Night Fever: Clubbing at the Edinburgh Festivals

We speak to some of the promoters behind Scotland's best club nights about their Edinburgh festivals residencies and the benefits of late licensing for Scottish club culture

Feature by Nadia Younes | 25 Jul 2019

You’re likely to see many a bleary-eyed performer, worker or resident wandering the streets of Edinburgh this month after a particularly heavy night (or ten) as festival season descends upon the city and August’s late licensing comes into full force.

As well as being a hotbed for theatremakers, comedians, artists and the like, the Edinburgh festivals also offer up added opportunities for local club promoters to take full advantage of the late licensing allowed to the city’s venues throughout the season. With bars open until 3am and clubs til 5am, there are multiple extra hours – two to be exact – of partying to be had, and it’s worth taking advantage of.

Shoot Your Shot

Kickstarting this year’s season is Scottish institution Shoot Your Shot, who bring their queer clubbing extravaganza to Summerhall on the festival’s opening night, with further parties planned at La Belle Angele and Paradise Palms throughout the month. Celebrating its fifth birthday this year, Shoot Your Shot has grown into one of Scotland’s biggest and most-beloved queer parties, and has provided a platform for up-and-coming performers and DJs to build a name for themselves, with a rotating cast of regulars still returning to play at the nights.

“It's amazing to see how it's went leaps and bounds,” says founder Suzanne Bonner, who goes by the DJ alias of Bonzai Bonner. “When I started it, of course anything I'm going to have an affiliation with is going to be queer, but I found it a bit intimidating just to have that exposure of myself... but ever since I've just had the confidence to carry that it is what it is and just be honest with it.”

Rhythm Machine

Also celebrating a five-year anniversary, Rhythm Machine bring their August festival residency back to Summerhall for the fifth year. Run by resident DJs William Francis and Andy Danet, aka Yves, the night invites contemporary artists to display their work in a club setting while DJs spin tracks across multiple genres. Some of the artists set to feature in their residency this month include Rosa Johan Uddoh, Matthew Arthur Williams, BOG, Rachael Golden Simpson and Hannan Bouchemla Jones, with guest DJs Plugkeisha, Sydd Viscose and Oko DJ also stepping into the booth.

“Our intention with Rhythm Machine has always been to nurture a space outside of the regular club circuit,” says Francis. “Holding the night in an arts space has given us the opportunity to build that, and our August festival residency specifically has allowed us to provide an international platform for the work of some of the local artists who have been part of the club’s community throughout the years."

Miss World

Edinburgh festival favourite Pollyanna also turns five this year, and Miss World resident Julia Barbour will be back at the legendary queer cabaret show, DJing after the performance finishes. As one half of all-female collective Miss World, alongside co-founder Emily Grieve, Barbour holds a monthly residency at Sneaky Pete’s, as well as co-hosting a monthly show on local community radio station EH-FM.

Barbour and Grieve launched Miss World four years ago, with the aim to showcase female and queer DJs from Scotland and beyond. In April this year, they announced the launch of their DJing workshop series, offering five places to women (trans inclusive) and non-binary individuals interested in learning to DJ and starting their own club night, all of whom will play at their All Stars show at Sneaky Pete’s this month. “We’re excited to be featuring them in their debut club sets… There’s already such a cool mix of genres and tastes in the group,” says Barbour.

“We’ve chosen August to put on our All Stars night, featuring loads of different DJs, including some who are really new to DJing because Fringe crowds are so open,” she continues. “At Miss World we like to promote new talent and bring as many different sounds to the table as possible, and this is the perfect time for it.”

Headset, licensing, and Edinburgh clubbing

And as if one August residency wasn’t enough, Headset founder Nick Karlsberg, aka Skillis, has taken on two weekly residencies this month – holding down Friday nights at The Mash House with Headset and Monday nights at Sneaky Pete’s with Headset’s Gay Garage – as well as continuing to run weekly drum’n’bass night Midnight Bass every Tuesday, also at The Mash House. “I like running nights that are geared towards local people as well as having a big mix of people, including students and tourists,” says Karlsberg. “I just want it to be an Edinburgh vibe, not too student-y or tourist-y but everyone still welcome.”

But the opportunity to host multiple residencies like these is largely a result of the benefits of the late licensing in Edinburgh throughout August. With Glasgow City Council introducing a pilot scheme trialling late licensing within a handful of clubs in the city, it’s hoped that the success of these will be seen in other cities across Scotland. “I wish there was more opportunity to put on events like these outwith the Fringe, but the archaic licencing laws of Edinburgh and the 3am curfew doesn't allow it,” says Karlsberg.

He continues: “In my opinion, the way Edinburgh City Council and the licencing board operate is hugely detrimental to arts, music and youth culture in this city.” Bonner believes that the risk of putting on an event in Edinburgh over Glasgow any other time of the year can sometimes be too high to take. “A lot of concentration is just based for what happens here in August, and if you try and do something any other month you always feel ‘is it actually going to work?” she says.

Barbour argues that it’s a testament to the tight-knit community in Edinburgh’s club scene that so many different nights are able to flourish in the city, despite the strict and rigid regulations. “I think we’re really lucky in Edinburgh to have the scene that we do, especially since so many venues in the city are under threat of closure and the Fringe is so dominant in the entertainment calendar,” she says. “We’ve found ourselves in a really supportive community, especially in Sneaky Pete’s and EH-FM.”

With just about every major city across the world allowing its nightclubs more freedom with late licensing and with the recent trials in Glasgow, it’s hoped that Edinburgh will eventually follow in the same footsteps, because clubbing is for life, not just for the festival.

Shoot Your Shot, Summerhall, 2 Aug; La Belle Angele, 9 Aug; every Wednesday at Paradise Palms
Rhythm Machine, Summerhall, every Saturday in Aug
Miss World: All Stars, Sneaky Pete's, 2 Aug
Headset, The Mash House, every Friday in Aug; Headset's Gay Garage, Sneaky Pete's, every Monday in Aug
Midnight Bass, The Mash House, every Tuesday in Aug