Music finds a home at Edinburgh’s Paradise Palms

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Paradise Palms is a cocktail bar and a record shop – it’s about to launch its own label, too. Alex Watson visits one of Edinburgh’s most exciting music venues

Paradise Palms opened its doors on Edinburgh’s Lothian Street, opposite Potterrow, in July last year. It has quickly become renowned for its frozen margaritas on tap, delicious Asian street food – steamed buns, mainly – and a varied programme of live music, comedy shows and DJ sets.

The team holds a label meeting. Picture: Alex Watson

The team holds a label meeting. Picture: Alex Watson

After a successful first year, co-owners and brothers Trystan O’Brien and Andrew Rennie have expanded Paradise Palms’ remit: an in-bar record store and a label. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but it’s a move typical of the venue’s imaginative outlook.

The hot pink neon sign above the door of Paradise Palms is more than eye-catching – on a foggy day in November, it’s also a useful beacon. Through the windows I could make out lush red velvet stage curtains, colourful bunting strung across the ceiling and a collection of movie props and other mismatched trinkets.

Also installed in Paradise Palms is the record store, to my left as I enter the bar. Overseen by 24-year-old Edinburgh DJ Matt Belcher, the shop highlights the all-important social element of the record-buying process, encouraging patrons to sip a beer and mull over their purchases while listening to new tracks and chatting with friends.

“Record shopping is traditionally all about hanging out,” Belcher said. “I just want to hang out with people, talk about music, meet people. For a long time a very important part of expanding your musical knowledge has been through other people, not just through buying things online which tends to be the way a lot of people do it now.”

The team at Paradise Palms. Picture: Alex Watson

The team at Paradise Palms. Picture: Alex Watson

Belcher is happy to stock “anything good” in the Paradise Palms record shop, but concedes that much of the music he sells is DJ-orientated. He showed me some of his personal favourites, including electronic funk from James Mason, first released in 1996, and some classic African drum-based music from Nigerian artist Tony Allen.

Keen to incorporate all manner of genres, eras and artists into the collection, Belcher also encourages his friends and fellow DJs to curate their own sections in the Paradise Palms racks. Despite being Edinburgh’s smallest record shop, the place has had a hugely varied input from all kinds of music lovers.

O’Brien ushered me further into the bar and I ended up crashing the weekly meeting of the Paradise Palms label team. Huddled on sofas atop the venue’s small but glamorously decorated stage, I saw the group make plans and toss ideas back and forth.

At 42, Trystan has a wealth of experience from running night clubs and music venues in London, Ibiza and, most recently, Sydney and Auckland. There, he organised live DJ sets from the likes of Ian Brown and Bez of Happy Mondays, as well as performances from live indie-electro acts such as Warpaint and Girl Talk. O’Brien’s Sydney and Auckland venues made a huge impact on the live music and club scenes there, but after several years he returned to his home town to open Paradise Palms with Rennie.

Bright signage at Paradise Palms. Picture: Alex Watson

Bright signage at Paradise Palms. Picture: Alex Watson

While O’Brien may have altered the music scenes of these larger cities for the better, they’ve clearly left a lasting impression on him, too. A great deal of the inspiration for his now two-month old record label came from his experiences abroad.

“In Edinburgh the opportunities for artists to expand aren’t so apparent as they are in Glasgow and London and the other bigger cities. The idea is to create an environment where we can give artists encouragement, support and confidence, as much as anything else. Then pairing them up with experienced musicians and artists and producers that we’re in contact with through the bar and putting them together to allow them to grow and develop from there.”

This is where the expertise of label leader Nikki Kent, 35, comes into play. Having lived in Edinburgh for nearly her whole life, Kent has been an active member of the city’s music scene for the last decade. She fronted electro trio Digital Jones until they called it a day in March last year and now DJs regularly in her spare time. After performing for so many years in an around the city, Nikki has strong opinions on the current state of live music in Edinburgh – but also a clear vision for the future.

“There always has been a strong music scene but it’s been quite traditional,” she said. “I really feel like Edinburgh was missing somewhere like Paradise Palms. There have been some amazing bedroom producers come out of Edinburgh but there really hasn’t been a platform for them. Over the years I’ve made amazing contacts - I know so many incredibly creative individuals that just need an opportunity to express themselves.”

Nikki Kent and Trystan O'Brien. Picture: Alex Watson

Nikki Kent and Trystan O'Brien. Picture: Alex Watson

While the newborn Paradise Palms label doesn’t yet have any signees, Kent has her eye on several acts that she thinks would be a great fit. (She was particularly enthusiastic about trip-hop, soul, and electronica-influenced Edinburgh four-piece Delighted Peoples.)

Though the bar has a strong affinity for electronic music – Kent named Scottish DJs and producers Auntie Flo and Lord Of The Isles as examples of what she likes – both O’Brien and Kent are determined to let the label evolve naturally.

“We’re being quite open about it – quite broad,” said Kent. “I think that will maybe evolve with time and our sound will become more apparent, but at the moment I think it’s important that we keep it open.”

Of course, it tends to take more than two to get a label off the ground. In the summer, O’Brien and Kent placed an advert for a part-time assistant to help out. They had so many applicants that they ended up hiring five of them.

All but one of the Paradise Palms posse – 21-year-old Callan Anderson – was present for the label meeting. Ailie Ormston, also 21, attends Edinburgh College of Art and has developed a deep love of DJing thanks to Paradise Palms. (“It’s the only venue I know in Edinburgh that easily gives people new opportunities to do stuff,” she told me, “It’s quite a low-pressure environment which is nice because that’s kind of rare here.”)

Douglas MacLean, 21, is studying music business at Edinburgh College and has been obsessed with electronic music since buying his first Faithless album as a pre-teen. Silvia Rodriguez, 27, has experience in photography, design and music promotion and, in Paradise Palms, has found an outlet to combine all of her interests.

The Lothian Street exterior of Paradise Palms. Picture: Alex Watson

The Lothian Street exterior of Paradise Palms. Picture: Alex Watson

“The Edinburgh gig scene isn’t really very experimental or risqué, it’s quite conservative. I think there’s a lot of space for [Paradise Palms] to be a place that ties all these ideas and ideologies together instead of just hosting gigs.”

It’s early days for Paradise Palms, but it’s difficult not to get excited by everyone’s enthusiasm. (“Something Trystan is very good at is seeing people’s strengths and encouraging them,” Kent told me.) If Kent is right about the city’s healthy but somewhat hidden music scene, perhaps Paradise Palms – hot pink neon sign and all – will help make it more visible.

“It’s not just a bar,” said O’Brien. “It’s not just a venue, it’s not just a shop. It’s a place you can hang out, bump into friends if you hadn’t already left the house with them and we want it to be an integral part of the fabric of what makes Edinburgh a world leading city.”