ED2013 Interviews ED2013 Music

Matthew Young: No pale imitation

By | Published on Wednesday 7 August 2013

Matthew Young

There is plenty of music on in Edinburgh during the Festival, even if it gets overshadowed sometimes by all the theatre and comedy, though it’s true that classical and folk dominate over more contemporary musical genres.
That said, over the years there have been a number of mini-festivals in Edinburgh during August that present music of a rock, pop or alternative variety, and the newest such strand has launched this month, from the boss of excellent Edinburgh indie label Song, By Toad. The Pale Imitation festival presents nine nights showcasing local alternative acts, including Malcolm Middleton, Sparrow And The Workshop, Rob St John and RM Hubbert. Each bill-topping act has then chosen two supports.
ThreeWeeks’ sister media CMU spoke to overseer Matthew Young to find out more.

CMU: Why did you decide to set up the Pale Imitation Festival?
MY: Basically because of the fact that, during August, the Scottish arts press covers nothing but Fringe stuff, so you can’t really release anything during the six weeks surrounding the Edinburgh Festival. Then, because there is such an avalanche of promotional material unleashed upon the town during that period, it’s really hard to put on any live music, because it’s so hard to reach the audience amidst all the noise. Which means that pretty much all alternative music within Edinburgh has to just sit and wait for the festival month to be over. And I am sufficiently bloody-minded that, disliking the idea of being forced into silence for six weeks like that, I felt a need to kick back a little.

CMU: Is the aim to attract the Fringe crowd, or are you trying to provide an alternative for locals away from the chaos of the wider Edinburgh Festival?
MY: A bit of both, actually. Partly, I do not want to go to over-priced comedy sponsored by breweries all month, so I wanted something for music fans to do. And partly it seems ridiculous that the population of the city allegedly doubles over August and yet we in the world of alternative music feel unable to try and reach them, even though improving awareness of our bands outside of Scotland is one of the most important and challenging things we have to do here.

CMU: Obviously the Edinburgh Festival is better known for comedy and theatre etc, though there is a sizable music strand. Why do you think that sometimes gets overshadowed?
MY: Well theatre is the original reason for the Festival and why it was established, so is the traditional ‘point’ of the whole business, I guess. And comedy, simply, is a massive money-spinner. And who doesn’t like a good giggle? Apart from me, because it ruins my fun.

CMU: I suppose a lot of the music in the Festival is classical and folk, especially since The Edge strand of the Fringe bowed out. Do you think there is a place for more contemporary music at the Fringe?
MY: Well alternative music simply isn’t a very lucrative business, except at the very, very top of the ladder. Given that the Festival is basically just a massive commercial behemoth it’s no real surprise that there is no real place for my kind of music at the Fringe at the moment, and I can’t see why there would be one in the future. I honestly have no idea that when people will pay £12-£15 to see pretty much any old shit when it comes to comedy, why they would have so little interest in paying £5 to see some of the best bands in Scotland.

CMU: You’ve programmed all local bands – how did you select the headline acts?
MY: Well basically Neil from Meursault, Bart from eagleowl and Rob St John and I sat out in my back garden drinking some beers and listing our favourite Scottish bands. A good few had big Fringe shows already, and our gigs aren’t really that lucrative, so once we’d worked around that we had a good solid list of nine headliners for the nine nights. Honestly, though, we just picked the bands we ourselves most wanted to see.

CMU: Each headliner then chose their support acts, why did you go that route?
MY: I don’t know, really. Partly because I personally tend to find that recommendations from bands is one of the most reliable ways to find new music, seeing as these are the people at the coalface, playing gigs every day with new and interesting people. Also, we wanted the nights to have a bit more coherence than just a bunch of three-band bills, and to make it more collaborative. To do this we asked the bands to pick their support acts and to bring along music to play on the night, just to give it more sense of their character and music taste rather than just ours, imposed from outside.

CMU: The Festival brings acts from all over the world into Edinburgh for a month – is that a good or bad thing for local arts and music talent?
MY: I can’t speak for the other art forms, and I have been told it isn’t the case for some, but for contemporary music it can be a bit of a nightmare, because basically anything you try to do gets completely swamped. So while all this doesn’t mean it’s impossible for underground music to flourish – the awesome Retreat Festival was proof of that – it does mean that it is very, very challenging.

CMU: As an Edinburgh local, how do you feel about the Festival?
MY: Ah, the same as most people in town I would imagine. Some people love it and some absolutely hate it, but most of us can be either depending on what side of bed we get out on that particular morning. I’ve had some great times at the Festival, but mostly I just find it a fucking nuisance full of over-priced commercial rubbish and forced Compulsory Fun. I’m just a contrarian I guess, and I don’t like the feeling that I have to completely surrender my entire damn city to it for six weeks every single fucking year. I want an oasis of BAD FUN somewhere, no matter how much of a challenge it is to keep the flame flickering.

The Pale Imitation festival took place during Edinburgh Festival 2013.