Local musical heroes take to the Fringe
Until recently the Fringe and various other festivals taking place in Edinburgh during August were a curse for local bands. Many of their regular venues would be taken over by bad burlesque or mediocre comedy, and usually the best they could hope for would be a slot supporting a larger act or inclusion in the Best Of T Break night, where they had to sell tickets on behalf of the promoter.
However, in the past couple of years native talent has become a firm fixture in August, both on the multi-venue programme of The Edge Festival (formerly T On The Fringe) and numerous smaller events taking place across the city.
This month will see dozens of exciting local acts take to numerous stages in Edinburgh with a wide musical spectrum. This includes the hip-hop of Church Of When The Shit Hits The Fan, singer-songwriter Withered Hand and the soulful electronica of young three- piece Discopolis.
"You have venues which didn't exist before and that has provided a much better platform for people to play smaller shows," says Jen Anderson, who manages Leith's electronica wunderkind Unicorn Kid, and plans to release a single by Discopolis on her own Eli And Oz label on 15 August. She previously worked for DF Concerts which, along with fellow Glasgow-based promoter, PCL, books the bands for The Edge.
Anderson believes that the emergence of small venues such as Sneaky Pete's, Electric Circus, Studio 24 and Cabaret Voltaire has provided a platform for local acts to play headline shows at The Edge. And she attributes the rise of talent to a range of opportunities offered by committed bookers, promoters and bloggers, alongside student radio station, Fresh Air, and Scottish magazines The Skinny and The List.
"It is a combination of a lot of people working across the scene," she says.
Sneaky Pete's booker Nick Stewart has been able to identify suitable acts as they graced his stage earlier in the year. Among them are Chasing Owls, who will be playing the opening of the Edinburgh Communion night on 11 August, a type of acoustic showcase franchise founded by members of Mumford and Sons. Also booked for headlining shows are My Tiny Robots, Bwani Junction, Conquering Animal Sound and the hotly-tipped Hairy Area, who Stewart likes so much he booked them to play on his birthday.
"I have deliberately included as many Edinburgh bands as I can at The Edge," says Stewart. "There is a really strong breadth of genres."
The Acoustic Music Centre is a stalwart of The Fringe, and is hosting a programme in two venues - the St Bride's Centre and the Queen's Hall. While it has a long track record of programming Scottish talent, it has branched out with acts such as Austen George, Rachel Sermanni, Withered Hand and Emily Scott who are equally at home playing in the city's more traditional rock and indie venues as they are in the more folk-inclined scene.
These kinds of bookings give promoters and artists alike the opportunity to appeal to a new audience that often hails from outside Scotland.
Emily Roff, who along with Bart Owl, the frontman of the beguilingly gentle Edinburgh band Eagleowl, organises the DIY mini-festival Retreat!, agrees that hosting their event when the festivals take place is a definite advantage.
"Retreat! works really well in August, because people are up for seeing stuff," she says. "There are certainly opportunities to tap into a wider audience."
Retreat! takes place in Pilrig St Paul's Church, which means under-18s are also able to enjoy the diverse programme. In addition to many Edinburgh favourites such as Broken Records and Meursault, it features Lady North, whose sound verges on prog rock.
Also taking part will be FOUND, whose ubiquitous bassist Tommy Perman has organised a free, daytime event on 7 August in the newly opened Summerhall arts venue (formerly the Dick Vet school). It features a combination of live performances and stalls hosted by several Scottish labels including Chemikal Underground, Rock Action, Gerry Loves, Lucky Me and Song By Toad.
Moreover, on the same day key record shops Avalanche, Coda and Elvis Shakespeare will be putting on in-store performances from acts who will later perform at Born To Be Wide's Edinburgh night at Electric Circus (see below).
The venue has also lined up its own programme of local talent and will be home to a series of gigs organised by Song, By Toad and featuring a range of acts.
Many of the artists, promoters and labels will appear at several events during August, a reflection of a loose spirit of cooperation which many believe has given rise to the healthy state of Edinburgh's music scene.
"I tend to see people who are in the best bands hanging out at other gigs," observes Sneaky Pete's Stewart. "I never see the worst bands at gigs other than their own."
Roff adds that artists such as Bart Owl and Dan Willson (aka Withered Hand) promoting their own shows has been an important factor in developing the scene: "It is very important that bands are involved in putting on gigs. It is something they learn by example and having a proximity to how these things are produced."
Church Of When The Shit Hits The Fan have taken this a stage further and will be performing their Hydronomicon show every day at Banshee Labyrinth.
Exciting new music has now established itself as an important part of Edinburgh's festival month and the aural explorer now has the same opportunities to discover new talent which the theatre and comedy buffs have enjoyed for years.
The one big difference is when it comes to the ratio of price to quality. Many of the best bands can be seen for free or at events such as Retreat!, where the price of a weekend ticket is the same as to see a comedian for an hour.
• Olaf Furniss and Derick Mackinnon organise the monthly music and seminar event Born To Be Wide, which will host a special Edinburgh Night at Electric Circus at 8pm on 7 August. Ten acts performing during the month will play ten-minute taster sets on the hour and half-hour. Already confirmed are: Chasing Owls, Austen George, Capitals, Bwani Junction, Withered Hand, Rachel Sermanni, Church Of When The Shit Hits The Fan and Lady North. Between sets, key figures from the music scene will play their favourite four records by Edinburgh bands.