Bands That Built Us: The Skinny at 10
The Skinny celebrates its 10th anniversary this month; to mark the milestone we pay respect to a score of bands from home territory and beyond who've each played their own part in defining our attitude and the musical landscape over the last decade.
Any title that dedicates a lot of time and effort to music can only be as good as the groups and solo artists that it writes about. We've been lucky to have been around for what must rank as one of the best decades for Scottish music of the modern era.
Gone are the days when any act looking for success would be on the first train out of Glasgow Central bound for London. And so, to mark our first 10 years we've compiled a list of 10 Scottish bands and 10 from further afield who have all, in their own way, contributed to the success of The Skinny. Some are better known than others – we've profiled Glastonbury headliners to bands that split not long after we started out. All worthy of your further investigation.
Mother & the Addicts
After the first edition of The Skinny was cobbled together by several pals in an Edinburgh tenement flat and sent to the printers, the next step was to organise a launch party at Glasgow's oldest pub, Sloan's in Argyll Arcade. Of the bands booked to play, the first was Mother & the Addicts, who were preparing debut LP Take The Lovers Home Tonight at the time. Fronted by Sam Smith – no, not that one – they were the perfect combination of Glasgow sass and outsider cool. As is too often the case, they lived fast and split too soon.
Happily, the story didn't end there. Smith would co-establish The Green Door studio in then pre-trendy Finnieston, and has helped give a leg-up to several other great bands along the way. He returned to the stage in 2013 fronting Casual Sex, a four-piece of obvious talent. While we still await an album, we couldn't get enough of The Bastard Beat EP: "Even if this marks their creative high point, they've still achieved something special," we implored.
Uncle John & Whitelock
Another group that played The Skinny’s 2005 launch party was Uncle John & Whitelock, a much-missed ‘horror R&B’ band from Glasgow. Formed by guitarist Jacob Lovatt and bass man Raydale Dower, and bolstered by a variety of other musicians, UJ&W were not afraid of causing a scene to get noticed.
Incorporating elements of performance art and general OTT theatrics into their sets, you never quite knew what to expect from an Uncle John gig. There was the specially created wooden shack they plonked on stage, or the time they projected a film over themselves to give the impression you were watching a silent movie.
Their only album, the 20-track beast that was There Is Nothing Else, was deemed the 18th best of the decade by our readers. "Their spellbindingly brutal take on apocalyptic blues was both challenging and electrifying," we recalled. Some UJ&W members would later resurface as Tut Vu Vu, while Dower is an established artist. It’s doubtful we’ll see their likes again.
The Skinny at 10: A Decade of Defiance
Our 10th Birthday: A look at The Skinny’s origins – and details of our birthday bash
Food: Ten years of superfoods, scientific cookery and eating food off slates
Deviance: Original section editor Nine on controversy, internet journalism and editing the section in a pre-Twitter universe…
Image Gallery: The first ten years of The Skinny in pictures
Any magazine loves to claim a scoop, particularly when it concerns a much lauded duo reforming for a one-off show. When we broke the news that Arab Strap were playing a solitary night in the tiny downstairs venue at Nice ’n’ Sleazy in 2011, "tickets, predictably, disappeared faster than subatomic neutrinos," one of our science-loving writers observed.
The sometimes sordid, but always blackly humorous lyrics of Aidan Moffat found the perfect home in Malcolm Middleton's music when the pair began collaborating in Falkirk in 1995. Signed by the always far-sighted Glasgow label Chemikal Underground, a string of critically-acclaimed albums followed before they split in 2006.
While The Skinny missed most of their years together, we've been privileged to closely follow their respective solo careers and other collaborations. Moffat would team up to great effect with Bill Wells – winning the inaugural SAY Award along the way – while Middleton showed no problem stepping up to the mic for his own blacker-than-black songs, such as We're All Going To Die – possibly the least cheerful Christmas single in history.
From chaotic noise merchants to mature pop with alt-folk twists, Idlewild have come a long way in their 20 year career. By the time The Skinny had stumbled on the scene, the once Edinburgh-based group had signed major record deals, endured line-up changes and released several stand-out records.
2000’s 100 Broken Windows has proved to be the most durable, so much so our readers named it the best Scottish album of the decade. “We may think of Idlewild as ‘indie darlings’ these days, but back in 2000 ‘punk rock noiseniks’ was a more apt description...” we mused.
“In that setting, and despite the learning curve, 100 Broken Windows is an astonishingly complete album, with huge leaps in musicianship, production and songwriting.” Following a four-year hiatus, The Skinny was delighted to welcome back Idlewild with an exclusive interview to promote comeback record Everything Ever Written.
Glasgow’s music scene is routinely described as incestuous, given the number of bands in the city that share members or links to previous acts. But rather than resulting in an insular scene filled with groups who all resemble one another, it allows individuals to try out different things with other like-minded individuals.
Take experimental duo Ubre Blanca. On the drums there’s Andy Brown, who until 2013 was keeping time for noise-rock quartet Divorce, and until more recently, post-rock instrumentalists Remember Remember . On guitar, synths and programming we have Joel Stone, formerly of Glasgow's leading mid-2000s dance rock outfit SHITDISCO -– a major stylistic influence on another Skinny favourite, Errors – who also featured one half of the magazine's satirical horoscope-writing team, Darren Cullen.
We described Ubre Blanca's first release as resembling a "synth-driven soundtrack to an undiscovered 80s horror classic," but the pair were only really getting warmed up. Last year's Terminal Island EP was a space disco masterpiece.
The Twilight Sad
It’s fair to say The Skinny was a big fan of The Twilight Sad from the off. “One of the finest Scottish albums in years,” is how we greeted 2007’s Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. Two years later, it was placed at number two in our list of the best Scottish LPs of the decade. “We are lucky to live in their time,” noted guest reviewer Adam Stafford.
Over the course of four albums, several EPs and dozens of ear-splitting live shows, we’ve followed this Kilsyth group’s progress from cult concern to respected players on both sides of the pond.
Frontman James Graham has occasionally hinted the band could call it quits due to the financial and logistical challenges of touring a band who earn rave reviews but sell comparatively few records, but they thankfully remain an ongoing concern. 2014’s Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave ranks as one of their best.
Y'All Is Fantasy Island
There must be something in the water in the Falkirk district, as it produces musicians who follow a path wildly different to those from elsewhere in Scotland. Around the time the aforementioned Arab Strap were calling it a day, the wonderfully named Y'All Is Fantasy Island were achieving their peak critical acclaim.
Led by the aforementioned Adam Stafford, the alt-folk group would add and drop members as they went, releasing a steady stream of singular EPs and LPs with a consistantly high quality – most notably In Faceless Towns Forever – until their eventual split in 2011.
Stafford quickly reinvented himself as a solo performer: "A quick-thinking artist with a talent for taking looped guitar effects, beat-boxing and sharp hooks and combining them to create a sound that’s occasionally challenging but always satisfying," is how we summed up 2013's Imaginary Walls Collapse LP.
In parallel to his music, Stafford is also an accomplished filmmaker. His 2009 short, The Shutdown, written by novelist and long-term collaborator Alan Bissett, explores Falkirk's often perilous relationship with its industry and won the Best Mini Documentary award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
From its very first issue, The Skinny has been supporting and promoting hip-hop artists based across Scotland. Over the last decade we’ve keenly observed the likes of Edinburgh’s Stanley Odd, led by MC Solareye, and from the west coast – Rutherglen, that is – the incomparable Hector Bizerk.
Leading the charge in terms of winning international recognition are the Leith-based trio Young Fathers. They baulk at being pigeonholed as a rap group – they just as often sing and chant on record – but hip-hop was their first love when they played The Skinny’s second birthday party back when they were called 3 Style.
Fast forward to 2014 and they were picking up the Mercury Prize for their stone cold classic debut album, DEAD.
The Phantom Band
The Phantom Band’s core members began making music together in 2002 under a variety of strange and wonderful names, but the group that established itself as one of the best in Scotland appeared seemingly from nowhere seven years later, with blistering debut LP Checkmate Savage – “a surging, shimmering cascade of inventive nous,” is how we nailed it down.
The sharp lyricism and confident stage presence of frontman – and solo artist in his own right – Rick Anthony and the musical experimentation pushed by guitarist and visual artist Duncan Marquiss had taken time to perfect, and resulted in a deal with Chemikal Underground before most people had ever heard of them.
Sophomore effort The Wants was memorably described by our reviewer as “pitched somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Looney Tunes,” while a brace of new albums released over a six month window in 2013/2014 confirmed their status as one of the country’s most beguiling and rewarding acts.
You can't keep a good man down. When The Beta Band called it a day in 2004 – a decision some of us are only now coming to terms with – there was never any question that Steve Mason would continue writing and producing music.
Working under several different aliases and with a variety of collaborators, the Fifer has shed the introspection and abject weirdness of the Betas to embrace a more outward looking view. There are few other artists who consistently promote such a radical political stance – while still managing to write a damn catchy pop tune – as evidenced on 2013's superb single Fight Them Back.
"Mason has tackled head-on a subject all too often viewed askance or bathed in metaphor," we wrote in 2013. When not manning the barricades, Mason is still in touch with his softer side, teaming up with Richard X to produce 2010's Boys Outside, perhaps his most focused solo work to date.
Arcade Fire’s rise to fame was already under way when this publication first hit the streets, and the Canadian band would play an important role in helping establish the magazine’s credentials as a home to serious music journalism.
The Montreal six piece’s debut album Funeral was released in the UK in early 2005 to universal acclaim, and would later be named our first ever album of the year. But it was when their second LP, Neon Bible, was due for release in 2007 that the fledgling arts mag stepped up to the plate by scooping the London music press and landing an exclusive cover feature.
When LCD Soundsystem played their first gig at Edinburgh's Corn Exchange in 2004 as part of a joint-headline show featuring Soulwax and, bizarrely, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, few present showed much interest.
But by the end of The Skinny’s first year of publication, LCD Soundsystem’s creative driving force James Murphy had become the definition of New York cool – a concept he had memorably baited with the group’s first ever single Losing My Edge (“I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody”).
After three studio albums, a pile of glowing Skinny reviews and single-handedly redefining dance culture in the 21st century, Murphy announced the band’s end in 2011.
Brooklyn experimental rockers Battles received their first ever UK cover feature courtesy of The Skinny, and have been regulars in the magazine since.
Their debut album, Mirrored, is still spoken about in reverential terms by certain staff. “Watching this band play is an astonishing physical spectacle; utterly compelling and quite unlike any other gig experience,” we noted in a breathless live review from 2007. Happily, third album La Di Da Di hit the streets just weeks before we celebrated our 10th birthday. It’s the best present Battles could have given.
The National had already seen their sixth anniversary as a band come and go by the The Skinny hit the streets, but their break out album Alligator would drop that same year. That effort received high praise, but it was nothing compared to the world-wide acclaim that greeted 2007’s Boxer.
By that stage the Cincinnati five-piece looked like they could do no wrong. “The National are not populists. They are a band one hundred percent committed to attaining musical excellence, on their terms,” we concluded in 2010, following the release of High Violet. “And yet, here they are, with a UK number 5 album (Billboard number 3) under their belt and five albums in, the world at their feet.”
Their sixth – and most recent – LP received a slightly cooler reception, but their legions of fans on both sides of the pond await their next move with barely-contained excitement.
When two Bristolian pals with a love of Aphex Twin and Mogwai got together to make music in 2004, the results were never going to be landfill indie.
Utilising a variety of instruments onstage and in the studio, from Casio keyboards to Fisher-Price karaoke machines, Fuck Buttons are frequently awe-inspiring. The darkest of their three albums to date, 2013's Slow Focus, cracked the top 40 and achieved another accolade in being named the best album of 2013 in our humble opinion.
"Fuck Buttons strive more than most to maintain singularity within their work," we nodded with approval. But our admiration for the duo goes back much further, having previously championed both 2008's Street Horrrsing and Tarot Sport a year later. Hell, we even stuck them on the cover.
Summing up the appeal of Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, in a few short sentences cannot do justice to the consistent inventiveness and quality of her music.
Cutting her teeth as a member of The Polyphonic Spree and touring in Sufjan Stevens' band, Clark ventured out on her own in 2006 and has steadily built an international profile with a string of engrossing albums, which seamlessly blend elements of jazz, cabaret and indie-rock.
We summed up her skill as "a magpie ability to mix her rock and pop lineages," and rated 2011's Strange Mercy as the finest LP of that year. “I’m positive that my music can turn people off,” Clark told us at the time. "They hear it and think ‘oh, there’s too much going on." A statement with the quiet confidence of an artist who knows she's heading in the right direction.
Run The Jewels
While The Skinny has consistently championed Scotland's burgeoning hip-hop scene, we still share in the excitement when an on-fire American rap group announces a gig on this side of the pond. We loved the Run the Jewels' 2013 debut, hailing it as "swimming against the ego-obsessed current of mainstream hip-hop with scientific lyrical beatdowns and heavy electronic boom-bap beats." A year on, and following an even better follow-up LP, Killer Mike and El-P finally made it on stage at Glasgow's Garage. Did they let us down? "Everything that makes this tag-team so appealing becomes four-dimensional in the flesh," our reviewer panted. Roll on RtJ3.
Reaching 100 issues is a landmark for any publication and requires a cover star worthy of such an occasion. When The Skinny clocked up its centenary in January last year we were pleased to get reacquainted with psychedelic LA indie rockers Warpaint – whose self-titled sophomore album we would later rank as the best of 2014.
"Warpaint are one of those bands that have a strange sonic signature, a definite something that’s entirely theirs," we explained of the esoteric quartet's intoxicating record. We were among the first in the UK to cover the four-piece when they hit the ground running with 2007’s Exquisite Corpse EP and eagerly await their next move.
Mixing retro synths and the syrup-sweet vocals of Lauren Mayberry has proven a devastatingly effective combination for CHVRCHES.
Rising from the ashes of Aereogramme, experienced Glaswegian producers Iain Cook and Martin Doherty decided they wanted to make some music that people might actually dance to. They needed a vocalist, recruiting Mayberry – a former music hack for this very magazine – and the results were almost instantaneous.
The first track they shared online – Lies – went batshit mental, as it's known in the industry. "A bittersweet discord as Gothenburg, Glasgow and 1980s London collide," is how we summed up its appeal when we first profiled the band in 2012. Second album Every Open Eye will surely cement their success on both sides of the pond.
Another band with a stellar international reputation, Mogwai are a celebrating an important milestone of theirs this year. It was 20 years ago that three school pals formed a band named after a creature from Gremlins, which would grow to become one of Scotland’s most successful musical exports of the modern era.
Now a settled five-piece, and still able to generate headlines thanks to their always brutally honest interviews, the band have shown desire to rest on their laurels, preferring a process of regular reinvention.
Eight albums – and several acclaimed soundtracks – later, they somehow retain an ability to surprise and challenge even their oldest fans. “They artfully walk the delicate tightrope between chaos and calm,” was how we summed up their appeal in a recent live review. And so the 'Gwai rage on.