Live Report: XpoNorth 2019

Live Report: XpoNorth 2019

All the highlights from the Highlands' own creative industries showcase...

What is XpoNorth? Somewhere between a conference and a showcase, two days and nights devoted to showcasing Scotland’s creative chops in the worlds of publishing and music, fashion and textiles, movies and media.

Bringing some of the country’s leading creative brains under the roof of Inverness’ Eden Court Theatre, it’s a hive-mind of the highest order: a place to listen, learn and celebrate our cultural future.

The line-up’s seriously impressive – commanding talks from the likes of Stuart Cosgrove on the importance of music writing and Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai on career longevity, mixed with one-to-one sessions and break-out bits. Accessing the powers that be is a difficult thing to do, but for these two days – they’re on-hand to dish out advice. 

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Mid-morning Wednesday, Dougie Bruce, the man who famously signed Adele, joins Sat Bisla (A&R Worldwide) for a masterclass on what constitutes and how to create the elusive hit.

A Thursday morning round-table discussion: ‘Small Band, Big Sync’, throws up plenty of advice on pitching music to big-name TV, advertising and film bods. Dan Butler, VP at Paramount Movies Music, rubs shoulders with music supervisors Sue Crawshaw of Pick’n’Mix (who selected music for Gray’s Anatomy) and Barcelona-based Roxy Shah (who cherry-picks the tracks for Adidas ads).

They’re joined by the gloriously affable Simon Pursehouse, from Sentric Music – who specialises in supporting independent bands to make the connections with commercials and corporates. It’s only an hour and a half, but we learn a whole lot.

For a young band on the make, looking to get their commercial thinking caps on, there’s worse places to be. At times, it feels a little bit like Music University – with master-classes on maximising your Spotify potential, to talks on tracking your royalties. And that’s before we come to the musical showcase, sprinkled across venues in the city.

Elizabeth Electro, resplendent in wig and glittered garb, blasts feminist power-pop across the top room of The Tooth and Claw – later graced by Glasgow’s Acrylic, offering doomy post-punk with spoken-word intros that knowingly betray the fingerprints of their 80s idols.

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Hoots, the wildest room in the toon, hosts Quiche. Enthusiasm isn’t an ingredient easily found in music these days, especially in a scene studded with gatekeepers and studied codes of cool. But they writhe and roll and joyfully jive through a psychedelic odyssey, shoring up on an unexpected detour into doo-wop which, somewhat surprisingly, makes our night.

There’s later magic found with the pulsating electronic of The Woods, a shimmering web of vocal loops and pedals – sinuous musical invention and experimentation otherwise thin on this musical ground.

The best? Shredd rip through it all, with guitar strings and pedal. It isn’t garage, nor straight-up rock and roll – but it crushes the room with the sonic force of their glorious racket. There’s a weight and a heft to the sound they make – deftly played, and lightly worn. We’ll be excited to see what they do next.

And with a quick cameo from cult hero Romeo Taylor on drums, Savage Mansion play the finale – as the circus heads from the Highlands, heids thrumming with new noises and knowledge.

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Words: Marianne Gallagher
Photography: Paul Campbell

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