Over the last month or so my life has been consumed with boxing up my Edinburgh flat, job interviews and frequent visits to my soon-to-be new home in Colchester. In almost a decade of writing about the Scottish music, I can’t remember a time I’ve been more disconnected from what is going on in Scotland’s music scene. Somewhere along the line, adulthood has come into play; the inevitable move to England is finally happening.
Now, normally, with this being a column focused on the sporran-sporting sounds from north of the border, such total detachment would mean I’m no longer qualified to pulpiteer my way through the various goings on in Scotland over the coming month. But with this being my last ever Drowned in Scotland feature, I’m indulging myself (while covering up my lack of direct involvement of late) by taking a slight sidestep from the norm.
So this month I’m going to walk you through (what I consider to be) the bands, labels, media and promoters currently propping up the grassroots of the Scottish music scene. Given my stingy 1,000 or so word count, this won’t be a lengthy dissection of the country’s movers and shakers. Instead, it’s an excessively hyperlinked guide through the belly of the Scottish music scene which you can explore at your leisure.
There aren't too many more superlatives I can lavish on Bronto Skylift without repeating myself. Almost every month I seem to drool over the duo’s head-rattling, sewer-scraping punk thrashing. Built around the machine-gun pummelling of sticksman Iain Stewart and Niall Strachan’s jarring guitar squalls, witnessing Bronto up-close feels like being caught up in the middle of deafening street brawl without any escape. An absolute tumult of a band.
Scotland may be steeped in indie pop tradition, but it’s been some time since any jangle-friendly tunesmiths have stretched beyond the drudgery of local prisms. Armed to the teeth with candy-wrapped melodies, Cancel the Astronauts may well be the band that finally reignites the trend. Both literate and epidemic, their ebullient musical wares sport a hint of fellow shmindie-dancefloor fillers Pulp and James. And with whiffs of tune like that, what’s not to like?
Discopolis initially passed me by like a whizz-ravaged Jenson Button on the autobhan. Rather than submerging in my ear-sockets, the Edinburgh trio’s hyper-driven beats and bleeps swirled around for a few minutes then scarpered off with minimal impact. Give or take a few months and Discopolis are everywhere: on the BBC, on the wireless, in magazines and at every indie-disco north of the border. And d’you know what? Turns out this mass-saturation technique works. Discopolis really ain’t too shabby at all.
The slap-bang-brilliantly monikered John Knox Sex Club (JKSC)’s debut LP Blud Rins Cauld was largely ignored when it hit the shelves in 2010. The pity for all those who missed it is JKSC served up the most majestic slab of post-folk-rock tuneage released in Scotland last year. Launched this week, follow-up Raise Raven continues down this path of throat-throttling, parochial soundscapes. This time, surely, some needs to listen.
On record, it’s hard to get a sense of just how extraordinary Lady North are. But fleshed out on stage, garbed in underpants and sodden in sweat, it’s crystal clear: the Edinburgh trio’s guttural, math-infused, android-funk is the most exhilarating, eardrum pillaging sound in Scotland today. Once they hone their studio craft, the fresh green pastures they’ve been exploring in recent months will only get fresher and greener.
You’ve got to admire Armellodie. A tiny label it may be, but that certainly doesn’t quell its ambition. Tooled up with a roster containing the Scottish Enlightenment, Super Adventure Club, Le Reno Amps and Kill The Captains, the Glasgow-based label’s ‘anything fits’ policy has pulled off some superb stops, pushing it into the fulcrum of the country's aspirational wave of DIY labels.
It’s impossible to mention Scottish record labels without bringing up Fence. Much more than just a distributor of records by the likes of King Creosote, FOUND and James Yorkston, the Fife-born label is the blueprint for every aspiring label in Scotland, creating a loyal community from the foundations of good solid music taste. Today, Fence’s reach stretches far beyond the Scottish border, yet with sublime events like Haarfest and Homegame it’s found the perfect way of keeping the locals happy.
Over the last year, Gerry Loves has become one of the most potent indie labels in the country. A spewing of split single releases cottons on to the Scottish music scene’s recent swing towards collaboration, providing an admirable playground for forward thinking acts like Lady North, Paws, Japanese War Effort, Miaoux Miaoux and Wounded Knee to test their mettle on gloriously shiny vinyl. Combine this with some boisterous showcase nights across the central belt, and you’ve got a label pounding to the pulse of Scottish music today.
Glasgow PodcART Glasgow PodcART embodies the internet in all its glory. Based around a swear-box filling rant of a weekly (or so) podcast, the site has become one of the go-to haunts of local bands trying to climb the rungs of the music industry's ladder. Far from perfect in execution, the emotional and utterly subjective tone of the site’s head honchos is what makes Glasgow PodcART such a compelling proposition.
Say what you like about the man’s music tastes, but Popcop knows how to sniff out a story. Instead of blurting out archetypal blogosphere hype, the Popcop has made its reputation by ‘patrolling the beat of the Scottish music scene’. As horrific as the MO sounds, the site's regular in-depth features on the issues affecting music in Scotland are persistently on the button and thought provoking.
What The Skinny has done for Scottish music in the six years since it started is almost immeasurable. Through the magazine’s ink-smudge pages have swanned a decorated roll-call of bands, writers, designers, promoters, media vagabonds and general chancers who’ve gone on to shape the country’s music scene and is surrounding subculture. What The Skinny has achieved on such a consistent basis is, truly, nothing short of astonishing.
Inflammatory, outspoken, passionate. Three words could not describe Song, By Toad (SBT) more succinctly. Over the past few year, it’s been an entertaining ride watching Matthew Young’s personal music blog transform into an influential media-rich community of like-minded, and equally opinionated, souls. And just for good measure, SBT has turned recording stable for the likes of Meursault, Trips & Falls and the magically intoned Rob St John. A true testament to persistency and perseverance.
Detour Scotland Kings of the guerrilla gig, the Detour boys – David Weaver and now Radio 1 DJ Ally McCrae - raison d’être is to showcase Scotland’s finest new bands in as enterprising a manner as possible, including band hijackings, streetside shows and guided musical walks. Littering their site with blogs, podcasts and videos, Detour’s unending quest for innovation is as infectious as it is awe inducing.
Ten tracks for £1. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Created by local music entrepreneur Ed Stack, Ten Tracks is an effortless (well, for the user) venture that lets punters pick from hundreds of quality MP3s by local (and sometimes not so local) bands at a knock down price. Conceptually it’s an interesting idea, but, as ever, convincing the masses to part with spondoolas for music poses more challenges than Anneka Rice on an assault course.
And that’s it. My final paragraph in my final ever Drowned in Scotland. Fortunately, you’re being left in capable hands. Delightful west-coast wordsmith Elaine Liddle is taking on the tartan-speckled reins from next month. As for me, that’s it. Thanks for reading my monthly ramblings on the Scottish music scence.You can catch me here on twitter if you’ve any interest in keeping up with my sojourn south. Now, I’m off to start researching my first Drowned in Colchester column. Oh…
For more on the latest happenings on the Scottish music scene check out Radar.Scotsman.com