|Why There Are No Pies In Scotland
"Don't shit on your own doorstep."
"If you throw shit in an outhouse, it'll splatter back on you."
"It's the prerogative of fools and children to point out that the Emperors new clothes are shit; but the fool remains a fool, and the emperor an emperor."
These, and other fecal aphorisms, are what come to mind when I think of the Scottish underground.
The phrase "This band is shit," also crops up, but I really think this isn't something we should dwell on. Most bands are genuinely bollocks when they start, but if they manage to keep it together for a while (if they get to grips with the miniscule reward their toil brings,) then eventually they end up being 'a good band'.
Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly fractured society, and the fact that a band is empirically 'good' (i.e. can write 'songs', have a spark of 'originality', can 'play', or can find a clever way of avoiding these problems through sheer bloody mindedness) does not mean that they will in fact be appreciated. If Lapsus Linguae lived in New York or London they'd be famous (or at least earn a decent living.) Unfortunately they live in Scotland, where there's not much of an audience for post-modern classical hardcore bands (though apparently they do well in T-shirt sales.)
In fact there's not much of an audience for any Scottish band and its chosen genre. There's a fair base of indie fans, but that's such a broad genre that a band can't rely on their support - on any given night there's a major label, nationally successful indie band playing. Why would the audience choose Bubblecraft over Mull Historical Society/The Thrills/Billy Boy and the Tweehuggers?
Punks are better for supporting their own scenes, generally go to each others gigs, and there's plenty around; but how many punk bands make it out of Scotland? The Exploited? Anyone else? When was the last time that you saw a punk band that was more than derivative kiddie punk or a Lookout rip-off? (However, if this is a slander against any thriving but little known Scottish punk scenes, I'll gladly eat my words. Exploding postcards to usual address.)
Math Rock (or whatever you call Los Hombres Trajeados) is a genre which has always surprised me with its ubiquity. It's as if a cargo of Slint records parachuted accidentally into Glasgow years ago, and bands have ever since emulated these cryptic, elliptic heroes whilst the rest of the world goes on oblivious. With the possible exception of Mogwai, and now Biffy Clyro (sort of) there's not been many sparkling achievements or documentation from the scene- and not much chance for it to progress or get 'closure' on it's past. For this reason - although it's a strong, independent scene - I find it tiresome, because it sounds to me as though every band is just taking a single spin on Spiderland and ignoring each other.
I mention these because they're the three genres Stigma most often come across when seeing or supporting live bands. Everything else is fairly mixed - some heavy, some soft, some experimental, some 'classic', some electronic, some guitar.
Anyway, my point was, you judge a band principally by how they align with your own musical tastes; I personally can't really be bothered seeing any band that isn't either heavy as fuck, regardless of sub-genre, or avant garde, unless said band is exceptionally good. Everyone has their own tastes, which is all good and proper; otherwise we'd all be listening to the same stuff, which would suck.
So the 'good' bands who've developed their own thing, if they don't fit into my narrow expectations of what I want to see, also suck. Basically, everything sucks, either cos a band is terrible or else because their wasting their work on a genre that's shit.
And it would be all right if I lived in London to think like this, cos it's a big place and there's a lot more potential audience. There may not be that many Hardcore Balloon Rock fans in London, but I'm sure there's enough that a Hardcore Balloon Rock band could get some kindred spirits to come to fill a venue.
In Scotland it's really not the same. There's a limited amount of venues, there's a limited amount of audience. The live scene is hardly thriving, especially in Edinburgh. Bands play, without any real sense of order or purpose - it's not as though there really is a 'Scottish Underground', there's just some bands trying to chip away at apathy, or maybe get a mention in The List. There's no real focus - the biggest Scottish label is what, Chemical Underground? Maybe that means something to some people, but to me they seem like an indie that got lucky, and is now too busy trying to square up to the big boys down south to glance over its shoulder at whatever's happening now.
In fact, I don't really blame it. If the British music scene was a town, London would be the big white houses on the hills, then there would be some terraces and shops, then finally there'd be some really shit, dilapidated slums. Which would be Scotland. Scottish rock bands are like the mangy dogs in the slum streets. Nobody throws them a bone - if they're tough, if they're savvy and hardworking, they'll survive; most die, despondent and young. Occasionally someone braves it and goes towards the big white houses; maybe they find a good home. Not a lot of tales come back, though. The rest die in the streets, leaving nothing to posterity. There's not really a question of 'a piece of the pie;' there's no pie. There's only bones.
What I mean is, the British record industry is more or less the London record industry. It doesn't leave London, and if it does they think that Leicester is the back of beyond. If they make it to Scotland and sign someone, it's usually for entirely unfathomable reasons - not because they're the best or most popular, or most hard working, just on an apparent whim. It's not as though there's a linear route to success - it's hit or miss. Of course, this is the nature of the music industry (and life itself,) but it's exacerbated by the isolation of Scotland from London. The only successful bands are ones who bugger off, to anywhere but here.
But Scotland isn't isolated from itself. It's not a singular unit at all, but there's nothing to prevent it from being treated as such when viewed from the south. Bands are isolated physically from each other just enough to prevent any inter-band solidarity, but not enough to feel that the achievements of others don't affect them - i.e. another bands small success can make a band jealous and feel bad about themselves, without providing an empowering 'if they can do it, so can we!' attitude. Of course, this is also partly the natural dourness of Scottish culture, which is principally inspired by misery and rain, and partly the Scottish tendency to cut down anyone who 'thinks they're better than they are', i.e. actually does anything but moan.
And it's not as though there's not enough good bands, or good musicians, or people who are willing to work hard. It's just that there are not an awful lot of chances. I'm not trying to piss on anyone's chips here, or belittle the efforts made by the Scottish music scene. I'm just trying to tell it as I see it.
So, back to that pile of shit at the start. The point is, if Scotland's ever going to pull itself out of the mire, there has to be a severe change in attitude, largely on the part of bands. There are no miracles about to be performed by a benevolent outside force, nor is there anything to wait for. There are no secret caches of fans who will buy your record. There are rich veins running through the country, but they're veins, not the kind of pulsing, bloody arteries rock and roll requires. I really don't think there's space in Scotland for people to diss other bands over a preference for pre 1972 Stones as opposed to post 74 Stones.
It's not that you're tastes aren't valid, it's just that every musician in Scotland has far more important things in common than their independent tastes - everyone is struggling with the same problems, using the same methods, feeling the same frustrations, in the same venues, to the same general apathy. Nobody goes anywhere.
So yes, I can slag off Bubblecraft for being shit, because, let's face it, they are. But that's not because they can't play, or sing, or write songs, it's because I think they're Indie bollocks. It's the kind of music I hate. But there's no reason why their success (or lack of success, whichever) should inspire jealousy or glee in me. If they got a record deal, it's not as though they're stealing my, or anybodies, piece of the pie; there is no pie in Scotland. If I can't put aside musical differences and recognise that in the long run they are basically exactly the same as Stigma, or Fighting Red Adair, or Pro Forma, or any other Scottish band, then we're all fucked. All bands in Scotland should, if not actually support, then at least accept all other bands in Scotland; we should save our mighty venom for those who deserve it, i.e. the powers that be that ensure that there is virtually no British music industry outside of London. It's just a fact.
It doesn't rile me that, say, Biffy Clyro managed to get into the charts; what riles me is reading some interview with some London cocksuckers who got signed after their first gig because an A&R agent was high on coke, then fucked it up after one single, whilst all over the country talented musicians are starving and sweating to even get a gig in London, which the same A&R agent will dinghy because he's got a comedown. It riles me when someone takes a cheap shot at another band, just because their own band's not doing so well and misery loves company. I'm not saying that witty, acidic, honest cat fighting and bitchery isn't acceptable, I'm just saying that there's no point trying to destroy what someone else has painstakingly created, even if it is a poo palace. In real terms we're ALL small change, irrelevancies; a band that sells five hundred records over six months may feel bigger and smugger than a band that sells only twelve, but it's splitting hairs when you compare it to bands that sell hundreds every week. A band might feel chuffed that they stole the show at Sleazies, but if that's their career high then there's not a lot distinguishing them from the band on the bill that sucked. We all basically have no chance, no opportunity. We can moan about this, or accept it and move on from there.
All we have is the knowledge that it's a level playing field at the bottom - so next time you play a gig, and the other bands suck, remember that what they are doing is valid if only because, as you know perfectly well, it would be a lot easier to stay at home. If their attitude smacks of desperation - remember that forming a band is itself an act of desperation; if you were in it for the money, you'd work in a bank, for the girls you'd lift weights. If you wanted to be famous you'd go on Fame Academy. You form a band because you have no other choice, you're driven to do it - and the fact that the person in that shit band also had no other choice should endear him to you, not make him an asshole for liking the wrong kind of music. As Scots we just don't have the space to be picky about who our colleagues are, so let's all make the least shit thing out of this big pile of shit. Maaaannnnn.
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