Words by Maria Bakkalapulo (Follow Maria @mbakkalapulo)
Photos by Niall Macaulay (Follow Niall @niallmacaulay)
College-aged art-schoolers, pink balloons on strings bound to their waists, bounce happily. More huge balloons tied to the stage, vibrating to the tunes ripping out from the towering sound system. Giant balloons are the favored stage set of Scottish DJ, Eclair Fifi. She looks aloof and stylish mixing, flipping the crossfader and sipping on a cocktail, while the club fills up at the fashionably late hour of 1 am. Tonight is a meeting of friends, and a homecoming. It is a special one-off reunion night for Glasgow label LuckyMe with Eclair Fifi, S-Type, The Blessings, David Barbarossa, Ubre Blanca and Naked returning to their old stomping ground at The Glasgow Art School, where the label’s founders were students. Scotland is punching above its weight in the international music scene, and the secret seems the very nature of Glasgow, where everyone is a ‘Glasgow buddy’ and cross-pollination of ideas is king.
There is no doubt that Scotland is home to some of the world’s most wanted DJ’s and producers. From Howie ‘B’, through to Mylo and Calvin Harris, they have partnered with dozens of top ten artists including Scissor Sisters, The Knife, U2, Bjork, Kylie Minogue, Rihanna and Example. Ross Birchard, better known as Hudson Mohawke, is touring globally and producing for A-list pop stars like Kanye West and Chris Brown. Homing in on Glasgow, the UK’s third largest city, the scene is central to the city’s profile. “Glasgow has a great history of music making, story-telling and partying, with reputation and stature as one of the leading music cities in the UK, and therefore the World,” says Vic Galloway, BBC Scotland, part of the scene himself for years as a frontman, journalist and DJ. “I’d say it’s only second to London in quality output today, rivaling Manchester as the UK’s next most fertile music epicenter – club culture has been strong in the city for decades with a good range of different venues, promoters and DJ’s on hand. The Sub Club for example is one of the most respected clubs anywhere on the planet.”
Clubs, their owners and the DJs that dedicate their lives to their craft and supporting the scene have been at the core. With its low ceiling, The Sub Club, a 3,500 square-foot basement space debuted in 1987 and is amongst the longest running dance clubs in the world. “When the Sub Club first opened its doors, the underground club scene looked a bit different with normal playlists including dance music of different genres – jazz, hip-hop, soul, funk and disco – basically all the derivatives of black American music culture,” explains Mike Grieve, Sub Club’s Managing Director. “House music had arrived in 1985 and was part of the playlist but wasn’t dominating the scene then as it would subsequently, so a typical night in the Sub Club would have a mixture of all the above musical forms. Things changed pretty dramatically from 1989 onwards as House music became better known and started to break into the pop charts. From that point on the scene developed in a completely different way, where nights became more genre specific.” Harri and Domenic’s Subculture is now celebrating 20 years, the longest running weekly house night in the UK, Numbers is a more recent success, and JD Twitch and JG Wilkes’ Optimo came here after years in residence at the legendary techno club Pure in Edinburgh. “There was a moment in time in the mid 1990s, when every other person in Glasgow was a DJ, a producer, a label boss, a club runner or some such, not entirely sure if this is why scene has flourished, but perhaps on reflection the theory might hold water and, yes, it is a bit of a mecca,” says Harri.
LuckyMe, the record label and extended family at the creative nexus of Glasgow’s electronic scene, was founded by Mike Scott, Dominic Flannigan, Martyn Flyn and Hudson Mohawke back in 2007. Beginning at Stereo, a vegan bar and club, then moving to The Glasgow School of Art and, as BBC Scotland’s Vic Galloway explains, “…it has helped nurture a new breed of DJ, producer, ‘clubber,’ artist and party-starter across Scotland and beyond. LuckyMe is massively influential. Glasgow now has a far wider range of clubbing influences and opportunities thanks to them.” Martyn Flyn adds “we are like minded people working together. Bringing people together when we like what they are doing. If we know them, that is a bonus. Everyone at the label is a friend.” LuckyMe has gone global with the artists it signs and promotes and they now co-host a SXSW showcase with UK club label Warp Records.
This “extended family” has nurtured some true brilliance, including Russell “Rustie” Whyte, one of the most exciting current DJ/producers. His recent release Green Language, featuring 33-year-old Detroit native Danny Brown on the unrelenting, confrontational track Attak. “I think Rustie’s music is a universal exploration of old, new and forward-think electronic styles with house, techno, hip-hop, dubstep, aquacrunk, grime and so on in the mix,” explains Vic Galloway. Glasgow keeps climbing, attracting young DJ’s. Moving from Edinburgh to Glasgow, S-Type strategically put himself in the middle of the scene. “I was drawn to it by the activity there,” says Bobby Perman, known as S-Type, described as “next in line to the throne of new hIp-hop producers,”. With his debut LuckyMe release “Rosario” he, like Rustie, is creating a hip-hop evolution. “In a time when everyone seems to be going one way – trying to move away from rap music towards the electronic, I’m totally the opposite. Hip-hop’s never been more progressive, I want my name to be understood as a hip-hop and RnB producer. I’ve been working with rappers since I was a kid. I’ve just finished working on the Longest Rap Song in The World with HudMo, featuring every major MC this year.” Next up, S-Type has a new club record for LuckyMe called SV8 ready for release, a collaborative record with Lunice, Yung Gud and Inkke.
Glasgow, often grim and rainy, and with a reputation for a rough side it tries hard to live down, may seem like an unlikely place for young artists to flourish, but they have. There is a can-do attitude, an outward looking and ambitious sensibility. “I think Glasgow has developed in parallel with a lot of other cities in the UK but perhaps stayed under the radar a bit nationally and internationally, mainly due to being geographically isolated, relatively speaking,” says Mike Grieve, Sub Club’s Managing Director. “Going back to the early days, apart from Manchester, I would say that Glasgow was on the House music scene before any of the other major cities in the UK.”
If you want join the party, go to Sub Club, Mono, Stereo, Nice ’N’ Sleazy’s, La Cheetah Club to start with. As Managing Director and a founding member of LuckyMe, Martyn Flyn happily pushes artists outside the label, showing again how Glasgow’s open nature powers a hive of activity. He says DJ and producer, Nightwave, a.k.a., Maya Medvesek, is one to watch. She runs her own label and started up a club night just over a year ago. “I started Nightrave at La Cheetah Club about a year ago hoping to bring a bit of variety to Glasgow – we play more ghetto house, juke, grime and hip hop and I also felt Glasgow needed a female promoter-fronted club night. The one sad thing here is that women in music are noted by their absence, I’d love to get more girls into making music and DJing,” says Madvesek. Originally from Slovenia, Medvesek says she used to sneak out to clubs when she was a teen, then moved to London twelve years ago on her own. Tired of the expensive London lifestyle, she moved to Scotland two years ago. “The passion for electronic music in Glasgow is incredibly strong and there is a great community of like-minded people, not only artists but also an engaged audience that will pay to see underground music. I go and DJ all over the world but Glasgow is my favorite place to play – either La Cheetah or Sub Club. Nothing compares to the energy of those two clubs,” Medvesek passionately details. “People are really open and approachable here, everyone just sticking together because they absolutely live and breathe music. I think people share and collaborate a lot – Glasgow is not known for its fine weather so making music makes sense when you’re stuck inside most of the time.” She is finishing off her next EP for her label Heka Trax, out in November.
The DJ scene can breed pumped-up egos and competitiveness, but in Glasgow, it goes beyond that, with confidence. “I don’t think anyone ever set out with the specific objective of nurturing talent – it’s always been about the party for us and so talented local DJs have naturally gravitated towards the Sub Club,” says Mike Grieve. “The scene that we exist within has always been forward thinking and there has always been exciting new music being made,” says Harri of Subculture. “When the dust settles we will hopefully still be here. Later this year we hope to do a Sub Club label and then who knows, world domination?”