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10 of the best

a decade of Scottish Alternative Music Awards (with Richy Muirhead)

By • Dec 1st, 2020 • Category: Feature

2020 saw the Scottish Alternative Music Awards celebrate their tenth year, albeit under more socially distant circumstances. Founder and creative director Richy Muirhead talks adapting to change, career highlights, 2021 predictions and how to get discovered.

India Rose at the SAMAs

India Rose at the 2020 SAMAs

How did you and your team find having to adjust to an entirely virtual set up for this year’s SAMAs?

You know, it was a lot of fun being reunited with the whole team, from the social media team, to the video team, to the sound team and all the artists and promotors. That was really nice but it just felt really odd without an audience because we’d usually be in Saint Luke’s. There would be queues everywhere, there would be dancing and people having a laugh, so it was a bit different but really cool. When we walked into the studio it was almost like walking into our website so it felt really virtual. The team absolutely knocked it out the park. The response has been phenomenal and it was really important to highlight the artists involved and put a smile on peoples’ faces around the country.

Walt Disco live at the SAMAs

Walt Disco live at the 2020 SAMAs

With performances from Walt Disco and Nova, the event still had live performance elements built in, and of course the entire evening was live streamed. How important is the spectacle and drama of the evening to you as creative director, you know with winners getting announced in real time, etc?

I always try and make it a very exciting event because those are the ones that stay in your memory for the rest of your life. I think announcing the winners live is a really high energy, pressured thing to do. You put a lot of weight on your shoulders but it can work and be a really impactful way to deliver a message. The uncertainty amongst the nominees, the press, the media and the people who are at the event, not knowing who’s going to win seven times in one night is kind of bonkers, so yeah, it was good to keep that excitement and take it online. It was funny because there was a chat box on Twitch with hundreds of people on there commenting so we had a bit of the madness of Saint Luke’s in the comments section which was nice. That night was pretty special and I’m still on a high from it.

Taahliah at the SAMAs

Taahliah at the 2020 SAMAs

I’d best get in some shoutouts to the winners of this year’s awards. TAAHLIAH won both Best Newcomer and Best Electronic and is the first black trans artist to win a SAMA. Do you expect to see big things from her in the future?

Yeah, definitely. Congratulations to TAAHLIAH, she’s been remixing artists, doing mixes and events when she can. I think we start 2021 with so much hope but we can’t put too much pressure on people. It’s still going to be a while until things go back to normal so we need to be careful with that. When things are good to go I’m hopeful we can do some events together with TAAHLIAH and the other artists involved in the 2020 awards. Events are a really big part of SAMAs and I need to do that to stick to our remit and plan.

How about India Rose? Does she already have a case to say that she’s Dundee’s biggest hip-hop export?

Yeah, I think so! She’s never out the studio and has a good team around her. Next year’s going to be an exciting time but we just need to go one step at a time.

More widely then, have you been impressed with how up and coming Scottish artists have rallied together and made the best of what has been an extremely difficult year? I’ve seen a lot in the way of live streams and interactive events, as well many acts’ creative output being up from previous years.

I think the lockdown has been a good time for people to relax and write a bit more music but not have the pressure of having to do that. I’ve noticed a lot collaborations, in fact I saw on Twitter some collaborations between nominees which is really positive. That’s what it’s all about, collaboration is key.

What do you think Scotland’s emerging alternative talent has in store for 2021? Do you have any early predictions for the 2021 SAMAs?

That’s a long time away. One of the best things about working in music is being able to listen to music all the time. There’s a lot of cool artists emerging all the time, in fact many of them were showcased through the actual nominations list. Some others who I’ve been enjoying: there’s a rapper in Paisley called Washington who’s just released some stuff that’s really powerful; Russell Stewart released a new single that I’ve been enjoying and there’s plenty floating around. It’s not just a case of bands, it’s split across hip hop and grime and there’s songwriters, so in Scotland we’re very good at the music and we must keep going!

Nova live at the SAMAs

Nova live at the 2020 SAMAs

Now with your founder hat on, what would you say the most important functions of the Scottish Alternative Music Awards have been for up and coming Scottish artists historically?

The SAMAs is always about showcasing the different talent we have here in Scotland and when that involves events it involves an audience and an audience means that there’s different people from different backgrounds. We always invite a lot of friends from the music industry and people who maybe can provide opportunities, support and funding. For example: the team from Liverpool Sound City; Key Changes; Help Musicians, they’re all at the SAMAs watching the performances and the nominations list. We talk all the time and so being able to reach that wider audience for the artist is a really positive thing.

Callum Easter

Callum Easter accepting his 2020 ‘Best Live Act’ SAMA

What are some of your highlights from over a decade, nurturing and celebrating the talented alternative music of Scotland?

The shows are always a bit crazy. We had Blanck Mass play a few years ago to close the ceremony. He’s one of my favourite electronic producers and the visuals were wild. It was alternative as hell. We’ve had moments with Gerry Cinnamon playing in Citizen M hotel to a small audience, Hector Bizerk played a few years ago and people were crowd surfing at the music awards, Baby Strange crowd surfing; crowd surfing is quite common so we really missed it this year. I have to say though, as bonkers as it was doing the live stream with all the planning and everything that was probably my highlight. I had never done that before so it was a pretty ambitious thing to do. It was pretty scary at times thinking the internet could go down at moment but it was such good fun. Thank god for technology!

Finally, as this website’s readership contains a lot of up-and-coming musicians, do you have advice or words of wisdom for the alternative acts of tomorrow?

Go to a lot of gigs and see what other people are doing. I know I’m saying go to gigs at a time when we can’t but we’re talking about in the next year when we’ve hopefully got a vaccine. Take your time, there is absolutely no rush. You want to hone your craft and get really good and enjoy it, then begin to look at ways you could build a team around you and gradually develop. There are a lot of great support organisations out there like Creative Scotland and Help Musicians. Have a bit of self-belief, music is a wonderful thing.

To find out more about the Scottish Alternative Music Awards search OfficialSAMA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. More information can also be found at

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