The Union music scene is terrible. Absolutely horrendous. One minute, it’s 11 am and Skepta is blasting out of the speakers in Main Bar, where I came to drink my morning coffee in peace, and the next it’s 1 am and the DJ is refusing to play more than half a minute of an Ariana Grande song… at the Ariana Grande BOP. Cascada, with her two hit songs, was the biggest thing to happen in St Andrews since Patrick Hamilton was burnt at the stake, and in my three years at the University – during which, I’ll admit, I’ve spent enough time at the Union to pass fair judgement – I haven’t heard a single hip-hop/rap track which isn’t “Shut Up” by Stormzy.
But – thank the gods of music – it’s changing. When I first came to St Andrews, the only time I could party to good music was by hosting a party and designing the playlist myself. I loved the Union, and I still do as a place to socialise, but dancing was rarely an option. However, for the first time I really am starting to feel spoilt for choice: we students are beginning to cultivate nightlife which revolves around decent music. There are tonnes of options, and over the course of this semester I’m going in-depth on some of the best music communities, but for now here’s an overview of the new and improving St Andrews after-dark music scene.
Nights out aren’t for everyone. It’s more than possible to be an avid music lover and still be tucked up in bed at 10 pm on a Friday night. But for those who want to keep their evenings cosy and cute, a homemade playlist and a cup of tea isn’t the only option. “Music Is Love” is a fairly recent musical endeavour but the name is already known university-wide. Alison Chan, the group’s social media manager, tells me, “There’s a demand for live gigs in St Andrews due to the non-existence of nightlife. By shining a spotlight on musicians, we hope to encourage the growth of St Andrews’ music scene.” Music Is Love events happen across the University, sometimes as stand-alone events like open mics and sometimes in collaboration with other creatives. Last semester, they provided a musical accompaniment to Capture Collective’s “Drink And Draw”, an absolutely gorgeous evening of sketching, socialising and listening to wonderful acoustic music. I have never felt so… zen. Always keep your eyes peeled for MIL events; they really are the best of the best when it comes to tracking down and showing off the best acoustic performers in St Andrews.
Of course, for a lot of people, the word “nightlife” isn’t synonymous with an evening of guitars, red wine and charcoal-covered fingertips. Sometimes, the people want to party, and there are several groups willing to give the people what they want. Pretty much every St Andrews student has heard of Wax Collective, a group of music lovers who organise some of the best music-centric events this little town has to offer. I spoke to Ben Cross, one of Wax’s members, about their amazing popularity. “It’s definitely about playing the music. When we started, Szentek and Asha weren’t around so we were the only real platform for underground electronic music in the town, and it was all about a night uniquely focused around the kind of music we wanted to hear being played. It’s the music that comes – the community developed around that.” As well as DJing at some Union events (perhaps the only decent ones) and putting on some incredible nights in Aikman’s cellar, a venue which has become synonymous with the group, Wax also put on “flash rooms” – house parties which combine their professional-level music output with the friendly intimacy of an informal venue. “The parties built up a reputation for being safe spaces with a lack of inhibition”, Ben says about these parties. Look out for more coverage of Wax Collective in future issues of The Saint, but for now, get yourselves down to their next event on Sunday 31 March, which sees Glaswegian DJ Ludgate Squatter appear for his St Andrews debut.
On my quest to narrow down the four music-making groups I wanted to talk about in this article, I came across a community I hadn’t actually heard of before. A couple of people have since mentioned STIMS to me, so perhaps I just haven’t branched out as much as a music lover should. But regardless, I was lucky enough to have a chat with the creator, Tom Groves, about the motivations behind St Andrews Indie Music Society, and its potential in the future. “It was solely for sharing lesser-known songs with a few friends,” Tom says. “Then a few hundred people joined, and I realised that we’d created a whole new community of people – people who wanted a party. So we had a party.” So, STIMS are another bunch of people seizing the ridiculous talent of the St Andrews student body and turning it into a party. But what makes them different from collectives like Wax, Asha and BPM, and movements like Music Is Love? “It’s live music with a focus on unsigned Scottish bands, and students who don’t play at every STAR or MIL event. It’s kind of like Wax Rooms but with guitars. That’s the dream.” I was a little confused at first – it sort of sounded like a strange mash-up of MIL’s goal of students playing live music, with Wax’s inclusivity and use of unusual or intimate venues. Basically, I wondered where STIMS would fit. But then Tom started talking to me about their “bands-playing-at-pres’”events, and I got it. “There aren’t many places willing to host bands in town, and most people listen to music at pres – so it just makes sense.” While I’ll be the first to say that my pre-drinks playlist is truly fantastic, I would be the first in line to a pres with live music. After all, we music lovers all like to reminisce about the “good old days when people made real music” – well, getting drunk accompanied by young, unsigned musicians making music with instruments is the way to do it, old-school.
There’s one genre, however, which is left out of discussions about the musical side of St Andrews nightlife, and of nightlife in general: classical. It’s an outcast in the world of music generally, but when it comes to talking about music as the basis of socialising, the classical world doesn’t even seem worth talking about. There are some obvious reasons for this: you can’t exactly dance to Beethoven’s 5th and logistics-wise… well, I’d love to see a full-size orchestra squeeze into the Aikman’s cellar. However, slowly but surely, classical music is making a comeback. As the mutual exclusivity of being cool and being cultured melts away a little, the “Classical” playlists on Spotify are finally getting a little more traffic, and popular artists like Lana Del Rey (the absolute coolest), Florence and the Machine, and Lady Gaga all let classical music bleed into their own music and influence them. I’m guilty of avoiding the classical music scene myself, so I decided to speak to the President of St Andrews Music Society, Fiona Croal, about the stigma surrounding the genre, and where it belongs in this university town. “I think at most schools it wasn’t seen as “cool” to play an instrument or sing and this probably continued into university. But over the past few years, I think it has definitely improved. Classic FM has more listeners than ever, and students at this university put on an endless number of performances each semester featuring classical music.” Whether you’re actively interested in classical music, or whether you’re just curious about this once-shunned musical genre which is making a long-deserved comeback, do keep an eye out for SAMS events as they showcase the best St Andrews has to offer in this field.
So, almost every taste is catered for in St Andrews if you look hard enough. But let’s circle back to the problem which inspired all these talented students to branch out: the dreaded Union. Ben Cross of Wax described it as “an uninspired, bureaucratic mess of a school disco” and honestly, I couldn’t have put it better myself. During my interviews, a lot of issues came up regarding funding: Alison at MIL introduced the problem to me and Tom Groves expanded on it, telling me that the union fail to fund events which don’t fit with the musical genres they champion. “Sure, there are people who want Disney and ABBA Bops, but there are also a lot of people who want a night where the DJ sticks to a less pop-driven style of music. As the biggest venue in town, it should really be the Union’s responsibility to bring in bigger artists. We need fewer BOPs and balls, and more concerts and festivals.”
We may not be a classic tour destination for, well, literally any musicians at all. But if I’ve convinced one future St Andrean that the nightlife is “what you make it”, I’ve convinced a thousand. It’s my go-to line when justifying the pathetic club scene in this teeny tiny three-street bubble. And the music scene is following suit. It’s often due to a lack of something, somewhere, that the best creations in the world materialise. And while the Union might be letting us down gloriously, it’s giving us creatives the push we need to make amazing things for a student body who – in their own way, shape or form – just want a party.