were Promised Jetpacks have enjoyed flashes of prosperity during that time. In 2011 Scottish music needs a fresh face to stand side by side with these esteemed exports, not only to boost the number of acts plying their trade outwith Scotland’s myopic gaze, but to help stimulate the ambitions of the grassroots community. As you’d expect at this time of year, blog-land has been hurriedly backing its favourite bands to go on to greater things, but, if truth be told, there’s no way of knowing where the onus will fall. It's just a matter of sitting back and waiting for right band to make its mark.
The Scottish Music Awards
For the more cynically inclined, the Scottish Music Awards (SMA) will smack of just another naval-gazing gimmick to help boost a flagging industry. But they’re wrong. It’s no coincidence that these awards have arrived at a time where there’s greater coordination and cooperation across the Scottish music industry. Rather than focusing on bands and artists, the SMAs hone in on the folk gnawing away in the background, including promoters, media, retailers, managers and even teachers. As with any award ceremony, it may sound like typical white-collar backslapping, but at this level there’s minimal financial gain for the hours these people put in. Sometimes, a little recognition goes a long way.
Bringing back the guitar
Once revered for its rampaging axe-hackers, Scotland's produced a depressing dearth of quality rock-merchants over the past years. As an army of macbook-armed electro acts and folk-swaying mumblers have risen to the fore, it seems the electric guitar has fallen out of fashion with the majority of Scottish tastemakers. But this year things are looking up. Led by the blistering rancour of Glasgow duo Bronto Skylift (see this month’s Introducing..), there’s a stirring in the bowels of Scotland’s rock underbelly. Already, the tumultuous math bombast of Edinburgh’s Lady North has blasted into range, while United Fruit’s rabid-dog boom looks set to finally make its way onto record. If things carry on like this, 2011 could well be the year lug-raping sonics shoot back into the Scottish limelight.
A triumphantly Sad return
Let’s face it, compared to the majesty of Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, The Twilight Sad’s follow-up Forget the Night Ahead was tinged with disappointment. It should have been the record that lifted James Graham’s moribund troupe beyond beard-stroking reverie; instead it dwindled in the clouds of expectation that enshrouded it. But last year’s The Wrong Car was a blistering return to form, and the subsequent onslaught of their live performances proved they’re still one of the country’s most breathtaking propositions. Graham’s been talking up album number three as a dramatic change of direction, albeit one fed with his usual dose of east-coast brutality, and this unusual excitement over the new material has already got the hack-pack fizzing with intrigue.
The mainstream media getting on board
After all this time, the mainstream Scottish media is finally sniffing out what’s been sitting under its nose for so long. While the inkies have spent the last few years extolling the virtues of decrepit musical stains like Paolo Nutini, The Fratellis and, worse still, The View, a ground-level movement of musicians, media and promoters has been gaining traction without notice. But in the last few months there’s been a steady stream of verbiage spouted over up and coming acts in redtops and higher brow reads. Sure, it may not be an entirely altruistic change of tact, but the prospect of national exposure can only aid the chances of these young scamps going the distance – even if they are being sounded out as the next Del Amitri.
Stuart Murdoch’s first novel
Come on, paws up. Who thought Stuart Murdoch had already written a book? In fact, who thought Stuart Murdoch had already a series of novels based around being a janitor at a church or something equally twee? Well, it seems the inevitable is only now about to happen. Next month the cardigan-adorning, dad-dancing frontman of Belle & Sebastian is releasing an articulate and, very probably, fey tome based on his diaries and blog entries between 2002 – 2006. After what’s sure to be a riveting, self-indulgent read, we're hoping Murdoch’s typewriter tapping inspires a selection of other local dignitaries into similar acts of penmanship. Imagine, a Malcolm Middleton cookbook, a Stuart Braithwaite guide to self-enlightenment, or maybe even Paolo Nutini’s modern day interpretation of the Emperor’s New Clothes. On second thoughts, maybe not.
At this time of year, pickings tend to be slimmer than a celery-munching supermodel locked in a Turkish sauna. But there’s still some choice gigs to wrap your lugs around over January and February:
The Burns Unit, Broken Records - 16 January, Glasgow
Billed as a Scottish/Canadian supergroup, The Burns Unit sees the likes of Kenny Anderson and ex-Delgados lass Emma Pollock reinvented as worldly custodians of myriad styles. An unlikely, but very real experience.
Band of Horses - 27 January, O2 Academy, Glasgow
The Seattle quintet’s emotive swoons finally find their way on to a stage that fits their enveloping sound.
There Will be Fireworks - 29 January, Captain’s Rest, Glasgow
Purveyors of gargantuan, reverb drenched soundstacks, There Will Be Fireworks - one of Scotland’s best kept secrets -make their return to the live circuit in 2011.
Maps And Atlases, Gallops, Lady North, Y’all Is Fantasy Island - 30 January, Sneaky Petes, Edinburgh
Math-noodlers-cum-intriguing-melody-makers, Maps and Atlases make their Edinburgh debut ahead of a stellar local undercard.
Esben & The Witch - 4 February, Sneaky Pete’s Edinburgh
Shortlisted for the BBC's Sounds of 2011 poll, Esben & The Witch’s literate, nocturnal throbs will no doubt consume Sneaky’s blacked-out cauldron.
Admittedly, Bronto Skylift are no spring chicks. In the last two years the battle scarred pairing of Niall Strachan and Iain Stewart have already shifted a debut album and around 200 gigs. But now the hard graft’s over and influential heads are slowly turning their way. The duo’s brawl of guitar and drum screeches out like freewheeling punk; utterly discordant but with a distinctly rhythmic edge. The inexhaustible Stewart drives a ferocious beat, pummelling his skins to a queer demonic trance, while Strachan’s finger-bleeding guitar cloys against his deafening shrill. Booked in for a slot at this year’s SXSW showcase, their animalistic gutter-rock is already stretching beyond the rancid basements of Scotland’s underground. If you’re lucky enough to see their head-rattling live outings in the coming months, best remember one thing: earplugs.
What musical-related shenanigans are you looking forward to in 2011? Who's are you tipping to top the Scottish music pile in the next twelve months? Let us know...
For more on the latest happenings on the Scottish music scene check out Radar.Scotsman.com
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