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Niteworks - bringing club beats and Gaelic music together

 

In a corner of Edinburgh’s Summerhall multi-arts complex, buzzing with Fringe activity, Innes Strachan and Ruaridh Graham of Niteworks are explaining how four graduates of the inestimable Feisean movement of traditional music tuition came to be providing the beats for hard core clubbing.

 

It’s a story that will bring them their first taste of Edinburgh’s August saturnalia when the band makes its Fringe debut just round the corner, at the Queen Hall’s, this weekend.

 

Strachan, who plays keyboards, and Graham, the band’s drummer, have been friends with piper Allan MacDonald and bassist Christopher Nicolson since school. As well as coming through the local feis, part of a network that has brought thousands of young people into traditional music, the quartet played in various bands through their teens – folk groups, Indie rock bands, folk-rock bands – sometimes all together, sometimes in twos and threes until one day a synthesiser arrived into the fold and Niteworks was born.

 

“We’d been listening to people like Wolfstone and then when we came down to Glasgow to go to Uni we discovered the clubbing scene there,” says Graham. “We never sat down and decided that we were going to go off in this direction. It was really a case of trial and error, seeing what would work and discarding ideas that didn’t gel.”

 

The first released fruits of their experiments, an EP called Obair Oidhche which came out in 2011, proved hugely popular with dance crowds and to underline also the band’s credentials within the ever-expanding traditional music scene, Niteworks was named Up and Coming Artist of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards the following year.

 

“It’s probably quite easy to slap a tune over a groove or a dance beat,” says Strachan. “But it’s more tricky to make them really work together. That’s important to us because we want to make this a marriage that sounds natural.”

 

“We try to keep both sounds credible in their own right,” adds Graham. “The idea is that if you took the pipes away, it would sound like a clubby, electro band and if you took the electronics away then the Gaelic songs and tunes would be able to stand up by themselves.”

 

Between the release of Obair Oidhche and the first Niteworks album, NW, which came out towards the end of last year, the band gigged solidly, honing their sound all the while. The album was striking for several reasons, not the least of which was the way they incorporated spoken word and guest collaborators including the wonderful Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes. If the music itself sounded all of a piece, it turns out that it required quite a lot of fine tuning to give that impression.

 

“We’d been building up to an album, recording tracks for over two years or more, and when we came to put it all together we found that our sound had developed quite a lot over that time,” says Strachan “When we compared the older tracks with the more recent ones, we had to go back and bring the older ones up to date. So there was a lot of revision.”

 

One of the most instantly memorable aspects of the album is the inclusion, on Somhairle, of poet Sorley MacLean’s My Island, a piece that Strachan stumbled upon while trawling the School of Scottish Studies’ online archive for material.

 

“I was immediately struck by his voice,” says Strachan, who works by day as a television sound engineer, “It has so much strength and is incredible to listen to but the actual words and the way he strings them together are just so poignant because it was recorded, as the voiceover to a film, Sorley Maclean’s Island, in 1974 and it’s still so relevant today.”

 

The band are aware that using observations such as this could be seen as taking a political stance but, says, Graham, they’re not putting forward any message and don’t want to be seen as torch bearers for any campaign or movement.”

 

“We’re just a band who like to make music,” he says, “and it maybe sounds a bit lame but we really want people to come out and see us to have a good time, be entertained.”

 

To this end they have recently been working with film-maker and musician Dòl Eoin MacKinnon, from Harris, on a video for the NW album track Maraiche and they are keen to make their live performances entirely audio-visual.

 

“We’ve developed a festival set that doesn’t let up from start to finish,” says Strachan. “It has peaks and troughs in terms of energy and volume but our goal ultimately is to hold every audience’s attention through sound and vision all the way through a gig, like deejays linking tracks together but with instruments and film.”

 

From The Herald, August 24, 2016

 

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