The rise and rise of the city festival
Promoters from Restless Natives Festival and Riverside Festival talk city music fests
This article is from 2016.
Breaking away from the idea that live music is best enjoyed in bulk while sitting in a rural field, the last decade has shown the festival scene expand in all kinds of directions. Now, a festival could be a local multi-venue crawl, a one-day marathon held in a single space or tightly-curated but less frantic events which stretch to many days. Some even stick a lot of people in an urban public park, just like a countryside festival.
It’s not surprising to anyone who knows the city that Glasgow has found itself home to many of these festivals. Home for many years to Celtic Connections in the depths of winter, Glasgow's summer includes a day of breaking new bands at the returning Stag & Dagger on Sauchiehall Street and two days of international dance and electronic music at the Riverside Festival on the banks of the Clyde.
There will also be a day of local artists like Joe Howe, Apostille and Babe at the Hug & Pint’s inaugural First Big Weekend on Great Western Road and big names in August at the more traditional, park-based Summer Nights (featuring Super Furry Animals, Primal Scream and Van Morrison) and Summer Sessions (headlined by Biffy Clyro). While Edinburgh is less well-served by music events, Hidden Door opens up at the end of May with music, visual art and more.
Yet one new Glasgow event is particularly eye-catching. The inaugural Restless Natives is happening across seven days at the beginning of May in various venues around the East End. Its aim is to bring international artists as diverse as Ghostface Killah, Future of the Left, Tim Hecker and Fuck Buttons offshoot Blanck Mass to the city, as well as showcasing Glasgow’s energetic DIY scene and the area's hidden corners to a wider audience.
‘The aim is to bring back some of the superior aspects of the European underground scene, and the way they circumvent a lot of the mainstream constraints placed upon them,’ says Chris Cusack, booker at Glasgow's Bloc venue and instigator of Restless Natives.
‘It’s about respecting the dignity of musicians and audiences, and about taking something from the way communities of promoters and musicians in Europe come together to hijack parts of town with socially conscious cross-platform programming. For example, there’s a festival in Montpellier where people just hang extension leads out of their windows for the weekend and invite musicians to play in their street.’
Restless Natives won’t be quite as ad hoc, but it’s very much focused on ideas which bring together the city’s self-starting DIY promoters and cross-genre practitioners. ‘We want to do something which operates outwith the big corporate festivals, which tend to feature the same names,’ says Cusack. ‘Part of what we’re doing is inviting different community arts groups to curate a cinema screen or music stage each night. Why programme what we think is best in jazz or hardcore punk when we can get Stretched or Struggletown to do it for us? The tickets are really cheap as well, which fits with the East End: we don’t want to go in there and gentrify the place. It’s aimed at families and people in that area who can’t afford to fly to Barcelona for a weekend at Primavera, and at showcasing some of the excellent infrastructure that’s already there: places like the African-Caribbean Centre. It's about breaking down the barriers for people who maybe don’t realise they can just wander in there.’
Frankly, it sounds great, but just because one event has taken such care to thread itself into the fabric of the area it serves doesn’t mean that other events won’t be representing Glasgow in other ways. Riverside Festival represents Glasgow's pulling power with icons like Sven Väth and Fatboy Slim, and popular younger names like Ben Klock, Joris Voorn and local boy Jackmaster.
‘The challenges are the same as any festival, it’s just that the licensing issues are different in a city,’ says Dave Clarke of Slam Events, who run the Riverside via their Pressure night alongside Electric Frog. ‘But we’re lucky that Glasgow Life are very supportive of what we do and so are the police. It’s not a place we expect trouble and I think part of that is because it’s a daytime party, following in the footsteps of smaller events like Sunday Circus and Platform 18. We don’t have the problem of people being camped onsite and going for it all the time.’
Of all Glasgow’s summer city events, Stag & Dagger is the one which has stood the test of time, even outlasting its parent branches in London and Leeds. ‘That’s something we’re really quite proud of,’ says Calum Cunneen of promoters PCL. ‘It’s not about being a huge money-maker for us, it just works well in shedding light on smaller spaces in the city and bringing in artists on the way up for early dates in Scotland before anyone’s heard of them.’
This year’s Stag features Band of Skulls, Deaf Havana and Emma Pollock’s welcome resurgence, while Cunneen points to past early-career appearances by Ed Sheeran, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett and Catfish & the Bottlemen as proof of Stag & Dagger’s track record. ‘Part of the point is reminding people that venues like these exist,’ he says, ‘and that they put on shows all year round in the heart of Glasgow. We’ve consistently built since Stag started, but the more festivals like this arrive in a city, the harder you have to work to sustain people’s attention.’
Stag & Dagger, various venues, Glasgow, Sun 1 May; The First Big Weekend, Hug & Pint, Glasgow, Sat 7 May; Restless Natives, various venues, Glasgow, Mon 9–Sun 15 May; Hidden Door, Old Bus Depot, Edinburgh, Fri 27 May–Sat 4 Jun; The Riverside Festival, Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Sat 28 & Sun 29 May; Summer Nights, Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow, Thu 4–Sun 14 Aug; Glasgow Summer Sessions, Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, Sat 27 Aug.