Interview: Michael Pedersen – 'Maybe one day Neu! Reekie! will be as talked about as The Human Centipede'
Poet and playwright talks about #XmasKracker, #UntitledLive and Neu! Reekie!'s big year
Back in 2011, when Neu! Reekie! was, well, new, it was billed as an 'avant-garde spoken word, film and music fusion night'. Now, that doesn't feel like a sufficient description for the cultural behemoth, which has grown exponentially in size, reputation and infamy. The problem is, even Michael Pedersen, who started Neu! Reekie! with Rebel Inc founder Kevin Williamson, can't succinctly describe what it has become.
'I think after the first show, we decided we weren't avant-garde. Maybe we're too avant-garde to be avant-garde, I'm not sure. I'm still working that one out.' says Pedersen. 'It's a cyclical, tumultuous mind fuck.
'I think the most exciting part of it a lot of the time is trying to describe it, because every time me and Kevin are pinned down to try and describe what it is, something's changed. We've moved the focus onto products: we're releasing poetry anthologies, we've launched the record label, we're doing a new show of a new ilk which is of a different production value, which kind of drifts us into a different realm.'
And so Pedersen tries to pin it down, that certain Neu! Reekie!-ness that is at once so apparent and elusive.
'We are this collective of like-minded and slightly peculiar artists, that are trying to ruffle feathers and intelligently agitate, while displaying some of the highest quality literature and music that's coming out of Scotland and beyond.
'It's not really a tagline is it? That's why we've not got any letterheaded paper yet. It takes a letter for me to try and work out what we're doing.'
But when they do work it out, it works very well indeed. This year alone, Pedersen and Williamson have published their first poetry anthology #UntitledOne, produced several high-profile shows across Scotland (including June's sell-out #UntitledLive, which Young Fathers headlined), and taken the Neu! Reekie! madness on tour with Anywhere But The Cities, which saw artists as diverse as Alan Bissett, FOUND and Aidan Moffat pack up and hit the Scottish road. But though they do consider themselves promoters, first and foremost they are artists. They both have a literary background but it comes alongside a keen interest in music and film.
'Any time I do start to think of myself as more of an events promoter, or an events compere, I think we're doing something wrong,' says Pedersen. 'We like to think that we visualise these shows. A lot of these artists we work with, they work with us because we can develop what we would want them to do live with them.
'I think if we weren't in tune with their music and their corpuses, and trying to do live performances ourselves, then the curatorial side of it wouldn't work. It wouldn't be exciting and adventurous, and we certainly wouldn't have it in our conscience to suggest some of the things we've been suggesting. I think the artistic process is pretty curatorial.'
The curatorial side of Neu! Reekie! is being turned up to 11 this December, with what may well turn out to be their biggest gig to date: #XmasKracker. The line-up includes Irvine Welsh, Liz Lochhead, WHITE, Hector Bizerk, Rachel Maclean, and Moonhop DJs, and though these are the artists lauded on the suitably festive poster, there are plenty more exciting acts in the offing.
'Instead of having one big act to top the bill, we're bringing together lots of our favourite acts to do mini slots,' he explains. 'There are six acts who have inputted into Neu! Reekie! throughout this year. RM Hubbert's going to team up with Emma Pollock and do something unique for us, [and] Withered Hand's going to do something. Plus, it's great for us to be working with Irvine on this. He's doing two world exclusive things for us, and it's a really interesting show that he's going to put on.'
Given the success of June's Central Hall show, which was a 1000-person sell-out, it would be easy to see this as a follow-up of sorts, but Pedersen insists that's not what #XmasKracker is about.
'For me they're very different events,' he says. '[#UntitledOne] was an experiment with working on that scale for us. Young Fathers had just had a hell of a year, they weren't really playing Edinburgh gigs, and we had a good relationship with them. We just said, "right, if you're not going to do an Edinburgh gig, why don't we do one for you and with you? We'll find an interesting space, we'll build a sound system, we'll build a show, we'll get acts which we think compliment your sound and are doing something interesting."
'It felt like a statement. It felt like something Edinburgh needed to say – that something of this scale, of this capacity and this quality of performance can happen on a Tuesday night. It was just injecting a bit of life in the old stiff.'
But there's not much chance of Neu! Reekie! going stiff in 2016. 'There's a lot of exciting things happening,' Pedersen says. 'It looks like we're going over to Colombia for the Bogota International Book Fair; we're doing a great event for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in February, there's #UntitledTwo; another poetry anthology with compilation albums due for release in April with Polygon; we're doing a big scale show, maybe the biggest we've ever done through the National Museums; and we've got some really exciting stuff planned with the Film Festival and the Book Festival this year.'
Which is all to say, it's going to be even harder to pin Neu! Reekie! down with an easy description.
'We're just continuing to grow new limbs. I need to think of new comparative animals, we've used "octopus" and I can't quite jump to the "centipede" life because I don't know where you go after that.'
When I point out that the centipede has a bit of a bad reputation due to a certain film franchise, a new goal is realised. 'Maybe one day we'll be as talked about as The Human Centipede – adored and abhorred on the same level.'
#XmasKracker, Central Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 17 Dec, 6pm, £16 (£13.50)