The Commonwealth Games' Portrait Of Scottish Music Sucked - It's Scotland's DIY Scene That's Thriving
The Commonwealth Games began on Wednesday (July 24) in Glasgow with an opening ceremony that seemed like it had been bought in a rush at a Falkirk petrol station. Dancing Tunnock Teacakes! A twee version of ‘500 Miles’! Tartan everywhere! Rod Stewart pranced about for a bit looking like the offspring of a parrot and a garden broom. Susan Boyle was there. John Barrowman’s singing was probably the most offensive Celtic Park had ever heard and the whole thing was a patriotism fest saccharine enough to make even First Minister Alex Salmond vote no in September.
Eventually the ceremony became less awful (depending on your politics, that is - “Hey, we took over your country and stole your stuff – how about some netball?”). Missing DJ Mylo came back from wherever he’s been hiding of late to play some tunes, while Barrowman and his male partner shared a passionate kiss in front of leaders of several Commonwealth countries who still criminalise homosexuality. That was pretty cool.
But as a representation of Scottish culture, can't we do better than a Londoner (Stewart), a US resident (Barrowman) and Amy "your aunt's favourite" McDonald? In the words of Skepta, that's not me. No, it's in the country's thriving and under-reported DIY punk and alternative scenes you find a proper reflection of the nation's ways. Yep, you can keep your Stewarts and SuBos – the real stuff you’ll find in the nation’s great small venues. Chvrches have been running a DIY fanzine and blog called TYCI for years now, putting on shows for rising new Scottish talent. PAWS have similar DIY beginnings, as do Honeyblood, whose sharp, noisy, hook-laden indie-pop is beginning to make waves in the US as well as at home. Here’s Scotland’s next wave of unsigned, ear-splitting, perpetually touring DIY acts who are making their own records, merch, press releases, organising their own gigs and generally putting back into the culture what they take from it. Have a bit of that, Commonwealth.
Min Diesel, and Cellar 35, have helped immensely to revitalise what is now a fantastic DIY scene in Aberdeen. The former is a band inspired by the likes of Dinosaur Jr. or Stapleton, with snaking fretwork over a seasoned rhythm section. There’s a typically Aberdonian style in the lyricism and vocal delivery, sarcastic or earnest with a second’s notice. The latter, Cellar 35, is to Aberdeen what CBGB’s was to New York, a relatively new small venue, routinely packed to the hilt and with a chaotic, yet welcoming atmosphere. The link? Min Diesel’s members also run Cool Your Jets, a DIY label and promoter, who have brought the likes of PAWS, Alright the Captain and countless others to Cellar, while releasing their own records, and releases by the brilliant Rungs and The Shithawks (but we’ll get to them).
All hail Deathcats. Hailing from Cumbernauld, what really sets this trio's surf-pop meet garage rock sound apart are the summery vocals, cloaked in reverb. A crazily energetic live band, Deathcats have just released their debut album on Fuzzkill, a label which calls Shetland home. File somewhere between the Beach Boys and Black Flag. No, seriously.
Louder than two-pieces really ought to be, this duo pit melodic vocals against the fuzz and squeals of a battle-worn Fender Mustang, creating something heavy and frenetic. ‘Into the One’ is just one example of Pinact’s brilliant noise-pop sound. Add in a hard-working touring ethic and the fact that they’ve been involved in four releases since forming in late 2012 and it’s easy to see why these boys are making moves.
The Yawns’ self-titled LP is a minor masterpiece, its shimmering indie-rock guitar lines anchored by the cool, laconic style of Sean Armstrong (who you might know from his solo work, and from collaborating on the CATH Records label with Phillip from PAWS). With songs like ‘Take Me To The Moon Please’, The Yawns exhibit a playful, witty approach, combined with an unerring knack of nailing a chorus (this is also evident in ‘Full of Admiration’, which comes with a genuinely great video). Within the band there are two labels (CATH and Electropapknit, which doubles as a promoter for weird and wonderful bands across Scotland and further afield) and more side-projects (see the experimental noise-hell of Battery Face, for example) and alumni of bands of note (Copy Haho, Household) than, well... anyone.
It’s not even hard to be diplomatic and try to represent as much of Scotland as I can. So far, I’ve talked about bands featuring members originally from the Highlands, Aberdeen, Montrose, Stonehaven, Glasgow, Cumbernauld and goodness knows where else. This time it’s Dundee’s turn, and their best export, of course, have a sweary name. The Shithawks meet somewhere between hardcore punk and blues, with zig-zagging melodies shooting around all over the sheet. They’re loud and fast, but there are grooves... like if B.B. King had joined the Stooges for a bit of a laugh. With bizarre, funny song titles and a million ideas a song, The Shithawks are as good an example of what’s happening up here as anyone.