I’m a music snob who judges others by the diversity of their iTunes libraries. For most of my conscious existence I have been looking skeptically on the music tastes of my peers, writing them off as variously pedestrian or simply bad. I’ve been waiting for St Andrews to prove me wrong and make me see that there is more diversity of taste in this international town than I could ever have imagined.
But as it stands, I’m unconvinced. It’s no revelation that St Andrews isn’t a big city, or even a large town. Still, thousands of young people live here. So why is it so boring? While I recognise the demand for Christmas stores and frilly gift shops for a particular subsection of the population, I’m puzzled at the dearth of functional performance venues in this town. Aikman’s has live music, but it seems to have little capacity for more than one amp and a barstool, while other bars play host to a rotating and increasingly overcrowded field of DJs.
That which has been digitized and sampled has its place, but not to the exclusion of live music, played loud and made on the spot. Scotland has a vibrant music scene, and the demand for its acts and for a decent performance space should find their voice above the mundanity of vanilla dance music.
October arrived, bringing with it not only dismal weather but essay deadlines clumped together, like an undissolved stock cube, and at least one migraine. A concert in Glasgow came just in time to keep me from slipping into a depressive bout of fried food bingeing and Grand Designs reruns.
Seeing Beach House at the Arches made me realise that what I’d missed most about Glasgow, barring Buckfast and cheap taxis, was live music. It’s something I’ve always taken for granted, even as a middle schooler at my first Interpol show. Gigs were all-ages, affordable and, as I saw it, went a long way towards establishing my gritty and downtown (read: indie) credentials. In high school I took comfort in knowing that I knew more about David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy than my colleagues, whose musical barometer seemed to extended no further than #5 on a Billboard chart. I’d like to think differently of St Andrews.
We live in a town that is charming and picturesque, but if endless DJ sets bore you, the nightlife situation can be dire. Intervention is required. St Andrews needs a dialogue between students, residents and business owners that seeks to address this glaring inadequacy. Those who want live music should’t have to plough through pocket change on bus fare because opening a new purpose-built performance venue (not the Union) in town would harm its historic character. That objection is harder and harder to maintain in the face of H&M, Tesco and Greggs, yet the conversation is essential.
I think I’m too late in my tenure here to see the next CBGB crop up. But unless St Andrews is content to be seen as conservative, stodgy and boring for the rest of its days, it should consider bringing in music venues to cater not only to students but locals who would otherwise have to go to Glasgow, Edinburgh or even further afield. Neighbours will complain about street noise, but then they’ve had the past 600 years to adjust to rowdiness which would undoubtedly be done with before most bars get out. Unlike Glasgow, last orders come well before 3 am.
Photo credit: Zack Klein