Subterranean Sound: Built By Friends, For Friends

In conversation with GRDN, the collective responsible for the festival’s success.

Edinburgh is not known for its electronic music. There exists only a handful of independent venues across the city that promote local DJs, artists and creatives. A large student population means that there is high demand for regular and affordable club nights. Subterranean Sound, which took place on the weekend of the 8th of October at The Biscuit Factory in Leith, offered a glimpe of the city’s potential for a thriving electronic music scene, bringing together creative individuals for the benefit of the public. The festival was conceptualised and organised by GRDN, a close-knit collective of local DJs and artists affiliated with local radio station EHFM. As heavy bass pounded through the floor below, several members of GRDN; Millie, Bartek, Grant and Shoba, gathered round the table to reflect on what they had achieved.

Eitan Orenstein (EO): What was the idea behind putting this event on?

Bartek: The main idea behind Subterranean is that you don’t need headliners to have a good time. You don’t have to go out looking for the big names, worrying about whether or not they’re playing for you to enjoy yourself. No, go to the club or the venue you like and have a good time because the DJs are talented, and the music is good. It’s all about keeping the community together. Everything is local; the food, the clothes, the DJs, the lights. It’s a whole piece of Edinburgh that you don’t know what to expect from. That’s the main reason why we want to do this. But also, it’s this guy [Grant] that came up with the whole idea.

Millie: GRDN – we were founded by these two [Grant and Soraya]. This could not have happened without them.

EO: To what extent was it individual artists that didn’t know each other before coming together. Was it separate scenes or were you guys all in contact before?

B: We were all friends before coming together. We all kind of knew each other. It’s a bit of an inner circle that branches out and connects with a lot of scenes around Edinburgh.

Shoba: The glue that holds all of that together is probably EHFM.

B: And a lot of it is that we have maybe not so much a glue, but there are definitely a lot of presenters that play at weekend, a lot of exposure. And that played a big part in bringing us together, through the radio. This is just a start, and hopefully if it goes well, we can continue it, get more local DJs, more exposure. We don’t need any headliners, as this is proving.

S: The way we look at it is that it’s an event built by friends, for friends.

Grant: When we were thinking about this event, we were really thinking about how we wanted to create attachments, strong personal connections. This event is literally just about bringing everyone together and having a party, having fun. For me, that was the original idea anyway. What I wanted was to take all the different clubs and day festivals that I’ve been to – Dekmantel was a big influence for me, De School, [both festivals in Amsterdam]- taking everything I’d experienced and bringing it to Edinburgh, which doesn’t really have these kinds of special events.

EO: How important is it for you that the scene remains underground? Is the aim to make it more mainstream, bigger and accessible?

B: Obviously we want to promote all the different artists across the city as much as we can. But at the same time, it’s not about money. The whole event is non-profit. If we do make any money out of it all of it goes to local Edinburgh charities. I don’t think it’s so much about making it more mainstream; I think if these guys can get some exposure from it, then by all means. The main goal is to push the local artists. There’s so much talent. The thing is we have a really good sense of community in Edinburgh, but it’s a little bit split. Between certain areas, certain clubs, certain nights. Why not bring everyone together so we can big each other up a bit?

M: Yeah, strange, offbeat venues that you wouldn’t immediately think would be the sort of places to host club nights. What we’ve found in Edinburgh is it is hard to put these events on – given things like the 3 a.m. license, council rules.

EO: What is the attraction of keeping these events off the beaten track?

B: The beach parties we put on, the initial GRDN parties, just started off as a private WhatsApp group, accessible to everyone, everyone can join, but only a small group of people get access to information about events, for example. I wanted to minimise it and keep it in a good circle of people. But it has slowly expanded.

M: This wouldn’t end up like Terminal V. But to speak on behalf of the group, that is not the ultimate goal of what we’re trying to do here. There’s something for me about the transparency of it. The social media accessibility. People know where their money is going, you get the assurance from the sense that your friends might be setting this up. There’s no smoke screen between what people are paying for and what they get to experience.

B: Don’t come to our night because a big name is playing. Come to our night because everyone is playing. The music and not the name.

EO: How does it feel now to have actually pulled it off?

M: We keep bumping into each other and saying, “we’ve actually done it!”

B: It feels better than we imagined. We all had a vision about how we wanted it to feel, how we wanted it to look. And now that it’s actually happening, it just feels like “wow.” The main question now is about getting feedback from people. There’s no desire to impress or compete – there’s no ego involved in putting this event on.

M: I joined everyone here over a year ago. Soraya [DJ Sosi, also of GRDN] introduced me to everyone here. And we have honestly had so much fun. I’m just shocked that I’ve been allowed in by such a welcoming group of people. It’s friendship. No need to act a certain way – there’s no pomp about it.

G: I imagine it like when you see the same person over and over at different house parties but never actually get to meet them. It’s just nice to know they’re there. These events offer the collective familiarity which gives you a real sense of community.

EO: Lastly, are there any plans going forward for another event similar to this one?

G: It would be nice to make it a regular event. GRDN is a smaller and more intimate and regular event. Subterranean is bigger, more lavish.

M: The answer is: our lips are sealed. Maybe just put something like “everyone in the room smiled with enthusiasm.” But I guess we’ll wait and see…

Images courtesy of Jack Farrar, used with permission.