THE MAN WITH THE HORN He may wear a lion hat and be named after a fantasy creature, but with Pet Shop Boys, Calvin Harris and a belting set at T on his side, Unicorn Kid, alongside Young Fathers, are set to make myth a reality. Nicola Meighan gets animalistic
T he Lion and the Unicorn have long been heralded as hostile beasts. They mythically jostle in the animal kingdom. They symbolically tussle in the solar system. They brawl for territory on the Scottish Royal Coat of Arms. When the legendary quadrupeds harmonise, however, their union of opposites is awesome. Recently, said winning bestial alliance has been courted by an interstellar teenager from Leith.
He is, of course, the Unicorn Kid – alias
techno-pop anthropomorphist Oli Sabin – whose berserk electro symphonies have slain admirers from the Pet Shop Boys to Scissor Sisters. Bounding amidst a chip-tune fervour of Clubland albums, Calvin Harris, and the miscreant stable of Adaadat, (Germlin, Ommm, DJ Scotch Egg), Sabin’s iridescent 8- bit anthems insinuate bagpipe jigs, euphoric prog and breakneck melodies. His rapidly- ascending profile is crowned with a lion’s head. Sabin claims mammalian concord was
Scotland at Night Candlelit concert of music and poetry
‘I SEARCHED FOR A UNICORN HAT BUT THIS WAS THE NEXT BEST THING – A LION’
ordained by fate – leonine intervention, if you will. ‘To be honest I searched hard for a unicorn hat,’ he says, from a rush-hour carriage on the London-Edinburgh train. ‘But when I realised that wasn’t going to happen I opted for the next best thing – a lion. I didn’t mean for it to catch on but I’m glad it has: every musician needs a gimmick.’
Unicorn Kid’s imminent day-glo rammy at Cabaret Voltaire – in tandem with pop-toting rap stars Young Fathers – will raise the roof. Here, by way of illustration, are two scenes from this year’s T in the Park. Saturday afternoon: Unicorn Kid bucks the ritual of motionless electro showmanship by going, you know, bonkers. He frantically dances, congenially waves and waggles his trademark wildcat chapeau while his ADD- addled pop contortions immortalise various creatures and monsters. Girls in the crowd drain bottles of wine; students parody the Highland fling; dudes body-pop in pink latex leotards; party kids brandish super-sized acid flags. Red Bull rains from the heavens onto hairless, bare-chested boys in bear hats. It’s some distance from Sabin’s live debut, age 15, to 10 pals and his mum and dad. ‘It’s nice to compare nights like that to T in the Park,’ he reflects. ‘Just to think about how much things have come on.’
Saturday teatime at TiTP: enter hip hop romeos Young Fathers, who trump Sabin’s jungle millinery by having an actual lion in the audience. (Well, a man-lion. Like a man. With a mane). The beaming Edinburgh trio are invincible: their luminous R&B, chromo- funk and booty-bass spans dance routines; falsetto serenades; sartorial tributes to Michael Jackson. They stir up Outkast, De La Soul, Spank Rock. ‘Young Fathers are great,’ raves Sabin. ‘And they’re brilliant live.’ They may be fun-loving but don’t be misled: Young Fathers and Unicorn Kid are re- animating our Scottish pop heraldry.
Unicorn Kid and Young Fathers, Cabaret Voltaire, 0844 999 990, Sat 15 Aug, 7pm, £7. Part of the Edge Festival.
For a composer contemplating setting some songs but needing advice from a writer as to who might be an interesting collaborator, No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency author Alexander McCall Smith would seem a reliable choice as a font of knowledge on the matter. When Edinburgh composer Tom Cunningham sensibly decided to seek out McCall Smith’s views, little did he think that the world-famous author would offer to write the poems himself. Now two sets of songs down the line, a five-star recording on Delphian and an opera for the Botswana No 1 Ladies’ Opera House in the making, the partnership is a strong one with its first fruits being heard in a one-off, candlelit Fringe concert.
and in Trout Loch you hear the ripples on the water.’ Music and poetry about nightly goings
on in Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a traditional ceilidh. Cunningham has written some original tunes in the style of eightsome reels to accompany McCall Smith’s dancing words which finally spin off into shouts of exhilaration from the singers. Award-winning choir, Laudibus, will
perform Scotland at Night, along with a second song cycle, The Painter’s Eye. ‘They are,’ says Cunningham, ‘settings of poems inspired by paintings that Sandy particularly remembers from visits to exhibitions.’ (Carol Main) ■ St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, 226 0000, 15 Aug, 10pm, £14 (£10).
‘McCall Smith gave the impression
that he had all the time in the world when I got in touch,’ says Cunningham, ‘although I know that nothing was further from the truth. He was very generous with his time.’ The resulting Scotland at Night is a
cycle of six songs, all with the common theme of night time. ‘They start with dusk,’ explains Cunningham, ‘where my harmonic style is totally modal. Using imagery from the poems, the second one is about Grangemouth in the dark, so you hear the flames rising and falling,
54 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE 13–20 Aug 2009