A Student Guide to Scottish Clubbing

As Scotland mends its poor partying heart after the closure of The Arches, we get you up to speed on the club scene which remains. Spoiler: it's sick as ever

Feature by Jean-Xavier Boucherat | 11 Sep 2015

This year the war on nightclubbing made its presence felt in Scotland with the closure of The Arches. At best, it was a decision driven by knee-jerk reactionism and a total lack of regard for the people who work hard to keep Scottish nightlife exciting. Previously one of the country’s largest, most varied and successful venues, it was a painful experience for many – not just dance music lovers, but the countless communities of creatives who gathered and practised there outside of club-hours.

It was a savage act, and served as a reminder that no matter how special you make a place, nothing is untouchable. But amid the bleakness of post-referendum austerity, it’s worth remembering the immortal words of Ramona, the Robert Johnson club’s mysterious hostess – “The good times are always now!” For all the danger, Scottish clubbing’s never been in ruder health, and it’s the party people that keep in that way. So party hard – your city depends on it.

Fair warning for everyone who’s just arrived from south of the border – expect an altogether more intense experience here. Few could adequately explain what makes Scottish clubbing’s energy so distinct. Perhaps people are just happy to get out of the pissing rain, or maybe it’s the Buckfast? Countless DJs have suggested the 3am closing times prompt an urgency you don’t find in London, where hordes of melting youngsters are free to fester well into the morning. The late crew may despair. Don’t. It’s liberating, and if you’re still going you’ll no doubt catch wind of the parties we can’t mention here.

Alright then troops, enough of that. Here’s some ideas on when, where and why you should get heavy MWI.

The Heavyweights

Let’s kick off with the biggest of them all. I’ll say this once for everyone’s benefit – Glasgow’s Sub Club remains one of the best on the planet, hands down. 26 years on, it continues to attract the greatest names in house, techno and more on the weekly. It’s also home to one of Europe’s finest systems, employing a bodysonic dancefloor that literally roots the building’s foundations in sound. Regular nights include SUBCULTURE. DJs Harri & Domenic claim their weekly house music residency is the longest-running on the planet, but as they correctly observe, who’s counting? Their guests this year have included John Talabot, Roman Flügel and Berghain kingpin Nick Höppner.

The Subby is also the spiritual home of OPTIMO. Founded in 1997, DJs Twitch and Wilkes have since seen their club brand go global, with appearances on Boiler Room and RBMA, and shows in more countries than you’ll ever visit. It’s been over five years since the pair decided to call time on their regular slot at the club, but their presence remains strong city-wide, and their anything-goes policy remains in full effect – after all, what self-respecting man or woman has never danced to Throbbing Gristle’s Discipline before?

Many locals with a bleary eye on the most cutting edge of programmes have always had a special attachment to The Art School. As home to the Glasgow School of Art Students' Association, the venue has always been a particular favourite for those in need of a midterm blowout and perhaps has a more bold approach to clubbing than the more commercial spots around town. But don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t see the venue attracting huge names – in the last year alone, they have hosted the likes of Surgeon, James Holden and Lone as well as stellar local names such as Jackmaster and Alex Smoke. The venue’s appeal comes from its ability to attract such acts, while making sure it maintains a strong focus on new and experimental sounds too. It’s safe to say there were a lot of satisfied punters around when The Art School re-opened in fine style, following a refurbishment process in 2014.

Over in the capital, keep your eyes peeled for announcements from club-night curators NIGHTVISION – details on their third season are due soon. The clubbing series has brought serious heat to iconic venues across Edinburgh, including Cabaret Voltaire, The Liquid Room, and La Belle Angele. Seasons one and two saw performances from Nina Kraviz, Eats Everything and Joy Orbison.

Meanwhile, those living in Dundee had best familiarise themselves with The Reading Rooms. Housed in a former public library, the club has been going since 2002. Making sure it goes off on the regular is HEADWAY, the city’s longest running house and techno night. Previous guests have included Carl Craig, Robert Hood, and Levon Vincent.

The Sweatboxes

If you’re not one for the big room, or you’re after something last-minute that’s cheap and with reliable residents, you’re in luck – Caledonia provides. With so many smaller venues in operation now, these barely scratch at the surface.

In Edinburgh you can throw down at Sneaky Pete’s. The Cowgate club is a very literal one-room affair – walk through the door and you’re right in the thick of things. Sneaks is now home to Auntie Flo & Esa’s HIGHLIFE residency, bringing you a globally-informed, endlessly fresh mix of house, boogie and more. Serious taste-making. Other local outfits making it happen at Sneaks include JUICE, whose past guests have included DJ Rashad, Ikonika, Addison Groove and Heurco S.

Downstairs at Max’s Bar on Queen Street Glasgow you’ll find La Cheetah, the city’s best small-room outfit. It’s tiny down there, partially on account of the space taken up by the Funktion-One system and serious-business booth. In the past it’s been the basement of choice for all sorts, including Nightwave’s booty-bass fuelled NIGHTRAVE parties, and more recently the WE SHOULD HANG OUT MORE crew, bringing 100% positive vibes every time with their unhinged disco-funk selections. Meanwhile, guests this year have included Benji B, Pender Street Steppers and Jimmy Edgar. Beware – it heats up down there. Don’t expect to leave looking quite as good as you did on arrival.

Nice 'n' Sleazy’s afterhours is a pretty different beast to the comparatively wholesome operation they run in the daytime. In some respects, its inclusion here is fairly redundant because like it or not, you’re going to end up there without being totally sure why. That said, it currently boasts some excellent residencies from a local crowd. Strange Paradise is the brainchild of Glasgow’s time-delayed answer to Arthur Russell, David Barbarossa. Barbarossa’s the type of guy who from time to time will just open up his living room to the public to get rid of some records, his collection’s that big. Expect global funk and disco from the outer limits.

The Wildcards

Here’s a quick look at some of the more versatile spots on offer, all making use of unique spaces and all with a healthy disregard for anything so narrow as genre.

Edinburgh’s Mash House is a multi-room venue built into a former church. A relatively recent arrival, the gig and club venue has already made an impact with the sheer diversity of its programming. It’s also home to the excellent TWEAK residency – the minimal-lovers have been at it less than a year, yet already they’ve wrangled shows from Seth Troxler, and Martin Buttrich. Definitely ones to watch out for.

Next we’ll take a walk past Cowcaddens Tube and up into Glasgow North’s dark corners. In fact, The Glue Factory is such a wildcard these days that you can’t even depend on it for regular parties, but as this year’s collaboration with RBMA featuring Mykki Blanco proved, it’s still an incredible space to get wild in. The former industrial site is gnarly as hell though, so make sure you don’t mind messing up your shoes.

Similarly unreliable on the line-up front are The Caves, a sprawling set of 18th Century vaults underneath Edinburgh’s South Bridge. It’s a mind-blowing space. Make it your mission in life to jump on any party they announce during your time here. Things have been quiet of late, but guests in the last year have included The Hessle Audio crew, Jacques Greene and Monika Kruse.

Alright then grasshopper – that’s enough to be getting on with. Have fun, don’t hassle the DJ too much, and don’t get caught.