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Discovering Dundee

The soundsystem powers up. First the bass announces itself, pouring into the room like dry ice. Then the synths unfold, curling and unfolding like some enormous robot getting out of bed with the worst handover of its life. Screaming, howling the music sits somewhere between hip hop, IDM and dubstep and is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.

Playing his farewell show at the Reading Rooms recently, Loops Haunt is just one of a number of new producers working in and around Dundee. Long ago running the city’s first ever dubstep night, the sounds of Brixton have left a deep impact on his music. However that isn’t to say that Loops Haunt is merely another bass predator – debut EP ‘Impact Omnihammer’ was nothing if not diverse. At times sounding like a more dancefloor ready version of Autechre, the music would be unthinkable without the legacy of Warp. On the flipside is a remix courtesy of close friend Samoyed. A complete negative of Loops Haunt’s vivid sonic photography, the version of ‘Dusk Mechanics’ is more downbeat yet never settles. The skippy rhythms have a definite garage influence, but the music is probing, more cerebral and difficult to pin down.

Between them, the pair represent a new spirit in the city. Part of the now defunct Rubbies crew, the pair would run makeshift nights in cellars around Dundee. Playing for fun, the communal atmosphere led to an easy exchange of ideas. An absolute perfectionist, Samoyed rarely plays live but sporadic appearances revealed someone with an unerring ability to warp technology into new shapes. Elsewhere, the duo Poacher & Ghillie have a more lo-fi take on electronic music. The pair are completely self-deprecating, with their material having a rough ‘n’ ready appeal. Children’s toys, cheap synths and free to download programs make up the bulk of their sound, with an EP apparently in the works for later this year. Forming their own label, Loops Haunt and Samoyed aim to take care of the release, with the imprint set to combine digital technology with unique items – think key chains, USB sticks and you’d be close.

Formed in part by a one time Rubbies member, n_ilk is one of Dundee’s most prominent artist showcases. Mixing set performances with an open mic format, the night has grown into a vital platform for emerging art. Electronic music has come to the fore, with the event now holding its own festival. N_ilk at the Botanics is exactly what you would expect, experimental music located in the city’s botanic gardens. Last summer the festival returned, with a stage dedicated to electronic music. The headline act? Who else but Loops Haunt.

However that isn’t to say that the sudden rise of electronic music in Dundee is down to one group of individuals. The city’s highly regarded Duncan Of Jordonstone art college must take some credit, with its groundbreaking mixture of technology and classical art. The Time Based Art course has thrown up a number of producers, notably 8-Bit champion Edward Shallow. A well known busker in the city, the sight of a man producing bizarre noises from his childhood Gameboy is capable of stopping traffic. Self-releasing several cassette albums, Edward Shallow’s work moves far beyond traditional chip. Rooted in games technology, the sounds have been allowed to shift and evolve as he sees fit.

Emerging producer Stephen Bloe is another graduate from the college. Using the name ‘Research Laboratory For Electronic Progress’ the soundsmith took his inspiration from Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Orchestra. A one off seven inch was designed as an art prank, with Bloe claiming he had discovered the production in an attic. Rewarded with press far beyond the usual arts channels, the music itself is thought provoking, well achieved and deeply affecting. Now working on a soundtrack project, Bloe retains a love for vintage synths but could be set to re-emerge with a more dancefloor inclined sound.

Alongside this runs a thread carrying new songwriters who blend acoustic music with glitch electronics. Fast rising Panda Su is just one example, with her music even making it onto Skins. Esperi is essentially a project for Chris Lee Marr, whose tender songwriting is married to an exacting love of production. Playing shows across Scotland and beyond, Esperi are close to completing work on their debut album.

Of course, this is only a small summary of what’s going on in the city. Dundee’s enormous electro-house scene deserves an article of its own, while misfits such as BOX are impossible to classify. Continuing to splinter and diversify, Dundee’s electronic scene is a self-contained, alternative take on the city’s identity as it faces up to the challenges of a new century.