There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again.
For a long time, that was certainly true of BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, which made an enormous impression on the Scottish city of Dundee during its 2006 instalment. With around 70,000 fans descending on the City of Discovery – as it’s commonly named – the likes of P!nk, Primal Scream, Snow Patrol and more brought a kind of big city glitz to what often feels like a small town.
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This year, though, should be radically different. Opting to return to Dundee, BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend will find a city bristling with confidence and wrestling with new aspects of its identity, one that is shaking off old preconceptions to write its own story.
The past two years have brought huge changes to Dundee. The opening of the new V&A building – the museum’s first outreach beyond London’s environs – was accomplished in some style, housing the Scottish Design Museum alongside some phenomenal guest exhibitions.
It’s little wonder that V&A Dundee has lit up the public consciousness, with its award-winning architecture – courtesy of Japanese master Kengo Kuma – jutting out in the waters of the silvery Tay. Scenic, picturesque, and ambitious, more than 830,000 people flocked to the V&A in the first year of its opening, adding a palpable sense of energy to an often unfairly overlooked city.
The new attention has come at exactly the right moment for the city’s creative community. Forever punching above its weight, Dundee’s collection of mavericks, wayward souls, and perennial daydreamers are busy building underground communities of their own, fusing together radically disparate ideas in the process.
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Andrew Wasylyk’s ‘The Paralian’ was rightly nominated for the SAY Award last year, a wonderfully exacting construction that exuded a certain East Coast atmosphere.
An alter ego for Andrew Mitchell – long-time creative lynchpin for wonderful power pop outfit The Hazey Janes – the project seemed to sum up much of what makes Dundee’s music scene so distinct: its dogged independence, respect for locality, and its gentle sense of beauty.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, though. 21 year old alt-pop songwriter Be Charlotte is walking her own path, with her itchily infectious melodies wrapping themselves around her potent, engaging worldview. It’s little wonder that praise is coming her way, including sets as far apart as Iceland Airwaves and Groningen’s enormous Eurosonic showcase.
Su Shaw used Dundee as her base to focus on new material, resulting in her incredible SHHE project. Wandering around the Victorian buildings that pepper the city’s West End, her twilight synth-pop meanderings caught the ear of Bjork’s label, One Little Indian, who released her gorgeous self-titled LP last Autumn.
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Wander from the dock of the RSS Discovery, however, and you’ll quickly stumble across the city’s very own vinyl mile, a loose-knit series of record shops that span the gamut from rare jazz to deep house, via indie rock, punk, and rare northern soul sevens.
Assai Records recently moved to a prime location in the city centre, within sight of the V&A itself. A real powerhouse –they also help promote shows, and the in-house label released Echo Machine’s magnificent debut LP – they seem to go from strength to strength, pursuing a doggedly independent path.
Nearby Groucho’s is a Dundee institution, with wall to wall vinyl hand-picked by knowledgeable, friendly staff. Founded by the late Alasdair ‘Breeks’ Brodie, it’s apparently one of Johnny Marr’s favourite UK record shops, and has acted as a hub for local musicians and promoters for more than four decades now.
Mere seconds away you’ll find Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre – which guest-starred in an episode of Succession, helmed by Dundee born actor Brian Cox – and it’s art house cinema, before encountering bars and venues such as bohemian hangout the Art Bar and newly opened venture the Hunter S. Thompson.
Keep an eye out for Le Freak Records, however, whose close involvement with local clubs such as the Reading Rooms – newly ensconced to Victorian theatre Kings – and the Underworld Café keeps it at the forefront of crate-diggers’ minds.
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All of this isn’t to project a rose-tinted vision of Dundee, however. Clash was born there, and largely based there during its early years, and we saw first hand the issues endemic poverty can create – problems the city is still coping with. It’s this dynamic that shapes Dundee, this sense of yearning towards something new while simultaneously dealing with the issues of the past.
The return of BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend is neatly cyclical, another opportunity for a somewhat overlooked Scottish city to get its moment in the sun. With the likes of Harry Styles, Dua Lipa, AJ Tracey and more packing their bags, the line up looks stacked with big hitters. Perhaps the key question those around Dundee will be asking, though, is how this event will link up with local communities, and what lasting impact they can engender.
A city that seems to radically transform itself on a yearly basis, BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend will add another chapter to Dundee’s vital metamorphosis.
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Photo Credit: Hufton Crow
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