Lewis Cook on Outskirts 2019: 'Talking to people you don't know is a kind of catharsis, if you're prepared to listen.'
- David Pollock
- 23 April 2019
Platform's annual festival returns with an inspiring line-up of performance, music and visual art
'It's nice walking through the library and finding a performance in amongst the books,' says Alun Woodward, music programmer at Glasgow's Platform venue, about just one aspect of what makes the annual Outskirts festival so unique and exciting. Based in Easterhouse, far to the east of the city, Platform is a local community centre as well as a fully functioning performance venue.
'Outskirts is well-supported by Platform and audiences,' he continues. 'There's a lot of freedom to book what you like, which makes it really interesting personally; I would struggle to book music based entirely on ticket sales without being interested in it. It's also a good size, and it fits well within the building.' This year's guests include King Midas Sound – playing their new album Solitude, a hymn to feelings of loss and loneliness – and Glasgow's new Golden Teacher offshoot Banana Oil, with performance and art pieces from David Sherry, Jessica Higgins and more.
Outskirts' own Easterhouse Conversations will also return for the fifth year, with past participants including RM Hubbert, Kathryn Joseph and Mogwai's Barry Burns. 'It's a yearly commission where musicians speak with about a dozen members of the Easterhouse community and regular Platform users,' says Woodward. 'The conversations are about anything; sometimes it's just the musicians taking part in an activity or having a cup of coffee and seeing where it goes. From my side of it that's all I want, I don't want to prescribe too much as it works best when it feels natural for all involved.'
This year, the musical element will be composed by musicians Lewis Cook, Suzi Rodden (the electronic, Glasgow-based duo otherwise known as Free Love, FKA Happy Meals) and Eilidh Rodgers (one half of Sacred Paws; her musical partner Rachel Aggs was unavailable for the project). They've been talking to locals including KOR records, The Boys (a band formed of local young people involved with the Glenburn Centre), and Platform's Singers choir and Nu Gen and Art Factory groups.
'Alun reached out to us about the idea for the project and we thought it would be fun to get involved,' says Cook. 'We'd talked to Eilidh about collaborating before, and it felt like a good opportunity to try it out. We've ended up forming a new band, but each of us is playing to our strengths; I'm programming, playing synthesizers and guitar, and using my mixer as an instrument; Suzi is on electronics and vocals; and Eilidh is on vocals, drums and effects.'
'The concept was fairly open ended, we wanted to have organic conversations with people and allow them to talk about the things that come naturally,' says Rodgers. 'It was more about the people than some strict agenda; Alun introduced us to people he knows and we just sat and chatted about life and the experiences they'd had. We met some lovely folk! There were common themes throughout, the things that people value and seek out, so we just tried to base the songs around themes that would reoccur, and develop the little anecdotes that people shared into characters and stories in the songs.'
Cook says that the process of trying to tell another person's story through song after you've met them is both liberating and daunting. 'I think there's a risk of being disingenuous in trying to earnestly tell someone else's story,' he says, 'but focusing on the recurring ideas and phrases felt like looking into a communal consciousness which we could swim in for ideas. Leading everything with questions has created a kind of exploratory tone to it all and I think the music takes on that form – rather than think about it too much we try to answer these questions like a conversation and see where it goes.'
It's hard to describe any work as 'important' until you've seen and heard it, but the format of Easterhouse Conversations certainly involves more engagement and responsibility than most. 'I feel like conversation is so important, one of the things that we do day-to-day to make us feel part of the world, part of a community,' says Rodgers. 'It's too easy in today's society to get tied up in technology and lose sight of the things around you, so it felt refreshing to talk to people and hear their stories. Most of the people we met were part of a community and attended various classes and events at the Bridge and Platform, so it'll be nice to perform the songs and for everyone to come along and be a part of it too. Who knows what will come of the music (in future), but I'd certainly be happy for it just to exist in the moment, a bit like those conversations.'
Cook agrees with those sentiments. 'For me, this project has been the antithesis of the individualist Twittersphere of people constantly reflecting on themselves,' he says. 'Talking to people you don't know and seeing where it goes is a kind of catharsis, if you're prepared to listen, reciprocate, challenge and enjoy what everyone has to say. Everyone is an artist, and we spent a lot of time hearing about how people practice that, whether it be creating games for kids to play through environmental gardening, wheelchair tai chi, knitting clothes for grandchildren or creating music. By constantly trying to be on top of 'global issues', the world can easily pass us by.'
Outskirts 2019 is at Platform, Glasgow, Sat 27 Apr.