SOPHIE, Lanark Artefax @ Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, 11 Aug
Edinburgh International Festival and Numbers bring a thrilling slice of progressive nightlife to the capital
Who’d have seen this coming? The old Leith Theatre, lovingly renovated by Hidden Door volunteers, employed by the Edinburgh International Festival to celebrate some of Scotland’s most extravagantly odd-ball electronic artists. Numbers became a label in 2010, launching the careers of tastemakers like Hudson Mohawke and Rustie in the process and influencing trends across the full scope of contemporary popular music: Scottish nightlife has long been high art, and no Sub Club or Sneaky's enthusiast needs EIF to tell them this – but there’s something genuinely thrilling about seeing it said in lights by August’s fanciest festival.
Sofay – aka Sophie Reilly, a Glasgow based DJ/librarian – kicks off proceedings with a shimmering, atmospheric set, perfectly pitched for such grand environs. Her decks are set low at the front of the crowd, and soon she’s barely discernible from a sea of arms held high.
Caught between opening for Björk’s Eden Sessions show and heading to Berlin’s electronic festival Atonal, Lanark Artefax (Calum MacRae) brings an imposing presence to the Theatre’s stage. A monolith stands solitary, a formidable column pointing to the lofty ceilings. Clouds of dry ice rage behind it, lit in purples, blues and blacks. MacRae resides in a cage, conducting a set every inch as dystopian as the setting demands. A mighty industrial soundscape whirs and crunches, as if he’s smashing glaciers with a monstrous pile-driver. His drops, rather than igniting the dancefloor, re-level the show, like an engine cranking to a halt before changing gear. It’s half an hour before he permits a beat that’s easily danceable, and an awestruck crowd stops gawping just in time to capitalise on it. A finale of total chaos ensues, and the strobes blur into an electrical storm. It’s no surprise that we spot Blanck Mass/Fuck Buttons’ Ben Power in the crowd kissing his fingers – mwah! mwah!
Headliner SOPHIE stands against a thick backdrop of blue smoke, her trademark bobbed hair catching the light. Now LA-based, Glaswegian producer Sophie Xeon is a contemporary pop mastermind. First famous through her affiliation with weird collective PC Music and her exploration of pop’s relationship to product placement, she’s since worked with Madonna, Vince Staples and Charli XCX. Tonight she showcases her mad, magical way of condensing genre clichés and spinning them into something otherworldly but oddly familiar. Acrylic gloops and thick, wet squelches thread through a set all too short that puts pop music in a blender, hashed with heavy bass, searing sirens, gel pens and body glitter. Instrumentals from her recent album Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides emerge through the mix, and a clearly devoted crowd lose it for Ponyboy, an unwieldy, sticky summer anthem. She said it best on an early single for Numbers: 'Make it pop and sizzle / Now squish it on the ground.'
Numbers co-founder Spencer sees out the night under a roof of elastic red strobes. It’s wild to see weird, progressive nightlife treated with the respect it deserves, and judging by the rapturous response to tonight’s starry innovators, it’s long since due.