Restless Natives sets up in Glasgow's East End

Keen to redress the cultural balance in Glasgow, an ambitious week-long multidisciplinary festival opens its doors at seven venues and studios in and around the East End from 9-15 May. We talk to some of the players behind Restless Natives

Feature by Chris McCall | 03 May 2016

As the home of the famous Barrowland Ballroom, a relic of the 1960s dancehall era that later reinvented itself as a leading gig venue, it's easy to presume that the East End of Glasgow has long been a hub of live entertainment.

In reality, crowds leaving shows at the Barras walk quickly in the direction of the city centre without looking back. Old attitudes die hard. The late 20th century was tough on East End districts like Calton. Depopulation, slum clearance and headline-grabbing life expectancy rates gave the impression that this was a region best avoided, and certainly not a nightime destination. 

Yet the East End has turned a corner. New housing, improved transport links and added investment from the 2014 Commonwealth Games have breathed new life into the area. A spate of studios, bars and workspace openings have followed. And now the East End has its very own cross-platform, multi-venue cultural festival, Restless Natives.

From 9-15 May, the event aims to bring people together in and around the East End, generate income for the local community, as well as promote ethnic diversity and gender equality throughout the programme. Its organisers, a group of independent promoters from across the city, boldly claim the festival aims "to be reflective of a truly modern DIY ethic, mirroring the diverse talent the creative scene has to offer."

Glasgow's East End

Chris Cusack, one of the co-organisers, insists the festival is far removed from an exercise in gentrification. Each show is individually costed, with the aim of ensuring no one is priced out. "A big concern for the festival is that we want to invest in the place, but we don’t want to exclude local residents in the process," he explains to The Skinny. "We don’t want to bring in £3 cappuccinos or alienate people.

"I don’t think the east end would ever end up like Byres Road. It has a proud cultural history of its own. It would be naive to say the area didn't have its problems, but a lot of it can be attributed to massive underinvestment going back decades. The lens shifts around the city. You see Finnieston becoming quite gentrified, where it was pretty rough until a few years ago."

The opening of new venues convinced the Restless Natives team that a multi-platform festival could feasibly be staged in the east end. St Luke's, an impressive converted former church near the Barras, was a clincher. "We wanted to help put it on the map to promoters by having a big event like this," says Cusack. Established venues, such as The 13th Note and Mono, will also play an important part by hosting several gigs, while the Drygate brewery will screen films and host Q&A sessions.

Equally as important to the festival is showcasing the traditional attractions of the East End to a new audience. "The Barras market itself is struggling with footfall," Cusack continues. "There’s a whole generation of students in the city who are not even aware of it. It started to make itself apparent that we needed one big event to promote the whole East End. We want to show off the venues down here to fans, promoters and music movers and shakers, and help put them on the map. In Edinburgh, for instance, the festival hardly breaks out of the city centre and where the ‘real’ people live is totally unaffected, it’s like the festivals aren't for the solid citizens, just the tartan tourists, the whisky seekers."

Restless Natives: the line-up

Among the stand-out shows is a headline performance from Ghostface Killah, who brings the blast of a hype verse to St Luke's on Friday 13 May. The legendary MC from Staten Island will perform choice cuts from his fearsome solo career, as well treating fans to some of the Wu-Tang verses that made him famous. But this being Restless Natives, equally as exciting is the presence of Law Holt as main support act. 

The Edinburgh-based vocalist, first seen in these pages in 2013, recently completed work on her eagerly awaited debut album and promises to deliver a headline-stealing show. "East Ends all over the world need festivals," she says. "I went to see Ghostface at Rock City in Nottingham about 10 years ago, so to be opening for him now is a great thing. I look forward to his performance and to see if he can out-bass me! On these shows I’ll be joined on stage by the Soho Sisters, twins Jacqui and Pauline, so, attitude times three. It will be all new because I’ve been deep sea fishing for the last year, out of sight, catching golden flashes of tunes and beats."

Cardiff's agit rock underdogs Future of the Left play St Luke's the following night, joined by Sheffield mathcore champions Rolo Tomassi. Blanck Mass, whose landmark 2015 LP Dumb Flesh remains a favourite of The Skinny, plays the same venue with Vancouver's own electronic prodigy Tim Hecker on Sunday. 

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The film program looks equally promising. Minor Threat and Fugazi legend Ian Mackaye will take part in an exclusive live Q&A session via Skype on 12 May, following a screening of Jem Cohen's Fugazi documentary Instrument at the Lodging House Mission. The Restless Natives film line-up also features screenings of Couple in a Hole – followed by a Q&A with BEAK> duo Geoff Barrow and Billy Fuller – documentary The Ambiguity Of David Thomas Broughton; cult classic The Room; plus Blood, Sweat and Vinyl: DIY in the 21st Century, featuring contributions from Neurosis, ISIS and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

If that wasn't enough, a pre-recorded Q&A with UK comedy luminary Armando Iannucci, with fans having sent questions via Twitter, will be shown following a special screening of In The Loop at Drygate on 14 May.

Some of Scotland's leading independent record labels, including Fuzzkill and Song, By Toad, will also curate their own nights. "You can expect guitars of the jangly, garagey, sugar-sweet, angular and glittertrash variety, and beats and bars about real issues such as KP snacks and slugs," explains Ross Keppie of Fuzzkill, ahead of his label's night at the 13th Note on Friday, 13 May. "We have Breakfast MUFF, Spinning Coin, Bin Men, The Pooches and Odd Law all performing live – five of Glasgow's very best!"

The idea behind Restless Natives

So where did the initial idea behind the event come from? The name is borrowed from Michael Hoffman's 1985 film of the same name, a comedy set in the Highlands which champions the spirit of the underdog. The core group of organisers include Cusack, fellow Glasgow promoter Bob Steele, plus Halina Rifai and John Burns of Bar Bloc, a leading live music pub in Glasgow city centre. Richard Warden, organiser of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, has overseen the film bookings.

"It’s a coalition of independent bookers and artists, says Cusack. "Myself and Bob have been putting stuff on in Glasgow for a long time. We’ve noticed how the DIY scene in Europe is really vibrant, with a nice sense of community. People go to see things because they are on, as opposed to having to persuade people to take a chance on new acts. Part of that is there’s a sense of cooperation. They do a nice line in boutique festivals which are good for their scenes. Interesting things happen as a result."

The booking policy of Restless Natives takes some inspiration from the much-missed Triptych festival, which brought a truly eclectic mix of performers to Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh each spring, as well as Dundee's Book Yer Ane Fest. Cusack also cites Montpellier’s respected DIY festival as his primary influence. “For a long weekend, shops and clubs hang extension leads from windows and bands are invited to set up in the streets, so you end up with a town full of bands. People come from all over France and further afield to be part of it. It attracts a lot of cultural tourism which is good for the local economy.

"Myself and John from Bloc had been chewing the fat about this about 18 months ago, and in separate conversations with Bob, there was a real need to bring people together to unionise, to present a viable alternative festival. John has a matter-of-fact attitude, and said we should just do it. We want audiences to be exposed to a range of shows, from music to film. There’s a hope there will be a cross-pollination."

Short-term politics may have perpetually let the area down, but there's clearly a collective out there thinking about the East End's future. 

Restless Natives takes place across Glasgow's East End from 9-15 May. For full line-up and ticket details, visit