Positive Education: Glasgow’s Riverside Festival in focus
There is as much folklore as there is fact about Glasgow’s involvement in the evolution of dance and electronic music.
Tall tales have been exchanged outside clubs and venues in Scotland’s biggest city – stories about Underground Resistance gracing the basement of a curry house in Paisley when nobody else would book them, rumours about Daft Punk dancing the night away under the influence at The Arches, illegal raves nestled beneath the abandoned railway tunnels of the city by invitation only.
Some of this is true, some of it is not.
However, such stories and the banter itself has lent itself to the legacy and the evolution of electronic music culture in the city. Stories passed down and exchanged by individuals and crews who have dedicated their lives to the dance.
There’s an exhaustive list of “local legends” who have helped to establish Glasgow as an internationally recognised city for dance music. Over the years many venues, promoters, producers, dj’s and ravers have helped to shape the cultural narrative of a city which “punches above its weight”. Hard work and commitment from the grassroots up is what has led to this reputation, it sure as hell hasn’t been the result of any government backing or commercial support, even if they might be trying to cash in now.
This summer the Riverside Festival will take place in Glasgow, a festival which many believed might never happen given the strict reputation the city council have for hardened licensing laws and zealous restrictions.
Founded in 2013, the festival takes place beneath the shadow of the Zaha Hadid designed Riverside Museum – a beautiful futuristic building which offers a distinct backdrop to a three day party on the banks of the Clyde river. Founded by the teams behind Electric Frog and Pressure the event has grown in scale and scope – all with a little help from some ambitious friends and family.
Pressure itself remains one of the most successful parties in the UK. During its long running spell at the now closed club, The Arches, it became known as one of the most crucial events in techno and played host to the likes of Jeff Mills, Luke Slater, Surgeon, Ben Klock, Green Velvet, Laurent Garnier, Robert Hood, Vitalic and many, many more. Wild late night parties would attract locals and travellers from out of town, the focus was always on the music which bounced and echoed in the long, dark tunnels of the club. Blurry faces flickered and flashed amidst the darkness, a tightly packed crowd at the front, wild roaming dancers at the back.
Pressure at The Arches,2014
It is here where Slam became regarded as two of the most innovative DJ’s out there – as residents they quickly established the core sound of the party and became as celebrated and acclaimed as any of the international guests in attendance.
Pressure is now based at SWG3 and Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle remain as pivotal to the techno community in the city as ever. They will appear at Riverside Festival this summer – a festival of which they are co-directors and promoters alongside Dave Clarke, the same trio that made Pressure what it was and is to so many. They remain as humble as ever.
“Pressure has a lasting legacy I guess. At the Arches it was our vision to do something on a grander scale from the weekly night we used to do there every Friday before we changed the name to Pressure and went monthly. At the time there were a lot of superclubs with commercial music going on around the UK. We definitely didn’t want to be a part of that.
We were traveling around Europe as DJs and playing a lot of venues that were focused only on Techno in the main room, they’d usually have a second room playing house or electro or whatever. Clubs like Fuse in Brussels, Rex in Paris, Tresor in Berlin. Those nights were an inspiration for what we wanted to do in Glasgow.
In a way the Arches closing was disappointing at the time but throughout the years we’ve learned to be resilient and when we’re forced into these situations other opportunities usually take hold. Things change sometimes for the good. At the time of the Arches closing we were devastated but we managed to come back bigger and stronger in SWG3. Pressure at The Arches defined an era, its closure has added some valid mistique to the night but things happen for a reason sometimes.”
Orde Meikle and Stuart McMillan aka Slam
It’s inspiring to hear that the pair remain as focussed and committed to broadening the community and reach of their music. Their label, Soma Records, is one such outlet for their exuberant creativity, it continues to inspire their approach to the dancefloor and it’s served them well over the years. The pair feel that Glasgow itself lends itself to the nature of progression through it’s welcoming approach to new dancers and sounds.
“I think it’s something that happens quite naturally in Glasgow. No one is judging or giving merit to past glories. We rarely look back on things we’ve done in the past anyway, because if you’re living in the now, making good stuff happen in this moment, there’s generally not much time for looking back into the past. I think the reason the festival resonates with people is because people are aware that the people involved have dedication to making a great event. Whether that’s the line up we choose, or the production we add, it’s all done from that point of view of being a fan of the scene and the music. It’s about trust, to do something good with integrity
It’s quite an exciting time at Soma Records too. We’ve signed lots of new interesting great artists. We also have a new collaborative project on the horizon, involving ourselves and lots of other like minded artists. The project was facilitated by ourselves during lockdown in a time when we were forcibly separated from one another. It’s about artists coming together in a world which was unnaturally detached.”
The pandemic still looms heavy over the people of Glasgow, much like everywhere else the city and its people have struggled greatly. For a long time it was uncertain whether or not the Riverside Festival would be able to take place and go ahead this summer.
Mark Mackechnie is one of the key figures behind the event, he’s spent years in the city producing and promoting events which have evolved in size and scale. His experience is unrivalled in ensuring that the festival remains true to the roots of the culture in the city whilst offering something new.
“Glasgow’s a party city, there’s no doubt about it. There’s a spirit and passion among the audience that goes beyond enjoying a few drinks before hitting the dance floor. Glasgow is a city of music lovers. They’re also not shy in telling you if something isn’t up to scratch, it keeps you on your toes to make sure every gig or party delivers.
When setting out in programming the Riverside Festival, we look into what projects are coming out over the next 12 months and see what looks interesting.
Then there’s the wonderful Scottish grass roots club scene which we look to bring to the event to showcase what they can do. We brought in Clyde Built Radio to assist on delivering a programme that reflects the diversity within the city, that’s a platform we intend to build on in future years.
Programming is a way of making a statement without saying anything. You can book all the ‘big name’ djs on the planet, but sometimes it’s better to take a step back and have a good look at what’s going on – have conversations with people whether in the city or at artist management level. We hope that we deliver a coherent and interesting music programme at a great location each year.”
Mark is the promoter behind the long running Electric Frog parties, a series of club nights and gigs which have been as varied and diverse as they come. The Electric Frog street party at SWG3 was hugely influential in the evolution of Riverside Festival. Diversity is something Mark was brought up on, long before he decided to get involved with his own events.
“I was introduced to club culture at an early age due to an elder sister who was already part of the scene. The early days were all about bar and club hopping. So many different types of music to be influenced by, you could pop into Rock Garden, now La Cheetah, basement early in the night where Oscar was the resident DJ – he has a certain take on house music. Then you’d find out where Nick Peacock was playing that night and pop in to listen to a more jazz influenced house sound. Then onto the Sub Club, where at the time Harri, Stuart and Orde (Atlantis), were pretty much the only club in Scotland (that I was aware of) playing a Balearic sound brought straight over from Ibiza.
In between, there were great nights in Tin Pan Ally, the Ayr Pavillion started with a night called “West Coast Jam”. This was a night promoted around the old Northern Soul idea of buses coming in from towns across Scotland. This was in 1990, there was a 5am licence in Glasgow and no curfews on entry allowed for people to travel around and support parties not in other towns and cities across the central belt. There was a scene in almost every place you would go and everyone was getting to know each other.
We’d also spend the afternoon in 23rd Precinct listening to new music and it was a race amongst your friends to find the record that everyone was talking about the week before. Then Rub a Dub Records came along in Paisley and the scene for me morphed again as a whole new side of house and techno opened up. In the early days, we were full time record collectors and clubbers and it was an incredible amount of fun.”
Over the years Glasgow has changed a lot, spaces and parties have come and gone but the memories live on as Mark recalls his early experience running and promoting nights with friends as Melting Pot. He retains a similar ethos when working on the festival as he did in the past.
“We started off small with events in a couple of venues in town, then the first opportunity to really put something on that reflected our ideas was when we discovered a small recording space called Soundhaus: on the wrong side of the M8 I suppose you could say, next to the Clydeside expressway. That was a warehouse space that ran as a recording studio (Mogwai practised there back then) and we had a private managers licence to run til 5am.
The event was called Traxx and we had several rooms to work with where we could put on a range of DJs and styles of music from house and techno in the warehouse room, to the mirrored room with house producers from the city, Fresh and Lo and Billy Woods and Andrew Pirie now from Melting Pot, playing for 6 hours in the bar room. Simon Cordiner, Laurence Hughes and Derek Smith were all residents. This was the first time we got to work with an exclusively local range of DJs in an off the beaten track space.
That’s something that has never left our ethos and has always been important – support the local scene (in Glasgow we’re spoiled for choice) and give the party goers an experience they can’t get elsewhere.
Since then Melting Pot was created out of the ideas behind the mirrored room in the Soundhaus, so a Ceilidh club called Riverside Club was used as the venue as it was the perfect shape and, again, was off the beaten track.”
There’s a degree of irony in the connection between this old Riverside Club and the now called Riverside Festival, perhaps some things are just meant to be. Over the years the festival has played host to the likes of Ricardo Villalobos, Optimo, Ron Trent, Modeselektor, Peach, John Talabot, Shanti Celeste and an endless array of other great djs. However as Mark referenced, it remains crucial and important to ensure the continuity of the local scene. The festival has done well to maintain inclusivity and progression.
Nightwave is a Glasgow based DJ from Slovenia, she moved to the city and immersed herself in the culture and creativity which has run rife in Glasgow for decades. Her involvement came as part of a new wave of record labels and producers in the city during the noughties, when fresh sounds ran rampant and as techno and electro began to merge with influence from Grime, Jungle, UK Bass and Hip Hop. Labels like Numbers and LuckyMe helped to channel this sound in a bold, fresh faced fashion of which Maya was very much a part.
“I already had an admiration for Glasgow as a teenager in Slovenia in the late 90s via Soma, Slam and Optimo but never dreamed I would one day end up calling it my home.
I first moved to Glasgow from London in 2009 and I feel extremely lucky to have been there for those magic years of LuckyMe and Numbers parties, all the crazy creativity and music being made that ended up having a global impact.
I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before and it definitely had a big influence on my artistic development. I was also lucky to still catch the parties at The Arches, Club 69 and of course the Sub Club.
My musical journey in Slovenia started with Detroit Techno, Chicago House and Electro. Glasgow has a very deep connection with Detroit, UR and similar institutions. That really reinforced my inspiration plus I felt safe to experiment with all sorts of musical ideas through being close to trailblazing artists on the likes of LuckyMe, Wireblock or Dress 2 Sweat…It felt ok to be into Hip Hop or Garage as much as Electro or hard Techno and play around with Rap and R’n’B acapellas. A few years back I was at a UR party in La Cheetah and Mad Mike told me that the key is to never stop experimenting and that will remain my gospel til the end. People in Glasgow don’t really give a fuck and that’s massively inspiring as well.”
Maya reflects on the role the festival and those behind the scenes play in maintaining momentum in the city. She discusses her impressions on Electric Frog and Pressure.
“I’m sure everyone would be sad to see those parties go and those gigs are something for up and coming artists to aspire to…Glasgow is a city that despite all the genre trends and ups and downs remains a bona fide techno institution and is there to stay so I feel those legendary parties will keep going and going.
For many young people Riverside might well be the first encounter with electronic music, club culture and the whole raving experience, so in that respect it’s very important and I feel the kids are lucky to have such a well programmed and diverse festival on their doorstep. One thing I always admired about Glasgow is how the older ravers respect and look after the ‘young team’… I think it still has that beautiful energy and unity of early raves I experienced as a teenager.”
This is an ethos which another local DJ echoes and agrees with. Ida is a Finnish dj based in Glasgow who has become notorious for her approach towards techno and the darker fringes of electronic music. She has been a crucial figure in the emergence of a new wave of techno producers in the city and has amassed a formidable reputation for her far reaching sets which draw upon the past as much as they look forward. She too notes the importance of the parties which inspired her and led her to where she is today.
“I feel like I have a very special bond with Glasgow’s electronic music, and it will always remain so. Glasgow has been an inspirational place for me in many ways. Going to the Arches to see Slam play, not long after I moved to Scotland in my early 20s, was one of the first events that introduced me to the city and its fantastic night life. I was already playing records at this time, but these nights specifically made me want to pursue a career in music even more. For me, Stasis’ ‘Point Of No Return!’ was one of the most influential records alongside Slam’s ‘Positive Education’ and F.U.S.E’s ‘Dimension Intrusion’.
The scene would not be the same without these parties and promoters. The longevity and history of these parties is what makes them even better. Having renowned artists and promoters continue to run events keeps standards high, while still managing to keep the line-ups refreshing by promoting new and upcoming talent.”
Several of the records mentioned above remain firm favourites by ravers and dancers across Scotland. One of Glasgow’s best qualities is perhaps in its ability to pass down and emphasise the importance of that which came before, guiding the next generation in the right direction and ensuring that there is a degree of understanding and appreciation for the music and people which have led the city to this point.
Ida reflects on this, placing importance on the experiences and the value of this history whether that comes from experiences on the dancefloor, at the festival, in shops, clubs and beyond.
“I feel that the open and friendly attitude has created a community receptive to new styles and genres. The history of nightlife in Glasgow is a storied and influential one and I think people embrace their place in the evolution of that story. Also, Glasgow with the reputation of being the cultural and creative hub of Scotland, draws a lot of different musically diverse talent. The city’s nightlife and the electronic music scene is thriving. I can see why a lot of musicians feel the desire to move to the city and pursue a career here.
Frequent visits to record stores like Rubadub and Palais de Danse helped broaden my musical knowledge and dig deeper into the genres most relevant to me these days. Finding myself amongst so many like-minded people and artists has been a key inspirational factor in my musical journey.
The festival functions as a gateway for the next generation of ravers to discover both up-and-coming and established artists. A nice genre blend within the line-up draws out dancers with different musical preferences. In this way, it allows clubbers who’d normally listen to more commercial sounds discover other genres and more underground names. Including iconic artists in the line-ups helps put the younger generation directly in touch with the roots of dance music. This is something I see as crucial for the development of one’s musical taste.”
The broad array of perspectives in the personalities of some of Glasgow’s most important DJs and promoters demonstrates the versatility and cultural variety on offer in the city.
Whilst Slam feel it is important not to reflect and rest on past glories, a new generation is able to observe the creative impact such history has had on the formation of their own creative identities and careers.
Those fabled tales of parties from days gone by are important to a new generation of dancers in their ability to connect the dots, to piece together what has come before and understand the rationale behind an event like Riverside Festival.
Those who have worked behind the scenes for many years remain humble and grounded in their approach. It’s understandable that they might not want to be seen to blow smoke or overstate their significance. That in itself is a very Glaswegian trait and it doesn’t take a lot for the city to pull you back down to earth with a bang.
However, with Riverside Festival lurking just around the corner, an event which will see a return to the dancefloor for thousands of disconnected Glaswegian friends in the wake of a pandemic – it is important to take stock of what the city has and understand that this hasn’t happened without a sometimes hellish, sometimes heavenly amount of work.
More details on Riverside Festival which will take place in September HERE.