Writing a guide to Scottish university life is simple: drink whatever’s cheapest, eat whatever revives you after a night spent drinking whatever’s cheapest, and listen to…er, actually, you'd better take a seat.
Obviously, The Skinny will act as your monthly guide to the ins and outs of Scotland’s musical tributaries, but consider this your 101 class. Unfortunately, there are approximately one million billion acts to choose from and only three pages to squeeze them in to, so we’ll stick to those likely to visit your university town of choice in the coming year; the solo artists, DJs, bands and MCs who’ll be sitting right up front in your nostalgia banks when you’re old and boring.
Let’s address the elephants in the room right off the bat: big-hitters like Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian, Edwyn Collins and Sons and Daughters have all returned with new albums in the last twelve months, but you hardly need us to sell their merits (ditto Franz Ferdinand, beavering away on album four as we type). Aidan Moffat’s sharp and maudlin wit is evergreen (most recently demonstrated on his superb collaboration with Bill Wells), while smart money’s on Frightened Rabbit to eventually eclipse all the aforementioned in terms of popularity. The Fence Collective also continue to provoke gushing praise for games both Home and Away, as well as the numerous smaller events staged by Johnny Lynch (a.k.a. The Pictish Trail), Kenny Anderson (a.k.a. King Creosote), and their growing musical family, ranging from James Yorkston to more recent inductees like Randolph’s Leap and The Last Battle.
Of those scheduled to return with new material, we’re most excited about The Twilight Sad’s forthcoming third full-length and the first fruits of Meursault’s new line-up. Already this year, debuts from nifty alt-rockers Copy Haho, skyscraping Aberdonians Indian Red Lopez, moody blues preachers Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gates Lock Pickers, sprightly noiseniks She’s Hit, and glitch-pop duo Conquering Animal Sound have garnered praise in our pages, as have King Post Kitsch’s Kinks-inflected pop-rock, The Douglas Firs’ rustic atmospherics and John B McKenna’s full-band guise Monoganon. Stellar returns from country-gothic troubadours Sparrow and the Workshop, exuberant funky-punks Dananananaykroyd, dubstep pioneer Kode9 (whose Black Sun contains some of the year’s most excitingly abstruse sounds) and sleaze-core misfits Take a World For A Walk Week have had us equally animated for various reasons, while our ongoing appreciation of United Fruit and Found is corroborated by recent covers featuring their mugs.
Other names to watch out for include tipped instrumentalists Lady North, and the unassumingly-monikered Stanley Odd: if you crave hip-hop featuring lassies rather than hos and rhymes about Snapfax deals rather than crunk juice, they’re the MCs you’ve been looking for. Elsewhere in Scotland’s nascent hip-hop scene, Church of When the Shit Hits the Fan are an altogether darker beast, with a tendency to unsettle the unwary.
If you like your live shows sweaty and heavy, Holy Mountain serve up Sabbath-sized riffs, while Bronto Skylift interject a more experimental bent that’ll keep you on your toes whilst leathering your eardrums. Ultimate Thrush will have you struggling for air and sanity as you dodge human projectiles in the pit, while Streets of Rage’s intense digital hardcore and Divorce’s metal racket also get a firm seal of approval. If you’re looking to go heavier still, Cerebral Bore’s grindcore squall has impressed those in the know, but all that aggression isn’t good for you; balance it out with something twee and cheerful, such as loveable scamps Zoey Van Goey, or Spector-styled girl group revivalists The Belle Hops.
When it comes to clubs, don’t put your faith in the university union to lay down beats or you’ll end up suffering endless cheesy pop. Though their Sunday residency at the Sub Club has been retired, Wilkes and Twitch continue to mix as Optimo, while Taz Buckfaster’s adventures in bass are garnering ever-growing buzz. Also inspiring dance breakouts, Ben Butler and Mousepad present eccentric synth-based fusions, Dam Mantle specialises in wonky, syncopated collages, while Rustie’s arrival on leftfield music mecca Warp (along with Hudson Mohawke) confirms Scotland’s producer pedigree.
Our page space is almost exhausted, and we’ve still to mention Withered Hand’s tragi-comic alt-folk, Remember Remember’s prog symphonies and Wounded Knee’s loops and drones, but nonetheless we’ve made our point: whatever you’re in to, there’s much to discover. Enjoy the journey.
Always read the label
When you’re not busy gigging and clubbing, you’ll need some home-listening – here are five of the best local labels.
Launched in 1994 by the sadly-separated The Delgados, Chemikal Underground boosted the careers of Arab Strap, Aereogramme and Mogwai amongst others, with its founders’ own The Great Eastern the jewel in its impressive roster.
Try: The Phantom Band – The Wants
Song, By Toad
Edinburgh-based blogger Matthew Young projects a pleasingly-meritocratic attitude towards running a label, putting out whatever takes his fancy regardless of commercial appeal. Or, indeed, geographical origin, with the likes of Montreal’s Trips and Falls sitting alongside Auld Reekie’s finest.
Try: Inspector Tapehead – Duress Code
When Autechre, Squarepusher or Modeselektor come to town, Numbers invariably play host; but they’re more than just top-class promoters, with the label wing dropping tracks by Ill Blu, Jamie XX and Hudson Mohawke.
Try: Hudson Mohawke – Oops EP
Winning Sperm Party
Winning Sperm Party has hosted DIY releases from Triple School, Blue Sabbath Black Fiji and Ultimate Thrush amongst others, many of which are free to download from their website; just be sure to attend a show or two in return.
Try: Eternal Fags – Eternal Fags
The Collective has never limited membership to its own signings; in fact, many of the big names associated with the Fife label – James Yorkston, even King Creosote – reside elsewhere for the most part. But their exalted reputation means that an endorsement – such as re-releasing Kid Canaveral’s debut – goes a long way.
Try: Kid Canaveral – Shouting at Wildlife