by tom johnson
Still somewhat in its infancy, True North Festival returned in September for its fourth incarnation, following previous events which have showcased the likes of The Pictish Trail, Laura Mvula, Public Service Broadcasting, and more. Taking place in Scotlands “third city” of Aberdeen, the event was recently announced as a finalist in the 2018 Scottish Culture Awards as Cultural Event of the Year, which says a lot about the type of event True North is. Which is to say that’s it’s not your average music festival, more a series of shows and events that take place across the Granite City, ranging from large one-off performances, a widespread ‘fringe’ event, interesting and important panel talks, which this year touch upon both mental health and artist funding, and much more.
This year’s festival had something of a soft-opening, with a launch party at The Lemon Tree on the Thursday night, followed by the first showcase event on the Friday. Highlighting the festival’s ability to shine a light on interesting venues and spaces, alongside the curated music, Friday night is headlined by Tracyanne & Danny – the new project from Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell and Crybaby’s Danny Coughlan – who bring their jangle-pop warmth to the stunning Tivoli Theatre, a stunning old building which dates back to 1872, but was then left unused between 1997 and 2009, before being rightly regenerated for its use today. From there, the focus shifts once more to The Lemon Tree, the infamous music venue playing host to the late-night activity, which today sees The Magic Numbers deliver their still-delightful indie-pop harmonies.
The main thrust of the event takes place over the weekend, however, with a number of different city-centre spaces being taken over for the aforementioned Fringe event, which sees a mixture of established artists playing stripped-back sets (Slow Club’s Charles Watson, a special secret set from RM Hubbert), alongside some up-and-coming acts, a number of whom came together via the city’s Project Band initiative and are now finding their own place among the rising stars; all the more reason to celebrate.
A celebration in diversity, the festival’s closing night plays host to a special showcase of David Bowie’s music, hosted by Camille O’Sullivan, and featuring sublime vocals from the likes of Eliza Carthy, Kathryn Williams, and Duke Special. It’s Saturday night that steals the show however, with Mull Historical Society’s lovey late-night set at The Lemon Tree preceded by a suitably ferocious and blistering performance from Mogwai, a powerful concoction of light and noise, which shakes His Majesty’s Theatre to its famous old foundations and cements the Glasgow band’s reputation as one of the Scotland’s very best.
Occupying a unique space within the calendar – thanks, mostly, to its location and date – True North feels like a celebration both of the city and of Scottish music as a whole. Being so far north, it’s always going to be difficult to attract too many out-of-towners, but that shouldn’t be a problem in and of itself. While it’s absolutely worth the trip from from far and wide, it excels, also, as simply a wonderful weekend of art and culture for a city that happily and enthusiastically embraces such a thing. From the development of grassroots artists to joyous sets from those already established, True North proves that in spite of the cultural spotlight always being fixed elsewhere, Aberdeen is thriving regardless – and long may it prosper.