Interview: Neu! Reekie!'s Michael Pedersen – 'Scottish lit is randy and ready for a roasting'

Co-founder of Scotland's exciting literary and music collective tells us about new anthology #UntitledOne and #UntitledLive

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Interview: Neu! Reekie!'s Michael Pederson – 'Scottish lit is randy and ready for a roasting'

Neu! Reekie!'s Michael Pedersen

It's a big year for Neu! Reekie!. Founded by Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson, this counter-cultural collision of prose, poetry, live music and art goes from strength to strength with the launch of poetry anthology #UntitledOne in May.

#UntitledOne features work from established writers like Irvine Welsh, Liz Lochhead and Jenni Fagan, as well as pieces from Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat (who recently released a children's book), Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison and emerging authors like Kirsty Logan. It also comes with a downloadable 20-track compilation album, including songs from Young Fathers and TeenCanteen.

On 9 June, Young Fathers will also headline #UntitledLive at Edinburgh's Central Hall, Neu! Reekie!'s biggest live event yet.

Pedersen told us more about #UntitledOne and #UntitledLive.

How was the launch of #UntitledOne on Mayday?

You know, it was one of the strongest, most diverse, surreal and action-packed lineups we've ever lassoed. There was a real celebratory vibe going on with everyone adding their own zest to the night. The limited editions went flying off the shelves and hundreds of old and new faces packed La Belle Angele to the rafters. Plus, it was an anniversary in a sense, with Kevin having launched Rebel Inc on 1 May 1992. To emphasise a spear of thought about us being a collective, this was righteously present on the night.

Tell us about #UntitledOne.

#UntitledOne stands testament to four plus years of programming Neu! Reekie! events – we wanted a physical representation of what these bashes have captured over the past while and this seemed like the perfect anecdote. It serves as a reminder to our audiences and us, whilst showcasing what we've billed to those that missed it.

Eligibility for inclusion was having performed at the shows – thus the living monument style bannering we're giving #UntitledOne. Of the 31 writers and the 21 musical maestros, nearly all of them have prowled across our stages touting their wares. The only exceptions to this rule are the late Paul Reekie and Project Bona Fide / Natalie Hendry. There's some serious stories behind both of those artists of course. We've produced a limited run and then Polygon, who've been incredible, will be taking the reins of the wider distribution. #UntitledTwo is already in progress.

Can you pick out any works or writers you're really pleased to have in there?

No way. Neu! Reekie! to date has pretty much had a no headliners policy, everyone is gifting something different and equally valuable to the events and that's how we see their contributions to #UntitledOne. Naturally, harvesting poems from Irvine Welsh, Aidan Moffat and Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit) is a bit special because it's outside of their expected output, but that's a different angle on why we’re pleased with it. I'm elated to have each and every one of them on board, we've always tried to think of ourselves as a collective and this seems to be a bit like a roll call.

What do you think this book tells us about the state of Scottish literature, if anything?

That it's randy and ready for a roasting. That there's left-field and working class voices with plenty to say and that the avant-garde can be gnarly too. Whatever you want it to say, that's tickety-boo by us.

F**k Amazon and praise the independent book shops and publishers. That too.

What about the download compilation that goes with it? How does the music go hand in hand with the prose and poetry?

Same as the above, they've been an integral part of making Neu! Reekie! a success and were essential in casting an accurate reflection of what the events have achieved over these past few years. Although both Kevin and myself have a background in poetry, we're huge music fans and that's part and parcel of what brought us together. Getting close to Kevin, both inside and outside of Neu! Reekie!, has been one of the most important elements of this voyage for me too. I've always respected his political prowess and revered his work with Rebel Inc, something that's pervaded what we've done here. Soppy bastard, I know.

Interview: Neu! Reekie!'s Michael Pederson – 'Scottish lit is randy and ready for a roasting'

Young Fathers. Credit: Jannica Honey
Can you tell me more about the big night you have at Central Hall in Edinburgh on 9 June with Young Fathers? Is this the biggest show you've held?

It will be a behemoth – for us, for the acts, for Edinburgh, for Scotland. We'll flag-wave this ‘til our arms ache.

FiniTribe are full throttle at the moment and making some of their most exciting sounds. Andrew Weatherall is back in Edinburgh and with us at this historic venue which makes my toes tingle. Then there's Young Fathers, who we've had the pleasure of billing a couple of times now over the past few years, plus they're on the compilation with an exclusive track. They’re one of the most exciting live acts in the world right now, unwaveringly innovative, and I love the raw-edged pop sensibility imbued in their new album. Plus this serves as the homecoming gig of their ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’ tour. We're chuffed to bits to be putting them on.

There's much more to come as part of this line-up too, for example spoken word from poetic wonder woman Hollie McNish and new film/animation works from Will Anderson and Ainsley Henderson. That's just a taste. We're working with lighting designer Gavin Fraser and a couple of artists to ensure the aesthetics are simply superlative too.

There’ll be 1,000 folk there – yup, it's our biggest to date. It's well on its way to being sold out already. Did you know The Beatles played in Central Hall once before? Me neither, but I read it in The Herald when they announced this show. Anyhow, the venue is both sublime and classy.

What next for Neu! Reekie!?

We're off on a short tour of Japan shortly, expanding our international output and working with local Japanese and Scottish artists based there – The Professor Paul Hullah, psychedelic folk duo Tenniscoats, and the legendary Momus. We're also undertaking a year-long project of shows under the 'This is Scotland' banner, supported by Creative Scotland. More on that soon.

Neu! Reekie’s #UntitledOne anthology is published by Polygon on Sat 16 May. #UntitledLive is at Central Hall, Edinburgh, Tue 9 Jun.

Neu! Reekie! #UntitledLive

Neu! Reekie! use their cross-disciplinary powers to curate a night of live performance. There's music courtesy of 2014 Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers, Andrew Weatherall and FiniTribe; two guest spoken word stars and a short film showcase.

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