Being Creative in the North East of Scotland

The following is a presentation I gave at the sonADA pilot event at Seventeen on Belmont Street, Aberdeen on 4 October 2014:

“When I was first asked to present at this seminar I was rather thrown by the initially proposed theme – “what does it mean to be creative in the north east of Scotland?”  For the length of my musical career I’ve been based in Aberdeen, so I don’t feel that I’m in a position to say how it might differ from being a creative person living in the Borders, for example.  However, the question did cause me to reflect on how I regard my own artistic practice and the various issues that come with that.  I began by making a list of pros and cons – I realised that several of these points lie somewhere in-between.  Here is a selection:

It means dealing with broken promises, regularly.

It means getting pissed off that people haven’t replied to your emails yet feeling bad that you haven’t got around to replying to other people’s.

It means being told that you’ll get “decent exposure” in place of being paid – like that’s some kind of fair compensation.

Or it means getting paid a pittance for producing the work that you’ve spent endless hours on and have put your heart and soul into, but receiving a healthy fee for something that either (a) a monkey could produce, (b) is dangerously close to robbing you of your artistic integrity, or (c) both.

It means miscommunication.  Endless miscommunication.

It means receiving a commission and then realising, just as the performance deadline is looming, that the person responsible for marketing has a “relaxed” approach to their job.

It means performing to audiences that wouldn’t fill a one-bedroom flat – but realising that some of those were actually your best gigs.

It means eventually earning enough to give up that shitty part-time job you hated.

It means lecturing for 2 hours a week to sixty students and having one stay behind at the end because they want to know more, and subsequently send you their work in their post-graduate life, because your opinion STILL matters to them.

It means doing workshops in rural areas and encountering young people whose parents want them to go into the oil industry despite the magnificent music that their child is producing in their bedroom.  Who’s to say that the next evolutionary stage of music isn’t beginning right now in Huntly or Kemnay or Inverurie?

It means realising that you’re in a position to offer people a welcome alternative to the banality of musical theatre and endless tribute bands.

It means collaboration; collaboration with other disciplines – multi/inter/cross, or whatever your preferred prefix might be; disciplines you might never have considered – but people who are very much on the same page as you.  This, for me, is the best thing about being a creative individual in the North East of Scotland – because, despite our tradition for being dour and unwelcoming, collaboration is one of the things that we do best in Aberdeen and the north east of Scotland.

On noting down these points, I also realised, with a sense of reassurance, that this list would have been quite different a year ago – the cons certainly would have outweighed the pros.

I’ve been known to bemoan the cultural scene in Aberdeen.  While I feel that it still has a long way to go, I believe that the tide has truly turned, especially within the last year.  Aberdeen is alive with culture.  I feel that we’re not a million miles away from being a city akin to Glasgow or Edinburgh; cities where you’re culturally spoilt for choice; where you encounter people who are still talking passionately about events – locally organised events – two or three years after they first experienced them.

In recent months I’ve encountered so many like-minded people through social media; friend requests from complete strangers – that “mutual friend” list has come to serve as a reliable, legitimate networking resource.  My Facebook news feed is no longer overpopulated by mundane posts about makeup techniques or video stills which feature the now predictable phrase “you won’t believe what happens next”.  Post-referendum, I refer to my Facebook news feed for crucial information that I know I will never receive from major (or even minor) news networks.  And culturally, the same, to a certain degree, applies.  It’s very often thanks to Facebook and Twitter that I know what’s happening In Aberdeen.  If Aberdonians were to rely on the “What’s On” guide for cultural reference, they’d assume that The Singing Kettle and some guy who once played in The Shadows was the sum of cultural talent in Aberdeen.  Thankfully, this is very far from the case.

Aberdeen has become a city of many artistic collectives and organisations – it is heartening to know that there are so many groups that have a similar goal in mind – SonADA can be added to that list.  On a personal note, I feel particularly proud to have been involved with Binary School.  I’ve performed at two of their nights and will be participating in a third on Halloween at Musa, in association with the Sound Festival.  Binary School, organised primarily by Colin Austin, who will be performing later this evening, showcases electronic musicians and DJs.  The musical range on show at these gigs is staggering – every sub-genre of electronic music can be experienced; approaches, techniques, inspirations, sound worlds, software and hardware all vary, but the passion is consistent.  To me, what Binary School offers is unique: music which is constantly new or, at least, emerging, the kind of music that, invariably, young guys are trying to create in their bedroom; the kind of music that they should, but are not, taught how to produce at college or university.

Not unlike the referendum aftermath, many more people are feeling empowered to try to make changes to a cultural scene that they’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with.  And that is a very exciting thing to be a part of.”

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