Anyone who knows anything about British music understands the importance of Glasgow venue King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. The story about Oasis being spotted here and signed by Alan McGee has been repeated ad nauseum over the years, but the club has also served as a launching pad for a chunk of home grown artists. The likes of Biffy Clyro, Travis and Paolo Nutini not only played legendary shows here early in their careers but returned again and again due to the sheer buzz.
It’s no wonder, then, why new Scottish artists scramble over each other for the chance to play the annual Summer Nights Festival, a month-long showcase for up- and-comers. Over seventy acts play over sixteen days, working out as four per night with nights broadly split by genre. It’s a format that works well: acoustic or rock or hip hop acts are placed together, informing the atmosphere of an individual night. In other words, nobody is forced to sit through a brutal death metal support act unless that’s exactly what they’ve signed up for.
Still, there are some obvious patterns when summing up the various shows more broadly. From Arab Strap to Mogwai to The Twilight Sad, Scottish music has never been short of dour miserablists (don’t blame us, it’s the lack of sun). And yet, with the obvious exception of Michael Timmons, whose reverb-laden monologues are a particular highpoint, very few performers could be described as outright gloomy. The talented Emme Woods is similarly earnest with a voice that resembles PJ Harvey at her most mournful, but she also injects plenty of humour into her headline set. Although her tracks are personal and intimate, she’s backed by keys, double bass and trumpet that subtly flesh out her wailing melodies.
If anything, the biggest turnouts are reserved for the more upbeat bands. Electropop quartet BooHooHoo, for example, win the crowd over through sheer energy and will. Towards the end of their set, they also receive overwhelming applause for a randomly placed flute solo – Ron Burgundy would be proud. The Vegan Leather have an even more obscure approach, overlaying funky guitar melodies with additional percussion and spiky synthesisers that drift in and out of the mix. Amidst all this, though, their songs are effortlessly compelling to the point where even an “on and on and on” chorus refrain doesn’t feel irritating. Their cover of Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’ proves to be one of the highlights of the week.
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Broadly speaking, there’s nothing about these new bands that suggests they’re setting trends rather than rehashing established styles. However, marking their sound with a Scottish imprint is a key theme throughout the week. So, whilst synthpop quartet Other Humans sound like a less well-rounded ‘Day & Age’ era The Killers, the vocalist’s authoritative Glaswegian pronunciation makes them that bit more charming. There’s a widespread cultural confidence to the point where even heavier acts such as Blackwork and Servant Sun are happy to let their accents show, at least when they’re not growling or screaming. It’s of benefit to Servant Sun, in particular, who are great songwriters – the way they transition between mosh- friendly aggression to more textured sections being impressive – but don’t sound notably different to the armies of alt-metal bands that exist on the other side of the Atlantic.
The hip-hop scene wear their local influences most proudly. Ciaran Mac’s thick delivery doesn’t disguise his abilities. His tongue-in-cheek observations, breathless flows and slick multisyllabics mark him out as the most naturally gifted of Glasgow’s new generation of rhymers. It’s not all just boom bap beats either as evidenced by Rory O’B’s acoustic set. Rapping about his rural home town and being patronised at the job centre (“the only option I think I’ve got’s an offence, it’s against the law”), O’B speaks a language that speaks to local people in general as opposed to just hip-hop heads.
Teenage indie mob The Lapelles are the most likely to be headlining UK-wide stages in the near future. Having supported the likes of The Last Shadow Puppets and The Kooks, the band are conscious of their target audience. Sure enough, a mass of eager kids with crew cuts and denim jackets assemble long before the band take to the stage. Given that their recordings to date have been relatively tame and embryonic, I’m taken aback by the dynamism immediately on show. There’s a power to their snappy tunes that brings to mind Scottish post-punk legends like Orange Juice and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
It’s hard to say whether The Lapelles, or indeed any of the festival headliners, will make it on to the hallowed King Tut’s steps that bear the names of once obscure bands such as Coldplay, Muse and the Manic Street Preachers. Nevertheless, even these smaller Summer Nights events feel like special occasions. Hundreds of local acts have taken to the Tut’s stage over the years, but the most striking thing about the 2016 intake is just how comfortable they looked on it.
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Words: Jonathan Rimmer