I hate to use the ‘living under a rock’ cliché but… well, if you’re a St Andrews student and haven’t heard of Wax Collective, I don’t how else to put it. These guys have taken over. Their events dominate the alternative music scene of St Andrews, and the social scene; they have cultivated a community whose strength could rival a 500-year-old cult; and I don’t think it’s too bold to say that they are almost entirely responsible for the huge shift in the St Andrews music scene over the past few years. What they’re doing is of vital importance to the diversity of the town’s nightlife, so I caught up with a few members – Bastian Geiger, Max Moorhouse, Oli Mckenzie, Harry Woolley, Marcus Cork-Keeling and Jack Ogilvie-Richards – to find out more about the project, its origins and its future.
When, where and why did it all start? Bastian tells me, “Max and I went to Berlin together in first year, and we really enjoyed the whole techno scene. So when we came back in second semester, we talked about it during a dinner, and said we should have more of that scene around here. At first it wasn’t too serious, but then we realised this was actually possible.” He described their first event as “a Spotify playlist and a speaker in Aikman’s” – a little basic, but that isn’t the point. They wanted to develop a new night scene for people who want techno music… and it’s safe to say they’ve got what they wanted.
It wasn’t always Wax Collective, though. They started off as ‘Stechno’, St Andrews Techno Society. “We were figuring out how we wanted to run it, whether we wanted to be affiliated to the uni or not. All we knew for sure is that we wanted to keep it going – so we had a meeting with interesting people. That’s where Oli came up with the new name, Wax Collective, and it all got serious.” Of the name, Oli says, “Wax means ‘vinyl’ so it refers to the format where a lot of the music we appreciate is made. It’s something a lot of people don’t know so there’s a certain mystery to it.” And, if nothing else, it sounds pretty cool.
So, they’ve got a name, they’ve got a talented group of people, they’ve got the interest of the students – what did they actually want to do with all of this? “We’re quite all-encompassing I think. When Stechno became Wax, it was an effort to invite people to play the music they want to play. Now we play all kinds of music.” Oli talks about the uncertainty of Wax nights, both from Wax themselves and from the crowd. Especially during events with visiting DJs, nobody even knows what the artist is going to play. “There is so much left to chance, which is simultaneously exciting and nerve-wracking.”
But despite all the anxiety of organising events which go against the status quo of St Andrews nightlife, their nights are consistently successful. Jack explains: “It’s very much the alternative night out for people. It’s people who want to be there, who want to listen to that kind of music.” And Max adds, “It’s no accident that they’re there.” From an outsider’s perspective, the most amazing thing about Wax is that they have cultivated an entire community. It’s not just about the music anymore; they’ve basically formed a huge friendship group based entirely around their events, which is honestly crazy. Sure, you have your St Andrews cliques – the fashion lovers, for example, who go to every single show. But Wax is different for two reasons. Firstly, this is a clique which anyone is welcome to join. There’s no exclusivity to the Wax community: if you like music and you’re up for a party, you’re in. Secondly, it’s pretty easy to build a sort of ‘society’ like this when you can get the money and the resources at the click of a finger. But when these guys first started out, according to Harry, “It was DIY. We had pretty much no idea how to set up speakers, how to do basically any of it.” In addition, Wax isn’t about the money. “We’ve never really been that profit-driven,” Max says. “If we make a profit, it’s brilliant and it goes back into booking new artists. But it’s not what we’re doing this for.” At their own events, they have never charged more than £3. Compare that to ball or fashion show prices, and it becomes pretty clear why Wax are so popular.
Their Flash Rooms idea is pretty genius: in a town dominated by the success of house parties, there’s no better way to get people to an event than by hosting a massive-scale house party. But what about their iconic Aikman’s cellar events? Ben tells us why the cellar nights started: “Initially it was just something a bit different. You could just go in and use the cellar on a Sunday, because they weren’t usually open.” But luck played a part in the association of Wax with Aikman’s. “When we started, we could only use the cellar on Sundays, which was our initial idea anyway, but the owner wasn’t in on a Sunday. He wouldn’t have allowed us to host an event like that, but he didn’t know. It was lucky, but then it became successful so it stuck.” So, they struck gold with the Sunday night plan. But the guys also rave about Aikman’s as a student venue in general. “It has really proven itself as a brilliant alternative space. They are so in touch with student culture – it’s not just Wax who do nights there. Aikman’s is so involved with student life, so it was a perfect place to start when we were looking for an alternative venue.”
Since Wax started, St Andrews nightlife has undergone quite the make-over. But where is it headed? “That’s a hard question, because St Andrews tends to work on a four-year cycle. So next year it will be relatively similar because most of us are still here. It seems really healthy at the moment, but it’s hard to know whether this will stick.” But they are still optimistic about the future, not just in terms of continuing Wax but about the state of the scene in general. A few years before Wax Collective was formed, there was a similar group putting on different events to give the student body more choice in terms of nights out. Then they died out, and after a lull, Wax came about. However, that’s not what seems to be happening anymore: it isn’t just Wax. There are so many groups doing things, that there is almost an alternative event every night. For the first time in a long time, it feels like you could get through an entire four-year course with a social life to boast about, without ever setting foot in the dreaded 601. “And there are first years who haven’t necessarily started their own stuff yet, but are interested in getting involved,” says Jack. “It actually seems promising.”
For the music-lovers, then, there’s a massive range of events, and a range of music genres to party to. But in terms of the organisers, St Andrews has become far more competitive in terms of the underground music scene. However, after talking to these guys, it sounds like all the collectives have an amazingly healthy relationship with each other – which just proves that they’re all doing it for the music. And even more than that, these guys love the fact that the scene is so diverse now, because of the capacity for creative people to shape the whole town. “St Andrews, while often seen as a bleak and barren space in terms of alternative culture in general, real;y has this thing where, because there isn’t that much, you have space to create whatever you want.”
“And people really f**king go for it!” says Marcus. “It’s all about the people who turn up at 7:30pm and dance for the entire night. And when we get outside artists to perform, they’re always so positively surprised by the reception that they get. Things gain traction so quickly, because St Andrews now has the appetite for this kind of thing.” And, as Ben adds, “There’s a lot more knowledge flying around now, which we definitely didn’t have access to when we started.”
What’s crazy about Wax Collective is that they can honestly be credited with changing the face of the St Andrews music scene. If the music scene really was that dead before they got started, then all the groups making amazing events now – ASHA, BPM and Bassment, to name a few – must have ultimately been influenced by the waves that Wax Collective were making. And it speaks volumes about all these creatives that they support each other, lend each other equipment, help each other and generally work as a team. That, I reckon, is the main reason that the St Andrews alternative music scene is thriving so much now: because all the people who are involved in putting stuff on recognise the talent here, and see it not as an environment which breeds competition, but as something to be celebrated.
The next Wax Rooms event is on April 28th and features a collaboration with Edinburgh-based collective Witness, who “push forward-thinking electronic music and future beats”. The admission is £2 before 8pm, £3 after, and it’s taking place at Brew Co. If you enjoyed reading this article even a little bit, chances are you’ll enjoy the event too, so get your tickets. Additionally, if you’re a budding DJ and want to get involved with Wax Collective, please get in touch with them. They have a Facebook Page, @waxcollectivestandrews, and an Instagram, @wax.rooms, and they want new people to keep Wax going strong.