Why Edinburgh’s thriving grassroots music scene needs rooms and a little
encouragement to grow. Words: Neil Cooper
hen Fire Engines played their first gig in 23
years last week supporting the Magic Band,
it confirmed their status as the most
influential band this side of the Velvet
Underground, and the most significant to come out of this country ever. Try telling that to the latest crop of punk rock revivalists, however, and they’ll stare blankly through their fringes. Such accidental ignorance is largely due to an Edinburgh music scene that is disparate and fragmented, with no through line to connect it to its own past.
Fire Engines came out of an unreconstructed Edinburgh of makeshift one-night stands and art school happenings. Yet, despite this monumental lack of infrastructure, they, and fellow travellers Josef K, thrived. A quarter of a century on, and reports of the Venue’s forthcoming demise due to the city’s obsession with building overpriced houses filtered through. Plus (:3 change indeed.
Yet, despite the lack of spaces, Edinburgh is currently thriving. Ask KFM Records, about to release the debut album by the Magnificents, whose analogue terrorism has been thrilling audiences unsung for two years. Talk to Benbecula Records, whose premier artist Christ played Barcelona’s Sonar Festival. Like SL Records favourites ballboy they’re John Peel regulars, while the Weimar maelstrom of Desc, also on SL, soon will be.
The opening of Cabaret Voltaire and the new Bongo Club has allowed more creative acts to play in club
spaces, while the passport-required Caledonian Backpackers and former folk dive Bannermans are now regular haunts. Meanwhile, the left ﬁeld MRW44 label, which has released a string of electro-noise compilations, is keeping the Cowgate alive via a series of nights at the Subway.
Edinburgh has never possessed the support network that’s allowed Glasgow to thrive. Rather, corners are guarded and between-band backbiting rife. Human Condition Records, which has been at it for over a decade now, acknowledged this with the title of a 2001 compilation of five Edinburgh labels, Handbags at Dawn.
In six months’ time, bands will have split, laptops traded for cash, and venues bulldozed or burnt down. Magic moments will be missed. Something else will rise from the ashes, but wouldn’t it be nice to think that Edinburgh could sustain a cottage industry music scene without losing itself a fortune. Or else, ‘ in another 23 years, today’s equivalent of Fire Engines might not bother to remind people how rip- roaringly special local heroes can be.
Ms Unhealtng Healthy
M; Residents’ Committee
Population (2001) 449,000 Length of motorway within city boundary
Number of cinema screens
Number of music venues
Number of theatres (non-Fringe) 14
Number of chip shops
Number of parks
Number of taxis
Number of parking attendants 1 20
Price per sq ft for retail space in Old Town
Average weekly pay
of population under 45
Number of university students 62,000
Band D: £1041
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tramwags, the local state school etc .etc)
Mr Comﬂetelg-unmd~ Miss High-flying Schoolchtld
Yes, Frat Minister, l (an addrejs the Parliament on Thursday
morning but I’ve got a meetrhg at the UN at 12.00 and my Violin lesson at 3.30....
22 THE LIST 5349 Feb 2004