Second Citizen: 'It has an incredible energy and dynamism to it, and totally nails the fusion of organic and machine-based music'
- David Pollock
- 17 December 2019
credit: Al Bell
Keith McIvor and Angus Farquhar discuss the debut of their new rhythm and electronics collaboration at Optimo's End of the Decade Party
Since the turn of the millennium, the Optimo (Espacio) Hogmanay Party at the Art School has been a key element of Glasgow's end-of-year clubbing experience, and – while the Art School is sadly no longer with us – Optimo's founders Twitch and Wilkes have had one of their busiest years yet. We can't think of anywhere better to spend the closing minutes of this weird decade, then, than with the club night which started 2010 amid commiserations for its Sunday night residency at Sub Club closing, and ended it as one of the city's most prolific and well-travelled clubbing ambassadors.
'I had a rollercoaster of a decade, it's hard to sum up in a pithy sentence or two,' says Keith McIvor, aka Twitch. 'This year was my busiest year ever; I played over a hundred gigs all over the planet, launched my Against Fascism Trax label and got some death threats, managed to put out around thirty releases on my labels, was music director for the film Beats, came out of remix retirement and did a load of remixes, put out some secret anonymous releases of music I had made, did a ton of music licensing and worked on a few other big audio projects.
'On the downside, while I had the most fun ever with my ULTRAGOTH night and collaborative So Low nights in Glasgow, I didn't get to do enough in Glasgow this year, and 2019 was a constant battle to fight off depression brought on by the political situation in the (dis)United Kingdom. I also forgot to have a life, so apart from doing more nights in Glasgow will be aiming to do less of all these things in 2020. We wanted to end 2019 – and indeed the decade – in Glasgow and wanted to give something back, so decided to make this gig a fundraiser for local organisations with 100% of the funds being donated.'
McIvor's final project of the 2010s (or possibly his first of the 2020s, depending on how things are timed), will be Second Citizen, a live performance involving himself, former member of radical post punks Test Dept and director of arts organisation NVA Angus Farquhar, and percussionist Cameron Sinclair of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Described by McIvor as 'marimba mayhem with electronics', it will receive its first performance here.
'I first met Angus at St Rollox Locomotive Works, at the Second Coming event he put on in 1990, when Glasgow was City of Culture,' remembers McIvor. 'After the final performance I DJed at a less-than-legal rave in this vast space; I remember thinking the smoke machine was relentless, until I realised it was decades of industrial dust being kicked up by the dancers. A very dusty Angus introduced himself and said we should work together, and we did, many times. He has a supreme talent for roping people into things.'
For Farquhar, still recovering from the disbandment of NVA in 2018 after its inspiring but failed plan to redevelop St Peter's Seminary in Cardross, Second Citizen was a kind of lifeline. 'A company is a vehicle for creativity,' he says, 'but without it, you still remain a creative soul. What did I want to do with my life after NVA? One of the main things was to do music again; I was in Test Dept throughout my twenties, and I drummed for thousands of hours in dark, dusty squats. That's imprinted into you, your hands, your wrists, your arms, just that sense of holding two sticks or mallets and hammering something out into the world.'
The performance is based around two two-and-a-half metre long marimbas which Farquhar had made around 1993 by Dr Graham Tydeman, a Fife-based consultant obstetrician and sculptor; the marimbas themselves are made from a pair of old hospital doors. 'I used them in an NVA show staged by the Clyde called Stormy Waters, and then had them in my garage for 25 years,' says Farquhar. 'Then by chance I found out about Cameron Sinclair, whose sister worked with me on Make Me Up (NVA's final work, a film collaboration with the artist Rachel Maclean); he used to play with Evelyn Glennie and is a brilliant musician.'
The pair got in touch and tried some music together. 'It was fantastic, like we'd been playing together for twenty years,' says Farquhar. 'My sound is really hard, industrial and ritualistic, and Cameron is a phenomenally skilled percussionist, he plays like Steve Reich, with his eyes closed from end-to-end.' The pair handle the bulk of the live performance, while McIvor – who says that Farquhar did indeed 'rope him in' – has created bespoke electronic rhythm tracks to accompany their marimba-playing.
'I think people are going to freak out,' says McIvor of the group's hoped-for Second Citizen experience. 'It has an incredible energy and dynamism to it, and totally nails the fusion of organic and machine-based music that has long been something I'm fascinated by. I'm very much a background member, though, and as I have a host of other projects I won't necessarily appear at future live performances. There's been some recording already, though.' For this reason, at least, 2020 can't come soon enough.
Second Citizen play Optimo's End of the Decade Party at Room 2, Glasgow, Tue 31 Dec. All profits raised are going to the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, Positive Action in Housing and Drumchapel Foodbank.