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Scot:Lands 2015 - Subverting Edinburgh's Hogmanay

For several years now, something quietly subversive has been happening at Edinburgh's Hogmanay, the capital's high-profile festival now spread over several days and nights to see out the old year and usher in the new. While the Concert in the Gardens, this year headlined by Biffy Clyro, may receive much of the attention, it is the Scot:Lands event on New Year's Day where things start to look really interesting.

Set across eleven stages in the capital's old town, Scot:Lands draws together some of the country's most interesting artists working across all forms. A plethora of musicians, poets, visual artists, dancers and performance artists will present a variety of bespoke presentations curated by a nationwide array of small-scale arts organisations and venues.

These range from video and film installations to a five hour contemporary dance improvisation to a spoken-word extravaganza. On the musical side, audiences of more than an estimated 10,000 who register will also be able to see short live sets by two Scottish Album of the Year award winners and a Mercury Music Prize shortlistee. There will be one-off collaborations and alliances form part of a sleight of hand that is effectively infiltrating a large-scale civic spectacle with some very serious art.

“The idea behind it,” according to Pete Irvine, head of Unique Events, who oversee Edinburgh's Hogmanay, “is to have something that's completely different from the night before, and to try and change perceptions of what Edinburgh's Hogmanay is about.

“Some people think it's just a big party, but Scot:Lands is much more reflective in many ways. We want people to go and discover things that they might not have seen or heard before, to look further than what they might already know about, and to contemplate or experience things that are perhaps more challenging. The fact that it's free, and that you can move around from venue to venue means there's no risk for anyone. It's like going for a walk, with all these different things along the way that you might be interested in.”

Such psycho-geographic intentions also involve an element of chance, whereby audiences will 'check in' in at a departure lounge within the University of Edinburgh's Old College Quad. Once they pick up their passes, revellers will then spin a wheel to see where their first destination will be before embarking on a five-hour journey across a microcosm of the country's cultural riches.

“I think it's a really good idea,” says Glasgow-based musician Chris Duncan, who, as C. Duncan, was recently shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize for his album, Architect. “It's a really good showcase for everyone involved.”

Duncan and band will be playing a stripped-down semi-acoustic set as part of Lyrical:Land. Curated by BBC Radio Scotland DJ Vic Galloway, Lyrical:Land sees Duncan share a bill with Idlewild vocalist Roddy Woomble and Scottish Album of the Year winner, Kathryn Joseph, as well as poet Michael Pedersen and Neil Pennycook's post Mersault guise of Supermoon.

“It's a a fantastic line-up,” Duncan continues. “To be part of a group of musicians of that sort of calibre is really exciting.”

Equally as enticing is Chemikal:Land, presented by the Glasgow-based Chemikal Underground Records, who are about to celebrate their twentieth anniversary as purveyors of eclectic independent pop. Former Delgado Emma Pollock, who looks set to release her first album in five years, shares a bill with guitarist and Scottish Album of the Year winner RM Hubbert and electro-pop wunderkind, Miaoux Miaoux, aka Julian Corrie. As fine as all this sounds, it is Stevie Jones' Sound of Yell project that sums up Chemikal's maverick spirit.

“The plan,” says Jones,“is that, rather than do separate sets, we do one big all-inclusive set, with lots of overlaps and collaborations. There's a rich collaborative nature in Scottish music anyway, and there are lots of kindred spirits and connections. It's not a cliquey affair.”

Jones' own pedigree dates back to playing with El Hombre Trajeado, a band which also featured Hubbert in its ranks. Jones has also played bass with Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells, and has worked as a sound designer with Grid Iron Theatre Company and Scottish Dance Theatre.

Sound of Yell itself features an ever-changing line-up that expands and contracts to perform Jones' fractured acoustic compositions, as demonstrated on this year's Brocken Spectre album. For Scot:Lands, Sound of Yell will be made up of Jones and viola player Aby Vulliamy

One of Vulliamy's wide range of musical projects includes a stint as a member of Nalle, the trio which also featured singer and artist Hanna Tuulikki. Tuulikki makes an appearance at Scot:Lands, as part of Blue Skye:Land. Curated by the Skye-based Atlas Arts organisation, Blue Skye:Land will feature a series of collaborative performances, including one between beat boxer Jason Singh and Gaelic singer Anne Martin, while Tuulikki will present a film of her performance, Women of the Hill. Inspired by ancient Iron Age goddesses, Tuulikki's song cycle was performed beside a network of caves on Skye.

“It's celebrating a pre-christian matriarchal culture,” Tullikki explains, “and recontextualising it in a patriarchal christian culture.”

Film will also feature in Sea Bird:Land, where the Stornoway-based An Lanntair arts centre will host a screening of Tumadh is Turas: Immersion and Journey, two short film installations by Dalziel and Scullion. With both pieces exploring ideas of urbanisation, the first, previously seen piece focuses on a colony of 170,000 seabirds and their frantic lifestyle. The second film, a new piece, collates footage filmed on St Kilda. Both will be accompanied by a live score composed and played by Aidan O'Rourke with Graham Stephen and John Blease.

“The movement of the birds is very different in each film,” says Louise Scullion, who makes up the artistic partnership with Matthew Dalziel. “Where we filmed the birds, it was definitely their domain. They weren't human places, and it felt thrilling being around that.”

Visual art will also form part of D'Arc;Land, in which choreographer and dancer Christine Devaney's Curious Seed company collaborates with artist Yvonne Buskie and musicians Luke Sutherland and Robin Mason. Their new performance is developed from a Joan of Arc inspired work performed at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“It's like a live installation,” says Devaney. “In the piece we did in the summer, Yvonne did lots of drawing, but she performed as well, and the music holds everything together.”

Coorie-In-Land is presented by Rally and Broad, the Edinburgh-based spoken-word cabaret headed by Jenny Lindsay and current BBC Scotland poet in residence, Rachel McCrum. The pair will present a bill featuring a ten-strong bill that will feature singer Hailey Beavis and dancer Skye Reynolds as well as poets such as Rachel Amey.

“We want it to be a comfy place,” says Lindsay. “Spoken-word is such a broad artform, and I think it's important to mix things up a bit and have a playfulness to the event.”

With four more stages presenting a wide range of film and traditional-based music, and a new stage, Wee Scot:Land, designed especially for children,the entire day culminates in a giant ceilidh dubbed The Final Fling. All of which puts playfulness at the very heart of Scot:Lands.

Beyond this, one of the major signals the event sends out is that a grassroots culture is thriving in Scotland. Given Irvine's pedigree as co-founder in the 1970s of promoters Regular Music, this looks very much like him getting back to his roots.

“This isn't some big strategic thing,” he says. “Scot:Lands is what it is for now, and beyond that, anything might happen.”

Scot:Lands takes place on January 1 between 1pm and 5pm. Check-in at Departure Lounge, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh, from 12.30pm. Register at

The Herald, December 23rd 2015



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