a beginners guide to: glasgow

As we launch a new video looking into Glasgow’s current wave of party makers, musicians and fashion students, look back to the icons and iconoclasts who’ve helped build Scotland’s second city’s incredible reputation as a breeding ground for new talent...

by Felix Petty
26 January 2017, 9:37pm

It's grim way way up north.
At least that's what the idiom would suggest, or the song, by sometime Scotsman Bill Drummond, of the same title, that merely listed the towns of Northern England. And if it's grim up north, it stands to reason that the further north you get, the grimmer it gets. Until you get to Iceland, which is lovely. So Glasgow, then, the kind of place where they look down on died-in-the-wool Yorkshiremen as southern softies. Yet out of the grimness has grown a cultural scene to rival anywhere in the world. Per capita, where could rival its depth and breadth? Detroit maybe? Manchester, possibly. London and New York could be a shout, but they're cities who're more like magnets, attracting people around, than their own cultural hotbeds. There's something in the Irn Bru, evidently. But what?

Where to start with Glasgow but King Tut's Wah Wah Hut.
The venue with the best name in maybe the world? In a city full of amazing venues (Nice N Sleazy, Barrowlands, Sub Club are all close runners up) King Tut's takes the crown. It's place in history was secured in one month, in 1993, when the 300 capacity venue played host to three gigs by three emerging acts; Radiohead, The Verve, and Oasis. It's the Oasis one that would go down in legend though, invited to play the venue, they drove up to Scotland, were barred entry, managed to force their way in, and on stage, to play a set. In the crowd was Creation Record's Alan McGee, who promptly signed the young Mancs, presumably thinking, "Maybe, you're gonna be the one that saves me".

Which brings us neatly onto Creation Records itself.
Creation, founded by Alan McGee, is to Glasgow what Factory Records is to Manchester. It acted as a focal point for the city's changing musical scene throughout the 80s and 90s, it's output reflecting the diversity of Glasgow. From Primal Scream's early punk-psychedelic period through to their acid house heyday, or finding a home for Jesus and Mary Chain's genre-breaking experiments in feedback, noise and rhythm, Creation's finger was on the dark, druggy, euphoric pulse of the Glasgow underground. It was a label as well, that was equally happy working with two opposites of the 90s scene; Oasis, possibly the biggest, cokiest, brashest band in the world, and My Bloody Valentine, whose sonic perfectionism, woozy shoe-gazing and towering soundscapes would eventually bankrupt the label.

There's a softer side to Glasgow, too.
Creation was even home, for awhile at least, to The Pastels. A band who show another side of Glasgow entirely. Far from the maddening stereotypes of Glasgow Kisses, Glasgow Smiles, and rough working class lads drinking Irn Bru and doing scratch cards, there's a softer side to the city. Alongside The Pastels, who acted as linchpins for the city's close-knit indie scene, there was Postcard Records, which was home to Orange Juice, Josef K and Aztec Camera. Groups who pioneered the 'Sound of Young Scotland', as they jokingly called it, riffing on the Motown slogan. Much of the sound of Glasgow's indie scene can be rooted in what this era of groups did; emotionally and musically sophisticated, self-deprecating, artsy, full of humour, inventive music, lyrics, melodies and structures. It shows the variety and breadth of the city, and the musicians who called it home, even at the same time.

It's also the land Britpop forgot.
Following the Postcard scene and The Pastels in the 80s, the 90s was a febrile time for the city's indie world too. Whilst Britpop was raging south of the border, up in Glasgow there something a little more outsider-y to the scene. Arab Strap and Belle and Sebastian are basically the antithesis of 90s lad rock. Arab Strap, whose mix of plainly delivered lyrics about humdrum life set to minimal and wistful electronic beats were out of time and place with everything else around them. Or Belle and Sebastian, who couldn't be cuter, sweeter, more charming, and less stereotypically Glaswegian. Yet at the height of Britpop madness, they were flying the flag for the city across the world.

But there's always been dancing in the streets of Glasgow.
It's not all wild indie lads and wan indie boys in Glasgow. And you've got JD Twitch and JG Wilkes to thank for that, the musical maestros behind Optimo, a weekly party at Sub Club. It sadly closed its doors for the last time in 2011 after over 13 years of Sunday nights in the city. JD and JG still continue to work the dance floors of Glasgow though, so it's not all over.

But between the two DJs, and the bands they invited to play, Optimo turned into something of a testing ground for the bold, beautiful and new sounds coming out of Glasgow (and beyond). ESG, Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture, Peaches, Liquid Liquid, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, Richie Hawtin, and The Kills, all played live during its run. But it's the musical culture Optimo created that is it's most lasting testament. In a city that broke most of the musical boundaries that you could imagine, Optimo broke the ones you didn't even know existed. Just check out their all time Top 250 tracks below.

For a city of 600,000 people, the impact it's had on pop and underground culture has been huge.
Can you pin a reason of Glasgow's conveyor belt of musical hits? Maybe the fact that it's a second city, in a second country? There's something a little insular there. But we couldn't not talk about The Glasgow School of Art, one ingredient in the melting pot, or maybe the pot itself. The GSA is one of the best art and fashion schools in the world. It's produced a host of fashion designers, artists, Turner Prize winners, easily rivalling Goldsmiths and CSM. Everyone from Jenny Saville to Jonathan Saunders, Simon Starling to Pam Hogg have studied in its hallowed Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed halls. More recently, young designers like Charles Jeffrey have hailed from the city, too.

And in recent years too, Glasgow's art scene has really taken off, a new generation of young artists and gallerists have been flooding into the city, buoyed by the cheap cost of living, it's a hotbed of creative talent, like Berlin, but with deep fried food and less annoying Americans. But at the GSA, there's the fact that, if you're Scottish, you can study there for free. Which is a rare and wonderful thing, and probably means we're going to see a lot more Scottish talent come out of it soon, with England's art schools changing £9,000 a year to study at them.

The future's bright for the city and it's local music talent is shining right now
While the charge may arguably be led by Hudson Mohawke, whose production talent have seen him collaborate with Kanye West, Lunice, Rustie and Anohni, dig a lil deeper and there's plenty more going on.

Riding the wave of grime's recent reinvention, producer Inkke found a home for himself in Glasgow's underground, his playfully stabbing instrumentals influenced by happy hardcore as much as old-skool eski-beats. After a number of years playing after-hours parties like Incognito, and notorious DJ sets in Glasgow, Inkke eventually caught the attention of LuckyMe Records, and became label mates with HudMo himself.

Even deeper down the SoundCloud rabbit hole is the disturbing icy maximalism and glitch-decorated electronica of Juju and producer Dead Bart, taking the torch from Swedish Sadboys and tunnelling insular internet noise-melodies through a sugarcoated dial-up box, their beats bouncing like a night on Barr's Ice Cream Soda. After hours spaces like Incognito are experimental grounds for younger producers like Inkke and Juju, promising a hybrid crowd, unique fusions and above all, a Glaswegian stamina.


Text Felix Petty  

glasgow college of art