City Scenes: Glasgow

Glasgow: once notorious for impoverished urban areas and crime, infamously made an appearance on the list of the ’10 Most Dangerous Cities in Europe’. But over the years, the post-industrious landscape has cast off its bad reputation, heralding a renaissance in underground music. Today, an immense collaboration of labels, studios, promoters, artists and DJs – all intent on upholding musical integrity – ensure Scottish subculture thrives within the city. At its beating heart lies the eminent Sub Club, which this April will be celebrating its 31st Birthday – an eternity in club years.

Despite Glasgow’s relatively small size (the population barely graces half a million), there’s a steady flow of impressive names and projects that call Glasgow home; Jackmaster, Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, Optimo, Harvey McKay and Gary Beck are just a handful of the homegrown talent that have made waves in their respective genres. In the face of long-loved venues closing around the UK, including Birmingham’s Rainbow Venues and Fabric’s notorious brush with death, along with an increasingly competitive and saturated DJ niche, does Glasgow serve as an example in how to work around authoritarian nightlife censorship?

An uncertain political shadow lies over Glasgow. The city had a strong ‘Yes’ majority for Scottish independence and in the post-Brexit and budget-cut darkland, the future seems bleak. The city is perhaps at the end of some of the strictest nightlife laws, yet still finds a way to thrive. Tight licensing laws, a 3am club curfew and shops barred from selling alcohol after 10pm, all serve as a tort reminder of the drinking and gang-related violence of past years.

In response, disenfranchised residents have turned to alternative, left-of-field cultural comradery. Funnelled through strong working-class identity and a burgeoning student presence, a grassroots, DIY ethos has flourished. Partying offers a tangible, creative means of sticking it to the establishment and their barrage of nightlife regulations. A don’t-hold-back mentality takes the dance floor by storm at Sub Club on a weekly basis (just check out this legendary Boiler Room set). Note you will see no archetype self-conscious sunglasses or gorilla dancing, just sweaty, upbeat all-in madness.

“Taps aff, its a tradition…whats not to love about these crowds? Because of the short time it has to be more ‘All Killer No Filler’ when selecting tracks. No messing about, just play track after track of as much good music as you can fit into the night,” Harri and Domenic reflect. The duo have been running the weekly flagship event Subculture for the best part of two decades, making it the world’s longest running weekly house event.

After four hours of intensive partying official closure dawns, a mischievously Scottish after party is never hard to find. Clubs subvert the rules by staging lock-ins until sunrise, or secretive collectives such as Forji run parties in abandoned locations. A buzzing array of trendy student districts becomes a home for early morning house parties.

Empty high-risers dot the skyline of the suburbs – another chafing signifier of urban decay – reclaimed and repurposed by the raving community.     

Canons of the dance genre such as Derrick May, Carl Craig and Richie Hawtin have consistently referred to the city as “a hidden gem”. A visit to Rubadub Records can promise a run in with any number of well-known aficionados. The store is a component of the “axis of techno”, a term coined by Adam X in the mid 1990s which refers to Rubadub, Hardwax in Berlin, Sonic Groove in New York City and FatCat in London, as the four repositories for the world’s best techno records. Rubadub have had an instrumental part in shaping the careers of Jackmaster and Denis Sulta, who spent their formative years stocking shelves. Narratives like this are commonplace across the city. Soma Records continuously churn out an infinite quantity of music on a yearly basis, and are credited with building the careers of Daft Punk amongst others – their RA page is a smorgasbord testament to techno and house.

As Jackmaster asserted in a recent Resident Advisor documentary: “Glasgow is a fucking tough place to grow up.” Green Door, Transmission, Pipe Factory, Night School, Domestic Exile, GLARC, Roof Garden, All Caps, Outer Zone – this lengthy list of institutions all open their doors for youths, unemployed musicians, ex-cons and rehab patients. A socially conscious scene not only nurtures talent, but has also played an inevitable part in crime reduction.

A historic love affair with the arts – especially art deco – marks Glasgow’s architecture. Every street seems to be adorned with at least one beautiful Victorian building, historic museum or pop-up gallery. An infrastructure of visual artists pair together with gig promoters, transforming unlikely locations into vibrant hotspots. The Glasgow School of Art and their Gallery often host fantastic events which showcase the best in budding Scottish talent – both of the musical and visual variety.

It’s lifelines such as these that have allowed Glasgow to cultivate a down-to-earth, local scene. Take Andrew of Huntleys + Palmers for example, a label which consistently aims to give a platform to the city’s most avant-garde, even dedicating an entire Boiler Room set to purely Glaswegian tracks. The unshakable reliance against selling-out and cashing-in keeps the city effortlessly cool and always relatable.

Glasgow seems truly marked by its desire to offer something different. Neighboring Edinburgh steals the tourist demographic, allowing Glasgow to swerve away from the plague of gentrification. Richard McMaster of Synth-Disco/Acid-House band Golden Teacher describes an integral avoidance of the mainstream: “Scenes get hyped-up and go wrong but, because there’s no media here the way there is in London, things happen slowly and organically. There’s a community in Glasgow doing things for the right reasons: because they love music.”

It is clear for all to see that the tight network of artists inhabiting the city are more focussed on providing productive platforms to each other and celebrating talent, rather than attracting the commercial limelight. Rarely will a venue capacity top 500: intimate is the name of the game. La Cheetah facilitates just 200, and is essentially a room with a bar, but is regularly graced by the likes of Theo Parrish, Moodymann and Legowelt. Even world famous Sub Club holds a maximum of only 410. Streamlined soundsystems fantastically fill these scaled-down caverns. What is occasionally lost in personal space is always gained in electric energy.

Charles Rene Macintosh’s gloriously resorted School of Art – both a hallmark of academic and electronic success.

Glasgow’s love affair with small and selective is not only the city’s most distinctive feature, but has proven to be its saving grace. Bigger spaces have been unable to escape commonplace intensive policing, noise complaints and safety concerns. This was the fate of the much loved The Arches, an underground arts centre and gig space situated under Glasgow Train Station with a 2,000 capacity. It was regrettably closed in 2015 as a result of a drug-related death.

Despite the best efforts of bouncers and management, drugs invariably find their way into venues. Compact clubs allow those in trouble to be easily spotted and assisted, rather than getting lost in the crowd. An added dash of Scottish amiability – embodied by tangible lifelines between bands, artists, promoters, producers – goes a long way in ensuring that everyone is playing safe and enjoying the party. 

For those interested in a city with a refreshing, dynamic nightlife, all provided through a true love for native music and culture, Glasgow is the place to be. Here we, here we, here we fucking go.

Harri and Domenic performed at Flux on 8/01/2018