Edinburgh's finest sweatbox continues to inspire and impact the city's diverse musical landscape
It would be fair to say that the Edinburgh music scene is having a bit of a moment. Local community radio station EH-FM is continuing to flourish as it celebrates its first birthday, and Paradise Palms is masterfully maintaining its tropical blend of being a venue, label and record shop. Another spot that is truly at the heart of the capital's dynamic sound is Sneaky Pete's: the dark, sweaty, 100-capacity independent club and live music venue on the Cowgate that truly embraces the meaning of 'grassroots'.
Scenes need physical spaces, and Sneaky's has been a vital home for local bands and DJs to play for over a decade, through what have been some dark times for smaller venues in Edinburgh. This significance to the city's musical landscape was finally officially recognised at the Music Week Awards back in May, when Sneaky's was named the UK's 'Grassroots Music Venue of the Year'. But this beloved club is so much more than just a physical space, and it's the spirit of Sneaks that grabs hold of so many who make memories on its dancefloor, making it the stuff of legends.
'I don't think I'll ever tire of introducing people to Sneaky Pete's, just for that moment they stare around at the room, trying to piece together the scale of the stories of nights spent in the place, with its literal size,' says C-Shaman, a resident DJ at Sneaks whose night Heaters makes its home in the club every Wednesday. 'Whether it's an emerging local or an international star in the booth, when the lights come on at the end, you can always see they've fallen for the weird wonder of the place, hooked by the wave of intimate dancefloor moments that give the place it's unique charm.'
'Sneaky's mirrors the Edinburgh scene – it's small, but perfectly formed,' say Miss World, who have been bringing their 'musical beauty pageant' to the club as resident DJs for the past year. The club's teeny size means that good vibes are pretty much guaranteed, and for Miss World DJing at Sneaky's is always a treat. 'It's a total sweatbox, with the DJ booth right on the dancefloor, which throws us right in there with the crowd and keeps the atmosphere electric.'
Project Pablo / credit: Maciej Kawka
This charged good-time energy, coupled with a reputation that reaches beyond Edinburgh and Scotland, make Sneaky Pete's a unique venue for bands just starting out in their careers. Sneaky's fully embrace their role in fostering local and emerging talent, especially through their Central Belters gig series, which is all about giving local bands the same quality treatment as bigger, touring acts. As well as catching the next big thing (Tame Impala, Mumford and Sons, and Young Fathers all played there at the early stages of their careers) Sneaky's is where to head to see some of the biggest names on the international DJ circuit return to play again and again. Where else could you see the likes of Daniel Avery or Erol Alkan, who regularly play to crowds of thousands, in the mix so up close that you can see the small print on their vinyl?
For a small venue with such notoriety, it would be easy for Sneaks to have adopted an air of exclusivity – yet this could not be further from the truth. 'As a collective devoted to promoting women in DJing, we really appreciate the variety of sounds and genres welcome at Sneaky's,' say Miss World. 'It's allowed us to bring in so many different women from across the spectrum of dance music, including total newcomers, like those who've been through our programme of DJ workshops. Importantly, the club also has a more robust safe space policy than most, and it's somewhere we feel safe as clubbers and as DJs.'
It's this warmth and accessibility that has put Sneaky Pete's at the heart of an inspiring and supportive creative network, something that C-Shaman says he is grateful for. 'It's difficult to capture the essence of what makes a space special, but in Sneaks' case, I think it's because the team there have managed to infuse it with a culture of collectivism. Sneaks is all about finding creative ways to bring people together. If you come along for a dance, have a laugh and be respectful; you'll be part of the family before you know it. Ultimately, I think it's this family feeling that makes it such an amazing platform for developing talent. There's no gatekeepers, everyone collaborates and you're blessed with an open-minded crowd who love it when you take risks and push boundaries.'
Whether you want to check out some new music from the best local bands, experience a set by your all-time favourite DJ in the most intimate setting, or frequent the varied but consistently banging regular parties, the pull of the Sneaky's dance floor is hard to avoid. The spirit of Sneaks is a special one, and it lives on.