FEATURE: soundfestival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Don’t let the nickname The Granite City put you off, in the right light Aberdeen’s grey buildings turn into sparkling architectural delights. The city is located a mere four hour train journey from Newcastle, and what a journey it is – after passing through Edinburgh, the train journey hugs the North East Scottish coast, offering miles of sandy beach views and the odd crumbling castle gazing forlornly out to sea. With much of Aberdeen’s industry relying on oil and gas workers, the city’s hotels are curiously quiet during the weekends, making it a rather handy weekend destination from the North East. We stayed at the centrally located Aberdeen Douglas Hotel, the listed building is one of the city’s oldest hotels and offers a comfortably decadent base at a reasonable price (online deals can set you back as little as £68 for a double room). They do a cracking breakfast too.

Home to no less than three cathedrals (the stunning 14th Century St Machar’s Cathedral, the only medieval granite cathedral in the world, located in the Old Town is a particularly beautiful example), imposing buildings like Marischal College, which now houses the City Council, rub shoulders with the usual mix of modern shopping malls and high street chains. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find contemporary design and music store Chameleon, the Rosemount area is home to independent clothing boutiques including The Closet Vintage and furniture and clothing store Peapod, plus quirky bars and venues.

Quirkiness is also a staple ingredient of the Aberdeen Festivals programme, which offers a range of events throughout the year that will suit all tastes. When we visited, the Open Studios weekend was in full swing, with the city’s galleries open to the public to have a nosy around. Contemporary dance fans will find delight in DanceLive (9th-20th October), with a huge range of international and local talent producing world-class performances; while later in the month, soundfestival, Scotland’s festival of new music, offers the opportunity to discover a variety of new music from across the globe.


Red Note Ensemble perform as part of 13 Vices at Woodend Barn     

Individuality seems to be a key factor of Aberdeen’s charm, from the architecture to the city beach, Footdee – known locally as Fittie – where surfers brave the occasional wave and everyone else munches ice cream, helps to make the city feel a world away from Edinburgh’s haughty history or Glasgow’s occasionally austere atmosphere. That ‘punk’ brewery BrewDog began here comes as no surprise, and some of the city’s watering holes and restaurants have a charm all of their own, with a proud sense of individualism. Music venues like the celebrated hidden gem The Lemon Tree, hosts everything from indie bands to contemporary folk, while bars including jazz-centric The Blue Lamp and venue and club The Tunnels also provide music lovers with much to see. The city’s dining scene is alive and kicking, with locally-run eateries thriving. High quality local ingredients are the order of the day at Rye & Soda, whose impressive gin collection is worth the visit alone. A seafood heavy menu takes inspiration from the city’s location, with classic dishes alongside contemporary fusions. Check out the group’s other bar The Tippling House, a subterranean tavern serving boutique spirits and fine Scottish ales.

If an excuse was needed to visit Aberdeen, soundfestival (22nd October-9th November) is a particular highlight of the autumn festival season, presenting a wide-ranging programme of entertainment, with many multi-discipline events providing particular highlights. Showcasing everything from modern contemporary classical, brand new operas and some superb local talent to international stars, the line-up is presented across Aberdeenshire’s cultural venues, with a portion of the programme taking place in regional institutions and quirky, out of the way locations. Much of the programme is collaborative in nature, meaning some of the highlights are carefully chosen and unique.

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Ensemble Thing     

Here are a few of our top tips for the forthcoming festival:

  • The Two Worlds Collide cross-discipline art installation uses sound and image to create an immersive and emotional experience (Seventeen gallery, 22nd October-7th November)
  • In Cahoots showcases some of the best Scottish composers and performers as part of the In Cahoots Conference on cross-art form collaborations (ACT Aberdeen, 23rd-24th October)
  • Ensemble Thing sees six composers collaborate on a single composition (ACT Aberdeen, 23rd-24th Oct)
  • Sandglass is a new dance/music work exploring memory, documentary, time and place, based on recollections and shared experiences of people from Aberdeen (The Lemon Tree, 23rd-24th October)
  • Magnetic North: Requiem for Edward Snowden (main image above) is a large scale live audio-visual performance piece based around the actions of whistleblower Edward Snowden (ACT Aberdeen, 23rd October)
  • 13 Vices explores the weird, humorous, dark and exotic world of contemporary vices. Part of Curious, a curated series of evening events sharing food and contemporary music, dance and theatre (Woodend Barn, Banchory, 6th November)
  • The Last Siren is a surprising and exciting combination of myth, opera and ‘happening’ which features some of the finest talents in their respective fields (The Lemon Tree, 7th November)
  • soundsessions provides a platform for fresh new music, where you can also get some top notch food in quirky surroundings (Musa, 30th & 31st October, 6th & 7th November)

For more information on the city itself, including tips on where to stay, eat, drink and shop, visit the Visit Aberdeen website



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