Grassroots & community festivals in Glasgow this summer

We take a look at the current state of festivals in Scotland, and highlight four grassroots and community-focused parties to check out in Glasgow this July and August

Feature by Lewis Wade | 10 Jul 2024
  • Deafhaven @ core.

Following the dark days of the pandemic, the live music industry seemed to have bounced back surprisingly well when lockdowns were lifted. A voracious appetite for shows and festivals, a sense of making up for lost time, and a (short-lived) increase in disposable income created a bumper year for the industry in 2022, especially on the festival circuit as bands were also keen to get back out there after a prolonged absence.

However, the enthusiasm quickly cooled as a certain sense of normality resumed in 2023: a cost of living crisis inspired by callous political decisions, coupled with the war in Ukraine and global economic uncertainty, forced the prices up for both punters and touring bands. This trend continues as even the biggest artists are being forced to cancel tours due to poor ticket sales/over-zealous promoters/the general cost of touring, as cited by Black Keys and Animal Collective, while festivals big and small rapidly disappear from the cultural calendar, most recently Connect, Riverside and Mugstock in Scotland.

Despite all these difficulties, this summer in Glasgow is seeing a glut of exciting festivals that cater to specific audiences with a focus on local artists and concerns. This trend towards the boutique and closely curated sits in opposition to the monolithic festivals that typically hoover up all the attention. This isn't surprising given they are where the household names can be found, but these smaller events are demonstrating that there is an alternative if you're culturally adventurous and willing to try something different.

Glasgow Weekender @ SWG3, Glasgow, 2-3 Aug
Lineup: Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura, CMAT
Starting with Gasgow Weekender makes sense as it's clearly the biggest of those we're considering, but it's also logical as it's being curated by a band who helped normalise the concept of the artist-run festival. “We did break some ground,” says Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, speaking about the original 1999 Bowlie Weekender. “It was a boutique festival, curated by one band, with the (sort of) idea of bringing down the barriers between band and audience, bringing everyone together.”

Spread over two days, this is the latest Bowlie event orchestrated by the beloved band. The previous edition really pushed the proverbial out: the Boaty Weekender in 2019 that saw the band set sail in the Med with a host of indie royalty. This time, they're working closer to home: “[After Boaty] we thought we could do something a little more green next time, and what's more green than doing a festival in your own city?” The sustainability aspect is clearly important to Murdoch and co, but the goals behind the events haven't changed drastically in 25 years: “We want to have a good time, and for everyone coming to have a good time!”

Murdoch acknowledges that the band have been lucky to secure the SWG3 complex, with its mix of indoor and outdoor spaces, and newly opened garden area, for the weekend. “It's the ideal choice – we played it six, seven years ago and had such a great time, and we've watched it develop since... and I'm such a train fanatic; I love that the trains are going behind you while you play the show.”

As well as a lineup heavily skewed towards Scottish acts, there're also going to be local vendors for food and merch, ensuring that every feasible facet is keeping things in the community. Previous Bowlie editions have also included accommodation, something not possible this time round, but Murdoch ensures us there'll be a few “fringe events” to make it a unique experience, including a film screening and on-location tour, lunchtime pub quiz (all hosted by himself), and maybe even a bowls tournament.

M4 Festival @ Barras Art and Design, Glasgow, 3 Aug
Lineup: Bemz, Becky Sikasa, Joell
From the largest to the smallest event featured here, there's something equally exciting happening on the same weekend over in the East End. The M4 Festival is a one-dayer utilising the unique concert spaces in the BAaD Centre, focused on homegrown rap and R'n'B talent. It's been created and curated by Bemz, a breakout star and unofficial ambassador of the Scottish scene, who has been pushing rap in Scotland forward since his youth growing up in Ayr. Early events like Respect The Wave demonstrated his early initiative, and an ethos that continues through to today: “If people aren't gonna book me, I'm gonna book myself.” Bemz has been betting on himself since day one and now he's providing a platform for others.

“You don't see too much of the younger generation, don't see as many Black and Brown kids thriving in these spaces, you don't see local rappers or R'n'B artists at big events,” he tells us with an infectious sense of purpose. “If you don't give people opportunities, how can they flourish?” For some of these artists it'll be their first time playing to such big crowds, though Bemz is clear that many are well past due for it. “It's all about making money, but if we're not investing in the grassroots, there won't be much of an industry.”

While not expecting to go up against the heavyweights like TRNSMT, there is a hope that such an event can help get us to the point where local rap and R'n'B slots don't feel like token gestures. There's pressure personally for Bemz as the banner name here, but as he confidently asserts: “Even if it doesn't do the numbers, we still want to entice people back, to show it can be done. Big risk, big reward, innit.”

Pop Mutations. Image: Pop Mutations.

core. @ The Hug & Pint and Woodside Halls, Glasgow, 2-4 Aug
Lineup: Gilla Band, Mclusky, Empire State Bastard
Another popular mode of festival at the moment is the multi-venue event, such as The Great Western and Stag & Dagger. And if you criss-cross back across Glasgow, core. is another such one, providing a haven for, as organiser Ryan Drever says, “like-minded folk to be in great company while getting their fucking heads caved in with incredible, bone-crushing live music.” core. is split between The Hug & Pint and Woodside Halls, another excellent example of using an atypical concert space, and caters to the heavier crowd with a mix of local and international acts.

In a similar vein to M4, Drever sees core. as a necessary step to the bigger festivals, one that operates “at a grassroots level, providing a pathway for development as well as a formative opportunity to cut your teeth among peers and influences.” Smaller, local bands sometimes get lost in the noise and crowds of big festivals, but more closely curated events “are vital for providing a platform for exciting new music, and usually offer a more level playing field, particularly when you stagger the schedule to allow some of the newer, lesser-known acts to get a decent sized audience.”

Pop Mutations @ Multi-venue, Glasgow, 18-21 Jul
Lineup: Pictish Trail, R.Aggs, LYLO
Pop Mutations is a joint effort between Stereo, Mono, The Flying Duck, The Old Hairdresser's and The Glad Cafe. It grew out of streaming events put on during lockdown, blossoming into an inaugural in-person festival in 2022. After a year off last year, it's now returned with a slightly different focus. Venue Programmer at Stereo, Ross Keppie tells us: “This time round we decided to make it almost all local, just to highlight all the great artists in Glasgow.” Each venue books their own lineup, though there's consultation between them to ensure a good flow and variety across the four days. “We want representation of more diverse groups, not just the usual 'guys in bands', to give a platform to more marginalised groups.”

With both Pop Mutations and Freakender (to be announced in due course) returning this year, there's evidence of a healthy scene at present, but it's still a precarious situation. Cost of living and inflated touring costs make it difficult for both bands and crowds at the moment, but the value for money you get across one weekend, as well as being able to support local artists and businesses, should be a no-brainer.

As indicated, there are plenty of good intentions behind these events, including commitments to platforming young and underrepresented artists, supporting local businesses and encouraging sustainable ways to enjoy music festivals. All those we speak to agree that the bigger festivals serve a purpose, but these smaller events are where the foundational work goes in, where those from the community are able to use their knowledge and means to give back. “[M4 Festival] should be a stepping stone” to that next level, muses Bemz.

With the exception of the Glasgow Weekender, all are hopeful that their festival will become a fixture in the annual cultural calendar. And with the uniformly strong lineups this year, there's no reason why they shouldn't. As for Glasgow Weekender, Murdoch seems ready to pass the baton to others in the festival curation business. “Maybe for the future we'll be looking at new ideas...” he reflects enigmatically, “Watch this space.” Indeed.

Pop Mutations, 18-21 Jul / @popmutations
Glasgow Weekender, 2-3 Aug / @bellesglasgow
core., 2-4 Aug / @corethefestival
M4 Festival, 3 Aug / @m4festival