Now the Carnival is over: Electric Circus closes

Forever Electric

As we say goodbye to Electric Circus, we look back at some favourite memories and look to the future of music in Edinburgh

The closure of small music venues around the UK is an increasingly common state of affairs. In Edinburgh, a constant discussion surrounds the nature of the city's live music scene as a result of a seemingly continual battle to safeguard the future of its venues. Electric Circus may appear to be the latest casualty of the depressing trend of music venue closures but the story is slightly different here, with the cause being the expansion of the neighbouring Fruitmarket Gallery.

As a haven for karaoke enthusiasts and the location of numerous noteworthy gigs and club nights, Electric Circus will be sorely missed. But the future of music in Edinburgh is not all doom and gloom if people are willing to remain both positive and proactive, a sentiment that is shared by many performers, spectators and promoters throughout city. We spoke to a few of them to hear their thoughts on the closure.

On hearing the news

John-Paul Mason (Production and Events, King Tut's, former booker at Electric Circus): 'When I heard the news I guess it kind of stopped me in my tracks. It then made me shoot through lots of memories I have of working there and it was equal parts satisfaction and sadness over a building, and subsequently a job that has had a profound effect on my life.'

James Graham (The Twilight Sad): 'I was sad that Edinburgh was losing another 200-300 capacity venue. For me, that size of venue is the backbone of most inner city music scenes. Without venues this size giving local bands and artists a platform to learn and develop we could miss out on the next important musical discovery.'

Georgia Gordon (Edinburgh-based musician): 'I was completely taken aback when I found out. I never thought such an established music venue in the city centre would ever dream of closing. It broke my heart a little I can't lie! I have so many incredible memories of EC that I won't forget.'

Olaf Furniss (Born to be Wide): 'I was sad that a lot of people were losing their jobs and the community around the venue was going to be broken up. The Electric Circus was one of the few spaces where under 18s could both play and see acts. As many touring bands played the venue, it also provided an opportunity for local artists to get support slots and engage with musicians from outside Scotland. The venue was also crucial in developing the skills of bookers, sound engineers, gig reps and emerging promoters. There are a lot of rising stars in the Scottish music industry who started out at the Electric Circus.'

Groundskeeper Fanny (Such a Drag): 'I was extremely shocked and upset about the closing of Electric Circus. EC was my home for the beginning of my adult life and I held so many memories and even my first drag pursuits there. I don't think I've even fully accepted it yet. EC forever!'

On favourite memories

John-Paul Mason: 'The one show that does stick out was a secret charity gig devised by myself and Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit. We decided to put on a gig where they played under a pseudonym Jonny B Grey, in actual fact it was FR playing as a three-piece and playing the entire Sing the Greys album with all proceeds raised going to the Cystinosis Foundation. Needless to say, it put the venue on the map, was an absolutely amazing gig and raised money for charity!'

Yasmin Morgan-Griffiths (TV Researcher, Red Sky Productions): 'I saw Mitski play Electric Circus a few weeks ago and she was sensational! She gave such a serene and powerful performance. Electric Circus is a special, intimate space which has given me amazing opportunities to get close to brilliant up-and-coming artists over the years. It was poignant knowing Mitski's gig would be the last time I'd ever get to experience that in quite the same way.'

Groundskeeper Fanny: 'As a spectator, seeing Raleigh Ritchie with five other people who were only there because he was in Game of Thrones made for one of the most intimate gigs possible. As a performer, I have been given a platform as an artist to truly experiment and develop - I can't value that enough. As a member of staff, I made some of my best friends and facilitated Edinburgh's bombest waiting team. In reality my time working there was a haze of delegating smoke breaks and singing Anastasia in empty rooms...sheer bliss.'

Andy Danet (Rhythm Machine): 'I used to play (pretty silly) records a few years ago on weekends and the booking agent is a dear friend of mine and who I still play with occasionally. My favourite memory would probably be one night at EC when I met some new friends through a tenuous link from other friends and we spent the night dancing, singing karaoke and drinking tequila. We had a rad time together but we were all pretty skint so when the tequila ran out they mugged me and bought another bottle.'

Forever Electric

image: courtesy of Olaf Furniss (pictured crowd surfing at Electric Circus)
Olaf Furniss: 'There were lots of musical highpoints but the most memorable was during a Wide Days showcase by Norwegian punk band Honingbarna. After they blew two guitar amps, we managed to source two replacements within 15 minutes and no sooner had they come back on, than I was suddenly lifted up by Vic Galloway and Ally McCrae and found myself crowdsurfing for the first time in my life.'

James Graham: 'John Paul Mason who is now part of our management team was the booker there and because of him we've played numerous acoustic sets/DJ sets and had many a ridiculous drunken night in the karaoke rooms. He wanted to improve the gig going scene and did in Edinburgh, and the Electric Circus gave him that platform that in turn gave many people memorable nights from seeing their favourite band to discovering their new favourite band.'

Georgia Gordon: 'I've been performing at EC since I played solo with an acoustic guitar and at every stage of my line-up since. My favourite memory of Electric Circus was hosting my last EP launch there and the whole band played my new songs for one of the first times. The turnout was great and the reaction was even better. It was an amazing night!'

On the future of music in Edinburgh

Neil Cooper (writer and arts critic): 'The problems beyond the arrangement between those running the Electric Circus and the Fruitmarket Gallery rests with the language used by City of Edinburgh Council in its own report, which seemed to suggest that an art gallery is somehow intrinsically more important than a music venue. I don't believe that those running both the Fruitmarket and Electric Circus think that is the case, and the language used by CEC is one more example of how it needs to make an institutional and cultural shift in terms of recognising all art forms on a level playing field.

This requires the Agent of Change principle being introduced as other major cities have done in a way which protects live music venues from property developers and encroaching gentrification as well as taking the needs of their neighbours into account. There also needs to be some kind of officially designated music champion in the city as has recently been introduced in London with the appointment of a Night Mayor. The Music is Audible working group set up by CEC has gone some way to attempt to raise these issues, though how this will impact on the protection and nurturing of live music in Edinburgh in real terms remains to be seen.'

John Stout (Regular Music): 'It's not the number of venues at that size that appears to be the problem, it's the city's discussion with itself of not having a good 'scene'. Plenty people go to gigs when they are on. If everyone keeps saying that there are never any decent gigs on in Edinburgh, then you are sending a message that there's no point even looking into what's on. So let's stop that and talk about the positives.'

Groundskeeper Fanny: 'I don't think it means the Edinburgh scene is dying. If anything I think it's the kick up the arse that every scene, from drag to music, needs to realise we can DO THIS. Plan a show, create a club night and for god's sake support local artists.'


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