We Need to Stop Talking About “Glasgow” and Dance Music

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We Need to Stop Talking About “Glasgow” and Dance Music

We spent the weekend in Scotland's dance capital
March 31, 2015, 10:00am

For as long as people have been writing about dance music and club culture in the UK, there have been articles, interviews and think pieces on Glasgow. Every one of them tracking the networks that run between the Sub Club and the Arts school, from Optimo through to Hudson Mohawke. It is the sort of opinion that gets trotted out by every disillusioned Londoner, tired of paying £4 for a pint: "Glasgow's actually got a really good scene - my brother's girlfriend is studying there."

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It is completely understandable that it gets talked about so much. For a city of its size it has cultivated a unbelievable number of groundbreaking projects and artists. In fact, this is in part down to its size - a geographically contained ecosystem wherein creatives and institutions are able to feed off each-other. Only, this has been the case for years. So why do we still sound surprised? Why is "Glasgow" still the headline?

This weekend the Red Bull Music Academy UK Tour arrived in the city for 4 days of events across a multitude of venues. It was an opportunity for Thump to visit the city and the electronic landmarks that have inspired its reputation. It was also an opportunity to spend time with a load of lovely Glaswegians. On multiple occasions our conversation turned to talk of the city and why everyone is so obsessed with "Glasgow" as a concept. After all, it hasn't suddenly started producing great music, or just opened its first club. In fact, it has a more consistent track record of DJs, producers, labels and promoters than most other cities in the UK - and has managed to remain forward-thinking along with this consistency.

Our weekend began with exactly the sort of a progressive project we should expect from the city. Hosted in Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art, the powerhouse label that is Numbers had brought together a selection of collaborators for a project, presented by the Red Bull Music Academy, called Loops. Soundtracked by a selection of ambient, beat focussed and at times industrial pieces of music - produced by artists from Mumdance to Unspecified Enemies - the fusty, detailed walls of the gallery housed a massive sphere, from inside which swirling, epic visuals were projected. The images were in turn designed to develop an abstract narrative, journeying from the centre of the Earth to the genesis of human existence.

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While the piece definitely falls into the "reading about this won't do it justice" category, it's worth mentioning the sublime execution of a concept that had not previously been tested. Testing the limits of the space, the artists and our relationship with electronic music to begin with, proving that you can feel hugely profound whilst doing that shit two-step-shuffling dance you do.

Beyond the GoMA, the other Glasgow institution guiding Thump through the weekend were Optimo. JG Wilkes and JD Twitch now put their names to a huge number of separate projects, stretching their output far beyond their famed DJ sets. Yet this weekend, we had a number of opportunities to see them perform in their most established capacity - most excitingly catching them perform in a literal cupboard-under-the-stairs as part of a special 'Red Bull Music Academy presents Optimo' set. Their peerless selection served to remind, once again, why their reputation is so esteemed. They possess qualities as a pair that are almost difficult define, largely in their innate relationship. Mixing vinyl exclusively it was quite amazing to watch their seamless sets take shape across minimal communication; effortlessly reading both the room and each-other's choices.

The significance of Optimo to Glasgow's legacy is in largely down to the Optimo night they started in the Sub Club. The night brought an 'anything-goes' philosophy to a techno-oriented scene, inspiring the diversity in movements the city now hosts. Sub Club itself is the sort of venue you can hardly believe still exists. With a ceiling so low it nearly meets the bar, and a wall-dripping muggy, humidity that can only come from swathes of 'on-one' Scots, it is a relic of pure unbridled devotion to dance. Detroit pioneer Derrick May was in town for the legendary Subculture night, bringing a relentless-come-joyous session to the basement space. Subculture dates back to 1994 and much like Sub Club itself, has managed to age beautifully - never selling out its original priorities but keeping an eye on the moment at all times.

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Derrick May's presence points towards the ridiculousness in talking about Glasgow as a 'hidden gem'. Along with the techno-guru, the weekend pulled in performances from all over the globe: Mumdance, Jacques Greene, Prins Thomas and Dimitri From Paris, to name just a handful. This roster of the great and good don't speak of a city emerging, or underground. It is of course kudos to the Red Bull Music Academy for curating a killer series of parties in tandem with artists, but also testament to a city that should be counted a major dance capital - not a 'scene' or a 'challenger to London'.

Glasgow has a distinct and massively influential identity, one that fosters the exchange of ideas across platforms - connecting the dots between electronic music, hip hop, visual art and technology like nowhere else. It makes absolute sense that we should be talking about what is coming out of the city more and more, but the time has surely come to stop asking why Glasgow keeps producing such amazing dance culture - it simply doesn't need that validation. That the city is at the forefront of club and electronic music, pushing boundaries and fostering new voices, is, quite honestly, old news.

RBMA

is hosting 36 events across four cities in the UK this month. The tour kicked off this weekend in Glasgow, before heading to Bristol (April 2nd to 6th), London (April 8th to 12th) and Manchester (April 16th to 19th).

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Photos by Steve Howse and Athena Anastasiou.