The crossover between art and music is inevitable given their joint histories. Since at least the 1960s art schools have been breeding grounds for bands, particularly as pop music has grown and been driven by visual embellishments such as video, merchandising and record sleeves. Ambitious musicians, and/or visual artists, often reach for new, practical vehicles under cover of which to express ideas. In Glasgow this crossover has always been keenly felt. For decades, bands have played at exhibition openings (often their own), designed album sleeves and even sold their own records in the shops they work in.
DIY is often cited as the common thread of this trajectory. The go-to image of DIY is humble, lo-fi, modest—but DIY in Glasgow today is more than just an aesthetic signifier. It’s ambitious, outward-looking, has nothing to lose. Do It (All) Yourself. It has a spirit of totality, of a flattening of hierarchies and of endless possibility—a full package of art and music and everything in between.
In 2020, this DIY-as-all-encompassing-spirit can be found in organisations that work with old-school DIY aesthetics, questioning and expanding this model as they go. These include tape labels, music festivals, art spaces and shops that operate between and across music and art with the mindset of an expanded zine, presenting multitudinous voices in conversation with each other.
The Greater Lanarkshire Auricular Research Council (GLARC) has released a handful of limited edition cassettes every year since 2016. It is a purposefully enigmatic outfit, with a Bandcamp page organised by ‘Research’ and ‘Publications’ stating the provision of ‘aural consultancy, cassette based explication, applied research and listening support’. Many of the label’s artists work across visual art and music in sometimes unexpected combinations. The members of experimental pop/sound research group ECCO have overlapping identities—including artist/musicians Jack Wansbrough and Feronia Wennborg, multidisciplinary artist and writer Elina Bry, electronic musician Simon Weins and accordionist Caroline Hussey. Max Syedtollan works across composition, moving image and text; his ‘Horse Whisperer’ project encompasses the proggy collage of The Fifth Season and the longform, playful chamber music of Planctae/8 Fictions. These musically diverse artist curators kick against the tired cliche of every artist/musician being a (male) painter in a guitar band.
Each GLARC release is a self-contained world, with tape cases folding out to reveal artwork and commissioned text pieces alongside the recordings. Some of the tapes are artworks in their own right. 2017’s Subway 121 is an anti-marketing, pro-worker ‘self-guided tour’ of Glasgow’s Subway in the form of an extended field recording of a walk through the system. The limited tape release includes a used single Subway ticket, reiterating the redundancy of its messaging (‘we’re going smart!’) and, perhaps self-effacingly, of such an obscure musical project. Buckie Prins, the second album by Scots singer Quinie (aka illustrator and designer Josie Vallely) is covered in glued-on shells, an object that could be interpreted earnestly or ironically as a naturally occurring relic washed up from the sea, or a creepy decorated trinket. Some handmade additions to limited releases can feel gimmicky or twee, but with GLARC, each element feels of equal importance.
GLARC’s first release in 2016 was with Glasgow/London-based three piece Still House Plants: their eponymous EP was made at Green Door Studio when its members were still at art school. In the four years since, the group has released two albums—Assemblages on GLARC, with a text by artist Sulaïman Majali, and Long Play on London-based label bison, as well as taking part in multidisciplinary residencies at The Pipe Factory, Glasgow’s CCA and London’s Cafe Oto. Embracing playfulness, (un)learning and exhaustion as process, they consider themselves an art project as much as a band. They were programmed as the featured artist at the 2020 Counterflows festival, with their wide-ranging practice due to be dispersed across gig, conversation and ‘making-through-playing’ gallery-based events.
Like GLARC, Counterflows is a Glasgow-based organisation that embraces the freeing, ambitious autonomy of DIY. A four-day festival of ostensibly underground/ experimental music and art, it looks past the worn aesthetics conjured by such terms and embraces action and conversation as equal to ‘finished’ product. Before it’s unfortunate cancellation, this year’s ninth edition was set to feature performances and projects from Glasgow, including artist/musicians soft tissue, DJ AKUMU 悪夢 and GLARC alumni Quinie and Bamya, alongside artists from around the world: Mountain/ Full Edition are a Japanese collective comprising not only visual artists and musicians, but dancers, care workers and activists, a perfect microcosm for the festival’s utopian vision in which everyone has a seat at the table.
It’s important to note that Counterflows is not a blindly idealistic organisation. After experiencing problems in previous years with artists being turned away by the UK’s draconian border controls, co-founder Fielding Hope has set out intentions to form a lobbying group campaigning for better freedom of movement for touring musicians. This understanding of practical tactics for emancipation is essential to organisations and collectives closing the gaps between art and music. Non-hierarchical creation must go hand-in-hand with political/community action and open doors if DIY is to fully and completely embrace its autonomous, collective possibilities outside/against oppressive structures of power.
Claire Biddles writes about music for The Wire, and has contributed to publications including The Line of Best Fit, London in Stereo, Little White Lies and The Singles Jukebox.