Associates Interview: Glamour chase is over

THE last time Alan Rankine returned to Dundee was for Billy Mackenzie's funeral. It was 1997 and the maverick singer who influenced everyone from Bono to Björk had tragically committed suicide at his father's house. "I never really lived in Dundee apart from when I was younger," says Rankine, who grew up in Broughty Ferry, formed the Associates with Mackenzie in 1979 and left the band for good 14 years later. He now lives in Glasgow. "The only time I would go was to stay with

A decade on in Dundee, the band's influence continues. This month the DCA celebrates its 10th anniversary with an exhibition titled The Associates, not explicitly about Mackenzie's astonishing theatrical voice or the band's seminal post-punk, but awash with their glamour-chasing spirit none the less. The Associates, in this case, are a group of 17 visual artists who studied at Duncan of Jordanstone art college under the likes of Edwyn Collins' father, Peter, Cathy Wilkes and Graham Fagen. Music and art is partly what links this next generation, from Raydale Dower, who was in the band Uncle John and Whitelock, to Andy Wake of the Phantom Band, but there's more to it than that.

"Hopefully there will be this feel within the exhibition of how Billy was," says curator Graham Domke. "You were very aware of his Dundee brogue when he spoke but when he sang this operatic magic happened. That's expressed in the more expansive, glamorous and theatrical side of the exhibition." And DCA itself is in some ways an architectural embodiment of that spirit, too, a thriving hub that continues to punch well above its weight, a place where cinema ushers are artists (he's called The Lone Piper, by the way) and bands make work.

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Domke describes an aluminium sculpture by the artist Robert Orchardson that will be in the Associates exhibition and "could be the backdrop to a Top Of The Pops set", as well as an installation of vintage picture frames by Dower that "you can imagine Hot Gossip dancing around". Other artists exhibiting include Katy Dove, Lucy McKenzie, and Scott Myles. "They've evolved, since DCA opened, from being young enthusiasts to cognoscenti," says Domke.

Rankine, meanwhile, seems touched by the homage, if a little bemused. "I don't mind them stealing the name," he jokes. "It's very gratifying." He has given the DCA archive footage of the band, ranging from performances in Ronnie Scott's to interviews on The Tube, which will be screened in the cinema during the exhibition run. "This husband and wife in Paisley got in touch and said they had all this stuff," Rankine says of discovering the existence of the footage. "I've got no idea how they had it but they put so much work into digitising everything." Around the same time the films screen, a new play about Mackenzie, Balgay Hill, directed by Simon Macallum will open at Dundee Rep.

Mackenzie's mythic appeal, Rankine continues, is that he was a one-off, a glamorous peacock strutting around Dundee, different and defiant. "He was unique," he says. "He was itching to get out of Dundee for a myriad of reasons, one of the big ones being his struggle with his sexuality. If you listened to Billy singing and then were asked to put a pin in the map and say where this band was from I don't think anyone would have said Dundee. So I think that was a catalyst for a lot of people to go, 'Gosh, it can be done – you can hail from here and make it'."

Two years after Mackenzie's death, DCA opened its doors for the first time. "It was sad that just as Billy took his own life, something else was being born in Dundee, something extraordinary," recalls Domke. "You could almost time it by weeks in terms of the announcement coming out that there would be a contemporary arts centre in Dundee. But I don't dwell on that 'had there been more here for him' idea. He lived in glamorous cities but he wanted to be back here in Dundee." v

The Associates exhibition opens on DCA's 10th anniversary, March 19, and runs until June