Festival review: Leithlate 2016, Edinburgh

One of the smallest festivals on the Scottish summer circuit is also one of the most unique and locally-spirited.

One of the smallest festivals on the Scottish summer circuit is also one of the most unique and locally-spirited.

Leithlate 2016 | Various venues, Edinburgh | Rating ****

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For most of this decade, LeithLate has appeared in a different form annually, representing the burgeoning creative side of Edinburgh’s port district as it becomes an ever more popular place for artists and musicians to like.

Through mural and shop-shutter art commissions, film screenings and tours of the area’s long-standing history of civic murals, director Morvern Cunningham has created a programme which celebrates the history and vivid current life of the area on a shoestring.

Following last year’s spreading out of events across the summer, this year has seen LeithLate return to a very focussed weekend of activity, including mural tours, a Sunday afternoon ‘art mart’ and a series of panel talks on Friday (on very relevant artistic-political subjects like Gentrification in Leith and the Politics of Public Art). The centrepiece of it all was a launch night on the Thursday which unveiled almost two dozen specially-sited pieces of public art and pop-up exhibitions, most of which were on show throughout the weekend.

In the window of the always invitingly retro Leith Athletics sports shop was a site-specific piece by Kosmischer Laufer (Cosmic Runner), supposedly the music created by a man named Martin Zeichnete for the East German athletics programme in the 1970s. The audience listens to the music on old-fashioned analogue radios while viewing supposed artefacts from the time, a wonderfully immersive piece which was devoted in its recreation of the time. Across the road in the brightly-fronted Pat’s Chung Ying Oriental Foods, meanwhile, digital artist Ian Gouldstone had created mesmerising waterfalls of pixelated onscreen characters.

Spaces on this mapped walk up and down Leith Walk were opened up to bustling, curious groups of people. In Leith Depot’s upstairs gig room, its suitability as a live music venue for Leith was emphasised by an installation recalling the sights and sounds of a small stage rock venue. Along the street, Silverhub jewellery studio was open to view, and across the road a previously derelict council building was recast as Out of the Blue Leith Walk Studios, a hub of creative responses whose chalkboard voting board at the door (‘aye’, ‘naw’, ‘mibbees’, ‘beer’, ‘wine’ and ‘dread’ were the options) was appropriate on referendum night.

There were live bands in record shop Elvis Shakespeare, a group of young performers from Artcore putting on an eclectic show in the basement of McDonald Road Library, and – in possibly the least likely use of a space – a ‘Back Garden Biennale’ of shredded clothes on a washing line and impudent sculpture and video works, reached through the basement of the Pack ‘n’ Send parcel shop.

The first night ended with a live gig at another undiscovered but very useable live space, the Hibernian Supporters’ Club just off Easter Road, with performances from Nice Church, DTHPDL and the resolutely Scottish-flavoured minimal hip-hop duo Carbs; a strong conclusion to a frankly visionary festival which captures the essence of Leith as it is now, and which deserves to thrive and grow in future.