Dundee is often labelled the City Of Discovery, in part due to its incredible track records in life sciences but more accurately as it is both the birth and resting place of RRS Discovery. It’s more than a little ironic, then, that the Scottish city should remain so infrequently explored itself, an East Coast curiosity that seems pleased to be able to circumnavigate the hype.
But then, that’s always been Dundee’s way. Do, but don’t show. Create, but don’t shout about it. The birthplace of everything from Lemmings to Grand Theft Auto – and Clash, while we’re at it – it’s a city that bristles with creativity yet forever eschews the headlines.
These are all platitudes that could be launched against the city’s music scene. Quietly creative, Dundee has proved to be nesting ground for all manner of erstwhile geniuses, wayward souls, and other such nutters who seem to effortlessly cut against the grain.
- - -
- - -
Perhaps Dundee’s most commercially visible export over the past decade has been The View, with the Scottish indie-punk urchins notching up a series of hit albums while turning T In The Park into a virtual residency for their brand of Dryburgh Soul. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll find songs that speak plainly yet eloquently about Scottish working class life, the pride and frustration that comes with growing up in a city scarred by Thatcher’s legacy of impoverishment.
Frontman Kyle Falconer has battled – and won, seemingly – against his demons, and aims to preview his debut solo LP at this weekend’s Carnival 56. It’s a hometown show, and the best possible way for the singer to open his chest of secrets once again.
- - -
- - -
The Hazey Janes have built up an impressive catalogue, fusing Big Star harmonies with a sense of Caledonian grit. Dundonian to the core, the band are based here, and the city’s mythology seeps into their work in a plainly poetic fashion. Singer Andrew Mitchell takes this one step further on his modern classical project, using the name Andrew Wasylyk to conjure psycho-geographical excursions around this one-time hub of Jute, Jam, and Journalism.
Model Aeroplanes have caused a few headlines of their own, a set of rambunctious urchins whose youthful debauchery is matched only by the sugar-sweet melodies that power their songwriting. Take recent single ‘Lover’ - it’s all charm and smiling faces on the surface, but they’d happily drink you under the table in the process.
Be Charlotte is a three-piece fronted by Charlotte Brimner, a songwriter who went from studying for her exams to playing SXSW in just 12 months. Part of a new wave of energy in the city, the group have already been playlisted on Radio X and found support at Radio 1 – not bad going at all.
- - -
- - -
Of course, a city with such grit at its core also dives into more alternative fare. The Mirror Trap match decadent poetry to eye-liner fuelled riffs, and continual touring has seen the band boast sold out shows in St. Petersburg – that’s Russia, not Broughty Ferry.
Vladimir are cult heroes, matching the furious intensity of their songwriting to lyrics that delve beneath the surface. Think a Scottish version of The Birthday Party and you’d be close – deliciously evil music, but also fuelled by a rare sense of melancholy.
One of the city’s main faults – arguably shared by both Edinburgh and Aberdeen – is that venues can be difficult to come across. Sure, stalwarts such as Fat Sams or Clarks offer a space for musicians, but this slight deficit of easy-to-hire venues has also had the curious effect of turning Dundee into a real bastion of DIY creativity.
Talented songwriters such as Esperi help turn local cafes into hives of activity, while Panda Su emerges from the woods on occasion for spectacular demonstrations of her highly distinct artistry. Meanwhile promoters such as The Cool Cat Club do an incredible job of matching local and international talent at venues across the city – anyone who brings Can vocalist extraordinaire to Dundee deserves a medal of some kind.
- - -
- - -
Over by Blackscroft, The Reading Rooms is a converted Victorian library that now operates as a meeting space for minds altered by the power of club culture. Relishing its underdog status – the team frequently refer to themselves in tongue-in-cheek fashion as The Small Town Club – they’ve hosted everyone from Keb Darge to Daniel Avery, operating one of Scotland’s most open-minded booking policies.
Battling against the odds, the team around The Reading Rooms contain some sought after graphic designers, sound engineers, lighting experts, and – yep – DJs. From Disco Deviance to Book Club, Locarno to Phazed, The Reading Rooms pretty much has all the bases covered, and they’ve even invented a few of their own.
Perched on the side of a long extinct volcano and boasting more hours of sunshine than any other Scottish city Dundee is almost ludicrously well-situated. Low rent and a huge, award-winning art school gives the area a subtle bohemia, one that is reflected in the astonishing diversity of its music scene.
When Carnival 56 swings open this weekend, it will hopefully switch the spotlight on to one of the country’s more under-heralded bastions of new music.
- - -
Carnival 56 runs between August 12th - 13th - ticket LINK.
Photo Credit: Fraser Simpson