Words: Felix McIntyre (he/him)
Scotland has long been a land of myth and legend. Tales of serpentine monsters lurking beneath icy water; shapeshifting horses wandering lonely rivers; epic battles beneath mountains veiled in mist and snow. Yet, Glasgow fosters an intrigue grounded in something rather different.
When I first told my dear Edinburgh-born-and-raised grandfather that I was planning to move to Glasgow he grimaced, cautioning me, ‘Don’t you know how dangerous it is over there?’ What I had shrugged off to be superficial bias fuelled by years of inter-city rivalry, I discovered was a genuine notion that Glasgow was indeed a city of waywardness. This was, of course, nothing more than ignorance. Yet, it did teach me one thing: Glasgow’s reputation precedes it. Far removed from the rest of Scotland’s bonnie charm, this reputation is one of edge and grit, of a neoteric, cultural underground, not least in its DIY club scene.
As I sit in my West End flat writing atop a gastropub, one can’t help but wonder where that reputation developed. I recently spoke to 3rdCrush (Hamish), a Glaswegian deejay embedded in the local techno scene, and affiliated with legendary promoters Animal Farm. He told me of his own doubts surrounding the city’s reputation, gleaned from conversations he’s had with Animal Farm’s co-founder, Darren Quail. ‘Ten years ago, [Darren] would speak to people in say, Berlin, and they would go: ‘Oh shit, Glasgow! Glasgow’s crazy.’ He’d say, ‘I’ve been working here for years and at least for [me], this is not what it’s been cracked up to be.’’ Hamish summarises, longing for days of old he never saw, yet tries to remain optimistic. ‘There’s so much good culture that we’ve never let exist in the last thirty years, since the nightlife scene has become more and more commercialised. But now I’m seeing an appetite for innovation, for good values. People are getting their shit together.’
Likewise, I chatted with Glasgow-based lighting designer and live visual artist NETGF (Ada), also co-manager of Subcity Radio along with Hamish. Her interview with Glasgow electronic musician, Hudson Mohawke, was eye-opening. He claimed that the city’s DIY scene is simply not what it used to be. Ada agrees, but remains optimistic about the future. ‘We are in a worse place than we were before, absolutely. But I don’t think it’s a lost cause.’
Amid this city’s cultural personality crisis, I began to wonder whether Glasgow actually knows what DIY means anymore, so I thought I’d better ask around. Who better to ask than Purina Alpha (Loreta), a drag queen and member of the Bonjour cooperative, a queer venue and arguably the city’s most established DIY space. ‘Bonjour is a co-op, intrinsically DIY, like GAS was,’ she tells me. ‘It’s just a few people trying to do a nice thing. It’s people getting together for the community and letting people do their thing, have their space. We were a group of friends, then we suddenly had a bar. It’s like a second home.’ She now runs her own night in Bonjour, Omega, which is next held in collaboration with the queer, Afrocentric night Orisha on the 4th of November.
While it may seem that Bonjour is a lonesome stronghold for Glasgow’s once bountiful DIY ethos, there is a new kid on the block, Exit. It’s DIY ‘in the classic sense,’ Ada explains. As far as one can gather from outside the veil of mystery Exit has shrouded itself in, the team seem to be renovating, staffing the bar, and working the door themselves, alongside putting on nearly all the events. In other words, they stay true to a truly DIY ethic. They can create whatever they want with minimal interference from the powers that be. One of Exit’s most interesting features has been its disinclination from announcing their lineups before a club night. Teasing their DJs online a week before, Exit urges punters through the door via intrigue and the mere suggestion of good music. They rely on their space, marketing, and insistence on a clubbing experience catered for the community to enjoy, rather than a big name on a poster.
While I have discovered lately that the stability of DIY spaces and venues has been inconsistent at best, one thing has stood out to me through those I have spoken to. Glasgow’s DIY ethos was founded by its people, by their passion for culture and music. It leaves me wondering, even as venues come and go, has that passion ever really gone away? Ada put it well, ‘People here still have the attitude and the willpower to make amazing things happen, even in the face of adversity. That will always continue to be the case, no matter what changes.’